Profoundly Erotic

2009 was a thoroughly awful year for me.

I have no idea if that led to rather atypical reading for that period.

A retro review from August 14, 2009 …

Review: Profoundly Erotic: Sexy Movies That Changed History, Joe Bob Briggs, 2005.Profoundly Erotic

Normally, I don’t read books about movies, but Joe Bob’s name on the cover got me to pick this one up. I’ve spent many an hour watching Joe Bob hosting cable movies – even if the movies were dreadful. And, after hearing him describe the plot of Ghosts Can’t Do It – and then confirming the awful truth – I trust him completely to accurately sum up a movie. Which I have to since I haven’t seen a single one of the films he concentrates on.

Those ten movies are “sexy movies”, not porn movies. Only one of them can remotely be called that. Each chapter covers one movie, its history, its significance, and the careers of the significant people associated with it. Brief chapters in between cover other contemporary films with sexual themes.

The Sheik (1921), based on the rape fantasy of the very successful eponymous novel, is forever linked to Rudolph Valentino – the man who upped the bar for what American women wanted in their lovers. And haughty, domineering, graceful (and clean) alpha males in the desert became a stock fixture in romance novels.

She Done Him Wrong (1933), a remake of Mae West’s stage show Diamond Lil, was something of a last hurrah before the Hays Production Code went into effect. West’s persona – little skin, lots of innuendo (shocking then, more amusing now), with an act lifted from drag queens and portraying an unapologetic prostitute and exploiter of men – was very influential even if few outright imitations were tried.

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) was writer-director Preston Sturges’ comedic end run around Hays Office censorship. A highly cynical movie that started with the phenomena of the unintended pregnancies of “V-girls”, women who slept with soldiers right before they were shipped overseas, and then went on to mock most of the institutions of WW II America. The Catholic Legion of Decency condemned the movie but also noted “… it was very funny”.

Picnic (1955) was a story that obsessed its writer Daniel Taradash. He never bought that its protagonist, Kim Novak, playing a woman in a Kansas small town, would really find happiness by running off with William Holden’s drifter. Taradash continued to tinker with the story, but no one wanted what he thought was the more realistic version. They wanted the movie version with its alleged happy ending. Briggs, however, contends that the movie fascinates because audiences sensed the movie was really, whatever they told themselves, about how “sex kills everything it touches”.

The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), the closest thing to a true porn movie here, was the advent of the “content-free sex film”. Russ Meyer’s film — about large breasted women as all Russ Meyer’s movies are — enabled national film distributors to book movies with lots of nudity without the packaging of foreign language “art cinema”.

Contempt (1963) was Jean-Luc Godard’s chilly effort, starring Jack Palance, Brigitte Bardot, Fritz Lang, and Michel Piccoli, about unconsummated passion, a love affair unraveling.

Kitten with a Whip (1964) has Ann-Margret showing up with thuggy friends to bedevil John Forsythe, a middle-aged businessman, with her sex-drenched presence and threats of violence. Long considered something of an embarrassment – no legitimate dvd release has been made in America [that has since been rectified], Joe Bob argues that it was the high point of Ann-Margret’s career.

I Am Curious – Yellow (1967) paved the way for Deep Throat‘s breaking down obscenity laws. A narratively complicated satire, with explicit sex, on left-wing Swedish politics, it also made “Swedish movie” and “porn movie” synonymous in the American mind.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), with its equation of one-night stand=dead woman, affected a generation of single women argues Joe Bob. Little seen today, its title is still shorthand for a moral lesson – even if the moral lesson isn’t at all clear in the actual movie.

9 1/2 Weeks (1986) is the most recent movie on the list and still fresh in the public mind. Notorious for allegedly being about B&D or S&M, it seems lacking in all but, maybe, the D. Joe Bob argues, given its plot and Mickey Rourke’s gifts to Kim Bassinger, it’s a chick flick for the Bondage Lite set.

Joe Bob’s prose does not much resemble his tv persona. That Joe Bob wouldn’t talk about Strasberg or Meisner schools of acting. It’s much like his John Bloom voice – clear, frankly subjective in places, and informative.

If I have one problem with this book, it’s that the title – copying Joe Bob’s preceding book, Profoundly Disturbing: The Shocking Movies that Changed History – oversells the significance of some of these movies whatever their artistic merits. Miracle at Morgan’s Creek may be a classic screwball comedy, but did it really have any influence on the public or future filmmakers however popular it was? Contempt doesn’t even seem to have been that popular, until decades later, with filmmakers much less the public. Picnic may be an interesting look at adult romance and sexual attraction but how did it change things?

Still, I enjoyed the book for what it was, not what it promised, and I’ll be checking out some of these movies.

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