While the blogosphere din has been abuzz about Ron Hogan’s forthcoming The Stewardess is Landing the Plane! and John Scalzi’s The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, there’s another film criticism volume making the rounds that’s worth your while. Jami Bernard’s The X List: Movies That Turn Us On (Da Capo Press) would seem, from an aperçu, to be one of those collections that commingles two fantastic topics of interest: sex and movies. But within its pages, one finds not only reevaluations of reviled movies (J. Hoberman, for example, recontextualizing Basic Instinct as a study of pathology rather than a homophobic onslaught, Peter Travers defending Ken Russell’s vulgarity in the vastly underrated Crimes of Passion), but a loving tribute to teat provocateur Russ Meyer from Roger Ebert, David Sterritt remarking upon how Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible can be seen as a culturally galvanizing film, and David Edelstein ferreting out the sexual politics of the Hammer classic Horror of Dracula.
Aside from the considerable space devoted to Salon contributors, I’m rather astonished that no one in this collection has seen fit to comment upon Betty Blue, Kiss of the Spider Woman or even the sexual dynamic between Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley in the frequently overlooked Death and the Maiden. But Bernard has done a commendable job of collecting enough thought-provoking essays (including several by the always thoughtful Jonathan Rosenbaum) which suggest that titilation isn’t always the primary concern when it comes to cinematic eroticism and that sex, often perceived as the tawdry entry point, is often an effective method to draw larger conclusions about humanity at large.
The book also alerted me to something I didn’t know: apparently, there’s an uncensored version of Baby Facemaking the rounds which once played the Castro Theatre (and that I unfortunately missed). Thankfully, Warner may be releasing this newly discovered print as part of a major Pre-Code Hollywood DVD box set next year.