American Cinema Term Paper

Pages: 7 (2282 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 14  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality

American Cinema

Patterns of sexual behavior in selected films

Changing attitudes towards sex in contemporary society is often reflected and mirrored in the media and particularly in film. Modern cinema is an extremely powerful medium which not only reflects but can also influence our perceptions and views on life. "It should also be remembered that film is the single most complete means of mass communication, boasting images, sound... And other emotionally-charged components."

Sexuality is an important part of the human condition and as such film makers employ it to explore life and reality. Sex and sexuality act as powerful catalysts for ideas, themes and visions, and as indicators of social and individual motivation. One could not imagine the interpretation of a play like "A Streetcar Named Desire" without the latent sexuality that pervades the theatrical production.

However, sexuality is also a delicate and sensitive issue for producers and directors of modern films, in terms of culture, society and religion. The mores and values of society are often conservative and the film creator has to be aware of these strictures. Sexual mores and conventions to a large extent determine the content of many films and directors are often limited in their artistic scope and freedom by the sexual conventions of the times.

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On the other hand, many directors have challenged these limitations and conventions and produced films that are controversial but which use sexuality as an artistic device to enhance and illuminate their artistic vision. Often of course, sexuality is used just for the shock value and to get the film noticed. This paper will look at three films over a period of 40 years in order to ascertain changing patterns of sexual behavior.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

TOPIC: Term Paper on American Cinema Assignment

Midnight Cowboy depicts the American Dream of success and freedom gone tragically wrong. The use of sexuality is an essential background element to enhance and emphasize the thematic thread of the film. The main character, Joe Buck, a naive and simple small town dishwasher, attempts to make money through prostitution in the big city; he is used to explore the issues of society and modern myths of success.

The film created controversy for its portrayal of sexuality and for its references to male prostitution. However, the use of sexuality in the film is an essential element of the exploration the conflict between ambition and dreams and reality.

Sexuality is used in a dramatic and forceful way that serves to empathize with the pathos and sadness of the two main characters.

Midnight Cowboy was a landmark film due to its incorporation of sexual aspects.

Its treatment of explicit sexual behavior earned it an 'X' rating at the time. This rating was dropped when the film was later awarded an Oscar for "Best Picture."

It is an indication of the more flexible sexual mores and a preference during the 1960's that the film achieved popular success and was relatively easily accepted by society. "Although some of the more conservative members of the Academy protested officially, the movie's popularity was clearly a sign of changing times, as moviegoers welcomed a story that was both honest and realistic."

Sexuality is an integral part of the rationale for the actions of Joe Buck. The film, through the clever use of flashbacks and montage inserts, allows us insight into his past which is saturated with hints of sexual promiscuity and possible abuse. Promiscuity has obviously played a role in his choice of career in coming to the city. "Joe is proud of being the son of a successful Texas hooker, who had herself been born to a knowledgeable prostitute."

The issue that dominates the film is not essentially Joe's promiscuity but that fact that it meets with failure and disappointment.

Joe's first encounter is pathetically unsuccessful and this underscores the vulnerability and pathos of the characters. Sex is used throughout not for its own sake and not in an intensely graphic way, but as a means of exploring the central thematic dynamics of the film. Sex is used more as background than foreground in directing our attention to the failure and plight of the characters. This can be seen when Joe has to become a male prostitute, but also meets with failure in his encounter with a young boy. In essence the director uses the shock value of male prostitution, not to essentially focus on this topic, but rather to explore the issue of failed attempts at attaining success in life.

In terms of the times - the 1960's - there is an almost naive acceptance of sex as a natural part of life in the film - although it is not condoned as such. This was the era before HIV and Aids and sex was considered 'safe'. The sixties was also the era of sexual experimentation. These aspects are reflected in the film in its tacit acceptance of sex as a safe practice. The real danger in the film lies in naivety and illusion and false ideals that have no hope of success.

The datedness factor in this 1969 picture is surprisingly minor. A surrealistically shot party scene is almost cutely quaint, as kooks, poseurs and hipsters turn on and tune in. Vietnam is rumbling ominously in the background. Although sex is shown as a grimy, capitalistic commodity, it's still approved of as a safe form of recreation. Smoking too remains a cool pleasure. As for lighting up a joint, it's still okay to inhale.

The sexual mores of the time were possibly more open and flexible than today.

3. Deliverance (1972)

One of the central aspects that make the film Deliverance so terrifying and yet so fascinating, is the clear and taut male rape scene by the mountain men. The film uses the combination of the horror of rape and the sexual taboo, at the time, of homosexuality in order to shockingly empathize the central themes and motifs of the film.

While the use of violent sexuality may have been controversial at the time, its use was creatively and artistically important in the film. The use of sexuality and rape in the film is an integral and in fact essential part of the dramatic and dynamic structure of the film. As such, while not overtly graphic, the director uses techniques that actually make the rape and sexual abuse scene even more horrific and disturbing than a straightforward graphic depiction would have. The director achieves this by using subtle touches which succeed in bringing the sexuality more to the foreground and more intimately felt - rather than distancing it. One of the ways that he achieves this is through the direction of his actors. The fact that Bobby squeals "like a pig" during the sexual abuse has the effect of increasing the horror and disgust.

At shot-gunpoint, in a nightmarish and frightening sequence, the two sexually-perverted rustics viciously target them. They order them up into the woods where they tie Ed (with his own belt) to a tree. The mountain man sexually humiliates Bobby - the chubby-faced, defenseless intruder into his territory. He forces the fat salesman to first strip down to his underwear. After a degrading roll around in the dirt and up a steep, leaf-strewn hillside while fondling and groping his prey, the mountain man/rapist makes Bobby squeal like a female sow before sodomizing him. Strapped against a tree, Ed helplessly watches in horror:

This depiction draws the viewer into the scene of sexual violence. Sexuality is linked to the otherness of the mountain men and to danger. It empathizes the central theme of the film - which the urban encounter with the wilderness or 'othernesses of nature' and the hillbillies. The first scene of the movie with the famous banjo duel suggests the strangeness and underlying threat of the mountain men as alien or other.

Another important aspect that relates to the sexuality in the film is that rape is used a metaphor throughout the film. Rape is seen as a form of violation. Not only do the mountain men violate Ed and Bobby, but the city men also violate nature and the world of the mountain men by their presence and prejudices. 'A deformed, retarded, albino hillbilly youngster...appears on the porch and answers him. Under his breath, Bobby criticizes the cretinous hillbilly boy: "Talk about genetic deficiencies. Isn't that pitiful?"

Indecent Proposal (1993)

In contradistinction to the more open and free-wheeling attitude towards sexuality that is implied in Midnight Cowboy, the sexuality in Indecent Proposal is couched in terms of danger and moral questionability. In the Nineties sex had become associated with HIV / AIDS and this is reflected obliquely in the film to a certain extent: sex and lust is the dangerous element that threatens the healthy relationship between David and Diana.

Another factor that differs in some ways to the other films is the centrality of money and the very close association between money and sex in the film. While in Midnight Cowboy money was seen as a means to an end, in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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