So I’m watching the surprisingly pretty funny No Strings Attached earlier this week and at one point in the movie, Mindy Kaling (you know, from The Office) announces her intention to go out and get some action. And she wants to convince sad, lonely Natalie Portman to come with her and do the same. “We’re dirty sluts!” yells Mindy.
Except you know she’s not a dirty slut. And the movie successfully sells you on the idea that even Natalie Portman isn’t a dirty slut, which is weird because the whole premise is that she just wants to do “it” all the time with Ashton Kutcher and not get into a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. They’re so monogamous about their “sex friend” status that they might as well be married. You kinda buy that Ashton Kutcher’s character is too smitten with Portman to have eyes (or any of his other parts) for anyone but her. But when the rubber hits the road, so to speak, you get a lot of wink wink and nudge nudge but not much else. If you take away the R-rated language and suggestive scenarios it’s about as horny as an episode of Saved by The Bell.
I blame two movies for this: Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Showgirls. Neither of them are awful movies. Goodbar was dark and gritty and starred Diane Keaton at the height of her 1970s cool. And Showgirls, in spite of its reputation, is a really incredible, really trashy, really deranged art film. Don’t argue with me on that last one; I’m right.
Here’s what happened (sort of—I’m about to leave out a lot of historic detail in the interest of this not turning into a book): In the late 1960s and early 1970s, everybody was taking off their clothes in movies. Mainstream movies featured lots of sex. Jane Fonda broke the orgasm machine in Barbarella. Audiences were going to see X-rated stuff in theaters. People—couples!—actually lined up to see Deep Throat. They even made X-rated feature length cartoons. You had to be a big star to have that no-nudity clause in your contract. Jiggly cheerleader and stewardess movies were everywhere. And then somewhere along the way people started to feel icky about it. Looking For Mr. Goodbar, a movie about Diane Keaton picking up guy after guy in bar after bar until---ta daa!—one of them murders her, reminded audiences that getting freaky with strangers would pretty much make them die.
After that it was all downhill for dirty sluts. Dirty sluts were sad and maybe in danger of getting HIV (Janeane Garofalo in Reality Bites). Dirty sluts were murderers (Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct). Dirty sluts were bored manwhores (Richard Gere in American Gigolo). Dirty sluts got raped (Jennifer Jason Leigh in Last Exit to Brooklyn, Donna Pescow in Saturday Night Fever, which was also set in Brooklyn, a place where apparently no one is safe). Dirty sluts got force-fed big tubs of Cool Whip (Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks). And every single dirty slut in every single slasher movie was executed by every single murder tool available. Poor dirty sluts.
And then came Showgirls. It was supposed to be a big honking deal, with more sex and naked people on screen than ever before, but no one went to see it. Elizabeth Berkley bared it all and licked the stripper pole and bounced around on Kyle MacLachlan like a frenzied porpoise and it was the same as if a tree fell in the forest. NC-17 had failed and nobody wanted to see wacky, brazen sex-times. After that it was pretty much negligent parents at swinger parties coming home to find their kids mowed down by cars (The Ice Storm) and bitter, humiliation oriented rom-coms where Katherine Heigl gets tortured by a pair of vibrating panties. I think the lesbians in Bound have been the only ones having any fun.
It’s a bummer.
But you know where you get to see lots of movie sex? Europe. In fact, their movies have gotten more and more realistic about sex while ours—not counting John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus--have retreated. Check out Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs if you don’t believe me. Sure, the movie is sort of pointless but those actors aren’t faking it. And yes, the thing about movies from other countries is that you usually have to read along, but reading is fun, right? Sure it is. Look, somebody, has to fulfill the futuristic promise of the early 70s, pick up the dirty slut flag and fly it. And if it’s a country where David Hasselhoff is still a pop star, then so be it.