Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Peter Knegt
January 26, 2013 12:52 PM
8 Comments
  • |

Sex and the (Park) City: Considering An Atypically Sexual Sundance Film Festival


Travis Mathews and James Franco's "Interior. Leather Bar."
In a cameo role as Hugh Hefner, "Lovelace" also features James Franco (who also starred as Ginsberg in "Howl"). But it's by far Franco's least substantial contribution to sex at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. In something of a parallel to Hefner (but in a much more progressive way), Franco admirably was a sort of celebrity spokesperson for sex positivity at Sundance, bringing two films to the festival as a producer ("Kink") and co-director ("Interior. Leather Bar"), and giving them loads of deserved attention.

Collectively, these two projects are perhaps the cornerstones of sexual representation at Sundance this year. "Kink" -- produced by Franco and directed by Christina Voros -- is a documentary that looks at the world inside the San Francisco armory that houses the porn production facilities of BDSM (short for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism) website kink.com. Though it features multiple scenes of explicit sex itself, "Kink" mainly works to break through the misconceptions facing both BDSM in general and the way the porn associated with it is produced.

"The subject matter of these videos was pretty extreme," James Franco told Indiewire during Sundance. "I watch a certain kind of pornography, but this was much more extreme than the kind of pornography than I watch. And the dynamic within the video -- the sort of sadomasochistic dynamics within the video -- were so different from what was happening behind the scenes. There it felt like everybody is on the same team and everybody is working together."

"Kink," an opening selection at the Berlin Porn Film Festival.
"Interior. Leather Bar," meanwhile, is a project Franco co-directed with Travis Mathews ("I Want Your Love"). A blend of documentary and fiction, the film is about the two of them trying to remake the 40 minutes of explicit S&M material apparently cut from William Friedkin's 1980 film "Cruising" to avoid an X rating. While that in itself is an interesting concept (and part of the film is indeed a deliciously hardcore recreation of just that), the film extends well beyond it to discuss representations of queer sex in both Hollywood and society in general.

"As a filmmaker and a creative person I'm always interesting in questioning or examining areas or topics that create fissures or make us question how we are living," Franco said. "Is it by choice? What do we believe in? Is it because that's exactly how we want to live and that's what's making us happy? Or is that something that is sort of handed down in various ways of pop culture school, advertisers, everything. That's one of main reasons I was also interested in these subjects... I wanted to use real sex. But not in a pornographic way but in a way that helped talk about ideas or help tell a story."

And Franco's mission is perhaps the best way to summarize the relationship the 2013 Sundance Film Festival had to sex. Whether real or simulated, in documentary or in narrative. At its best it was used to indeed talk about ideas or to help tell a story. And most of it has already sold to US distributors, meaning this discussion won't necessarily live in the Park City bubble that was the last 11 days, and might just start some conversations elsewhere.  And while it might be tempting for those conversations to be more of the "so why is James Franco doing all these sex movies anyway" variety, it's a way, way more interesting conversation to look at what Franco (and Mathews and Voros and Passon and Fidell and Garcia and Gordon-Levitt) are doing instead of why.

You might also like:

8 Comments

  • James D. | January 28, 2013 11:12 AMReply

    Peter Knegt remains the primary reason I read Indiewire, and this article is the perfect example as to why.

  • Michael Medeiros | January 28, 2013 1:58 AMReply

    Well...we've got some comments here, haven't we? I just want to say that sex is a normal part of life. It's after all how we get here. It also, metaphorically speaking, is an affirmation of life. The hero rides off into the sunset with the loved woman and together they will continue the journey of humans on the planet. That being said, Hollywood, which includes indiewood, has always used sex to sell product. And the new rules, ie: cable, internet allow for so much more than in the past. Potentially, this is a good thing, as it allows telling stories that previously were not viable. Of course, the downside is that a lot of gratuitous fluff (and who will be the judge) floods the filmscape. There's a lot of ugliness on the internet, including comments on blogs and such. You know, sex is not "bad." And the sexual revolution, so called, is not over. It never will be over as long as so many humans are so screwed up and guilty about sex. That being said, I think corporate america does commercialize and use and distort sex in ways that are irresponsible. Sex can be healthy and good but is distorted in so many ways by so many forces.

  • Jeremiah | January 26, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    this writer and all the filmmakers he mentions shall rot in hell

  • Jeremiah | January 26, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    this writer and all the filmmakers he mentions shall rot in hell

  • Jeremiah | January 26, 2013 5:04 PMReply

    this writer and all the filmmakers he mentions shall rot in hell

  • L | January 26, 2013 4:29 PMReply

    Sex in film needs to be taken out till everyone is educated on both sides the reserved puritan types and.The people who feel the need too just blatantly throw it in our faces with tastelessly .Like why do we need to make movies that border pornography ? Is this the by product of a degenerate deteriorating hollywood film industry.What the fuck does pornograpghy have to do with art people need to learn to let the 60's and 70's go.The sexual revolution came and went get over it why rehash it ? Indie film makers are the biggest hypocrites simply for the fact that they copy the same hollywood tactics of getting attention for a movie.They just take it to and extreme shock level .I blame reality t.v films arent art they are made like news reports wheres the new ideas? wheres the creativity ? as far im concerned i haven't seen any ,indie films are just a front for people who weren't good enough to make a mainstream hollywood film.Places like sundance are homes to these "misfit toys"

  • ls | January 27, 2013 6:07 AM

    Because we have the first amendment and what you consider art doesn't have to apply to everyone. If film-makers want to explore the subject of sex who are you to tell them otherwise?
    You proposed it such be banned? So you want to live in an autocratic society? Freedom of speech doesn't just apply to what you agree with, that's not freedom of speech. You say people need to be educated? These movies are 18plus and if they went to public school they were educated on sex. Why would sex need to be taken out of film just because of your ignorance? That's nonsensical.

    "wheres the new ideas? wheres the creativity ?"
    They are everywhere and nowhere. You proposing creativity is dead, isn't an original thought either, so start with yourself. The fact that you can even say that in relevance to sundance and then favour mainstream wide released films just proves you're either a troll or a complete delusion moron with incessantly bad taste.

  • Rocket | January 26, 2013 2:00 PMReply

    "...depraved mind as though their conscience had been seared with a hot iron."