Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sex Lies and Videotape

Before you start reading this essay, Let me place on table a fairly long warning or disclaimer, as the case may be. Here it is.. The moment one starts talking about sex, and its tremendous ramifications in Modern society, there is almost definitely an instinctive withdrawal into a defensive cocoon. We have all three (not fifty) shades of opinions about it. From the ultra conservative bought up on puritan values, to the ambivalent individual who could swing both ways, to the modern libertine Who has no inhibitions or scruples  -  almost everyone has a definitive view on this matter falling within this broad spectrum. In the following paragraphs, I review one of the finest adaptions of this complex theme on screen, and in the process present my views as usual. So for those of us for whom the subject of sex is an anathema or would touch an uncomfortable raw nerve, I apologize. But It is my strong conviction that nothing is outside the purview of one's awareness, and to be intelligent, is to be able to objectively look at our innermost desires and thought processes. And this is particularly true of sexual undercurrents - our strongest and most resilient instinct. The more we sublimate and ignore it, the greater and harsher will its rebound be. It's better to face it Head on and move ahead.

In 2014, Professor Yual Noah Harari wrote an important book titled "Sapiens - A brief history of Mankind". Unlike other history books, in this magnificent work,  Prof Harari sketches "Human advancement" based on Man's ability to create adequate fiction. What is fiction, after all?. It's a mysterious  process that happens in the Human brain, which results in conjuring a virtual reality that may or may not have any material or objective essence.  From our Neanderthal origins to Modern Homo sapiens, the taming of instinct, evolution of culture , society, manners,representation  - all of them have been excessively cerebralized and fictionalized. Today, to call a man "instinctual" may not be construed as praise. Because, we are assumed to be civilized, hence we must think, fictionalize and only then act. While all of us agree that to live together, we do need some kind of verbal fictions, the question is: do we know or distinguish boundaries clearly enough? Let me illustrate. Of all bodily needs and instincts, sex dominates our consciousness like nothing else does.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we are conscious of it or not  - almost everything that we do as a Male or female has subtle sexual connotations. I am not trying to sound Darwinian or Freudian here. It is a fact, if one has the courage to look deeply enough and observe.  Years of intellectual training and indoctrination may have beaten this overpowering instinct or drive into submission, but like a coiled snake, it is ready to hiss and crackle at the slightest provocation. And from the dawn of history, the perversion of Sex into numerous fictional channels for lack of oppurtunities to physically quench its unrelenting demands  is known to all of us. The clear divorce from what is essentially an act of procreation to becoming an abstraction of the mind (fiction), where it can endlessly produce pleasure without any outward biological significance - has in effect progressively led to moral and ethical complications between sexes; the results of which are pretty evident in sexual tensions prevalent in society today.

Until the 1970's, expression of sex predominantly found vent in paintings, sculpture and to a large extent in literature. The first novel ever published, Richardson's "Clarissa" , which runs into nine volumes has numerous beautiful references to sex, infidelity and promiscuity . And since then, almost every novelist has made intelligent use of sexual innuendos to capture and trigger imagination in their readers. I remember reading Ian Fleming and Harold Robbins during my college days. While, there is no doubt they were masters of the genre of fiction, the captivating feature of their work were those few paragraphs of graphic description of sex. And most paperbacks those days, had on their covers a vivid image projecting a Male or female anatomy in various poses of seduction.  thousands of Mills and Boons books thrived on this simple technique. The 80's, however , ushered in the era of video pornography. And with that, the written word began to fade in power. The innermost fantasies, imagination and expectations was now laid bare on screen with no inhibitions, no food for self- reflection and with utter disdain for sanctity of Human body and act of copulation. 

It was during this period in 1989, the movie "Sex, lies and Videotape" was released. The movie heralded a significant moment in history of Cinema for few reasons. Firstly, it realistically portrays perversion, degeneracy and absolute confusion about sex in Modern Man. Secondly, it was the first low budget Independent film that was widely recognized and set a new trend for avante garde Film makers. Thirdly, it elicited magnificent performances by James spader and Annie Mcdougal, who were until then relatively low key actors. Fourthly, the screenplay wonderfully bought out the sense of sexual release mere words could bring out without any corresponding physical motions.The power of words to touch an erogenous zone found its finest expression in the dialogues of this movie. The story is straightforward. A successful lawyer (John) sleeps with his wife's (Ann played brilliant by Andie Macdowal) sister, because his wife is frigid and believes that sex is an odd thing. Not that she isn't beautiful or does not have passion; but intellectually, she is not convinced that there is need to engage in regular sex. Into their lives, comes a young man (Graham, again a role of a lifetime for James Spader) as John's friend. He is a curious person. Introverted, lives out of suitcase and car, unsuccessful at work and relationships, he however possesses a magnetic attraction , an inquisitive mind that can spot deeply hidden complexes in another. His hobby is to record intimate conversations with his girlfriends, getting them to talk about their sex lives. He doesn't touch, molest or engage them in Physical sex. He cannot, because he confesses his impotency . Both Ann and her begin to melt in his presence. They feel a compulsive need to unravel their thoughts, and end up recounting their intimate experiences with him. And in the process, both of them peel layers of Physchologcal knots within. This baptism in conversation proves healthy to all . Each comes to face their complexities, misgivings and skewed expectation and more importantly begin to place their individual sexual motives in context. There is healing all around..

By modern definitions, this Film is what we categorize as an arty" film. But the sheer pace and depth of the narrative raises it to a far higher level than that. There is absolutely no background score at all.  Ominous Silences, common places sounds plays a significant role , and measured dialogues without any cliche  adds meaningful gravity to some incredible acting performances. It came as no surprise, the jury at Cannes festival in 1989 gave it a nod for their highest honor - Palme d'Or Prize.  For an average viewer, the movie may seem vulgar and gross; but if one can watch it without any prejudice or opinions, then it reveals something of oneself. Behind this facade of respectability, there lies this buried but simmering sexuality waiting for an outlet -  an ascendancy over our rational selfs. 

Before I conclude this essay, James Spader and Director Steven Sodenburgh must be given their due. It was only a year ago, that I saw Spader in action for the first time on Netflix. He stars in the Television series "Blacklist" as the most wanted global terrorist who chooses to assist FBI for professional and personal reasons. Spader excels in that role. His laid back, nonchalant attitude, twinkle in the eye, a sarcasm that goes beyond words captivates. In "Sex. Lies and videotape", we see Spader in his younger years -  Blue eyed, blonde curly hair, deceptively sultry voice, a whiff of feminine charm clothed in masculinity. It was a break through film for him. And speaking of Steven,the director, it was a bold movie, made on a shoe string budget of 1.8 Milion, depending entirely on his story, cast and screenplay. Legend has it that Steven conceived this movie on a flight to Los Angleles and wrote it in flat five days. May be true or may be not. But the end result is quite brilliant. 

For those of us who like watching well made movies with a deep resonating theme, this is definitely a must watch. 

God bless...

Yours in mortality,

Bala

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