Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Revealing sex on the big screen

Documentary looks at how films deal with subject

Except for the rare breast-baring incident on a Super Bowl Sunday, nudity on television is a subject we seldom write about. This is not because we are prudes but because we are a newspaper meant for the entire family to read and enjoy. Besides, the topic is largely irrelevant, usually limited to no-plot movies airing on late-night premium cable.

However, nudity is about to get more coverage (excuse the pun) because of three high-profile projects on the near horizon.

First up is Indie Sex, a four-part documentary series airing at 11 p.m. tonight-Saturday on the Independent Film Channel. The history of sex on film receives full-out discussion — and sometimes full-frontal display — in this often dry but expansive study, which primarily focuses on independent films.

Film historians and critics (Jami Bernard, formerly of the New York Daily News), actors (Peter Sarsgaard, John Cameron Mitchell, Tatum O'Neal and Ally Sheedy, for example) and directors (John Waters and Don Roos, most notably) provide commentary for the series. They are quite good in explaining why sex is a subject that deserves to be explored in film.

It is noteworthy, however, that filmmakers Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg do not entertain comments from those who might not be as open to such films.

The series begins with a look at the history of censorship in films, then revisits the subject of "taboo" topics, such as homosexuality. (We say "revisits" because the popularity of Taboos, first aired in 2001, led to the making of this series' other three parts, none of which has been seen before.) Part 3, the weakest in the series, is a discussion of teen sex in films. Part 4 delves into "extremes," including fetishism.

This sober if illustrated discussion of sex in cinema acts as a guidepost to two upcoming premium-channel series with much sexual content.

On Aug. 13, David Duchovny will bare his soul, not to mention his bottom, in a Showtime series called Californication. It's about a blocked writer named Hank who can't help being the drink-, drug- and sex-driven man that he is.

On Sept. 9, HBO's Tell Me You Love Me will raise eyebrows (and libidos) with its unusually explicit look at four couples with intimacy problems. That the series is a drama and not a documentary makes the sexual frankness on display all the more shocking.

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