Sex, Love and Videotape

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Tag: Passes Bechdel test (page 1 of 4)

Nine 1/2 Weeks

YEAR: 1986
DIRECTOR: Adrian Lyne
KEY ACTORS: Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 6.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 61%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️ So I would definitely fuck the cast. It’s Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger at their peak!
✔️ And it did inspire fantasies. John takes the domination too far for me in the end but, damn, it looked like fun on the way!
✔️ I would say that it is rewatchable. Hot hot hot!
✔️ I think it is sex positive. And kink positive, exploring boundaries within play and the consequences of not accepting them.
✔️ And it passes the Bechdel Test. What a film!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: This isn’t streaming anywhere at the moment, which is a massive shame! Maybe buy the DVD? It’s really good!

[Content warning: bullying, emotional and physical abuse, humiliation, non-consent]

Poster for Nine 1/2 Weeks

I had a crush on Mickey Rourke long before I watched Nine 1/2 Weeks. If I’m honest, this crush has always baffled me a little because I first realised how hot he was when watching Sin City – a film where he’s so manipulated by CGI that he’s hardly recognisable! (And a movie that is on my list to review in the future.) But Rourke has an extraordinary magnetism that seems to extend beyond his looks. I still crush on him now even though he’s done awful things to his face and I just can’t explain it. But it meant that I watched Nine 1/2 Weeks for the first time with quite high expectations; an erotic movie staring Rourke as a powerful dominant when he was still young and hot without a beaten up face and wearing a lot of suits. *swoon forever*

And, spoiler, I was not disappointed!

Nine 1/2 Weeks tells the story of Elizabeth (Basinger), an art dealer who indulges in a nine 1/2 week long hot and kinky relationship with John (Rourke), a Wall Street banker with a dominant streak. Their relationship is almost entirely about sex – sex with blindfolds, sex with food, sex in alleys, sex with cross dressing, sex in the rain. Excuse me while I swoon again… As they fall deeper into this relationship, John pushes Elizabeth further and further away from her comfort zone until he comes up against and pushes straight through her boundaries. Battling between her lust for him and her new distrust, Elizabeth decides that she has to leave him, ending the relationship.

An image from Nine 1/2 Weeks of a shirtless John being embraced by Elizabeth

Before I can get into the eroticism of the film and before I can talk about the parts that I like, which I do really like, I have one huge, HUGE caveat. Sadly, it’s a big enough problem that I am almost loath to offer the movie any praise because everything that I love about Nine 1/2 Weeks – the sensitive and sympathetic way it approaches kink, the ridiculously hot chemistry between the stars – is completely wiped out by the real story behind the making of the movie and it reverses all of the good that I saw on screen.

Essentially, Adrian Lyne, the director, can absolutely fuck off. I will almost certainly be writing about other movies that he has made as he is now considered the ‘pioneer of a deeply loved and revered genre of film: the late ’80s erotic psycho-thriller’ and made Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal and Unfaithful, to name just a few that are on my list of upcoming movie reviews, but I hope that he didn’t take the techniques that he used on this film any further because he is an actual misogynistic abusive bastard and I don’t want him to have seen this as a success.

Lyne clearly decided before filming started that Basinger was not a good enough actress to simply act the part, describing her as ‘a bit like a child…she’s not an intellectual. She doesn’t read books.’ Instead he chose to literally abuse her to ensure that her passionate and emotional responses on screen were believable, declaring that ‘she doesn’t actually act, she reacts.’ Reading about the filming process, I was reminded of the trauma that Kubrick inflicted on Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman for Eyes Wide Shut and wondered again why this sort of behaviour is allowed. Just as critics of method acting note that despite women successfully utilising this technique, only men get to behave as twats in the name of their art, I have read too many stories about women being emotionally or even physically abused by directors to push them to perform better and it makes me so angry. It’s bullying – and most other industries have accepted that it isn’t an allowable way to get results.

As described in a pretty harrowing New York Times article from 1986, Lyne wanted to ‘play upon ”an edge of terror” in Miss Basinger, to create a more believable sense of fear, surprise and sexual arousal between her and her lover.’ He manipulated the atmosphere on set by forbidding Rourke and Basinger from becoming friends or seeing each other off set. Speaking to the New York Times, Lyne reportedly felt that ‘she needed to be scared of [Rourke]’ and so let Rourke treat her as he wanted, slapping her and physically hurting her. In contrast, Lyne treated Rourke ‘like a prince’ and would offer him whispered guidance before filming, isolating Basinger from his plans and pushing her ‘into actually experiencing some of the feelings and playing them out in raw form before the cameras.

Elizabeth sat in a bed while John feels her calf

Honestly, it reads like orchestrated emotional abuse. Lyne would instruct Rourke to treat her kindly at times so that she would feel elated and grateful, alternating ‘between harshness and kindness…to give the relationship its particular sexual tension.’ Even at the audition, Lyne forced Basinger to humiliate herself so totally that she left in tears, swearing never to work with him again. Lyne, like every gaslighting partner, ‘continued to pursue her for the part,’ sending her roses and flattering compliments until she succumbed.

And the most heartbreaking part is hearing Basinger justify his efforts, saying that Nine 1/2 Weeks was her best work and quite rightly feeling aggrieved at his low opinion of her, asking why ‘if he wanted some emotion, he went to Mickey and not to me.’ Fucking mysogynistic bullshit!

It makes me sad because I think the movie handles sex, kink and consent incredibly well, but this feels by accident rather than design when compared to how non-consensual and horrific the filming process was.

And this movie is hot! A critic in the Ringer may have felt that the bit before the sex is hotter than the actual sex on screen, claiming that Nine 1/2 Weeks is a movie to ‘make you want to have sex (as long as it doesn’t show you actual sex)’ but it’s still better than almost all other movie sex that I have seen outside of actual porn! My notes for this movie are filled with HOT written in capital letters – ice cube just inside the top of her knickers, HOT; would absolutely masturbate at work, HOT; shirtless cooking HOT; handjob in a bar, HOT; buying a bed together, HOT; striptease in front of a Venetian blind, HOT!

An image from Nine 1/2 Weeks showing Elizabeth stripping in the stripes of a Venetian blind

And, unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, the film it is often compared to, I feel that Nine 1/2 Weeks shows a more realistic version of a kinky relationship than most others that I see on screen. To compare it to Fifty Shades, the model of consent is completely different and more comparable to Secretary. John never explicitly asks her consent for what he’s doing – there’s no complex form for Elizabeth to sign and no ‘formal’ negotiation – but he slowly, slowly ramps up his control and dominance, testing her to see if she enjoys and accepts each new scene before stepping up to the next one. The difference from Secretary, however, comes when Elizabeth starts saying no!

Although negotiation and consent are vital parts of any BDSM relationship, this experimental approach feels more realistic and is certainly more like my experience. But problems arise as John isn’t really negotiating; he’s not checking in with Elizabeth, he’s pushing her. And, importantly, he doesn’t seem to care or notice when he pushes her too far. In the famous scene where he asks her to crawl on her hands and knees to pick up money, linking sex work with humiliation in a way that I don’t approve of, she has clearly reached her limit. She asks to stop, she screams at him, she even tells him that she hates it but John just laughs and tells her that she loves it. He doesn’t listen to her; he doesn’t respect her boundaries.

This is also the second time when he ignores her limits. After John follows up a flirty exchange about punishing her with a threat of spanking, she freaks out and, although he doesn’t actually spank her, the sex they have afterwards is pretty rapey. It’s exactly that movie trope where the woman is battling against her stronger male partner, fighting hard, but eventually succumbs to enjoyment. Was it assault or does Elizabeth have ravishment fantasies? We’ll never know as he never asks her. But, again, it feels real to me that she wouldn’t just leave him after that first violation and it took repeated offenses for her to realise her danger. She loved him so she trusted him. Their sex was risky and extreme and like nothing she had ever done. It had been aggressive – the best sex they appear to have occurs after she literally stabs an attacker – so it’s perhaps not surprising that she has no framework to recognise his abuse until later.

Despite my reservations about him, I loved the cinematic technique Lyne used to highlight this change in Elizabeth and this recognition. In an early blindfold scene, she is wearing a white shirt and he blindfolds her with a white scarf. They’re lit with spotlights and the flares of light created by these effects are incredibly beautiful, but they also create shadows. Later, when John brings another woman into their scene and Elizabeth finally breaks, this obscurity and mystery is gone. It’s daylight and they are fully exposed; there is nowhere to hide. Elizabeth is wearing a black negligee and the blindfold is now black too. As a metaphor for her corruption, it’s almost clumsy but I do think it’s really effective.

An image from Nine 1/2 Weeks showing Elizabeth blindfolded and John watching

Because I don’t think it was necessarily the presence of the other woman that was the step too far. It wasn’t necessarily that Elizabeth felt too degraded by that one more act, too humiliated. I think that if she had still trusted John, Elizabeth could have allowed herself to relax and then maybe the apprehension of not knowing what was going to happen would have been thrilling rather than terrifying, just as it had earlier in their relationship.

It’s why I was really interested in the discussion on Fatal Attraction podcast about the first time John took control in a sexual way, wondering which of his controlling actions first influenced their subsequent sexual relationship. Half of the group felt it was the watch – and, oh my gosh, that was a fucking hot move if ever I’ve seen one! ‘Wear this watch and think of me touching you when you look at it.’ *fans self* – but I agree that the first time his actions hinted at the sexual connection that he was looking for was when John took Elizabeth to a remote cabin and told her exactly how much danger she was in being there with him, a stranger, listing exactly how isolated they are and how vulnerable she was. For me, it was the first indication that John was looking for more than simple, vanilla sex. He was telling her that she needed to trust him, that he would take her to dangerous places but she needed to accept that he would keep her safe, and it was meltingly hot.

But without that trust, nothing that they do together is fun anymore. ‘How does it feel to be out of control?’ John screams at Elizabeth when she runs out of his home, crashing into a theatre showing porn and kissing strangers. And it obviously doesn’t feel good; she’s having an emotional crisis and a breakdown. But John says it as if Elizabeth is the one to have lost control, and it’s another sign to me that he is a terrible dominant! He is supposed to be looking out for her, he is supposed to be taking care of her and ensuring that she’s safe. He’s supposed to be in control – that’s how she can trust him at all.

Honestly, I’m so happy to watch these films again now that I’ve accepted my sex nerd status and know so much more about non-traditional relationships because I understand so much more about why I love films like this. Yes, it’s hot, and Rourke and Basinger are hot, but I love to watch the exploration of kink more. Because that’s what Basinger is doing – she’s discovering that she has a humiliation kink but also that she has boundaries. She has to explore to find where these limits are, which is something Christian Grey never allowed Anastasia, but sadly, John isn’t the right man to guide her.

John and Elizabeth lying on a bed

It is interesting to see how many red flags are written into the story to warn us about John, and I do think it’s important that Elizabeth leaves him in the end. He doesn’t want to meet her friends and would rather she stayed at home with him; he won’t introduce her to his friends or tell her about his family; and he wasn’t happy when she turned up unannounced at his work. All of these maintain his control over her as a mysterious source of power, isolating her from others, but they do not make him an attractive long term partner. As discussed in that episode of Fatal Attraction podcast, movies like Fifty Shades or Secretary or even Beauty and the Beast give women an unrealistic expectation that they can change a dangerous man by loving him. Elizabeth can’t change John; she has to leave. And that’s why this movie is both great and important.

For me, Nine 1/2 Weeks is a movie where the kink itself is almost irrelevant to the plot. As Roger Ebert wrote, ‘that’s what makes the movie fascinating: Not that it shows these two people entering a bizarre sexual relationship, but that it shows the woman deciding for herself what she will, and will not, agree to.’ For me, the humiliation and degradation are what grabbed the headlines – it’s shocking, it’s erotic, it’s transgressive – but that’s not why Nine 1/2 Weeks works as a movie. Instead, Nine 1/2 Weeks is ‘a more humanistic [film], in which it is argued that sexual experimentation is one thing, but the real human personality is something else, something incomparably deeper and more valuable – and more erotic.’

A photo from Nine 1/2 Weeks of John and Elizabeth

And of course, the movie works for me because Mickey Rourke is beautiful. Deeply, painfully beautiful: ‘1986 Mickey Rourke was the epitome of hot ’80s jerk. Just the best. We can get no better. He had the plush lips, the constantly mocking expression. His body is built for the sort of destructive relationship that you’ll need self-help books to get over, but your time together is worth it anyway because you get to watch him eat pasta at an Italian restaurant, and that is enough for a decade of sexual fantasies.

A decade of sexual fantasies. Oh yes, that’s about right…

Next week: Her

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Lolita

YEAR: 1962
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick
KEY ACTORS: Sue Lyons, James Mason, Peter Sellers
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.6
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 93%

SEX SCORE: 1/5
✔️Lolita does pass the Bechdel Test.
❌ But that may be the last mark this movie gets in my sex score!! It certainly didn’t inspire fantasies – the sexual premise is not supposed to be attractive!
❌ And I don’t want to fuck the cast for similar reasons. Lolita is too young and Humbert is too distasteful!
❌ While this film doesn’t overtly judge the character’s sexual choices, instead leading the audience to make that judgement themselves, it is not sex positive. In its simplest form, it is about a non-consensual sexual relationship.
❌ It’s a good film; better than I expected. But it’s not rewatchable. It made me too uncomfortable to want to watch again.

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American Beauty

YEAR: 1999
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
KEY ACTORS: Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 8.3
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 87%

SEX SCORE: 1/5
✔️ It does pass the Bechdel Test. There is a lot of talk of dating and men but there are enough examples for it to easily qualify.
❌ But I don’t want to fuck the cast. Are we supposed to? They’re all flawed and difficult to take seriously. These don’t necessarily make someone unfuckable but here they really do!
❌ And it’s not that rewatchable. It’s not a film I’d watch from halfway through if I found it on TV and it’s kind of intense!!
❌ It also didn’t inspire fantasies. There is something in being totally and utterly desired, as Lester desires Angela, but the power dynamics on display are all wrong for me.
❌ But is it sex positive? I’ve thought a lot about this and I can’t give it the mark. The portrayal of teenage sex was pretty accurate, lies and exaggerations included, and it wasn’t exactly negative about the sexual needs of its characters, but even the slightest hint of sympathy or justification for homophobia and statutory rape is unforgivable.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

YEAR: 1951
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
KEY ACTORS: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 98%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ I definitely want to fuck the cast. Marlon Brando is my ultimate movie star crush, particularly because of this film. His Stanley is an awful, angry man but, damn, no one looks as good in a tight t-shirt. He is stunning.
✔️ So I need to give it a mark for inspiring fantasies as I’ve definitely fantasied about having angry, violent, furniture breaking hot hot sex with Stanley…
✔️ And it passes the Bechdel Test, and does so without difficulty.
❌ But it’s not rewatchable. It’s really quite difficult to watch – it’s intense and upsetting and hard work. I might just watch it for Brando but there are gifs for the best bits so…
❌ And it’s not sex positive. Blanche is literally spoiled and ruined by her promiscuity and ends up in an asylum. I’m not doubting that she’s unwell by that point but it made me uncomfortable how her sexual choices were included among her symptoms.

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10 Things I Hate About You

YEAR: 1999
DIRECTOR: Gil Junger
KEY ACTORS: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 7.3
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 66%

SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ First off, this film is incredibly rewatchable. And it seems to be on the TV all the time. Yay!
✔️ And it is sex positive. I particularly liked how sex was accurately discussed as something teenagers do, rather than being shocking in itself. Bianca’s surprise that Kat had had sex with Joey sprung from her shock at not being told, rather than the act itself, and Kat’s regret was based on how Joey acted afterwards. She had consented to having sex but changed her mind about doing it again; for once, it wasn’t assault as a plot point.
✔️ It does pass the Bechdel Test, although it did take some thought to remember conversations that weren’t about dating!
✔️ And I definitely, definitely want to fuck the cast. It’s Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. It’s not really that kind of movie and I didn’t want to have their ‘outsiders together’ relationship.

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An Affair to Remember

YEAR: 1957
DIRECTOR: Leo McCarey
KEY ACTORS: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr
CERTIFICATE: U
IMDB SCORE: 7.5
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 62%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️ Of course I want to fuck the cast. It’s Cary Grant at his suave best!
✔️ It’s definitely rewatchable – it’s a simple story but it still keeps me enthralled right to the end. And it makes me cry every time!
✔️ Considering the restrictions of the Hays Code, I think it is sex positive – although their implied sexual transgressions add a complexity to their choices, I didn’t feel the film judged them. It simply accepted them as stumbling blocks.
✔️ I’m going to say that it does pass the Bechdel test, although it’s surprisingly controversial. The website I use to check says it fails but Terry and Janou at least talk about a scarf so I’d say that’s a pass!
✔️ And it did inspire romantic fantasies! Who doesn’t want the person they thought had jilted them to still love them after all? Who wouldn’t want their hopes of reunion to be fulfilled in such a satisfying fashion?

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The Holiday

YEAR: 2006
DIRECTOR: Nancy Meyers
KEY ACTORS: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach
CERTIFICATE: 12A
IMDB SCORE: 6.9
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 49%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️So the cast are definitely fuckable. I’m not a Jude Law fan as such but, wow, this is extraordinary levels of hotness and Kate Winslet is never better than playing an English Rose
❌ But this film didn’t inspire fantasies. In fact, completely the reverse. I actively didn’t want either of their lives!
❌ This may just be my opinion, but I also don’t think this film is rewatchable. I hate Love Actually and I watch it all the time. I have only seen this twice and that’s too many times!
✔️It does pass the Bechdel test, although I am pretty annoyed that this is another pass because of conversations with children. Adult women can talk too!!
✔️ But I do think it is sex positive. It’s full of romantic cliches but the sexual ones are pretty well handled.

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Love Actually

YEAR: 2003
DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis
KEY ACTORS: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.6
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 64%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ I’m begrudgingly giving it a mark for being rewatchable as I do watch it every year, despite it being a definite hate watch now!
✔️ But this isn’t nearly as begrudgingly I’m giving it a mark for passing the Bechdel Test. In a movie all full of women, the only conversation between named female characters that wasn’t about a man occurred between Emma Thompson and her daughter about being a lobster in the nativity. Wow…
✔️ It’s difficult to decide but I think it is a sex positive film. It’s unfeminist and it’s problematic but it doesn’t really shame its characters particularly for having sex. I don’t think…
❌ I don’t want to fuck the cast, despite how hot many of them were at this time. I just don’t like them enough to fuck them!
❌ And it didn’t inspire any fantasies. Even the romantic fantasies are looking pretty problematic now!

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Die Hard

YEAR: 1988
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
KEY ACTORS: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.2
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 93%

SEX SCORE: 3.5/5
✔️Proving quite how easily it can be done even with very few female characters, this does pass the Bechdel Test!
✔️ It’s also incredibly rewatchable and I would watch it every day if I could!
✔️ And I do want to fuck the cast. Whether looking at peak Bruce Willis hotness or the not insignificant appeal of Alan Rickman, there is a lot here to enjoy!
❌ But it didn’t inspire any fantasies! It’s not really a sexual film and I’d rather avoid being involved in a hostage situation.
❓And I’d argue that this is a sex neutral film due to the very limited qualifying content, so it gets a half mark..

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Bridget Jones’s Diary

YEAR: 2001
DIRECTOR: Sharon Maguire
KEY ACTORS: Rene Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 6.7
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 81%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️The cast are definitely fuckable. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, Rene Zellweger and Sally Phillips; there’s someone for every mood!
✔️ And although the qualifying dialogue has been described as meaningless, which feels unnecessarily cutting, there are plenty of named female characters who talk about other subjects than men so it passes the Bechdel Test.
✔️ It also definitely inspired fantasies – even though she’s supposed to be a mess, Bridget was pretty aspirational for me sexually. It may reveal the limitations of my own sexual fantasies, but I really wanted dirty weekends away in a B+B, I wanted to send secret messages to a coworker that I was fucking, and I wanted to do all of that while I still didn’t think I was perfect. And I really, really wanted a kiss like that between Bridget and Darcy.
✔️ It is also incredibly rewatchable. I cannot recall how often I’ve seen this film but it still makes me laugh every time and still makes me so happy, every time!
✔️ After much deliberation, I also decided that it is sex positive – more on this later!

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