For most flicks, anal sex is a huge pain in the ass. Maybe it’s old-fashioned Puritanism, or hetero-normative notions of what constitutes “proper” sexuality, but the movies find butt sex very uncomfortable. And it has nothing to do with a lack of lube, either.
As a narrative hook, it has enduring appeal, either as a way of inflicting pain or coercion and, of course, as a joke. And before this begins to sound like some woefully dull undergrad term paper, let me point out that my interest in this is totally juvenile. (Like, 75 per cent, anyway.)
Recently, a friend and I were watching Jade (1995), the hilariously godawful “erotic thriller” penned by overpaid, gruff egomaniac Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls — two owed entirely to director Paul Verhoeven). It had all the ingredients of a hit — lots of sex, David Caruso (don’t laugh — this was right after a star-making turn on NYPD Blue), and director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist). The result was an overwrought mess — Friedkin’s weird fascination with classical Asian art gave it an unwanted taste of ’90s kitsch; the mystery was paradoxically complicated and nonexistent; and all of the actors look painfully bored.
But it was one key detail that piqued our interest. The plot (whether femme fatale Linda Fiorentino was a cheating killer or just dull) hinged on a revelation of steamy butt sex. First, she’s accused of engaging in a riotous act of butt fucking with another guy. Her husband guffaws — it couldn’t be her; she refuses to let him slam her back door, so why would she let some stranger? (Why indeed.) Later, a video surfaces, showing some strange feller — not her husband — cruising her Hershey highway as she stares cold-eyed into the camera.
This, apparently, is enough to convince the cuckolded husband (played by a bewildered Chazz Palminteri) that she’s guilty. Of something, maybe…. Jade is nothing if confusing, and nobody involved in its production seems to care. More interesting is how anal sex is still the ultimate transgression, so taboo that a dip in the ol’ fudge pot is enough to drive a panicky murder investigation.
Hollywood first dropped anchor in anal bay with Midnight Cowboy (1969), where naive, baby-faced Jon Voight turns to prostitution, with depressingly disastrous results — in the film’s most notorious scene, he’s viciously raped by a john. (Sure, there were other flicks that may have mentioned anal sex before this one, but it was the first — with the kiss-of-death X-rating — that really put it on camera.) Next was Deliverance (1972), where Ned Beatty is raped by a gang of Appalachian inbred freaks in a scene that’s still unnerving to modern audiences. The butt sex scene in Last Tango in Paris (1972) isn’t really that hot, either. Marlon Brando’s backdoor butter action involves what appears to be a rather unwilling participant, a curly-haired, cute French moppet who he has recite some religious mumbo jumbo as he rhythmically pounds her ass. These films all saw the act as less transgressive in practice than it was visceral on screen (and therefore transgressive in the art of cinema — make sense?) In each case, it was punishing and awful.
The ’90s and beyond haven’t been very progressive, either. Flicks like Kevin Smith’s Mallrats (1995) — “sex in an uncomfortable place” — and other dumb comedies still see it as an easy joke (and to be fair, it kind of is). Almost every other film uses it violently — from Catherine Breillat’s queasily uncomfortable Fat Girl (2001), to Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and Requiem for a Dream (2000) (“ass to ass!”).
Anal sex will always be a punchline — which is fine, as long it isn’t always relegated to a cinematic underworld of pain and ugliness. Films like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) go a long way towards adding a little romance and positivity to the act, especially for gay characters and audiences. Why can’t it be fun for everyone? C’mon Hollywood — don’t make my brown eye blue.