Sex on screen: Porn or art?

Updated: 2006-10-11 13:53

"The film did take me back generationally as someone who emerged from the Woodstock generation, as someone whose movie appreciation was formed in the late '60s and early '70s," Urman said. " 'Last Tango in Paris' and the theatrical experience of seeing 'Hair' on Broadway very much shaped my sense of what's permissible and what's not permissible. This really made me feel nostalgic.

"What I found interesting in watching the film, one did not feel provoked. One felt enchanted. There's something Edenic about the sex in the film," he said, adding, "I'm not naive -- I understand that it is hardcore sex and that there might be people who are offended and won't want to see it."

Terry Southern son: 'The time is right'
Although "Shortbus" is scheduled to open gradually across the top 40 markets in the nation, that doesn't mean you should expect to see the major studios release movies like this, Urman said, because of a fear of drawing large, organized protests against the corporations that own them.

"An increasing acceptance is still not the same as multiplex, at a theater near you, big studio," he said. "Big studios have theme parks."

Mitchell agreed that his movie and others that include graphic sex, both real and simulated, harken to a time when cinematic boundaries were being pushed.

"I saw people starting to use it again in the late '90s. It started happening after AIDS came off the front page," he said. "It kind of came back ... but with a very different tenor -- it was very negative because of AIDS, because of a certain conservative resurgence, there was a lot of guilt."

It was back in 1970 that Terry Southern, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of "Easy Rider" and "Dr. Strangelove," wrote a satirical novel about this very concept: "Blue Movie," in which a Stanley Kubrick-type directs a major actress having actual intercourse in a mainstream film. While that isn't happening just yet -- most of the actors in these movies are unknowns who help craft the dialogue through improv -- we're getting closer.

"Now more than ever, the time is right for this kind of film. It does have a chance at the box office, to put it crudely," said Southern's son, Nile, an author himself and co-trustee of the Terry Southern Literary Trust.

"Why that is, I think, is a cultural phenomenon, an era similar to the Age of Aquarius in the '60s and films of the '70s like 'Carnal Knowledge,' a similar wanting to connect to the roots of what life is all about and make a statement, as well."

"I think what my father was proposing," Southern added, "was an actress feeling so comfortable and right with the director, knowing she was doing it for art, that it was going to be beautiful and important and meaningful. Of course it becomes a farce -- the process of making a film is so mechanical and chaotic, it has nothing to do with art at the moment."

Which brings us to Joanna Angel -- a journalist and Web designer who's also directed adult films including "Joanna's Angels" and "Joanna's Angels 2: Alt. Throttle" and starred in many more. She sees no threat of porn bleeding into mainstream film, or vice versa.

"They're still Hollywood movies," Angel said. "The difference between mainstream movies and porn, no matter how high-end the porn industry gets -- people are making movies in HD, with bigger budgets and plots -- porn is still being made with the intent that some guy will buy it and (masturbate) to it. If you can't succeed in that you've failed.

"I want to make something that's hot before I want to make something that's good," she added. "If people are saying these movies are porn they should sit down and watch a porn and find out."