Cinematically Thinking
   "Does Celibacy Sell?"
   by T.B. Meek


Not if you’re a virile teen desperate to get a can of Gillette’s Tag (Gillette doesn’t want its stoic, blue chip name affiliated with its hip new body spray targeted at young men, because if the dudes get wind of who’s putting it out, it might not evoke as much sexual — and commercial — pandemonium as the riotous TV spots depict) and record that first notch on your belt, but The 40 Year Old Virgin—a comedy exactly about what the title proclaims—certainly hit a home run, bringing in 21 million dollars in its opening week and securing the top spot in the weekly box office derby for three weeks. Droll, dry and with just enough romance and sophomoric dick jokes to appeal across the spectrum (single moms will be warmed by the protagonist not taking exception to a potential mate revealing after a few dates, that she in fact has several children, and fourteen-year-old boys will howl with delight at the ‘morning wood’ gags), it’s the polar opposite of 9 Songs, the NC-17 film that pretty much has its lead actors fucking for real and as a result received resistance at every turn—critics, censors and most of all, film goers.

That right, you could go to your local Cineplex and see a movie about a guy not getting laid, and a movie, where the actor’s are really doing it. Not simulated sex mind you, as has been the industry standard. Simulated sex requires a stretch of thespian talent and directorial finesse, though it has been alleged that Mickey Rourkey in 9&1/2 Weeks (1986) and, even more so, in Wild Orchid (1990), went beyond the call of duty. How’s that for a double bill?

NC-17 has always been the kiss of death. Young Adam (2003) in which Ewan McGregor flashes his manhood and Brown Bunny (2003) where actress Chloë Sevigny performs fellatio on writer/director/star Vincent Gallo (I must admit to having an odd feeling in my stomach when I more recently saw the lovely Sevigny in the wonderful new film from Jim Jarmush, Broken Flowers. All I could think of was her Gallo days. Hopefully time will free her from such infamy). Brown Bunny got an NC-17 or no-rating from the MPAA for its sexual stunts. Each film cost more than five million to make and combined, grossed barely over a half million. Other films, such as Peter Greenway’s Pillow Book (1996)—where McGregor also goes full frontal—The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), which struggled to get an R rating, and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in Paris (1972), found financial and critical success. Much of that had to do with the fact they challenged audiences with complex situations that were palpable and were not just art wrapped around shock and genitalia. That said, Gallo and 9 Songs director, Michael Winterbottom have made groundbreaking films in the past: Buffalo ‘66 (1998) for Gallo, and Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) and 24 Hour Party People (2002) for Winterbottom.

The line between art and pornography in the context of 9 Songs and Brown Bunny is very thin; especially since neither film really pushes the audience exceptthe "cock shot." Sure there’s an arty texture, but besides the big scene—and in the case of 9 Songs, some great music—they’re bombastic exercises fueled by miscalculation and vanity. If someone were to add plot and some serious thespians to porn, would Nicole Kidman have to give head to gain another Oscar nod? (In all likelihood Fidel Castro would submit Cuba to the United States as providence long before that happens.) The power of titillation, desire, yearning, teasing—foreplay if you will—far exceeds that of the actual act, climax and comedown. That’s the power of erotica over porn. (Think the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue versus Hustler; it’s an easy choice). The what’s to come is what we live for, not the what we’ve had.

So hail the virgin? Well yes and no, actor/writer Steve Carell and writer/director
Judd Apatow do get their finger on a character with real issues (how many nice guys are out there not getting any?). The film pretty much packs a hearty laugh for anyone with a funny bone to tickle. Basically nerds rule, they drink milk, don’t get laid and live in a tidy shrine that looks like a subdivision of Neverland. (Think Pee-wee, After Hours, Revenge of the Nerds, Something About Mary, The Blue Angel, Old School, Animal House and so on—you could even thrown in the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin). What you’ve got is a PG-13 (maybe R) rating and when the dork goes out on the town, has a beer or two and runs into a lusty vamp wearing next to nothing, it’s sure fire laughs and box office gold.

Let’s face it, a guy who gets laid all the time just isn’t as interesting as the guy who struggles with hopes, dreams and desires—most of which get dashed. You identify with him and root for him. Sure, you’d like to be the guy with a turnstile for a bedroom door, but that’s not a practical or possible reality for most of us.

The Virgin will certainly have its run this summer, but what will Carell and Apatow do for an encore, Born Again: Virgin 2, Back on the Prowl?

Is that Katrina or the Box Office Calling?

In the wake of 9/11, Hollywood reacted to the most lethal offensive ever launched on American soil with a contentious hand while tending to business. Collateral Damage, the Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller about a firefighter hunting down terrorists for revenge, was withheld from release for several months, and Serendipity, the romantic comedy staring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. Both had the opening shots, showcasing the New York City skyline, re-edited to parse out any vestiges of the World Trade Towers. And both moves were a sensitive effort to stave off reminders of the momentous and recent tragedy that had so deeply affected the American psyche. But on the heels of Hurricane Katrina (arguably the most devastating natural disaster in the United States), even before the waters have receded, Dimension Films decided to release Venom, a supernatural slasher flick about a nefarious incarnation fashioned from a rotten corpse and a team of poisonous snakes. And, oh yeah, it’s set in the misty bayou of Louisiana. This, at a time when bloated bodies were being plucked from the flooded streets of New Orleans and emergency stocks of anti-venom were being rushed to the area because of a proliferation of the poisonous serpents, displaced by the storm, were pouring into the city streets. Just the association of killer (think of the alleged atrocities in the Superdome), snakes and death in Louisiana should have been enough to put this one on hold. I’m not sure what went through the minds of the powers that be at Dimension. I hope for their sake, nothing and that the release was just an ignorant oversight. No matter, it still goes under What were they thinking? file, even if they weren’t.

Roller-Disco For Charity

And rolling with Katrina, you’ve got to love Roll Bounce, the mediocre film about roller-disco-dancing in the 70s. On the week of it’s opening it sends out a press release, saying it will donate 10% of its weekend till to the victims Katrina. It’s a nice thought, but was it really an act of kindness from the heart or an exploitative move to bolster sales? Probably more the latter than the former. Is it harmful? Not really. The more sales, no mater how shameless the promotion is (and they did solicit members of the press to play up the item in their reviews), the greater the benefit to the victims. That’s an absolute. But think of the film. It probably gained greater success than it should have, and in the rearview mirror, the talents of the stars and directors are inflated, allowing them to garner future projects that they might not have otherwise gained. In Hollywood the yardstick that measures careers and talent is the box office and those future projects banking on the bankability of their stars’ past successes, might be in for a rude awakening. It’s a move akin to (but not nearly as nefarious as) the white-collar marauders at Enron. If the backers of Roll Bounce really wanted to give from the heart, they would have just made a charitable donation it without all the hoopla.

-- T. B. Meek

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