Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Psychedelic money shots? I'm in.

I watched Behind the Green Door last night - it's on my exam list, but I've also wanted to see it for ages. After seeing The Resurrection of Eve, also starring Marilyn Chambers - which was awesome - I was super excited to watch Green Door. Well, they didn't disappoint in terms of the infamous slow-mo, psychedelic money shot. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's worth watching for the money shot (something you can't say too often). It's borderline art. 

Chambers, as usual, is amazing - a 1970s Chloe Sevigny - and notable for being the Ivory Snow girl, as well as the star of David Cronenberg's Rabid. The movie didn't get me hot, but I wasn't really watching it for that purpose (although it's a nice bonus if you can get it). I was also a little perturbed by the opening scene of her being abducted, taken away in a car, and deposited in a room where she is groomed for a sexual performance at a club where patrons attend in masks (very Eyes Wide Shut-esque) and jack off with each other while watching a sex show involving aforementioned abductee. The eponymous "green door" is at the back of the stage, and we never really fully understand what's "behind" it, other than when Chambers is carried back there at the very end for a more intimate love making scene with one of the guests. I guess behind the green door there is "true" pleasure? Either way, it was a relief that the film makers decided to portray Chambers as choosing to participate in the sex show after being abducted. Granted, this perpetuates the idea that women think they don't want to engage in sex acts, but once coerced they will happily submit. I find that message disturbing, but for selfish reasons (i.e. I don't want to see an explicit rape) I was glad they chose to take this route.

This plot detail leads me to think about audience participation in pornographic film (about which there is some scholarship and research, but not much). When I watched this film with my partner, we both articulated our relief at not having to see a rape, while also acknowledging the fact that technically we were still seeing a rape (coerced sex: does Chambers' character really have a choice, in the true sense of the word?). However, we also understood that the conventions of pornographic feature films, especially during the 1970s, often result in plot lines that deal with the "problem" or female sexual pleasure. Many porn films from this era, most famously Deep Throat, explore female sexuality as a problem in need of a solution or a psychological breakthrough of some kind for the woman protagonist. For Linda Lovelace, in Deep Throat, she doesn't have a clitoris in the usual place, and so cannot have an orgasm. Her doctor discovers that her clitoris is in her throat, and naturally deep-throating cock enables her to finally achieve the "bells ringing" and "dams bursting" that she has been hoping for. I don't think the phallocentric wish-fulfillment expressed by this plot needs any explanation!

In Green Door it's a little more subtle, and much darker, yet the focus is the same: Chambers goes through some kind of revelation or epiphany, but this requires a special place, and a special introduction to the mysterious sex club. In other words, she cannot discover this sexuality alone. On the one hand, this can be seen as obviously misogynistic; however, it could also be read in another, more complex way. While in no way approaching a "feminist" porn film, Green Door does speak to the issues of repressed female sexuality; the idea that women have been cultured for centuries to be passive and repressed when it comes to sex; encouraged to be "virtuous" and "pure." Therefore, in order to experience a sexual epiphany, a woman requires something to happen to her. After this, she is able to become active and experience a more enlightened sexuality for herself (represented by the love-making scene behind the green door). In other words, rather than viewing the film as necessarily condoning what happens to Chambers' character, we could interpret the film as critiquing gendered forms of sexuality in Western culture. After all, when we watch a "regular" movie, we don't automatically assume that whatever the film shows us, they are agreeing with or promoting.

Of course, the culmination of the entire film is the notorious and extended money shot, which has to be seen to be believed, which refocuses everything back to male pleasure, and it is a man who literally picks Chambers up and carries her behind the green door. Nevertheless, I found it to be a thought-provoking, if not entirely progressive, viewing experience. It certainly wasn't a patch on Resurrection, which is a genuinely complex film in terms of gender relations.

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