Who Came Before Gaspar Noé? Ten Auteur-Porn Milestones of the 21st Century

noe love poster

This week, almost certainly for the first time, semen will appear to spurt right off Manhattan arthouse screens, as Love, a 3-D film featuring a whole lot of unsimulated sex, attempts to seduce audiences at the Angelika and the Village East. French aggro auteur Gaspar Noé (Irréversible, Enter the Void) wrote, directed, produced, and co-edited the “drama,” which chronicles the drug-fueled rutting of aspiring filmmaker Murphy (Karl Glusman), an American studying abroad in Paris.

Echoing the protagonist’s stated desire to make films that show “sentimental sexuality” in raw form, the majority of Love unfolds in romantic-reverie flashback. Murphy reminisces about the good old days when he was having explosive shouting matches—and then explosive makeup sex—with love-of-his-life art student Electra (Aomi Muyock). All the while, Noé puts the viewer deep inside his protagonist’s concussed-seeming headspace via back-of-head follow shots, slow voiceover, and mood-ring lighting effects.

Love might present something of a unique viewing experience, then, but that’s not to suggest the film is entirely sui generis.

Nothing novel about the use of the third dimension here, for one thing, as it’s been used for pornographic purposes for decades. Noé, meanwhile, merely continues to flex his muscle as a charter member of what Artforum’s James Quandt dubbed the New French Extremity, a label applied to Gallic provocateurs who set out to paint the screen with one bodily fluid or another. And the NFE itself, of course, fits into a still broader tradition of (supposedly) highbrow world cinema attempting to push the envelope, particularly when it comes to depictions of sex.

Whether the intercourse strives to be mostly titillating (Love) or ultimately alarming (Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 Salò, Nagisa Oshima’s 1976 In the Realm of the Senses, etc.), a wide variety of auteurs have courted scandal by playing up the kind of Sexual Content liable to give the MPAA a collective aneurysm. Below, a gallery of some of the more notable experiments in auteur porn that have occurred in our yet-young century.

We live in a time when anyone with an index finger can torrent a terabyte worth of felching in mere seconds, and no one’s risqué selfies are completely safe from revenge-porn sites or even SafeSearch-disabled Google image queries, so it’s somewhat refreshing to consider that you can still scandalize journalists at the Cannes Film Festival with a little fondling. Perhaps these types of films, which admittedly seem greater in number these days than they have been in the past, represent hardcore’s slow-but-steady incursion into the mainstream. Only time will tell.

(All images basically SFW)

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