As an educational and above all seductive experience, EYE Filmmuseum is currently putting on a jam-packed programme that places erotica at its heart. The creative mind behind this diverse but carefully constructed programme is Anna Abrahams, whom together with Ronald Simons selected the cinematic gems from a century-long period of lust in film. Covering important ground in educating a younger generation on the politics of sex and love, Cinema Erotica opens the imagination to pleasure and counters fear. We asked Anna which films you shouldn’t miss out on in the coming days.
As a well-worn theme, why has EYE decided to focus on eroticism in film at this point in time?
The art of erotic cinema has become lost in an increasingly digitalized world; the Internet only seems to present those almost crude pornographic films. Where people used to attend cinemas in big numbers, they now stay stuck behind their computer screens. Erotica found on the web is much more based on orgasmic experiences—not really the kind of films I’m interested in. I’m interested in those cinematic experiences that centre on sensual desires and the promises of what could happen.
Erotica, to me, has to be sexually stimulating and feed into libidinous desires. As an art form, erotic cinema is firmly planted in the cinematographic tradition. We have a great number of these films at EYE, but they’re rarely shown on screen and when they are it’s because they make up an important part of a certain film director’s cinematic oeuvre. For example, we’ve recently shown a number of David Cronenberg’s films like Crash (1996). But it’s interesting to see how those films fare outside of an author’s oeuvre.
Cinema Erotica can say a lot about how our perception of intimacy, sexuality and erotica has changed. It visualizes this evolving image of erotica over a century. The oldest film we are showing dates back to 1910 and the most recent one was only released recently, somewhere between 2016 and 2017. That’s more than 100 years of sexual desires spilled out onto the screen.
Hollywood usually depicts sex in a very unrealistic way. How does that relate to the films at EYE?
An art form, which involves a lens of any sorts, is bound to bare connections with realism and quickly becomes realistic. Although this can be interesting, speaking to the imagination is much more intriguing in my eyes. Transforming something into a layered image that triggers the mind to start producing more images is really an art. I believe being able to speak to the imagination in a compelling way is very important in film, and has allowed us to include some absurd and great films in the programme.
As a museum, why is it important to organize such an immersive cinematic programme and what does it do in terms of defying taboos?
As a film institute, what we do definitely helps defy certain taboos and norms—especially in the way we’ve organised the programme. It not only showcases feature films by notable directors such as Fassbender, but also includes curated nights that help defy certain norms tied to sex being presented in a museum context. Back in 1910, a lot could be shown on the big screen. However, in 1934 stern censorship laws restricted this sense of freedom. Only in the 70s did these censorship rules give way to more creative freedom. To the extent that hardcore porn films like Deep Throat (1972) by Gerard Damiano made a return to cinema. Unfortunately, not much later, sexuality was experienced as something daunting and all clothes went back on. Currently a lot is allowed but the sex cinema barely exists.
That’s surprising, considering how explicit cinema was in the past. Love (2015) by Gaspar Noé, for example, was quite an intense and hefty film and people seemed quite put back by it.
I think every generation needs to learn how to deal with erotica, which is why it’s so important to devote an entire programme to it.
How much attention is specifically paid to Dutch directors?
On Saturday the 17th of June, we have an event that’s entirely devoted to Dutch erotic film. It includes Venus in Furs (1994) by Victor Nieuwenhuijs and Maartje Seyferth, which is beautifully shot and includes some impeccable camera lining. Followed by Mira (1971), a cinematic translation of the novel by Flemish author Stijn Streuvels. To round off, we will show visuals from the heyday of erotic cinema in The Netherlands—most of which date back to the 70s, when nudity increasingly came into view. In a sense the Netherlands can be considered as precursors in this area, probably due to the liberal political climate back then.
What are your favourite picks from the programme?
I think they have to be Un chant d’amour and Craigslist Allstars. As part of her graduation project, the young Finnish performance artist Samira Elagoz created a film that explores love and eroticism in the digital age. The film documents her online interactions with men on various online platforms—such as Craigslist—and documents the many male reactions she encounters. It’s an extremely real and tense film, shot in a very improvised way.
Sex and erotica remain a timely subject matter. Do you have any advice for filmmakers who are starting out and trying to master the art of erotic film?
Join the workshop of Jennifer Lyon Bell! Specialised in female-friendly porn, this director/producer creates stories in which the erotic plays a central role. You can learn, for example, how to direct actors to have sex in a natural way. And long live the imagination! It’s important to make film that speaks to emotion as opposed to creating stories that just depict reality.