Porn to Be Mild

U Film's "Erotic Tales" tell a tasteful--and tired--story

Naked people are funny--any seven-year-old knows that. There's a reason we keep all those floppy, fleshy protuberances tucked away from the sight of strangers. And when two or more naked people mash into each other, it's even funnier--not always for the naked people themselves (their overriding biochemical rushes tend to temporarily suspend their disbelief), but for anyone lucky enough to watch. Extraneous limbs wriggle in vain to find a comfortably interlocked position, while their possessors make squishy noises and freakish faces: hilarious. But half-naked people are the funniest of all. Imagine your most fearsome adversary, drawers round ankles and one sock on--a tube sock, say. Terrified? Of course not.

With this obvious tenet in mind, you might consider it a sign of healthy creative instinct that a sizable dollop of the two dozen "Erotic Tales" showing at U Film Society this week are humorous in tone. But let's face it: Humorous is a lukewarm term. It doesn't mean funny any more than erotic means sexy. Too often the directors here aim for different targets (for amusing and sensual, most likely), and almost just as often miss even that mild mark. These are stories marked by the sort of uncomfortable humor that arises when everyone seems slightly embarrassed about the matter at hand--not just the characters themselves, which is all in good fun, but also the people telling the stories, which is big trouble. As a result, there are even fewer honest laughs here than there are turn-ons.

The series, produced by Germany's Regina Ziegler, is basically a set of genre exercises, culling name directors from various countries to create short films dedicated to the proposition, "If it is not erotic, it is not interesting." In the process, these people seem to have deluded themselves into believing the inverted postulate: "If it is erotic, it is always interesting." Erotic can be a faux-classy fudge word: Here it generally seems to mean nothing more than not porn--sex tales with a veneer of middlebrow respectability. While I can't claim to define this sort of erotica exactly, I do know it when I see it. It seems to have something to do with corsets and garters and other complicated undergarments; with narrative short cuts like it was all a dream and now we are alone; and with a visual imagination in which genitalia generally exist only by inference, and in which cum shots are replaced by flaccid punch lines or emotive grimaces.

What a drip: Hal Hartley's "Kimono"
What a drip: Hal Hartley's "Kimono"

Of the films available for preview, the most successful among them work as consciously slight miniatures. Dutch director Jos Stelling's "The Waiting Room" is like an extended version of one of those dialogue-free European commercials that everyone chuckles over when they hand out the advertising awards: In it, an oily middle-aged lecher ogles every woman in a train station before a self-possessed blonde calls his bluff. Stelling's "The Gas Station" works a similar theme, with the same fellow (the deadpan Gene Bervoets) flirting his way to disaster on a gridlocked freeway.

If there's a theme that runs through all these films, it's that of the lecherous male getting his comeuppance. As far as bland, undernuanced morality-play schematics go, that one's not dishonorable. But the ogling schlumps in question are such harmless plodders to begin with that the satire doesn't have much bite. Ken Russell's "The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch" skewers a hapless fop; Amos Kollek's "Angela" sets up a 70-year-old loser for a fall; and Bernd Heiber's "The Night Nurse" topples a wastrel of a middle-aged security guard. In each of these vignettes, as in Stelling's films, the women retain their sexual power over the men who objectify them.

If sex is a ridiculous act, then lust is the most ludicrous of impulses--and these films implicitly assert that lecherous males are more worthy of pity than fear. And so the male gaze remains intact--not just in the audience, but behind the camera as well. That kind of gender-studies talk gets reductive real quick, and I'd hesitate to haul it out at all if this series wasn't so obviously male-dominated, nearly to the point of monopoly. Take Hal Hartley's "Kimono," a drippy fantasia that relentlessly fetishizes Asian women. A bride is tossed out of a car and wanders through an enchanted wood in her undies (corset and garters, natch), while what I'd guess are wood nymphs (they sport funny eye makeup and rustic tunics) spy on her. Each of the characters proceeds in silence (girls are so much less erotic when they start blabbing, you know), but inspirational messages of perfume-commercial verse flitter occasionally across the screen. Ugh.

Not that Rosa von Praunheim's "Can I Be Your Bratwurst Please?" strikes a victory for the ladies. True, the appearance of a quite prominent schlong dangling from a quite shapely and quite frequently unclothed fellow is a rarity in this series. But the women and men who eye this vacuous beefcake are contemptible grotesques (e.g., a Marilyn Monroe doppelgänger, a burly leather man, a Viennese desk-clerk queen), and the carnivorous finale is the least engaging sort of camp. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I've never found playing with your food to be a turn-on; same goes for bad acting. But enough with the analytical cavils: As in most of these films, the problem with Bratwurst is that it's not funny and not sexy, either.

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Loading...