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TELEVISION REVIEW

IFC takes a walk on the wild side

The channel's four-part series looks at the long and quite intimate relationship between sex and the cinema.

August 01, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

There are, according to the Independent Film Channel's mostly new documentary tetralogy, "Indie Sex," people having sex in the movies, and some of them are not even pretending! (Most of them are pretending, though.)

(But some of them aren't.)

(I'm not talking about pornography. All those people are really having sex. Or it wouldn't be porn, would it?)

Rolling out tonight through Saturday at the appropriately child-unfriendly hour of midnight, when all good little boys and girls should be asleep, "Indie Sex" is not strictly about sex in independent films. (That would be a short and insular history.) There are plenty of mainstream Hollywood movies covered, including "Splendor in the Grass," "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)" "Pretty in Pink" and "American Pie," though the commentary and context are provided largely by indie-age, younger-set film critics, directors and actors. They say things like, "We need to talk about teen masturbation! It needs to be shown more in films!" and "Beach movies are indicative of a certain repression or displacement of sexuality in the '60s." And I thought they were about the surfing.

Burlesque revivalist and series poster girl Dita Von Teese gets a "featuring" credit in promotions for the show, presumably for her professional resemblance to Bettie Page. Though her film credits are few, her comments are apt; she is perhaps better acquainted than most with the subject. Thursday night ("Indie Sex: Taboos," originally broadcast in 2001) brings the always refreshing John Waters, to whom nothing human is alien, or less than hysterical.

Even four hours will allow only a cursory look at a subject that stretches from "Tarzan and His Mate" to "Blue Velvet" -- and whose particular representation is, as always, dependent on the clips available and the budget for licensing them -- but the series manages to hit the important historical, philosophical and aesthetic bases. Directors Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg ("Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema") keep things interesting and amusing.

Almost just by existing, the series pictures a society increasingly comfortable with sex -- if no less confused by it -- and in flavors formerly unthinkable. (Necrophilia, anyone?) Chloe Sevigny may have performed unsimulated fellatio on Vincent Gallo in "The Brown Bunny," but that hasn't kept her from working regularly on HBO's "Big Love" (as a woman who would never perform even simulated fellatio on Vincent Gallo). We are growing up, slowly.

Still, while biology guarantees that sex is the most compelling thing in the world -- next to food, of course (see "9 1/2 Weeks") -- that is in itself no guarantee that interesting stories will be told about it. Screen sex is often just there, like the expected mint on a pillow in an expensive hotel room, to give people their money's worth. Premium-cable television -- which is to "free" television as the movies used to be to TV -- currently suffers from this syndrome, once epidemic on the big screen, in which naked bodies are thrown on screen just because they can be.

And so some of the films covered here are nothing more than historical curiosities -- "Myra Breckenridge," "Caligula" ("an irresistible mix of art and genitals," costar Helen Mirren calls it, with no evident irony, in an archival interview), the Madonna howler "Body of Evidence." But even a bad movie can look interesting for the space of a clip or two, and now and then you may be prompted to put on a raincoat and go rent something you had previously overlooked or dismissed. "Little Darlings" looks a lot better here than I remember it.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Indie Sex'

Where: IFC

When: Midnight, tonight through Saturday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17)

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