Friday, March 26, 2010

Martti-Tapio Kuuskoski: Arthouse Cinema and Pornography (a lecture)

A lecture in the Cinema and Sexuality series of The Film Society of The Helsinki University Students' Association at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 26 March 2010.

Martti-Tapio Kuuskoski started by charting the ground of the last 40 years. Pornography has become an accepted part of arthouse cinema in films by artists like Nagisa Oshima, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Stanley Kubrick, Catherine Breillat, Lars von Trier, and Michael Winterbottom.

In modern art "rounded characters" are often contested, as in pornography. Kuuskoski found congenial Susan Sontag's view on pornographic imagination with examples such as Georges Bataille (Histoire de l'œil), Pauline Réage (Histoire d'O), and Jeanne de Berg (L'Image). Common to all is the theme of total sexual submission, torture, and humiliation. Kuuskoski also highlighted Pierre Guyotat's Éden, Éden, Éden, an excerpt of which has just been published in Finnish in the Nuori Voima magazine edited by him.

Kuuskoski discussed Andy Warhol's Blow Job where we only see a close-up of a man's face purportedly during a blow job as an example of anti-pornography: zero visibility, lack of the money shot.

Kuuskoski quoted the film-makers manual to pornography, "can't fail with these advice". Lesbian scenes must always be photographed via the male gaze. The narrative must enable a maximum variety of sexual acts. The shooting schedule must be constructed around the money shots. Without a money shot there is no porn film.

Catherine Breillat's Romance is the story of a self-reflective intellectual woman, a teacher of the French language, who embarks into a metaphysical and absurd odyssey into the pornographic stereotypes of sexuality. She does not love the one she is having sex with. She ventures into bondage, prostitution, being raped, being humiliated. She pursues the status of being just a hole, a void, with nothing around it. She realizes the most extreme, stereotypical pornographic fantasies. She seeks the ugliness of life.

In Lukas Moodysson's A Hole in My Heart the pornographic activity moves in the direction of snuff, of actual murder in front of the camera. Even the camera can become a weapon. The despair in front of meaninglessness.

Pier Paolo Pasolini was interested in what Michel Foucault analyzed as the difference between ars erotica and scientia sexualis. In The Trilogy of Life there was a lot of improvisation and rough edges: the sacred meets the playful. Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma was formally perfect, fully finished, the end result of Western civilization.

Christoph Schlingensief directed Die 120 Tage von Bottrop together with R.W. Fassbinder's surviving actors, creating a satire on the Fassbinder trauma in the German culture, the last movie of the German new wave.

Lars von Trier's Idioterne is an attack against hygienism and artifice. The protagonists perform handicapped people and confront all the prejudices like them. One of their exercises is group sex which Trier presents as a hard core scene. This was the immediate inspiration to the current hard core wave in art-house cinema.

Teuvo Tulio in Sensuela portrayed scenes where it is hard to tell whether they are pornography or instances of social criticism. Tulio was adamant that Sensuela did not belong to a porn cinema.

The film to be presented after the lecture is Alain Robbe-Grillet's Les Glissements progressifs du plaisir. It is a deconstruction of the porn narrative, but it cannot be called pornography. Robbe-Grillet's last novel, however, is hard-core pornography, 300 short passages with topics of sado-masochism, pedophilia, and incest, tenderly presented. What is theory with the Marquis de Sade is literary hard-core with Robbe-Grillet. The main theme is the freedom of thought, the freedom of the imagination. What can be imagined can be prevented in reality.

Films excerpted included: Catherine Breillat: Romance (FR 1999). Lukas Moodysson: Ett hål i mitt hjärta ([A Hole in My Heart], SE 2004). Pier Paolo Pasolini: Il fiore delle mille e una notte (IT 1974). Christoph Schlingensief: Die 120 Tage von Bottrop (DE 1997). Lars von Trier: Idioterne
(DK 1998). Teuvo Tulio: Sensuela (FI 1972 / the outtake first published in 2007).

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