Monday, March 31, 2014

The Celluloid Woman

By Henry Corrigan (Guest Blogger)

If there is one thing I have learned from all my years of watching too many movies, it is this; Poorly executed sex scenes are like disappointing orgasms. All of the essential components may be there, but no one walks away happy.

Sex has been a guiding influence on the life of cinema since the day it was born. From the earliest kinetoscopes to today’s digital film, seduction, eroticism and all forms of sexuality can be found. The world’s first moving pictures were actually shorter than some of today’s YouTube videos. But despite their brevity, they were no less powerful or scandalous.

In 1884, Eadweard Muybridge’s “The Human Form in Motion” was meant to be a test film. It showcased the human body as it performed certain menial tasks, such as swinging a tennis racket or walking down stairs. Each subject, both male and female, was filmed in the nude. One could ask why nudity was necessary, but then one would have missed the point.

The earliest distinctly erotic films took this idea a step further. They involved women, usually clad in an elaborate costumes, dancing provocatively before slowly stripping. But “A L’Ecu d’Or ou la Bonne Auberge” (I will give a dollar to the first person who can help me pronounce that), is described as the world’s oldest surviving hardcore pornographic film. Created in 1908 in France, it has absolutely no plot to speak of. It treated the original audience, most likely male since films such as this were predominantly screened in brothels, to the view of a woman pleasuring herself with a dildo, then later engaging in a passionate threesome with another woman and a man.

The oldest surviving American pornographic film is titled “A Free Ride”. Created in 1915, the plot revolved around a wealthy business man who, while on a drive through the country, has sex with a pair of prostitutes by the side of the road. The film was directed by A. Wise Guy, written by Will She and photographed by Will B. Hard. (I am not in the least bit kidding about this.)

Putting aside the gonzo porn attitude for a moment, let’s focus instead on the key difference between the two movies.

In “la Bonne Auberge” the main character is a woman, firmly in control of her own sexuality. She not only pleasures herself, but enters into a threesome purely of her own volition. “A Free Ride” however, focuses solely on the man’s pleasure and eschews any depiction of a sexually assertive woman.

While neither film was created with women in mind, this disparity does reveal a certain cultural hesitancy when depicting female sexuality. Further evidence can be found in the fact that the first female orgasm wasn’t introduced to the silver screen until many years later.

Ecstasy,” the big screen debut of Hedy Lamarr in 1933, was no where near as graphic as it could have been. In fact, though Ms. Lamarr was nude for a significant portion of the film, when it came time for the pivotal love scene, only her face was shown as her costar brought her to earth shaking…well, the title kind of gives it away, doesn’t it?

Since “Ecstasy’s” release, Hollywood’s decency boundaries have expanded to the point where nudity is now practically considered the norm. It is truly the rare actress whose film credits do not include being nude, or near to it, in at least one film. Just as it is rare to find a major actress who hasn’t taken a turn as the scream queen of a horror movie, or the protagonist in a romantic comedy. But while nudity and sex may have become common, the female orgasm is still capable of causing controversy.

In 2010, “My Blue Valentine” caused a stir, not so much due to its content, but because of the Motion Picture Association’s reaction. In the weeks before its premiere, the film was given an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, which is basically the kiss of death in cinema. This meant that no syndicated theater would screen the film, which killed any chance the movie had at the box office. When the producers asked why, they were told it was due to the graphic sex scenes, which included a realistic depiction of a man giving a woman oral sex. At the time this seemed strange since, that same year, several horror movies of the torture-porn variety passed through the censors without any red flags. It was only later, pressured by both the producers and cast, that the MPAA lowered the rating.

Blue Valentine” is not the only sexually conscious film to cause a stir in recent years. Others such as “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” “Black Swan” and the soon to be released “Nymphomaniac Volume I,” all bear the same markings. It is also no coincidence that this move towards realistic sex scenes runs parallel with the rise of the strong female main character.

Now more fully fleshed out and believable female MC’s are capable of not only spearheading their own films, but also blockbuster franchises. And along with this rise has come a natural decrease in the audience’s ability to accept Tab A into Slot B sex. Movies which depict a woman going from kiss to orgasm in sixty seconds or less are now lambasted as chauvinistic and blatantly sexist. Well rounded characters don’t have unrealistic hanky panky.

There are those who say that the attempt to depict sex more realistically on screen is proof of a loss of morals in society as a whole. But in actuality, the exact opposite is true. By heeding the wants and needs of women as well as men, cinema has shown not only a greater maturity and respect, but also a solid business plan. It makes no sense to alienate half of your potential customers by offering a product which doesn’t appeal to them.

After all, while a sex scene that turns a man on can be stimulating. But a scene which also excites the woman sitting next to him is…well, honestly. Is there anything better?

About the Author
Henry started writing erotica for the same reason that gets most people into trouble; Because of a girl. Several years ago he decided to turn his passion into a professional career. By day, Henry is a full-time federal employee, and by night a student working towards an MBA in healthcare. Whatever time he has left over, is devoted to family and writing. His work has been featured at and twice in the ERWA Gallery. He is currently at work on two novels. Updates and randomness can be found on twitter, @HenryCorrigan. More of his work can be found hanging in The Cave at


Jean Roberta said...

Fascinating look at early sex films! I didn't know any of this.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Henry,

Welcome to Beyond Romance, and thanks for an interesting post!

Are you familiar with the erotic films of Radley Metzger? He was working in the late sixties and early seventies, and made some amazing movies - quite explicit and definitely female-focused. (One of his earlier efforts was a lesbian love story between two girls at a convent school, "Therese and Isabelle".) My favorite, I think, is "Score", about a randy couple living in a seaside resort town who pick up and corrupt a younger and more innocent pair of newlyweds. It's just delicious! It includes not only partner swapping but M/M and F/F scenes, and really captures both the trepidation and excitement of the "prey" couple.

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