14 janvier 2006

The Wayward Cloud (2/4)

Follow up from The Wayward Cloud (1/4)

Sex and nudity have become more prevalent in popular culture (novels, comics, advertising, music video, TV, cinema, contemporean theatre, internet) since taboos around sex losened up, and pornography gained a subversive hype claimed by certain alternative scenes (porno-chic). Erotism or hardcore porn are tolerated public discourses now, in the street or among scholars, either for banalized entertainment or out of derision. Today private issues such as initiation, frustration, masturbation, impotence, voyeurism, perversion are official plot drives in comedies or dramas, bringing to the spotlights the action hidden backstage in the lives of fictitious characters.

Sexuality used to be implicit or just absent of mainstream movies, with characters ridiculously deprivated of sexual lives. Never since In The Realm of Senses (1976/Oshima) did high-brow artfilms promote a serious look at sex than in recent years.
Sex is THE subject and object of the film now, no longer a suggestive elliptical climax.
More auteurs risk to introduce pornography in their work, fascinated by the impact of raw sexual images on screen as a narrative item dissociated from the arousal potential of X-rated movies that are not shown in public theatres. They bare it all and get right to the point, being as factual as possible.
  • A Vendre / For Sale (1998/Masson) Sexual road trip
  • Romance (1999/Breillat) unsimulated sex with a real porn star.
  • Lies / Gojitmal (1999/Sun-Woo Jang) S&M sexual relationship between middle aged artist and virgin schoolgirl
  • Intimacy (2001/Chéreau) casual sex relationship between strangers without social interaction
  • Irréversible (2002/Gaspar Noé) uncut rape plan-sequence
  • The Brown Bunny (2003/Gallo) B.J.
  • 9 Songs (2004/Winterbottom) recurrant intimate sex, masturbation
  • Battle in Heaven (2005/Reygadas) B.J., sex prostitution
Also films of Hong Sang-Soo, Greg Araki, Larry Clark, Kim Ki-duk, Catherine Breillat

They always cause a moral controversy among critics and split the audience, but push an evolution of mentalities after censorship vetoes are overturned by rehabilitations, questioning the issues around this taboo born of a deeprooted strict christian moralisation of sexuality (structuring the western culture for centuries) that is totally absent in eastern culture for instance. This is the social and artistic context that informs the motivations behind The Wayward Cloud's overt provocation.

Porn videos are extremelly popular in videostores and online, lots of people watch it whether it's illegal or immoral. And if it sells, somebody has to make it, cheap and fast.
Performers sell body and soul to the business, they turn themselves into mindless robots on autopilot, sexual objects unable to feel anymore, and when they think too much it's impotence getting in the way of productivity. This is the theme of the third musical number staring the aging porn actress (LU Yi-ching). She sings "I will sell everything, my soul, but I will never sell my heart", so she thinks...

Porn actresses are single-serving interchangeable Barbie dolls. New faces come up and old ones are forgotten. Nobody cares, it's all so natural. Which is not so far from the movie business, only few stars make a long-term career.

Ironically money has no mention in the film at all, depicting a fantasized industry outside the economic market. Porno is illegal in Taiwan, and only proliferates in underground circles with amateurs, unless it is imported from Japan, the porn heaven. Nudity in local movies is also a big deal, baring a shoulder is insulting for the reputation of the performer.
LU Yi-ching (usually playing mother roles in Tsai films) accepted to be a porn actress, and act in the nude, but got in trouble with the local critics, and felt uncomfortable afterward (she swore to quit acting everafter). YANG Kuei-Mei (another recurrant actress in Tsai films) declined to play a porn actress and only appears in the last musical number. Thus a japanese professional porn actress had to be cast.
The Wayward Cloud was banned in Malaysia (Tsai's birth country) for its bold sexuality, nonetheless it opened in Taiwan (Tsai's home country) uncut.
I'm surprised by this counter-intuitive feedback by the comments of this cinephile from Taiwan (on Like Anna Karina's Sweater) who claimed porno was an all-family entertainment in Taiwan... then again there are the scenes in Unknown Pleasures (2002/Jia Zhang-ke) where teenagers meet in a videostore booth to watch porn films like if it was sports.
At the Berlin press conference, Tsai considers sex is a consumerist good. Porn is the fastfood of pleasure. He uses this provocative topic, which is still socially taboo in Taiwan (and most parts of the world), to open up a public debate on its influencial role on intimate sexual relationship within the couple. Yet the film is less a statement on the absurdity of the porn industry than a deeper reflexion on emotionless interactions in a degraded world based on broken communications. Extreme physicality and low feelings. Porn is an allegory for lust substitute of love in our shame-liberated bodies.

Porn, a burelesque joke.

Tsai doesn't take himself seriously, the perversion of genres (porno, musical) and conventions (dialogue, continuity, unity, versimilitude) is part of a general satire of society, a deliberated provocation to accuse snobbish art censors, frigid moral makers, tasteless commercial cinema, timid complacent audience... Graphic sex is both criticism (shock value for provocation) and self-criticism (facile tempting bait to arouse the audience with controversy). The camera shifts from subjective porn maker (what we see on screen is the video the crew shoots), to documentarist (we see the crew at work), to active porn maker (a professional porn film about a group of people making an amateur porn film), and Tsai keeps changing his role by modifying the significance of the frame (P.O.V.) along the story.

Porno is made to sell maximal excitation but is paradoxally boring to performers and film crew. A camera avid of a close look at the action slips in-between the bodies, like if the actors made love directly to the camera.
The visual gags revealing behind-the-scene secret tricks (light-man, grip, and cameraman all busy as bees) are constant reminders to turn off any potential fantasy. For instance the shooting stops because the home-made shower runs out of water, and not because of the actor's impotence. The porn crew is totally desensitized, indifferent to what is going on, like if it was a usual job. Sex action is banalized, vulgarized like a sexless massage. HE has become atone and unresponsive to the point of having erection and arrousal issues both in his work and his private life. Although the film director moves around his bare naked actress forcefully, he's all embarassed when he has to retrieve the misplaced bottle cap from her vagina, which reassesses the boundary between mechanical porn and individual intimacy that seems to be violated by pornography.

The film, built just like one porno movie with an alternated succession of mundanity (boring plot) / action (plotless entertainment), features a history of adult cinema, from the morally rigid ages to the extreme underground hardcore.
Sex is absent from the HE & SHE story, their love affair is purely platonic, no kisses (like in early movies). Then some allegorical suggestions lead to believe they made out even if the action is cut (the crab dinner filmed in shadows - symbolic language is developped to overcome Hays code censorship). HE and SHE finally kiss when they discover the videostore backroom (ironic environment and sexualy charged for the opening of their romance), but still no sex (impotence of HE). This scene is followed by a tender moment when they cross the illuminated bridge dancing feet on feet (erotic soft porn). The last scene of the romance closes with oral sex which is as far as they go physically (hardcore).

A parallel history of pornography with corresponding visual aesthetics. The first representation is a lavish playfull simulation with a watermelon, then masturbation and voyeurism (from an -overtly re-framed- softporn), homely sex in the shower (from rough amateur porn), hardcore close-up's, culminating with the rape of a sleep-drugged woman (from illegal extreme hardcore).

The musicals follow the same evolution of explicit content that might parallel the music videos from classic decency to erotic dance moves to deviant impersonations to outrageous genital costumes.

Throughout the film, each new scene seems to go further again, breaking more taboos, shocking more people, daring dirtier provocations. Highly taunting pornographic imagery (penis, frontal nudity, pubic hair, graphic positions, wet noises, blow job, sperm ejaculation) exposing asexual bodies, de-humanized partners (to the extant of a lifeless puppet in the final scene). It was as disturbing to see the de-dramatized rape scene in Kika (1993/Almodovar) when even Kika herself didn't feel concerned by the violence of this surprise aggression on herself.

"The last sex scene involves a dead woman's body and culminates with oral ejaculation through the bars of a window. It looks like a travesty of classical gay porn imagery — in spite of the fact that the action happens not in a prison but near a poster advertising China Airlines.Cinephilia is another subject of Tsai Ming-liang. In this case, the obvious pornographic, voyeuristic nature of cinema." FIPRESCI

Layered Pornography with multiple simultaneous readings
(Interpretations with corresponding representations in the film)

A - Plot (face value)
  • Film = romance/entertainment
  • Porn = a job
  • Crew = actors
  • Tsai = storyteller
  • Audience = audience
B - Politics (subtext)
  • Film = Social commentary
  • Porn = body functions
  • Crew = amateur pornmakers
  • Tsai = documentarian
  • Audience = witness

C - Fantasy (symbolism)

  • Film = Allegory
  • Porn = couple sex
  • Crew = animals
  • Tsai = professional pornmaker
  • Audience = voyeur

D - Sexuality (homosexuality)

  • Film = confession
  • Porn = heteronormativity
  • Tsai = HE
  • Audience = society

Coming up next :

2 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

I think I lost the original impulse to organize all my notes. It's getting more factual and less didactic, not to mention over-extanded.
Anyway I want to finish this so I can review other movies like A History of Violence, Me and You and Everybody We Know, Battle in Heaven, Caché...

As usual all comments (good/bad) are welcomed to expand the interpretation deeper than my laundry list. I know I'm pushing some improbable theories there...

What do you think?

HarryTuttle a dit…

I think that with so much porn screen time, we could argue that Tsai doesn't try to aesthetize sex with glamour images, body doubles, sensual framing... the porn footage remains rather cold and factual, mostly descriptive rather than romantic (unlike Winterbottom's for instance).