In recent months director Lars Von Trier got cinema goers all hot and bothered with his affront to movie rating standards, Nymphomaniac. It's technically a ‘mainstream’ film, featuring Transformer's favourite Shia LaBeouf , but the film allegedly features unsimulated sex. Although Shia's co-star has recently confirmed they had 'p**n doubles', CGI and prosthetics, still nobody knows quite what to do with this scandalous piece of cinema history.
Critics have been falling over themselves to either adore or berate the film on grounds totally dissociated from its honest-to-goodness hanky-panky. The movie follows one woman's 'erotic journey' and in efforts to avoid conceding anything to notorious media renegade Von Trier, reviews of this film have been mostly focused on the film's penetration of the lead character's mind rather than the more shocking, less cerebral aspects of her life.
But despite the journalistic poker faces, the public have rewarded the film with more than its quota of shock. Shock which might be bewildering given just how often this stunt has been pulled: twice before by Von Trier himself.
The fact of the matter is that unsimulated sexual relations in films outside of the adult entertainment world is a tradition going back at least a few decades. And the overspill looks set to continue with ‘adult entertainment' actors making regular forays into the world of mainstream cinema and vice versa. Case in point; the recent Lindsay Lohan train wreck of a film, The Canyons, written by the dazzlingly brilliant Bret Easton Ellis. The Canyons is an exemplar x-rated / mainstream crossover in the person of 'James Deen' (yes, really), adult entertainer turned thriller leading man.
The motivation behind casting decisions like this must be the very same as those which invite genuine sex into the realm of well-respected method acting. First, there's the shock factor closely linked to an audience's penchant for voyeurism. Second, the breaking of these taboos forces us to ask what we’re so shocked about; because what does it really matter if uglies are bumping for real, or pretend? It all looks the same and we'll all still be there eating popcorn. Here, we've collated ten examples of mainstream film featuring actual, knowing-you-in-the-biblical-sense action, which broke the taboos - and the ratings system - and forced critics and audiences alike to wonder what the big deal is.
10 Irreversible (Gaspar Noe)
9 Anatomy of Hell (Catherine Breillat)
8 Cruising (William Friedkin)
7 The Zodiac Series (Finn Karlsson and Werner Hedman)
6 Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell)
5 Ken Park (Larry Clark and Ed Lachman)
4 9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom)
3 The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo)
2 Clip (Maja Milos)
1 Antichrist / The Idiots / Nymphomaniac / All About Anna
Lars Von Trier was always going to make it onto this list. But to avoid making it a Von Trier specific list, we’ve just grouped together a few of his most notorious offerings. Nymphomaniac is the most recent release from Von Trier and follows Antichrist in the tradition of showing unsimulated sex, but using adult entertainment actors CGI-d into the frame. The Idiots, on the other hand, is just unapologetically explicit and minus CGI assistance, possibly something it gets away with since 1998's The Idiots is less mainstream - and earlier - than the others listed here. Von Trier didn’t direct All About Anna, but he did produce this well known example of authentic sexual engagement in mainstream film. As with so many of the other examples on this list, Von Trier’s sexy scenes generally follow or preempt some sort of hugely traumatic, tragic, gritty other event. So, if we can conclude anything here, it’s that real sex on mainstream screen seems to be ok these days, so long as it’s far too dark and terrifying to ever be titillating.
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