by Lauren Rosewarne, University of Melbourne, Australia. The typical Christmas word cloud is filled with holly jolly words like wishes and faith and festiveness. Bethlehem, yuletide and snowflakes are likely included; a word with no place there is sex. Easter we could, perhaps, draw a bow long enough to recognise that with it being a season associated with rebirth and renewal, fertility might play a role. However, the birth that – in a roundabout way – led to the celebration of Christmas didn’t involve intercourse. Distinctly so. To stir sex into the season therefore, feels inappropriate. Christmas is about family and gift-giving and fat men clad in red; all the debauchery, seemingly, gets postponed to New Year. At least in theory.
Review of Troubled Everyday: The Aesthetics of Violence and the Everyday in European Art Cinema by Alison Taylor. Edinburgh University Press, 2017. Review by Alice Haylett Bryan, King's College London, UK. So often European extreme cinema is spoken about in terms of shock, spectacle and provocation that we forget that the narratives of many of these films are grounded in the everyday, and even the banal. In her book Troubled Everyday, Alison Taylor addresses this oversight, carrying out a formal analysis of a range of films such as Michael (Markus Schleinzer and Kathrin Resetarits 2011), Twentynine Palms (Bruno Dumont 2003) and I Stand Alone/Seul contre tous (Gaspar Noé 1998) in order to reframe the extreme through its relationship with the quotidian. Taylor argues that it is the tension between extremity and the ordinary that gives these films their affective power, a tension that refuses clear-cut meaning and hermeneutic closure, and spills out beyond the screen as part of their intrusive viewing experience.
by Neil Jackson, University of Lincoln, UK. The uncut Caligula (Tinto Brass 1979) received an 18 certificate in 2008 regardless of the fact that it was relieved of more than 10 minutes of its running time before an ‘X’ certificate was granted for its theatrical release in 1980. This new-found sympathy for the film was justified because its hardcore imagery supposedly ‘served some kind of purpose in order to illustrate the decadence of ancient Rome’, that wasn’t ‘wholly gratuitous’ and that, quite importantly in this context, ‘it would be viewed today as a historical curio’. This is underpinned by the contention on the BBFC’s own website that ‘the passage of nearly 30 years had significantly diminished the film’s impact’. Regardless of all of this obfuscation, the fact remains that this was a film produced by Bob Guccione, one of America’s premier pornographer publishers, and directed by Tinto Brass, Europe’s seminal exponent of high end, softcore erotica. In light of Cooke’s justification, it would appear that two male individuals, both of whom were steeped in the creative and commercial global possibilities of real and simulated sex on film, somehow forged an infamously uneasy alliance that contrived to produce something that wasn’t actually a ‘sex work’.
by Carol Siegel, Washington State University Vancouver, US. As many people who are part of or at least conversant with BDSM communities have pointed out, the Fifty Shades novel and film series is not about the consensual sex that they practice. In such communities the masochist is not only generally truly in control of the situation due to prior negotiation but, more importantly, because most BDSM practitioners identify as bottoms (i.e. masochists). As Gilles Deleuze explained in his landmark introduction to Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novella Venus in Furs, sadism and masochism are distinct sexual systems.  In sadism the sadist's desire to control and hurt the partner is the driving force of an encounter. In the masochistic system, ‘the masochist's sadist’ concentrates on pleasing the partner and meeting that partner's needs for specific kinds of pleasurable pain. The sexual system of sadism is inherently patriarchal just as it is inherently about exerting power over a person who lacks the power to resist, while as many from Theodor Reik on have argued, the masochistic system is inherently anti-patriarchal because it strips away the ability of the powerful to control the subordinate by making a mockery of punishment.  If beatings don't daunt but instead delight then they can't be used to control. In contrast to this, Fifty Shades seems to be about the pleasures awaiting women who are willing to submit to the infliction of pain they don't enjoy in order to be loved, protected and (lavishly) financially supported.
by Neil Jackson, University of Lincoln, UK. Has anybody seen a good ‘sex work’ recently? At best, it is a question that is likely to cause mildly embarrassed befuddlement in the casual film enthusiast. At worst, anybody even mildly attuned to sociolinguistic nuances may infer suggestion of voyeuristic interest in the workaday toils of prostitution. Either way, ‘sex work’ is a generic term that has been deployed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to distinguish the titillating, affective charge of wanton hardcore pornography. It is a phrase that has become the board’s common descriptor for hardcore films with an R18 classification (the ‘R’ being an abbreviation of ‘restricted’). This limits sale or projection to premises specially licensed to handle such material, and separates it from non-pornographic, dramatic or documentary feature film formats that present sexually explicit themes and images for an adult audience at the 18 certificate level. Essentially, if the BBFC determines that a film is pornographic in nature and intent (that is, designed primarily to sexually arouse the spectator), it is dealt with as a ‘sex work’.
by Carol Siegel, Washington State University Vancouver, US. If one is a feminist, or even sympathetic to the idea that women aren't inferior to men, there is a lot to be outraged by in the Fifty Shades franchise. But I write this negative response to Fifty Shades Darker (James Foley 2017) neither in anger nor sadness, but in disappointment because the film was so boring.
CFP: Special Edition of Mai: Journal of Feminism and Visual Culture – ‘Feminist and Queer Perspectives on Sex in Contemporary Film and TV’. Please email abstracts to: Connor.Winterton@mail.bcu.ac.uk (guest editor).