In my first post I laid out the theme that I'd like cover during my time here: that Climax Ecology is a useful framework for understanding what aspects of the human sexual experience can be captured and distributed as a media product, and why those media products so seldom bear any resemblance to the common reality of loving, mutually pleasurable sexual relations.
In this post I'd like to talk about the most basic form of cinema, a form that film-studies people call "actualities" or "actual films".
Electrocuting an Elephant (may be upsetting)
Actualities are simple, direct, filmed accounts of an action or activity: a dancer dancing, a bustling city street, etc. Most home movies are actualities: This is our baby walking across our living room floor; this is my father blowing out the candles on his 80th birthday.
Modern audiences quickly tire of actualities unless the subject matter is of special interest, i.e. actualities of your children are delightful, actualities of other people's children are only interesting if dad gets hit in the crotch with a Wiffle ball bat.
But this wasn't always the case.
Turn-of-the-century audiences were captivated by actualities. Cinema was an entirely new invention, and no one knew what anything looked like "on film," and everything was fascinating. A filmmaker could simply train his camera on a subject, novel or familiar, and then screen the results to an enthralled audience. Amazing!
And of course, in the age of actualities, there were actualities of sex, too.
But what's interesting to me about these earliest examples of sexually explicit cinema isn't that they exist, (the impulse to train the camera on nudity and sexuality is as old as the camera itself), it's that they are every bit as cinematically sophisticated as their non-sexual counterparts.
Whether it's Thomas Edison's Electrocuting an Elephant, or the Lumiere Brothers Train Arriving at a Station, or an uncredited sexual encounter between a man and a woman, once you get past the subject matter, there's not much difference in the cinematic approach. This is happening while a camera rolls so you can watch it without actually having been present. The camera records the event, but does little more.
And to a modern viewer without a special point of interest—history, morbid curiosity, whatever—watching most actualities is pretty boring.
From these humble beginnings, cinema would undergo a rapid development in both technology and aesthetic approach. In a few short decades camera movement, the use of various angles, editing, synchronous sound, and color would evolve to a high level of refinement.
The business of filmmaking would also undergo a huge evolution; from something resembling a side-show curiosity to an industrialized form of mass entertainment, sitting at the very center of culture.
In 1915, D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation was produced at a cost of $112,000 (~$2.41 million today) and grossed upwards of $16 million. The year 1939 saw the release of both Gone With The Windand The Wizard of Oz, films that are as modern in their approach as anything released today.
But sexuality would not be a part of this evolution.
1934, the year that saw the landmark obscenity case US v One Book Called Ulysses would also see the MPPDA (antecedent to the Motion Picture Association of America) establish a certification process enforcing a production code (aka The Hays Code) on its member studios. Among the various requirements of the code was the mandate that "the treatment of bedrooms must be governed by good taste and delicacy," with the net effect being that husbands and wives were rarely shown sharing a matrimonial bed. (My uncle, the person whose vast laser disc collection was responsible for my film education, relates that at the time, he simply thought the people in movies were wealthy, and that's why mom and dad each had a bed of their own.)
The same year the door was opened to the exploration of explicit sexuality in literature, the door was slammed shut to all but the most veiled references to sexuality in mainstream movies. And as a consequence the exploration of explicit sexuality in cinema would remain in a state of arrested development for the next 60 years.
One last word about actualities.
The temptation is to think of the actuality as an archaic form, but it it's not. Every time a new cinematic process is invented, or a new subject matter is revealed, the actuality is "rediscovered". At present, super-duper slow-mo cameras have suddenly become orders of magnitude less expensive, and we are discovering again how captivating it can be to see even ordinary things through the lens of a novel photographic process.
But even as various captivating slow-mo clips start to populate YouTube and turn up on blogs, this super-duper slow-mo is sucked into the same evolutionary chain that has absorbed every other cinematic breakthrough. At first merely seeing the raw footage is enough. Then as our astonishment wanes, modest editing for interest emerges, and then finally the new process is incorporated into the "vocabulary" of the language of cinema.
In the next post I'm going to give a more in-depth explanation of Climax Ecology, and how it applies to sexuality in cinema. I hope you'll join me!
Tony Comstock is a documentary filmmaker whose company, Comstock Films, specializes in erotic documentaries.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
Outrage over the vice president's approach to marriage reveals how deeply gender divides American culture.
The Washington Post ran a profile of Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, on Wednesday. The piece talks about the closeness of the Pences’ relationship, and cites something Pence told The Hill in 2002: Unless his wife is there, he never eats alone with another woman or attends an event where alcohol is being served. (It’s unclear whether, 15 years later, this remains Pence’s practice.) It’s not in the Post piece, but here’s the original quote from 2002: “‘If there's alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me,’ Pence said.”
Some folks—mostly journalists and entertainers on Twitter—have reacted with surprise, anger, and sarcasm to the Pence family rule. Socially liberal or non-religious people may see Pence’s practice as misogynistic or bizarre. For a lot of conservative religious people, though, this set-up probably sounds normal, or even wise. The dust-up shows how radically notions of gender divide American culture.
A new report says that Devin Nunes’s bombshell claim of spying on the Trump team came from the Trump administration itself.
Updated on March 30 at 2:44 p.m.
For more than a week, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has provided the hottest topic for speculation in Washington: Where did he receive mysterious reports that suggested intelligence surveillance of Trump transition team officials?
Now, there appears to be an answer, courtesy of The New York Times: a pair of officials in the Trump White House. The paper reports:
Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.
The vice president—and other powerful men—regularly avoid one-on-one meetings with women in the name of protecting their families. In the end, what suffers is women’s progress.
In a recent, in-depth Washington Post profile of Karen Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, a small detail is drawing most of the attention: “In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”
In context, this choice is not especially surprising. The Pences are evangelical Christians, and their faith animates both their policy views and how they express devotion to one another. Eight months into their courtship, the Post reporter Ashley Parker writes, “Karen engraved a small gold cross with the word ‘Yes’ and slipped it into her purse to give him when he popped the question.”
Numerous women who work on the Hill say they've been excluded from solo meetings and evening events, a practice that could be illegal.
This article is from the archive of our partner
It's no secret that Congress is dominated by men, but as women work to make inroads in the congressional boys club, some female staffers face a huge impediment to moving up: They're not allowed to spend one-on-one time with their male bosses.
In an anonymous survey of female staffers conducted by National Journal in order to gather information on the difficulties they face in a male-dominated industry, several female aides reported that they have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.
The much-hyped podcast evolves from murder mystery and rural tourism into timely, humanistic biography.
In the days after the 2016 election, an article by David Wong on Cracked called “How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind” went viral. It listed five reasons why the Donald Trump phenomenon was explicable not by red vs. blue but rural vs. urban, and it relied heavily on pop culture to make its case. “Every TV show is about L.A. or New York, maybe with some Chicago or Baltimore thrown in,” he wrote from downstate Illinois. “When they did make a show about us, we were jokes—either wide-eyed, naive fluffballs (Parks And Recreation, and before that, Newhart) or filthy murderous mutants (True Detective, and before that, Deliverance). You could feel the arrogance from hundreds of miles away.”
That tension between city-dwellers and country-dwellers runs so high these days—and is so front and center in the political conversation—contributes to the suspense of the gripping new podcast S-Town. “S-Town” stands for “Shit Town,” the term applied to the Alabama burg of Woodstock throughout the seven-episode documentary series from the creators of Serial and This American Life. Reporter Brian Reed heads there from New York City off a tip that there’s been a covered-up murder; his investigation encounters meth use, open racism, and devastating poverty—realities that pop culture so frequently uses as grist. The series shifts shape time and time again but one constant is the dynamic of Reed’s crisp, radio-ready tones contrasting with the drawls and profanity of the people he meets.
The vice president broke a tie on a Senate vote to overturn a regulation that protects the clinics.
Updated 2:17 p.m. EST
In the late days of December, the Obama administration made a last-ditch attempt to protect Planned Parenthood from the incoming Republican Congress. On Thursday, the Senate voted to overturn the Obama administration’s regulation, lifting restrictions on how states treat abortion providers and clearing the way for Congress to take further action. The House had already passed the measure, and the Senate needed only a simple majority to get it through. When the vote came to a tie, Vice President Mike Pence cast the final ballot, taking Congress one step closer to taking money away from abortion providers.
Here’s how it all works. Since 1970, the federal government has made grants to organizations that provide family-planning services under Title X of the Public Health Service Act; it’s the only federal program “focused solely on providing family planning,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The federal government can give money directly to health-care organizations, or it can award grants to states, which hand out the cash as they see fit. Although federal funds, including Medicaid, generally can’t be used to pay for abortions, some Title X money goes to abortion providers: In 2011, NPR reported that roughly a quarter of those dollars go to Planned Parenthood affiliates.
The program is based on the idea that habit-forming behaviors start in childhood.
At a Berlin day-care center, the children packed away all the toys: the cars, the tiny plastic animals, the blocks and Legos, even the board games and most of the art materials. They then stood in the empty classroom and looked at their two instructors.
“What should I do now?” my son, then 5, asked.
He did not get an answer to this question for a long time. His day-care center, or kita, was starting a toy-free kindergarten project. For several weeks, the toys would disappear, and the teachers wouldn’t tell the children what to play. While this practice may seem harsh, the project has an important pedagogic goal: to improve the children’s life skills to strengthen them against addictive behaviors in the future.
On March 30, 1867, the United States gave the government of Russia a check for $7.2 million and took possession of a vast new land which became the Alaska Territory.
On March 30, 1867, the United States gave the government of Russia a check for $7.2 million and took possession of 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 sq km) of new land which became the Alaska Territory, and later, in 1959, would become America’s 49th state. In the past 150 years, Alaska has seen several gold rushes, an oil boom, a groundbreaking distribution of lands to Native groups, a disastrous oil spill, a tremendous growth in tourism, and much more. As a former Alaskan tour guide, allow me to re-live a past job I loved, and share with you some of this amazing history and phenomenal beauty on Alaska’s sesquicentennial—49 photos of the 49th state.
The Hollywood update of the classic ’90s anime ignores the original’s deeper sci-fi themes to deliver forgettable action.
When Mamoru Oshii’s anime film Ghost in the Shell debuted in 1995, it was a genuinely revolutionary vision that took stock of an over-industrialized, hyper-connected, and slowly deteriorating world with strange matter-of-factness. Ostensibly an action film, it lingered in the culture more because of the philosophical ground it broke in talking about the ways human identity intersects with computers, and the limits of our understanding of what it means to be sentient. It’s a brilliant piece of sci-fi that has its tendrils in countless works of movie futurism that followed, from The Matrix to Avatar.
Now, somewhat belatedly, Ghost in the Shell has gotten a Hollywood remake: a big-budget, live-action epic that retains much of the original’s visual look and basic plot principles, with an American star (Scarlett Johansson) playing the heroic Major, a cyborg secret agent fighting future-crime in a dystopic world. But the film, directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman), wildly misses the mark on everything that made its forebear interesting. It’s been clumsily translated into a simplistic tale of corporate rebellion and individual freedom that tries to distract from its generally vacuous story with oodles of competently choreographed, but uninspired, action.