We've all heard the words that bags both dirt and douche have for sexually active women: skank, slut, and ho. You would think a girl who is generous with her sexuality would be respected and revered amongst such people, who presumably want to get laid one day. But any club that might want their membership is not only deigned but derogated. Phrases like 'suck my dick' and 'cocksucker' are instead the height of insult rather than gentle requests, reflecting deeply repressed sexophobic anxiety. In any sexually sane society they would be positives; "may your parts be fairly and gently sucked" could be a nice way of ending a letter to a friend, for example. After all, most of all of us love oral sex... so why, forgive the expression, badmouth it?
|The Nympho Ward (from top) La Notte, Shock Corridor|
But then comes the Lacanian kicker: after boasting and being laid and being seen leaving with the object of desire, the man is still disappointed: his friends don't really care beyond a few words of awe, they're too busy staring at the TV - your triumph was last night, today they're watching the game or worrying about the next party. Woe to you, the emptiness you felt before this conquest is still there. And now what? Without Lacan there's nothing but confused despair. With Lacan we can appreciate that it is exactly this very moment of disillusionment that is so valuable. Indeed it was what the illusion was reated for in the first place. In this moment of existential ennui we are like a perfect distillation of potential. We can hear the cover slam shut on the first volume of our adventures in some far off dimension where our life is being 'read' aloud to some class of angelic schoolchildren. In the space between that feeling of completion and the opening of volume 2, that dead space, is the zero point - what sexually experienced swingers call 'the walk of shame' or 'post-coital depression' or, if they're married, 'guilt'. Yet it also sweet, a kind of empty triumph that, we have to achieve it to actually realize, may be the purest kind. We're set free, as Lou Reed once sang, "to find a new illusion." Choose well!
The temptation, of course, is to to do nothing with the opportunity presented by this moment of peak stasis (the moment at the top, right before the mountain climber must turn around and descend). And instead blame the girl. Her desire robbed ours! That is where the wanton as psychic vampire comes in. Me for example, I learned through experience that sex with a Taurus always leaves me psychically depleted and depressed. No other sign does so! Since I've been around the block you know I learned by experience. Not that it stops me, since I love Tauruses!! Still it is perhaps this ingrained fear of depletion, the need for sex to be a whole song and dance, that makes most men hesitate when the wanton pounces. We find female desire terrifying because it inflicts an external desire onto us rather than vice versa, and it's a trap we're only comfortable setting, and thus having it sprung in our face we're at least not blaming someone else.
However, since it's a man's world, the female orgasm is considered more traumatic and X-rated than if she's merely disemboweled, which is why the American ratings board is so screwed up (Check out This Film is Not Yet Rated), regularly giving NC-17s to any film where a girl is seen having an orgasm but gang rape and butchery may only garner an R. This shit's been making me super mad ever since Porky's introduced the misogynistic sex comedy deluge in the early 1980s, turning even my Sunday School Teacher into a snarky ass and me instantly into a 14 year-old misandric feminist.
I lost my point back there somewhere, dude. I fell into an orbit of back-handed boasting again. Did you catch it? Shit runs deep, even down under the psychic scarring of watching CALIGULA over and over on too much LSD. Jeezus. Zappa was right, "the torture / never stops."
I haven't seen it since, don't remember a damn thing about it other than that climactic role switch - but man, I never forgot it. It was a huge lesson to me in explaining my own adolescent fear/desire self-sabotage around girls who seemed more than willing to make out right there on the recess playground. Morgan Fairchild taught me more in that one move than a dozen lovelorn obsessions might.
That's why I could only smile in recognition when a girl we'll call Karen did the same thing. Beautiful but empty-headed, she'd sleep with me one night or so a month and then ignore me altogether the rest of the time. I didn't get that, figuring only a man would be such a cad, that if you stay over we're in a relationship. When after a long day/night i finally felt I had won her over via my needy moping the night before, we met after class, and got drunk at the local bar happy hour. She sat in my lap and prattled like a vain idiot, and clung to my neck like a barnacle. She was incessantly hanging on me to the point I remembered The Seduction scene. Her prior aloofness made me pine like a black velvet puppy for months, and now I was fed up with her after merely a few hours. Genius. Not sure if she did it on purpose or not, but man, did it ever work.
We can see this switch in the public's eventual rejection of silent era siren Clara Bow, for example. In the 1920s Bow was a huge success; her sexuality was legend, a matter of national pride. But when the Great Depression and sound came along the public rejected her wild sexuality and renounced her altogether. Indirectly, I'm sure they blamed her promiscuity for the economic collapse; they rejected, not just her, but their own past obsession with her. They had made--en masse--the Seduction switch, running away like Fairchild's spooked stalker. A similar moment occurred right around 1980, after the the 1970s free love vibe succumbed to AIDS awareness, slasher movies, the rise of home video making a plethora of lurid unedited urban rape/revenge films easily rentable by children, the assassination of John Lennon, and various daycare sex scandals. As a child in the 1970s I'd basked in semi-erotic attention from cute babysitters and my dad's secretaries at late at night at drunken bridge games, marveled at the way parents were so physically affectionate with each other's spouses and it was all acceptable and fine and good. Nowadays all those girls would be jailed as pedophiles as would our teachers in elementary school for spanking us on our birthdays, one spank for every year, while the other kids cheered and counted along.
Oops, once again, sexual reverie has thrown me off track. So hard to stay objective. Let me conclude and just say I still resent that the 1980s stole my libidinal freedom, and now every time some dirt bag says words like 'slut' or 'skank' I feel the urge to go back in time and sabotage the filming of Porky's. Instead, I guess all I can do is round up some examples of super nymphs:
1. Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind (1956)
In their overview for Dorothy Malone, TCM notes she "made her first impact as a nymphomaniac entertaining Humphrey Bogart one thundery afternoon in 'The Big Sleep' (1946)." Nymphomaniac is a pretty strong word since we don't really know what goes on between them in the fade-out between their first drink and her spotting Geiger leaving the shop. Did someone at TCM get this role confused with her Oscar-winning turn in Written on the Wind? Or is it just that if a girl invites a man for a quick tryst in a 1946 detective movie she's a nymphomaniac? The peak, perhaps, of uninhibited dangerous female sexual heat in the movies can be found in the rapid editing between Malone's wild frenzied dancing in her room and her father dying downstairs of a heart attack - she unable to hear his distress over the wailing rock-and-roll. The association between the two is direct if oblique - she becomes in this dance a kind of Texas oil Kali, her sexual heat destroying the old generation and just begging for a spark of phallic fertilization to reap the new. She's a shamanistic shiva, the turntable her row of native congas, her thick orange 'fake tan' mascara and wild eye liner a hideous, wild fertility goddess mask.
I think the real nympho in the Big Sleep is Martha Vickers as Carmen Sternwood, but I mention the nympho reference as an indication of the casual offensiveness that goes unchecked in our American social codes vis-a-vis girls who are highly sexualized, and I assure you it's not that bad in countries like France, Argentina, and the UK. We're a nation of easily shocked sexophobic prudes! The genius of the bookstore scene is we simply don't know what goes on between them in that fade-out. In the 'code' a fade-out to some external shot, especially in the rain, is meant to denote coitus of one form or another, but it's also not necessarily that - and especially in afternoon tryst situations the line gets very fuzzy. Censors seemed to think all men became beasts if a woman even left her door unlocked at night but that sex could never happen in the afternoon or morning, thus all sorts of 'did they or didn't they' moments occur (as in Baby Doll, Red Desert, Love in the Afternoon, Lolita, etc. -see Cinq-au-sept vs. the Censors)
Malone's character in Written on the Wind is--on the other hand--a stellar example of the intimidating sexual woman. If Rock Hudson had a ball in his sac he'd throw the lady a sympathy f--k and then she could move on with her life, but instead he gets all stoic and takes her down by the river for a picnic to renew their vows of eternal besties-hood, leaving her stuck in a town where nothing ever happens so he can moon over Bacall (we know now why he prefers his women unavailable). The best she can do is get drunk and have flings with the poor locals (and a sorry married lot they are, too) to compensate, and he takes it on himself to get down there and cockblock even that! At least in the end she's assumed control of the company and there's an indication her sexual heat can find sublimation in big oily business, and then, now that Rock's away, she can lure handsome contractors home like she's Ruth Chatterton in Female (1933) --though hopefully none will be George Brent.
2. Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan (2007)
There is no condemnation or prudish judgment of Ricci's character in Moan and that's one of the reasons it's so moving and awesome. Meanwhile she is a nymphomaniac in the DSM-IV-style definition yet she's allowed to be still hot, vulnerable, and sympathetic. Never a caricature or an object, not even of pity --she's a fucking person. As my fellow pro-Moan preacher Kim Morgan notes when discussing the initial chaining of the Ricci's wanton to the radiator:
"...here's the movie's daring twist--she eventually wants to listen. But not because Lazarus is a strict prude, preaching the lord and imposing scripture, he's fractured himself, a depressed musician, still stung by his young wife who just left him for his younger brother, he understands Rae's problems. He's also wise to the wanton, something he can truly express through his music, especially when Rae is nearby. While he encourages her to go straight, she inspires him to let loose, culminating in a gloriously sweaty juke joint jaunt. Singing a wonderfully profane "Stagger Lee"/"Stacker Lee"/" (to a gorgeously gyrating Rae) Lazarus shows that sin, goodness and redemption aren't so (and this is perfectly suitable here) black and white." (more)
One of the more disturbing cliche's in our modern lexicon is 'the dead hooker.' Even in comedies like 30 Rock and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, waking up with a the dead hooker in your hotel room (or trunk) is a handy signifier of black-out decadence, right up there with the face tattoo, and the exotic animal in the bathroom. Fonda as Bree in Klute gives you an idea why this threat is so deadly real and nothing to snicker about. Gorgeous and self-possessed she seems very cool, but languishing in the back of your mind while gazing at her awesome slinky body is something of the concern Klute (Donald Sutherland) seems to feel. Also, despite whatever amount of sexy ooh yeah, fantastic's she throws your way, there's a feeling you are not going to connect with her, ever. No matter what kinky shit you come up with, how deep you pour out your heart, she's not going to break character.
The man who turns out to be the killer is even complicit with our need to connect to her, to break through (to) her. He dared to feel that, in Bree, at last (as we hear on his tape recording of their first encounter), he'd found a woman whose wide tolerant / masochistic nature might even be able to handle his kinky needs without judging, that she might be 'the' one girl in a million who could clutch the burning blade, so to speak, and temper his violence. That she rejects him provokes his repressive shame. No matter what one does to her, sleeping with Bree is like sleeping with an echo, a ghost, like a waitress you think is super into you as she waits on you at breakfast but then you realize she's just angling for a tip; she doesn't even really see you.
If you kill her, maybe she'll finally notice you.
"Her bathroom masturbation leads to a flashback where she is five or six and spying through a keyhole on her brother making out with his girlfriend. The image of her eye in the keyhole serves as a gateway for all that is to follow: the young girl as Peeping Tom, her directorial eye looking in on whatever "dirty things" strike her fancy, daring to seize the reins of spectatorship back from the “male gaze.” Anna as voyeur is turned on by her own lurid life, and as Asia she is turned on by making the viewer uncomfortable instead of turned on in turn. But again, if a man shocks the audience, he's cutting edge, if a woman does the same she's dirty (unless she's someone like Catherine Breillat, i.e. older, and not a sex symbol acting in her own films).
This double standard carries its own erotic charge, which Anna is addicted to. In the bath she shares with her brother she mentions to him she might be an actress when she grow up; he says actresses are "like mom" and "whores." This prompts little Anna to confess she "keeps her panties on" (when she masturbates) which prompts him to angrily dunk her head under water. Thus we see from this early age how Anna is addicted to "confessing" dirty to an authority (male) figure in order to then masochistically receive his violent reaction. This form of erotically-charged penance and provocation underwrites the progress of the film: First Asia invites us to identify with her character, and then she springs a shock on us so fast we don't have time to form a moderate response. She's like a police detective, tricking us believing her "mask" of innocence, or in this case, playing on the delusions of our own feminist liberal tolerance. Anna may get her head dunked, but all of her brother's fatherly scolding cannot change the fact that she made him lose control. This is where she takes her victories, such as they are, by proving the fallibility of those she unconsciously enslaves herself to. If we let her make us mad, she's already won. (How does it feel? Do you begin to understand what being used for someone else's pleasure feels like yet?)" (see Her Body, Her Ashtray - Acidemic #1 -2003)
5. Mae West
Unlike someone who just films raw sex or violence or other forms of transgression, Mae is genuinely subversive, something the Catholic Legion of Decency understood, which was why there were so quick to have her censored... It's nothing in her double entendres so much (there were plenty of those in other scripts) but the copious admiration and financial gain she shows herself getting, onscreen, for her unmarried sexual congress, the lack of guilt or public indignity she suffers. If Mae's characters had died alone and unloved, having sacrificed all for her illegitimate daughter, etc., she would have been fine with the censors. But daring to indulge in the forbidden fruits and end the film all the richer and with Cary Grant on your arm and no harm done? It was just too dangerous to go on.
Those moralists wanted sex to be served in little teacups to a temperate nation. Mae served it by spreading tea leaves on the floor and flooding the building with hot water. It was like showing the corruptible females of the world a magic faucet with which they could drown their men's precious capitalist system with a few flicks of their diamond-bespangled wrists.
What was more than a mere threat to the Christian status quo, though, was Mae's willingness to peek behind the magic curtain where the big deals are made, and to point out that regardless of how much they bellow and bluster, underneath the suits and uniforms men are just men - and any man can be had. Such knowledge was dangerous. The whole social ladder seemed to shake and buckle from the force of Mae's tsunami hips.(Desperation and Divinity- Bright Lights Film Journal #64, 2009)
In a way I see the Jung-Spielren relationship as the analytical extension (with more genuine sex in it, for therapeutic purposes only) of the one between Jackson and Ricci in Black Snake Moan. You can say Jung violates ethical codes by sleeping with (and spanking) his patient but in my circle there's just two things you must never do: 1) intrude on someone's privacy (or cockblock), and 2) refuse the advances of a pretty girl (they're not used to rejection and don't handle it very well, but on the other hand they are used to keeping secrets). Truth is: men who are married and yet tempted by the advances of a hot young homewrecker are in a no-win situation. If you're a young Jung and the hot young thing is seminal nymphomaniacal masochist patient, you're bound to get a lot farther in treatment if you agree to a little rough trade spanking and sexual consummation. After all, as T.S. Eliot said, "the awful daring of a moment's surrender / which an age of prudence can never retract / for this and this alone have we existed." Man, I use that quote an awful lot. Maybe too much. It rationalizes just about everything. What am I trying to tell myself.
Oh well, tell me this then, would YOU risk your career and stable family for sexy, smart Keira Knightley? If you said no, thou art a pussy; if you said nein, du bist ein hund!
7. Elizabeth Taylor
It's surely no accident that Liz Taylor frequently played women whose voracious sexual energy cowed the men around her, indirectly turning them gay: there's Brando's frustrated cavalryman in Reflections in a Golden Eye; Paul Newman as a guy who really misses showering with Skipper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; and the beach boy-feeding Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer, to name just a few. Sex with Taylor seems very daunting, then, like climbing a mountain while falling off it at the same time. She's just too smart, too beautiful, too strong-willed, too assertive and too no-nonsense for a man to ever think of dominating. She could probably drive you to suicide if you failed to perform like a stud instead of a houseboy. That's what she did to poor Skipper! Poah... poah Skippuh
Sexually alive, braying from the battlements, melons bobbling, you'd best not call her a tramp --only she can do that, as when she dubs herself "the slut of all time!" in Butterfield 8. In that movie, alas, she has to reform and hate herself at the end, but most of the time Taylor's characters got home all right, dignity intact, no matter what kind of grass stains they may have trailed in from the front lawn of the Dueling Oaks. Even if they end up stuck with a houseboy too proud to fill the ice bucket while Georgie Boy staggers down the driveway with flores por la dia de los muertos. Taylor's sexual heat is so 'pure' it's pre-Christian, almost pre-Cambrian. All her targeted men can do to try and match her is get roaring drunk for courage, and like as not pass out while thinking of poor... poah Skippuh.
8. Clara Bow
"After a handful of years as the most desirable woman in America, Bow became its most abused punching bag. Of course, that’s how stardom works — contingent, as it is, upon our ever-shifting affections. But that doesn’t mean that the story of Bow isn’t a tragic one, or that we should forget what was done to a woman whose bliss was so clearly written all over her body." - Anne Helen PetersonYes Anne Helen Peterson, though I'd add that 'abused' and 'desirable' are, alas, more like the front and back of a very thin coin than opposite ends of a career. These extreme reactions go hand in hand: not just bliss being written on the body, but our collective guilt after reading it. It was enough to make us stop reading altogether - at any rate, we didn't need to. Sound was here, and man, that Barbara Stanwyck could talk.
Richard Burton does his best to avoid the advances of hot-to-trot, under-age Charlotte (Sue Lyon) in Tennesee William's Night of the Iguana, but it's only because he's been burned once too often, via the opening of the film when he's hissed at in church for bedding down with one of the younger female parishioners. He wants to do good but, honey - he's only human. He later defines statutory rape as "when a man is seduced by a woman under twenty" and he means it. He's not laughing. As if to prove the point, after he throws Charlotte out one time too many she starts throwing tantrums, dancing with Maxine's beach boys, and finally hooking up with the bus tour's uber-bland second wheel, Hank. His heroic spurning does him no good - his job's still over thanks to a jealous harridan, but at least there's older women waiting their turn. In the end, I think he should maybe have gone for it, even knowing there was no way Maxine would want him afterwards. At least he'd have a nice memory to cool down from for the long swim!
I mean, how can you think he's just a louche guy with no control after he was able to throw Sue Lyon out of his room (in the above still)? Good thing I'm a drinking man, or was. As the bartender puts it, "we don't want our young men growing up to think women can be like you." and who can blame him? Their whole society would crumble in a matter of days... like it does in Bunuel's Susana. On the other hand, what's the best Burton can hope for if he does give in? What was that T.S. Eliot quote (from #6) again? Or does wrecking your life only have cachet when you still have a life to wreck? (see also: My Night of the Iguana)
10. Sharon Stone - Basic Instinct (1992)
The famous leg crossing scene is a superb example of the threatening power the wanton female has over both individual men and patriarchal authority as a whole. The police have deliberately arranged the cross examination in their favor, with three men facing one woman, along with rows of men behind them and behind the two way mirror -- they have total confidence they'll be able to intimidate the hell out of her-- but one flash of her crotch and they are all reduced to gibbering baboons. Case in point, and career instantly made.
I know this film is beloved as a classic but I've always been irked by its treatment of Mrs. Robinson. After all she's just a lonely wife trying to seduce her friend's son, cougar-style. The film doesn't blame Benjamin for eventually succumbing, but it sure blames her. In a way the film itself acts as a destructive hypocrite, first goading Ben into a hotel room with her (or even the bath at her place), judging him for being a prude, then later judging her for feeling outraged when Ben starts dating her daughter, considering him unworthy for a son-in-law (since she's already shagging him). Sure, that's a hypocritical response on her part, yet is her subsequent scorn any different from the film's own attitude towards her, or society's attitude towards female libertines in general? If Ben was a real man he'd keep his Robinson thing going and solicit her for a Rolex and a Ferrari like, say, Warren Beatty in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, and would have been nicer to her daughter Katherine Ross on their first date so she wouldn't have liked him so much, and then found himself someone from a different family to marry on the side. Doesn't he know there are other families in California? Instead we're supposed to boo Mrs. Robinson for daring to go cougar before the term was invented, yet Ben is innocent of all wrongdoing because he made a few lame attempts at stalling her, even as we're also supposed to laugh at his feeble attempts to goad her into conversation? Golly, you are sure groundbreaking, 'Graduate.' Too bad you can't stone adulteresses to death anymore! When Benjamin starts goading her into telling him what model car she got pregnant in you want to punch him in that big schnozz! Can't he see this woman is depressed and desperately unfulfilled and is probably married to a man so deep in the closet even he doesn't know he's gay? Have a little compassion, Ben. But he'd rather just get huffy when he encounters hypocrisy, never when he commits it. So groundbreaking... one almost can't believe it was only filmed in 1956.
12. The Vixens, Pussycats, and Dolls of Russ Meyer
Part of the ample charm of Russ Meyer's oeuvre is his fondness for big-busted, cartoonish, very very horny and strong-willed female characters. His amazonian nymphomaniac heroines aren't judged or derided for their appetites, rather it's the menfolk around them who are judged lacking. They are terrified of these women, and who wouldn't be without the safety of the screen to protect them? Sometimes a boy just likes to hold hands and take you to the movies first, or at least have time for the Cialis to kick in before the third date deed-gets-done deadline. The girls of Russ Meyer movies don't play it safe or wait for the third date. They see you pumping gas, they look you up and down, lick their lips and make a grab for your zipper. If you're a guy and a girl's ever come onto you like that then you know the score, it's something you always dreamed of and now it's happening 'too fast' for your drives to kick in... stuttering, blushing, panicked, you instinctively try to run away, muttering any excuse you can think of. Maybe later, once you're safely up in your own room with your comfort music or movie on, you can unpack what just happened. Then, the recriminations from your Id come rolling in.
|Erica Gavin - Vixen|
Bottom line: Every man is a sex machine when there's no chance of having sex. Once it's inescapable it becomes a matter of getting it up, keeping it up, and delivering the goods. Maybe afterwards you can bask but until then you are on trial and your whole definition of your own prowess hangs in the shifting urges of a drunken wanton and your own fickle member! You should man up and go for it but if you feel dirty and guilty later (or worse, ashamed of your inadequacy) don't blame her! Any dog can be brave on the leash, barking and straining, but don't snap at a bitch if she wants to chew it off. She's just free, and you're not. So suck it, Benjamin!