Blurred Lines.

The above title of course comes from Robin Thicke's massively successful and ultra controversial 2013 pop hit. However, I don't want to delve into the many debates on sexual politics that that particular song raised, but rather explore what I believe are the blurred lines which are apparent when it comes to censorship and the movies. So, I'll be leaving behind my main topic of mental health for this post, and instead indulging another one of my passions: the cinema.
The idea for this post came to mind as I was watching "Stranger by the Lake", a 2013 French drama/thriller set at a cruising spot for men. The film contained extremely explicit scenes, with the two male leads engaging in what appeared to be real, unsimulated sex. So, what I began to wonder was, would such scenes be passed with an 18 certificate were this not an art house movie, the audience for which would probably be regarded as middle class and culturally sophisticated? Indeed, isn't there a class bias when it comes to censorship and the cinema? And, just where is the line to be drawn between what is art and what is pornography?
"Stranger by the Lake" is, of course, not the first film to show apparently real sex acts. At the end of the '90s and beginning of the noughties there were a number of films which showed unsimulated sex, perhaps the most famous of these being Catherine Breillat's "Romance", Lars von Trier's "The Idiots", Leos Carax's "Polar X", Patrice Chereau's "Intimacy", and Virgine Despentes's and Caroline Tinh Thi's "Base Moi". Closer to home there was Michael Winterbottom's "9 Songs". What all these films had in common, as well as their explicit sexual content, was that they were undoubtedly art house movies. As such they were all passed by the censor for release and the era of art house porn was born. But what raised these movies above the level of simple pornography and made them, rather, arty and erotic?
Susan Sontag once praised pornography as a sort of liberating aesthetic, saying that, "violence, sexuality, absurdity and extreme states of human experience can be a corrective to the pervasive psychological and moral narrowness of American life." However, it seems that in her writing, Sontag was only defending such material when it appeared in classical literature, making a distinction between "something to do with art, as opposed to strictly commercial or sleazy product." Such distinctions resulted in some, like Adam Kirsch, to claim that Sontag was really just "an enforcer of literary and cultural hierarchies."
So, is it really possible to make such distinctions without engaging in some form of prejudice? Indeed, can you really separate art house porn from its strictly commercial or sleazy partner? Is it not just that, in the parlance of the British Board of Film Classification, art house porn is seen as less likely to "deprave or corrupt" its audience because its audience is of a supposedly higher and more sophisticated social echelon? All I can say is, that after watching films like "Stranger by the Lake", one is left pondering just how blurred the lines between class and censorship, art and pornography, can become.             


Dixie@dcrelief said…
Hi David. I'm such freak for funny movies; give me humour!
Recently I watched "1984" again - maybe my fourth time watching it. Then I took on a re- view of "Brave New World." The 'blurred lines' are gone from those movies. Is that where we're headed, given the desensitizing of today's cinema?
Be well my friend.
bazza said…
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bazza said…
Hi David. I really enjoy your movie-based posts - you should do more of them!
I believe there is a definite class divide when it come to any kind of censorship. In these cases it depends entirely upon who the perceived audience are.
I often record French films on TV and once I recorded 'Blaise Moi' never having heard of it.I nearly fell off my chair when I saw it. (In fact there were parts where I had to rewind and watch again because I thought my eyes were deceiving me. Honest guv!)
In a way I thinks it's shame that all barriers seem to be coming down because it's then a short step to letting anybody say or show anything. Then you have carte blanche for, say, racial incitement etc.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi Dixie,
Who knows where we're headed? Perhaps some would say that the societies of "1984" and "Brave New World" are closer than we might think.
As for the desensitizing of today's cinema, I suppose one has to be careful where one draws the line. As my post attests, censorship shouldn't be based on class distinctions, and if certain things are judged to "deprave and corrupt", it is interesting how they never seem to deprave or corrupt the censors themselves!
Thanks for your comment, Dixie, it's great to have you back.
Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Hi bazza,
Thanks for your interesting comment, and I'm glad you enjoy my sometime forays into movie land.
It might be a shame that all the barriers seem to be coming down, but I would just say that there are laws in place to deal with things like racial or religious incitement. An interesting question is just what constitutes that sort of thing, and who decides which material is inflammatory.
And, of course I believe you about your viewing of "Base Moi". Thousands wouldn't!
Very Best Wishes,
Dixie@dcrelief said…
Hi David, I hope you've been able to get those lines more focused. Just stopped by to leave a hello!

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