Why erotic cinema matters

And where to take your next date.

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The Dreamers, 2003

In Amsterdam, the city where sex can literally be bought on the street, why do we barely have spaces to watch erotic film? EYE Amsterdam comes with an answer that’s perfect for your tempting Tinder dates. Celebrating revolutionary depictions of sex in an age of encounters that are just a swipe away, the renowned film institute is presenting an overview of seductive film history with its Cinema Erotica programme—on for the month of June. From early 20th century to virtual reality, Cinema Erotica focuses on 100 years of eroticism in film and its relation to other disciplines. Highlighting cultural and societal impacts of erotic imagination.

In the era of Trump and click-bait porn flooding your browser, how do we treat sexuality, sensuality, and seduction? It’s a question filled with paradoxes and one that keeps us up at night. Somehow, it seems to be the worst and the best time for (free) sexuality. On the one hand, we can explore and break barriers. On the other hand, porn is dishing us harmful stereotypes and precisely those ways we shouldn’t—or can’t even—have sex. Then again, maybe that’s our generation’s cup of tea (bagging). Why should porn even have to reflect reality? We’ve all been taught about sex differently—either through school, friends, parents or through our own experiences. We feel an increasing weight on our shoulders to be attractive at all times. Top it all off with sexual/-ist advertising every time you take a walk outside, politicians telling you what you can and can’t do, and there you have it, one big bowl of mixed feelings.

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Afgrunden, 1910

When it comes to sex, we grow up with many paradoxes. Our increasingly individualistic hook-up culture provides for casual sex just one Whatsapp message away. At the same time we long for intimacy and the feeling of slow seduction. We are triggered by an overly sexualized visual culture that teaches us what we’re supposed to find sexy, but then realise our desires don’t line up with those standards. You might, for example, have a huge fetish, which you daren’t try out because of certain societal expectations. This is why Cinema Erotica is so important; it challenges us and redefines our desires. It shows that there is no “right” or mapped out, instructed way to experience sex.

Can you think of the last time a sex scene in a recent film had you feeling electrified? The constant glorification of the male orgasm, the too-perfect to be true, under-the-covers sex scene and the depictions of stereotypical lesbian sex as seen through the male gaze are all cases that are more often than not a portrayal of what we, aka male directors, like sex to be rather than what sex can be. Sure, today sex is more easily available and visible than ever, but its historical discourse has been very one-sided. Research has sought to categorize it through the lens of morality, and its language has become discreet and restrictive—serving the interest of a capitalist, religious, patriarchal and bourgeois society.

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We’re overindulging in sexual aesthetics through visual culture, and simultaneously detaching from its mysterious power. It feels like this generation is afraid to love, because sex is just sex. Right? “If I text now, does he think I’m too attached?” In a time when we express ourselves through memes and emojis, sex is possibly the most intimate form of communication. We connect through sex, we understand through sex, we buy and sell through sex. Italian parliament member Ilona Staller even offered to have sex with Saddam Hussein once, in return for peace.

As much as we like to define pornography as just something we touch ourselves to, we sometimes forget that it’s also a reflection of society—its trends telling us what our generation desires. What Cinema Erotica shows, through both its hardcore and subtle sides, is thus extremely important, as we constantly need to explore and define what sex means to us.

In the erotic cinema, the desire and thrill of the promise conjure up an art that often comes in vintage colours and slow sequences. Perhaps this best depicts the intimacy we lack in today’s hook-up culture. Perhaps we fuck more, but love—and linger—less. Cinema Erotica is what we need more of. More events revolving around sex as an art form. More of the rough and more of the tender. More of the strange and more of the sincere. More of the real and more of the surreal. So go ahead and invite your next Tinder dates to EYE; you definitely won’t come back empty-handed.

Words by Michelle Helena Janssen

 

EYE’s Cinema Erotica programme opens tonight

Indulge until the 19th of June!

 

www.eyefilm.nl