Because the screen is the only well-lit mirror in town

Friday, March 02, 2012

CinemArchetype #6: The Wanton

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 -Shock Corridor
With the help of Freud, Jung, and Lacan, this strange dichotomy becomes clear: If the female one desires is passive and unsure, if she needs to be convinced and coaxed, then the sex is a matter of conquering and 'penetrating.' If the woman is aggressive and eager then the sex is a matter of being devoured, of disappearing. The metaphor might be the rocket that hopes to land on Venus, disembark and plant a nice US flag, but instead the ship lands inside a giant Venus flytrap tongue and is swallowed up. This of course goes back to our anxiety that our mom's penis is missing (she has nothing where we have something, therefore they can fall-off, therefore ours will). And our penis does go missing, out of sight with every deep... deep... landing?

In the writing of Slavoj Zizek and Todd McGowan via Lacan, we can think of this in terms of the objet petit a, wherein sexual gratification with some ultimate hottie is the ultimate status symbol, which will in effect restore us to our status as mom's golden phallic replacement; but this enhanced completion is dependent on the eyes of the Big Other; therefore we must never 'get' that final puzzle piece because our need for the other's desire constructs our whole identity. Winning the hottie is only one part of it, the other part is the boasting to the friends; this is where the real objet petit a dwells, finding what the Other wants and getting it for ourselves, essentially becoming then what is wanted; but after boasting 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; the emptiness is still there. And now what? Ah but with Lacan we can appreciate that it is exactly this moment of emptiness we secretly wanted --the disillusion is what the illusion was for. "Only when we've lost everything can we do anything."

The temptation, of course, is to not use your disillusion for growth and change, to do nothing with the opportunity presented by losing everything. And instead we blame the girl. She's why we feel empty. For me, it's the empty I'd feel after sex with a Taurus. Why? Who knows. What we do know: female desire is terrifying because it inflicts an external desire onto us rather than vice versa, and we know about disillusion from our own sexual pursuits; someone wants to lay us and then blame us for leaving them still empty at the core, just as we blamed our last conquest.

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 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 me instantly into a 14 year-old misandric feminist.

But hey, I'm no hero; I too know the terror of recoiling from the terror generated in any stout fella's heart by a truly desiring female: I had this gorgeous blue-eyed Taurus girlfriend in college and some nights while I was tripping intensely she'd come to me with her blue eyes lit up in longing, her loveliness vibrating, the combination of the purple flannel shirt I bought her for Xmas and her pale white skin, beautiful breasts, jet black Chrissie Hynde hair, those Alaska sky blue eyes drawing me to her with every shuddering breath, and I'd feel uncontrollable terror and revulsion, like her beauty and longing was some monstrous challenge I was in no shape to meet, being as usual super drunk and out of my skull on acid and having just watched Caligula for what seemed like 30 agonizing blood-soaked years in a single night after a nightmarish Halloween gig at a local frat house. She was dressed in weird white make-up as a lizard girl that night and seemed like a terrifying demon. When the make-up came off her beauty hit me like an anchor in the gut. At dawn I crept up and she was waiting in bed, to hold me to her and when I closed my eyes I saw bloody red roses and giant Caligula thresher blades running towards my buried neck. It got worse, later, after we watched Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS together. God help me, I couldn't have sex without seeing literally red for weeks.

The Seduction
A great cinematic example of how male desire hinges on female evasiveness is found in a largely forgotten 1982 Morgan Fairchild vehicle called The Seduction. In it Fairchild is being stalked by a sleazy creep and by the end she has to do battle with him alone in her swanky mansion. How will she fend him off? He stalks her around her mansion for awhile, and then, all out of options, fed up with a whole movie worth of his obsessive crap, Morgan suddenly stops fighting and comes onto him. She demands he take his pants off, let's get this over with, Stud, see what you're packin' --so she starts pursuing him around the room, acting all needy, etc. It freaks him out and suddenly he can't get away fast enough. Genius!

I haven't seen it since, don't remember a damn thing about it other than that climactic switch. It taught me more than a dozen  lovelorn obsessions might. I could only smile in recognition when in 1987 I had pining for a beautiful hippie girl, who'd slept with me for one night the year before, then ignored me until a year later, I finally felt I had her as mine (I was so naive and clingly), but then the next afternoon she stayed over, we got drunk at the local bar and she sat in my lap and prattled, and clung and was incessantly hanging on me, and I instantly remembered The Seduction scene. Her prior aloofness made me pine like a Twilight character for a year, and now I was fed up after merely a few hours.

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. Indirectly, I'm sure they blamed her promiscuity for the economic collapse; they rejected not just her but their own past obsession, they had made--en masse--the Seduction switch, running away like Fairchild's spooked stalker. I remember a similar moment right around 1980, when the 1970s free love vibe succumbed to AIDS awareness, slasher movies, the death of John Lennon, and various daycare sex scandals coalesced into a backlash against the free love of the late 1960s-70s. 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. 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. laughed, and counted along. So I resent that the 1980s stole my girls, and 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? 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!

Malone's character in Written on the Wind is 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, and the best she can do is get drunk and have flings with the poor locals (and a sorry married lot they are, too). 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 she can lure handsome contractors home like she's Ruth Chatterton in Female (1933)

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:
"'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)
3. Jane Fonda in Klute (1971)
 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 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 is our Bree, 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 this chick at all. 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, in that 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 who can handle his kinky needs, who accepted his violence. That she didn't provokes the repressive's dire need for erasing the evidence. In a way, as Todd McGowan might say, the beating up is his one last ditch attempt to satisfy her... to actually connect with her and deliver the amount of sensation she needs to get off.  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.

4. Asia Argento in Scarlet Diva (2000)

"Her bathroom masturbation leads to a flashback where she is five or six and spying through a keyhole on her brother Allosca 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 Anna/Asia she is turned on by making the viewer uncomfortable instead of turned on in turn. But again, if a man films what a man desires and it shocks the audience, he's brave and cutting edge, if a woman does the same she's considered self indulgent and dirty (unless she's Catherine Breillat, i.e. French 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 Alloscia she mentions to him she might be an actress when she grows up. Alloscia dismisses actresses as "like mom" and "whores." This prompts little Anna to confess she "keeps her panties on" (when she masturbates) which shocks  Alloscia and prompts him to angrily dunk her head under water. Thus we see from this early age how Anna is addicted to both doing "dirty things" and, in true Catholic style, "confessing" to an authority (male) figure in order to then masochistically receive his violent reaction. This form of erotically-charged penance and provocation is really the backbone of the whole 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 into slips of the "mask" of innocence, or in this case, our 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."(Her Body, Her Ashtray - Acidemic #1 -2003)

5. Mae West
"... Mae is genuinely subversive, which is why the Catholic Legion of Decency was so quick to have her censored... It's nothing in her double entendres so much as the copious admiration and financial gain she shows herself getting, onscreen, for her unmarried sexual congress. If Mae's characters had died alone and unloved, having sacrificed all for her daughter, raised in a convent, to marry a prince, 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 a rigid class and sex system like the Catholic censorial 1930s.

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, they're all just men underneath the suits and uniforms. 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)

6. Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein- A Dangerous Method (2011)

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 where I come from there's a saying: the two worst things a man can do are: 1) intrude on someone's privacy, and 2) refuse the advances of a pretty girl. Oh wait, that's from Edie Sedgwick: Ciao! Manhattan. Well, anyway, I heard it before... I didn't make it up, but I ascribe to it. 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 spurn the girl she might create more trouble than if you just get it over with (i.e. accuse you of rape, as is done more than once in British films). Perhaps you can spook her off by being suddenly needy and really bad in bed, but 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. It rationalizes just about everything. Wouldn't you risk your career and stable family for Keira Knightley? If you said no then man you art a pussy; if you said yes then you art eines richtiges schweinhund!

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 all gay: there's Brando's closeted cavalry commander in Reflections in a Golden Eye; closeted Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; and gay cousin Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer, to name just a few. Sex with Taylor seems very daunting. She's just too smart, too beautiful, and could probably drive you to suicide if you failed to perform like a stud instead of a houseboy.

She was so tough 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, even if they end up stuck with a pompous houseboy too proud to fill the ice bucket while Georgie Boy staggers down the driveway with flores. Taylor's sexual heat is so 'pure' it's pre-Christian, moving her into the same sphere as Olympian deities like Aphrodite and Athena (though she wasn't a convincing Cleopatra). All her targeted men can do to try and match her was get roaring drunk for courage, and like as not pass out while thinking of poor... poor 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 Peterson
9. Sue Lyon - Night of the Iguana (1964)

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 later defines statutory rape as "when a man is seduced by a woman under twenty." Charlotte eventually starts throwing tantrums, dancing with Maxine's beach boys, and finally hooking up with the bus tour's uber-bland second wheel, Hank, all because Burton wouldn't put out, but at least there's older women waiting their turn. In the end, I think he should maybe have gone for it. I mean just look at her in those white shorts. Jeeeezus Christ.  On the other hand, what's the best you can hope for? Humbertville? Forget it. Either way, you already lost it all. Was it worth it? Just look at those legs for your answer. What was that T.S. Eliot quote again? Oh never mind.  (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 not only men but 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, but one flash of her crotch and they are all reduced to gibbering baboons. Case in point, and career instantly made.

11. Ann Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson - The Graduate (1967)

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), then judging her for daring to be outraged when Ben also starts dating her daughter, considering him unworthy for a son-in-law since she's already shagging him. Sure, that's a hypocritical response, 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 someone from a different family to marry on the side. Instead we're supposed to boo Mrs. Robinson for daring to go cougar before the term was invented while Ben is innocent of all wrongdoing because he made a few lame attempts at stalling her and then kept trying to goad her into conversation? Golly, you are sure groundbreaking, 'Graduate.' Too bad you can't stone her 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!

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, have some time to just make out for three hours or round second base before the third date deed-gets-done deadline. The girls of Supervixens; Faster Pussycat; Mudhoney; Beneath the Valley of Dolls; Harry, Cherry, and Raquel; and Up!, 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, if any.

Erica Gavin - Vixen
  Maybe that's why I hated all these coke whore friends of my roommate, all making out all over the floor when I used to get up at four AM to use the bathroom, still shaky in my early weeks of sobriety. They reminded me all a woman had to do is turn around and beckon instead of running away and I was fresh out of moves. And of course they can tease, flash come-on smiles, grab your junk over your jeans, and then push you away when you try to kiss them, shouting loud enough for Dave's mom to hear (since she's asleep on the other couch), "oh my god is that what you thought I was trying to do? I was just being friendly! Good God!" I mean the girl brought over champagne, strawberries, and Barbarella, then pulled that on me! Whoa, then I learned she's done that before, to other guys. Some girls do that shit just for kicks; I met a few in AA and they told me so!

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!


  1. You forgot about Cindy Morgan in CADDYSHACK. Talk about not giving a fuck.

  2. Your remarks on Elizabeth Taylor are some of the best film-writing I've read in many a moon. They were apt, AND they made me laugh. I think you're a great writer.

    1. Thanks for saying so Elizabeth! You should check out the posts for the movies mentioned (I went back and linked to them above). Thanks again.


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