How Two 1994 Movies Transformed Screen Portrayals of Female Sexuality

Posted on March 11, 2019 at 3:58 pm

Copyright MGM 1994

For’s Women Writer’s Week, I wrote an essay about how two films, both made 25 years ago, transformed the way female sexuality is portrayed on screen. Before these films, female characters either seemed unaware of sex or determined not to have sex until marriage. If they did, the consequences were usually terrible — an unwanted pregnancy, a nervous breakdown, loss of reputation, even death. There were sex comedies based on successful Broadway farces like “Sunday in New York,” “The Moon is Blue,” and the weirdest of all, written by Arthur Marx (son of Groucho), “The Impossible Years.”

David Niven (one of the failed seducers from “The Moon is Blue”) plays a psychology professor obsessed with his daughter’s virginity—in a sex comedy kind of way but still pretty creepy. Spoiler alert: She is safely married by the time she has sex (with her father’s young professional colleague/rival, hmmm, wonder what a psychology professor would make of that). And somehow the act of having sex instantly transforms her into a mature, thoughtful, responsible person as well, just in time for her dad to start worrying about her younger sister.

Other movies feature the tragic consequences of pre-marital sex. In “Where the Boys Are” Yvette Mimieux is not only raped but also hit by a car as the consequence for her decision to have sex on spring vacation in Fort Lauderdale. Worst of all, “they’re not even Yalies.” Meanwhile, Dolores Hart, who intellectually is in favor of sexual autonomy and freedom from shame for young women, maintains her purity and thus achieves the ultimate—an invitation to the spring dance from handsome Ivy Leaguer George Hamilton.

Copyright Miramax 1994
But the micro-budget “Clerks” and the glossy romantic comedy “Four Weddings and a Funeral” both did something remarkable and revolutionary — they gave us female characters who were comfortable with sexual desire and expression, unapologetic because they saw no reason to be. And the men they confided in were not disgusted, disappointed, or contemptuous. They were impressed and intimidated. Compare this to Audrey Hepburn’s similar — except entirely fictitious — recitation of imaginary lovers to Gary Cooper in “Love in the Afternoon,” just one example of this era’s pretend to have your cake but don’t eat anything attitude during this era.

This idea that sexual experience was evidence of a healthy, confident ownership of sexual expression was an enormous shift, the foundation for later films like the raunchy but sweet-natured sex comedy “American Pie” (1999), also revolutionary in the female characters’ ownership of their sexuality, compared to “Porky’s” (1981) or “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Sixteen Candles” (both 1984), where the perspective is all about male sexual gratification including voyeurism, sexual assault, and a boy selling a look at a teenage girl’s underwear.

2018’s “Blockers,” like “The Impossible Years,” also featured parents who were way too invested in whether their daughters were going to have sex. But this time, the point of view of the movie was very much on the side of the girls and their ability to make their own choices. Series like “Big Mouth,” “PEN15,” and “Broad City,” have characters who may make some bad decisions and suffer the consequences, but they do not pretend that sexual desire is wrong or bad. They follow in the steps of “Clerks” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” as those two films provided a turning point for healthier depictions of women and our right to our feelings and our choices.

Where once slasher films almost made killing teens who had sex a given, after “Clerks” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” came “Scream,” with a heroine who only after having sex achieved the wisdom and power to defeat the killer(s).

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Help Save the Rom-Com! Make a 30-Second Rom-Com and Win a Prize!

Posted on January 12, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Did you know there was not one major romantic comedy release last year? What happened to all the Jennifers and Jessicas? All the meet-cutes and misunderstandings? All the quippy best friends and quirky roommates? All the cute pajamas and strolls through the farmers’ market and walks on the beach?

If Hollywood won’t provide, it’s time to crowd-source. Kevin Smith is here to help. Yes, Kevin Smith. Come on, you know he’s just a big old softie who believes in love.

It’s the 30 Second Rom Com Movie Challenge from Studio 360.

The meet cute, the first kiss, the misunderstanding, the chase, the wedding — we all know the scenes that make a romantic comedy both predictable and irresistible.

Your challenge: write and shoot a scene that plays with any or all of those tropes, in just 30 seconds or less.

Your judge: Kevin Smith, DIY master and director of Chasing Amy and Clerks. Win Kevin over with your creative twist on the classic genre. We’ll play the winning movie and have you as a guest on the show on Valentine’s Day weekend.

Extra Credit: 30-Second Rom-Com

STEP 1: Create your film

• Use Vine, Instagram, Super 8, or using any other method to create an original rom-com.
• Your entry must be 30 seconds or less.
STEP 2: Submit your film

• Upload your movie to Youtube or Vimeo — and post the link on the Studio 360 contest page.
• Submit as many movies as you’d like.
• By posting your movie, you represent that: you have the right to post it; that it does not infringe on the copyright of any other person; and that, if you are under 18, you have permission from a parent or guardian to do so. (Be sure to follow Youtube and Vimeo’s Terms of Service.)
• Your video will be posted on our website and may be used in other Studio 360 platforms.
The deadline to be considered for our challenge is Sunday, February 1 at 11:59pm ET.

Kevin Smith will be back on the show to announce a winner.

Good luck, and if you win, don’t forget to thank me in your acceptance speech!

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Posted on September 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Copyright 2014 SModcast Pictures
Copyright 2014 SModcast Pictures

You can make a good movie about slackers, for example “Slackers,” from Richard Linklater and “Clerks” from Kevin Smith. But you can’t make a good movie by a slacker, and Smith does not seem willing to be anything more. There are flickers of interesting possibilities in his latest film, his first foray into horror. Justin Long nails his early scenes as Wallace, a sort of Smith wannabe. We learn later in flashbacks that he was once a sweet, geeky guy who cried in “Winnie the Pooh.” He was conversant enough with literature to recognize quotes from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Hemingway. But he found out he could make money and attract groupies by being obnoxious and outrageous. Wallace and his best friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) host a podcast something between Smith’s own SModcast, Tosh.0 and the skankier sub-reddits. It’s called “Not-See Party,” get it? In case you don’t, Wallace has a sign-off in a fake German accent. What, too soon?

We first see them helpless with laughter over a found video along the lines of the “Star Wars kid,” but this one is a “Kill Bill” wannabe who accidentally slices off his own leg at the thigh. A real laff-riot! This is such a bonanza of a topic for the Not-See Party duo that Wallace decides to visit the kid in person, at his home in Manitoba, Canada. But when he gets there (following a not-funny encounter at the border with an official who warns him not to be flippant about hockey in Canada), Wallace discovers that the despondent kid has committed suicide. Bummer for the podcast! Seeking some other poor slob to make fun of so the trip won’t be wasted, Wallace comes across an intriguing flier in a men’s room, a man named Howard Howe, a retired sailor, who says he has stories to tell. Wallace rents a car and drives two hours into Howard’s remote house (beautifully creepy interiors by John D. Kretschmer, a highlight of the film). He sips at the tea offered to him by the genially eloquent Howard (as he prefers to be called), at first condescending but thinly disguising his snark, then impressed in spite of himself with Howard’s stories of WWII and being shipwrecked, and then, suddenly, very, very, very, very sleepy.

The tea was spiked. Howard has something very gruesome in mind, which we discover along with the terrified Wallace.

The idea for this film came up in a SModcast conversation with Smith and friend and producer Scott Mosier discussing an ad placed by a homeowner who was offering a living situation free of charge, if the lodger would agree to dress as a walrus. Their can-you-top-this riffs on the possibilities suggested by the ad led to a twitter campaign with the hashtag #walrusyes. And that is why it feels at times as though the screenplay was pieced together by tweets. A major Hollywood star shows up in disguise for a stunt-ish, winking-at-the-screen turn as a Quebecois detective in pursuit of Howard Howe, not nearly as funny or charming as intended. While there are hints of something deeper — the conversation about how Wallace as devolved as a person, with his girlfriend missing the “old Wallace,” the similarities between “Wallace” and “Walrus” — the real possibilities of the storyline about humanity, inhumanity, and what separates us from the animals, are blithely bypassed for random detours and red herrings (maybe red mackerels). It is another disappointment from Smith, who may not write all of his scripts while stoned, but they sure feel like it.

Parents should know that this is a horror film with many graphic and disturbing images of torture and mutilation. Characters are injured and killed. It also includes strong language, drinking and smoking, and sexual references and situations, with brief male rear nudity.

Family discussion: Are we supposed to think that Wallace somehow deserved or asked for what happened to him? How do you interpret the final scene?

If you like this, try: “The Skin I Live In” and “Boxing Helena” — and Eugene Ionesco’s classic Rhinoceros

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Horror Scene After the Credits

Abandoned Screenplays by Famous Writers

Posted on January 29, 2014 at 8:00 am

Flavorwire has a very intriguing list of “abandoned screenplays” by famous writers like Robert Towne (“Chinatown”), the Coen brothers (“Fargo,” “Inside Llewyn Davis”), Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane”), and Kevin Smith (“Clerks”).  The one I most wish had actually been made is the film written by Roger Ebert for the Sex Pistols, to be directed by Russ Meyer.  I’d say I could only imagine, but I am sure my imagination cannot do justice to what that combination of talent would have produced.  The script is here, so you can imagine for yourself.

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Kevin Smith’s new “Spoilers” Show on Hulu

Posted on June 5, 2012 at 8:00 am

Writer/director/actor Kevin Smith (“Clerks,” “Life Free or Die Hard”) has a new web series about movie on Hulu called “Spoilers.”  He brings a group to a new movie and they discuss it, and he also interviews guests and does some animated skits.  For the first episode they saw “Snow White and the Huntsman” and Carrie Fisher comes over to sit in “the high chair” and talk about how much fun she had decapitating Jabba the Hutt.  Smith is a huge movie fan and he loves interacting with the crowd.  And yes,  Jay (Jason Mewes) shows up, too.  NOTE: as its title suggests, the show is best watched after seeing the movie.

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