Film, OldVenue

Blurred Lines

Cinema, particularly in the independent sphere, has always had a complex relationship with sex. Burt Reynolds in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wonderful Boogie Nights talks of making porn films with production values strong enough that audiences will want to stay in their seats to see how the story unfolds after they’ve finished with their business. Absurd as this may sound, many producers of adult entertainment in the 70s had the same dream. Back then many of these people were independent, working in the underground and against the mainstream, often struggling to get funding, much like some of their arthouse counterparts. It’s somewhat apt that the world centre of the porn industry is in San Fernando Valley, hidden just behind the Hollywood sign.
Everyone’s favourite Danish misanthrope Lars von Trier is well known for shooting scenes of unsimulated sex in his films, doing so three times (The Idiots, Antichrist and Nymphomaniac). Because his films deal with ‘big’ subjects and ‘serious’ issues, people tend to ignore the fact that he is in some respects a pornographer. Granted, he does not produce films solely for the purpose of jerkin’ the gherkin, but he does produce films with the intention of providing a visceral, guttural reaction. Audiences react to his films with a whole gamut of emotions, both negative and positive. We love and hate him with equal measure, but something about his work is not that far from porn at all. He is voyeuristic, and driven by the desire to look, to see, to record. Is this not the same desire that fuels our consumption of porn?
Film, as with any other creative medium, has no particular moral or ethical obligations. It is only the audience that is required to have a moral system. We see films through our own lens and through the framework of the society which we have grown up in. The way we respond the films is only ever a reflection of that. Is it possible to go too far in producing something and distributing it? Only if done without the consent of your collaborators, or if it harms them.
But the latter half of that sentence is ridden with issues. The porn industry takes in its young stars and chews them up. Reports of abuse are common. Young men and women, even consensually, often come to great harm in the porn industry when they lack the necessary tools to deal with its troubles. Hollywood isn’t much different. It abuses its own stars itself, encasing them in a psychological cocoon. Both industries have people who have successfully managed to navigate the filthy waters and find some happiness and success with their talents.
People can argue that Lars von Trier goes too far when he films unsimulated sex scenes, but is there all that much difference between him and Ron Jeremy? At the end of the day, the definition of pornography is just that: content whose sole purpose is to produce an erotic or sexual reaction. There are just as many films out there with an equally singular mission statement, many of which are critically respected and loved. Michael Haneke’s Funny Games sets out solely to toy with its audience. Airplane! sets out solely to make us laugh. Ridley Scott’s professed aim with Alien was solely to terrify the audience. Sex is simply another activity of human nature, and sexual desire another aspect of our psyche. Films freely engage in depictions of love, anger, sadness and joy, and they work best when these depictions feel truthful. To sidestep depictions of sex seems almost untruthful when it is such a fundamental aspect of our reality.


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March 2021
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