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The Sexual Revolution on Film 1967-1972

film - sex - sex film - sexual revolution

Carnal Knowledge: The Sexual Revolution on Film 1967-1972

by David Schwartz

The revolution came from overseas. The occasionally explicit and often anxiety-ridden depiction of sexuality that occurred in mainstream American cinema in the late 1960s and early 1970s was largely inspired by the influence and popularity of European art films.

In 1966, censors for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), bound by the strictures of the antiquated Production Code, asked Michelangelo Antonioni to cut a brief glimpse of pubic hair from a scene in his English-language film Blow-Up, which was due to be released by MGM. After Antonioni strongly objected to Hollywood’s demands, MGM opted for an end-run, successfully releasing the film without the Code’s seal of approval through a subsidiary company, Premier Productions.

A year later [1967], the Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow) was seized by the U. S. Customs Service for “obscene” sexual content. After a group of writers (including Norman Mailer, John Simon, and Stanley Kauffman), psychologists, and clergymen vouched for the film’s artistic and social merit, the U.S. Court of Appeals allowed the film’s release. The controversy, of course, guaranteed its success.

Bowing to the reality of court decisions against censorship, and acknowledging the growing trend towards permissiveness sweeping through American society, the MPAA introduced a self-regulatory ratings system in 1968. Films with explicit violence or sexual content could be released with an X rating (nobody under 17 admitted). Before it was feverishly adopted as a marketing tool by the adult film industry (“XXX!”), the X rating came with no stigma attached. Midnight Cowboy, released by United Artists in 1969, won the Best Picture Oscar (over Hello, Dolly! and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)

Hollywood’s open flirtation with sexuality was as uneasy as it was inevitable. While imported films such as I Am Curious (Yellow) and W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism were defiantly revolutionary in their politics, linking sexual liberation with a Marxist critique of political oppression, Hollywood struggled with just how to blend old, conventional formulas with new realities. When Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a comedy about wife-swapping and extramarital sex, seasoned with glimpses of nudity by extras, was selected to open the 1969 New York Film Festival, Vincent Canby excoriated the choice in The New York Times. “If Bob & Carol… has any purpose in the festival, it is to show contemporary Hollywood’s debt to television…to TV’s comedy formulas.”

Lonesome Cowboys (1969)- Andy Warhol

Indeed, compared to the joyous, explicit, raw, and decadent visions of sex in such varied underground films as Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses, Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys, and Milton Moses Ginsberg’s Coming Apart, true liberation was rarely to be found in studio films. Instead, distinct notes of anxiety, misogyny, and backlash were evident in such aggressive movies as A Clockwork Orange, Klute, and Carnal Knowledge. In her 1973 assessment of Hollywood’s treatment of women in movies, Molly Haskell despairingly wrote that the past ten years “have been the most disheartening in screen history. The growing strength and demands of women in real life, spearheaded by women’s liberation, obviously provoked a backlash in commercial film.”

Although free to be shown as sexually active and independent, women were more likely than not to be portrayed as prostitutes, victims, or anonymous sex objects. Reflecting the perspectives of their writers and directors, most of the movies of the time (and in this series) are dramas by and about troubled males.

It was at the margins, and on the outside, where progressive views of sexuality could be found. Changing economics in the industry allowed for commercial theatrical runs by independent features, including Paul Morrissey’s Flesh, Barbara Loden’s Wanda (that rare film from the period actually written and directed by a woman) and Brian DePalma’s raucous satire Hi, Mom! Maverick director Melvin Van Peebles achieved startling box-office success with his sexually, racially, and aesthetically groundbreaking film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, which earned nearly ten million dollars-and sent Hollywood scrambling into the blaxploitation era. The success of these independent films also paved the way for such softcore and hardcore entrepreneurs as Russ Meyer, Radley Metzger, and Gerard Damiano, whose relatively high-class (and amusing) pornographic feature Deep Throat became a box office success and cultural phenomenon in 1972, immortalized (and linked forever with its sociopolitical background) by the Watergate scandal.

Rather than leading the way to a new era of openness and candor, the “sexual revolution” of this period can be viewed, looking backwards and not ahead, as a fascinating artifact of its time. When Pauline Kael proclaimed Last Tango in Paris to be “the most powerfully erotic movie ever made,” and declared optimistically that “it may turn out to be the most liberating movie ever made,” she could not have foreseen that its screening as the closing night film of the 1972 New York Film Festival was not so much the beginning of an era as the end of one, a last tango indeed. --David Schwartz, Chief Curator of Film via http://www.ammi.org/site/screenings/content/2002/carnal.html [Mar 2005]

Sweden, 1967, 121 mins., 35mm archival print. Directed by Vilgot Sjoman. Seized by U.S. customs officials upon its initial entry, Sjoman’s film became a cause célèbre and cultural breakthrough because of its graphic sexuality (which overshadowed its attack on Sweden’s political establishment). An intricate narrative structure reveals a film within a film, as Lena (Lena Nyman) plays an aspiring actress and political activist attempting to land a role in Sjoman’s film.

United Artists, 1969, 113 mins. Directed by John Schlesinger. With Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles. This X-rated winner of the Best Picture Oscar broke ground with its frank depiction of the life of a New York “hustler.” After his dreams of big city stardom are shattered (symbolized by his sighting of an ignored corpse on 5th Avenue), Joe Buck (Voight) is introduced to the Big Apple’s seamier side by tour guide Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman).

Avco Embassy, 1971, 97 mins. Directed by Mike Nichols. With Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel. A pair of college buddies approach middle age and grapple with changing sexual mores in this lacerating dark comedy written by Jules Feiffer and masterfully directed by Nichols in a stark minimalist style. “Maybe you’re not supposed to like [sex] with someone you love,” wonders the sensitive Sandy (Garfunkel) while the misogynist Jonathan (Nicholson) lashes out at female “ballbusters.”

1969, 110 mins. Directed by Milton Moses Ginsberg. With Rip Torn, Sally Kirkland. Rip Torn gives a raw, ferocious performance as a Manhattan psychiatrist who secretly films a series of sexual encounters-and his own emotional breakdown-in this astonishingly bold, sexually explicit feature. Recently rediscovered, Coming Apart is a powerful time capsule that combines the rawness of cinéma vérité, the psychodrama of Cassavetes, and the formal audacity of Warhol.

Allied Artists, 1967, 100 mins. Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Catherine Deneuve. Exploring her sexual fantasies by a day in a Parisian brothel, and quietly living with her Doctor husband at night, Deneuve gives a coolly startling performance as the enigmatic Séverine. Afternoons of passion with a gangster (Pierre Clementi) provide sexual excitement and unanticipated complications. As Buñuel’s camera worships Deneuve throughout, the parade of ridiculous male clientele wryly subverts machismo.

Warner Bros., 1971, 114 mins. Directed by Alan Pakula. With Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland. An aspiring actress turned prostitute, Jane Fonda’s Bree, portrayed with nuance and nervous energy, epitomizes many of the contradictions of the time. Distinctly modern in its sensibility, the story of a detective’s anguished search for his a friend-a suburban family man missing in the city-is presented in classic film noir style, complete with Gordon Willis’s dark, moody visuals.

1967, 110 mins. Directed by Andy Warhol. With Viva, Taylor Mead. The denizens of Warhol’s scandalous Factory stage a mock and mocking Western in the wilds of Arizona. A seemingly drugged-out cast and crew improvise a decadent genre- and gender- twisting parody filled with casual sex and even more casual acting. The last film directed by Warhol (and a precursor to Paul Morrissey’s films), Lonesome Cowboys epitomizes the camp sensibility of the times.

1968, 105 mins. Directed by Paul Morrissey. With Joe Dallesandro. Preceded by FUSES Carolee Schneemann, 1967, 22 mins. Paul Morrissey took the reins of the Factory’s film production while Andy Warhol recovered from gunshot wounds. Preceding Midnight Cowboy (and exceeding it in explicitness), Flesh stars Dallessandro as a bisexual hustler. Schneemann’s kinetic and painterly diary film Fuses is an avant-garde classic in its portrayal of sex from a female perspective.

Paramount, 1967, 98 mins. Directed by Roger Vadim. With Jane Fonda. Preceded by THE BED James Broughton, 1968, 20 mins. “A kind of sexual Alice in Wonderland-in the future,” was how Vadim (then Fonda’s husband) described his adaptation of a popular French comic strip. From its infamous opening striptease, Barbarella revels in her go-go boot-clad physicality and celebrates her discovery of sex. Broughton’s short is a merry, erotic allegory celebrating the cycle of life.

1968, 71 mins. Directed by Russ Meyer. With Erica Gavin. Preceded by LOVEMAKING Scott Bartlett, 1970, 14 mins. EYETOON Jerry Abrams, 1967, 8 mins. FLY Yoko Ono, 1971, 25 mins. Meyer’s self-satrizing and politically-minded skin flick was a theatrical success, paving the way for the “Porno Chic” boom of the early 1970s. Its simple plot chronicles the visits of a black draft dodger, Scottish communist, and freespirited American couple to Vixen’s remote Canadian cabin. The shorts include two visually dazzling portrayals of sex and Yoko Ono’s beautiful film of a fly’s traversal of a naked woman’s body.

Columbia, 1969, 104 mins. Directed by Paul Mazursky. With Natalie Wood, Elliot Gould, Dyan Cannon, Robert Culp. “Consider the possibilities,” teased the ads for the opening-night film at the 1969 New York Film Festival. Mazursky’s directorial debut is an old-fashioned comic romp about such new-fangled fads as wife-swapping and group sex. Culp and Wood play a swinging couple trying to initiate their friends into their liberated ways.

Warner Bros., 1971, 137 mins. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. With Malcolm McDowell. Billed as “the adventure of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven,” and opening to enormous controversy, Kubrick’s explosive social satire was pulled from public exhibition in England following a series of alarming “copycat” crimes. A truly revolutionary film, that as Vincent Canby put it, is “dangerous in a way that brilliant things sometimes are.”

United Artists, 1969, 129 mins. Directed by Federico Fellini. Adapting Petronius’ account of sexual decadence in Nero’s Rome, Fellini creates his most spectacular film, defined by excess and inspired by Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures. We follow the journeys of two students with slave-cum-lover Gitone, as they encounter and often participate in feasts, orgies, murders, and the like across the Empire. A fragmented narrative reveals the film as a world unto itself, ruled solely by the pleasure principle.

United Artists, 1970, 107 mins. Imported 35mm print. Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Adapted from Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th Century classic, Pasolini realizes a series of bawdy vignettes, framed by his own turn as Giotto painting a portrait of Madonna and Child. This first of the director’s “trilogy of life” was rated X for, as Variety noted, running the gamut “from lust to deception, jealousy to cuckoldry, revenge to deceit, etc.”

Cinemation, 1971, 97 mins. Directed by and starring Melvin Van Peebles. Released with the tagline “Rated X by an All-White Jury,” this revolutionary film-both formally and thematically-was a major box office hit, inspring the 1970s “blaxploitation” boom. Producer, director, editor, and composer Van Peebles stars as Sweetback, whose legendary sexual power is revealed in the film’s opening, and whose violent encounter with the police sends him on the run.

Yugoslavia, 1971, 86 mins. Imported 35mm print. Directed by Dusan Makavejev. With Milena Dravic. Celebrating the life and theories of Wilhelm Reich, the Marxist Freudian who preached revolution through sexual enlightenment, W.R. is a bawdy plea for all manner of liberation. With his trademark collage style, blending documentary and experimental techniques, and hopping between Eastern Europe and the United States, Makavejev simultaneously celebrates and spoofs utopianism.

United Artists, 1969, 129 mins. Directed by Ken Russell. With Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed. With 1920s England standing in for the free-spirited 1960s, Ken Russell’s adaptation of the D. H. Lawrence novel about two intertwining love affairs is a successful stylistic match; Russell’s exuberant and operatic visual style meshes well with Lawrence’s fulsome prose. The film amplifies the book’s homoerotic subtext, most famously in the nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed.

United Artists, 1971, 110 mins. Directed by John Schlesinger. With Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch. In this thoughtful and groundbreaking drama, a young bisexual designer is the love object of a middle-aged Jewish doctor and a divorced businesswoman. Penelope Gilliatt’s richly textured, highly literate screenplay treats its sexual content with emotional depth and matter-of-fact honesty. “The movie is a novel written on film…in a pungent, slangy style that sounds accurate, not bookish.” (Pauline Kael).

1970, 90 mins. Directed by Radley Metzger. Hailed by Andy Warhol as an “outrageously kinky masterpiece,” Lickerish is one of the most beautifully photographed and formally daring films by soft-core impressario Radley Metzger. An Italian couple and their son, fans of erotic films, spot a woman at a carnival who they recognize as a porn actress. An invitation to their villa leads to sexual-and filmic-experimentation.

1967, 91 mins. Directed by Radley Metzger. With Uta Levka. Modernizing Prosper Mérimée’s classic tale, Metzger establishes his Carmen as a chic, independent woman of the 1960s. On the Mediterranean Coast, a strait-laced young policeman falls hard for the irresistible Carmen (Levka), but she prefers pop star Baby Lucas (Walter Wilz).

1970, 87 mins. Directed by Brian De Palma. With Robert De Niro. Preceded by CROCUS Suzan Pitt, 1971, 7 mins. The worlds of New York underground theater and hard-core filmmaking are among the targets of De Palma’s pleasantly scattershot satire starring De Niro as a Vietnam vet trying to make it in Greenwich Village under the mentorship of a porno director played by Allen Garfield. (It was also released as Confessions of a Peeping John.) Crocus is a baroque animated fantasy about marital sex.

1971, 97 mins. Directed by Alan and Jeanne Abel. With Buck Henry. Preceded by PAGAN RHAPSODY George Kuchar, 1970, 23 mins. Inspired by Candid Camera and Laugh-In, this documentary spoof was called “the only really funny movie since Bananas” by The New York Times. A nudity-filled grab-bag, it features Buck Henry, Robert Downey, Marshall Efron, and Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn. The Kuchar short stars underground love goddess Donna Kerness.

United Artists, 1972, 87 mins. Directed by Woody Allen. With Gene Wilder, Burt Reynolds, Tony Randall, Lynn Redgrave, Regis Philbin. Purchasing the rights to the best-selling book, Allen infuriated the author with this bawdy and hysterical parody of the “science of sex.” Seven vignettes, introduced by such questions as “What happens during ejaculation?,” deflate the supercilious tone of the source material.

American International Pictures, 1972, 77 mins. Directed by Ralph Bakshi. Based on the characters of Robert Crumb, Bakshi’s X-Rated animated feature contains equal parts social satire and bawdy sexual antics. On a Homeric journey through a New York night, the eponymous feline (an NYU student by day) encounters a motley bunch of characters-Black Panthers, Bikers, Hippies, and finds herself in provocative scenarios that take full advantage of the freedom of animation. --David Schwartz, Chief Curator of Film via http://www.ammi.org/site/screenings/content/2002/carnal.html [Mar 2005]

Carnal Knowledge (1971) - Mike Nichols

Carnal Knowledge (1971) - Mike Nichols [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Still hot from the success of Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson solidified his reputation as the brightest star of the New Hollywood movement when he appeared in this 1971 drama, written by Jules Feiffer and directed by Mike Nichols. The film received mixed reviews, but remains fascinating for its subject matter--the sexual attitudes and activities of two male friends from their college days to middle age--and the performances of its stellar cast. Nicholson is the former athlete-turned-tax-lawyer with a fetish for well-endowed women (which explains why Ann-Margret plays his mistress), and Art Garfunkel is the shy, mild-mannered one who becomes a doctor, marries Candice Bergen, and has an affair with Carol Kane. Over the course of nearly 30 years, we see how their lives and attitudes are reflected through their sexual histories, and it's not pretty. The film deals frankly (and some will say depressingly) with the ways in which people use each other for sex, and this doesn't exactly make for rousing (or even arousing) entertainment. But with Nichols directing a cast of this caliber, Carnal Knowledge remains one of the signature films of the early 1970s, when established Hollywood traditions were giving way to the emergence of more daring films with bolder "adult" themes. --Jeff Shannon

Carnal Knowledge is a 1971 American drama film. The film is directed by Mike Nichols and written by Jules Feiffer.

Sandy (Art Garfunkel) and Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) are college roommates whose lives are explored and seem to offer a contrast to one another. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnal_Knowledge [May 2005]

Carnal knowledge and Jamaican Law regarding homosexuality:
Article 78 (Proof of Carnal Knowledge)
"Whenever upon the trial of any offence punishable under this Act, it may be necessary to prove carnal knowledge, it shall not be necessary to prove the actual emission of seed in order to constitute a carnal knowledge, but the carnal knowledge shall be deemed complete upon proof of penetration only." --http://www.jflag.org/bodyspirit/rights.htm [May 2005]

Carnal knowledge and British Law regarding homosexuality:
Enlighs Parliament closes a loophole in the definition of the capitol crime of buggery. It is no longer necessary to demonstrate "the actual Emission of Seed" to convict of buggery or rape. "Carnal knowledge shall be deemed complete upon Proof of Penetration only."

The Pawnbroker (1964) - Sidney Lumet

The Pawnbroker (1964) - Sidney Lumet [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Amazon.com essential video
Based on a novel by Edward Lewis Wallant, this gritty story follows Sol (Rod Steiger in a breakout performance), a lonely camp survivor who has dealt with the destruction of his family by suppressing all emotion and cleaving to the philosophy that nothing matters except money. (His bedridden and dying friend Mendel describes him, to his face, as "the walking dead.") Sol cannot accept the friendship of his assistant, Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez), or of an equally lonely widow (Geraldine Fitzgerald). As the 25th anniversary of his wife's murder approaches, he starts to fall apart, and it becomes clear that what he really wants is to die. The film was considered shocking when first released, both because of its rawness and because of brief nudity. Time has made some of the dramatic touches seem melodramatic--especially the corny "blood on my hands!" final scene. But Steiger's performance is still remarkable, and, even after MTV, the sudden-flashback editing is a forceful technique. A high point of Sidney Lumet's career. Black and white, with lots of atmospheric trumpets by Quincy Jones. --Richard Farr

The Pawnbroker should be remembered as the first American film to transgress the Hays Code, a code strictly limiting all expression of sexuality. From its institution in 1934, the Hays Code, with its system of punishments for transgressors, played the leading role as arbitrator of morality in film production. In terms of what could be shown on screen, clause 6-3 of the code clearly states that the expression of nudity is forbidden. Intimidating filmmakers into self-censorship, the Hays Code thus controlled major currents and styles of expression in Hollywood films from within Hollywood. Though change was underway in many branches of society, it wasn't until the late date of 1964 that the depiction of female nudity (more specifically, female breasts) in major Hollywood films (though shot in New York) had finally become acceptable to the public. Before the institution of the Hays Code (pre-1934), the depiction of female nudity was not uncommon. Thirty years later, it again became possible. For all practical purposes, the critical and commercial success of The Pawnbroker brought the curtain down on the Hays Code signaling its eventual demise --http://www.cmn.hs.h.kyoto-u.ac.jp/CMN8/kato-holocaust.html [May 2005]

The Pawnbroker also generated considerable controversy in several communities. Some Jewish organizations urged a boycott of the film due to its uncompromising presentation of the Jewish pawnbroker which they felt encouraged anti-Semitism. Black groups also accused the film of encouraging racial stereotypes of the inner city where everyone seemed to be a pimp, prostitute or drug addict. Even the Legion of Decency objected to the film for a scene in which Ortiz's girlfriend (Thelma Oliver) bares her breasts in an effort to get more money for a pawn item. All of these charges, however, seem unjustified when one views the film. What emerges is a realistic and devastating portrait of urban alienation.

Pauline Kael was one of the few critics to find fault with the movie, proclaiming the film "trite", but she also saw its merits, "You can see the big pushes for powerful effects, yet it isn't negligible. It wrenches audiences, making them fear that they, too, could become like this man. And when events strip off his armor, he doesn't discover a new, warm humanity, he discovers sharper suffering - just what his armor had protected him from. Most of the intensity comes from Steiger's performance." --http://www.turnerclassicmovies.com/ThisMonth/Article/0,,87957,00.html [May 2005]

The Pawnbroker is a novel by Edward Lewis Wallant which tells the story of a concentration camp survivor who suffers flashbacks of his past Nazi imprisonment as he tries to cope with his daily life.

It was made into a 1964 film which stars Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Brock Peters. It was adapted by Morton S. Fine and David Friedkin, and directed by Sidney Lumet.

It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Rod Steiger). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pawnbroker [May 2005]

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) - Paul Mazursky

Carnal Knowledge (1971) - Mike Nichols [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

While its particulars remain rooted in the sexual revolution of the late 1960s, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is remarkably timeless as a classic comedy of manners. Making an impressive, high-profile directorial debut after success as a screenwriter, Paul Mazursky took the pulse of California society better than anyone, especially with this well-cast, sharply observant comedy that begins when sophisticated couple Bob and Carol (Robert Culp, Natalie Wood) attend a weekend retreat that opens their eyes to the possibilities of open marriage and mutual acceptance of extramarital affairs.

When they reveal their newfound liberties to straightlaced couple Ted and Alice (Elliott Gould, Dyan Cannon), the subtle, behavioral richness of the largely improvisational screenplay (by Mazursky and Larry Tucker) rises to the surface, conveyed through the kind of natural rhythms and pauses that were dramatically in vogue in the fast-changing Hollywood of 1969. The film hasn't lost any of its punch, perhaps because American sexual politics have returned to the conservatism that existed before Bob and Carol emerged as the signature comedy of the swinging sixties. The absence of the late Natalie Wood is the only drawback to the DVD's excellent commentary, which reunites Mazursky, Culp, Gould, and Cannon in a casual atmosphere of humorous reminiscence. --Jeff Shannon

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a 1969 film with Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_&_Carol_&_Ted_&_Alice [May 2005]

Comedy of manners
The comedy of manners satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class, often represented by stock characters, such as the miles gloriosus in ancient times, the fop and the rake during the Restoration, or an old person pretending to be young. The plot of the comedy, often concerned with an illicit love affair or some other scandal, is generally less important than its witty and often bawdy dialogue. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comedy_of_manners

Coming Apart (1969) - Milton Moses Ginsberg

Coming Apart (1969) - Milton Moses Ginsberg

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