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Most were neither sexy nor funny, and this one isn’t particularly erotic either, but it does cast a keenly satirical eye on how the sex-film business was run at the time, with wide-eyed ingénues on both sides of the camera and a plot that contrives multiple adaptations of the notoriously filthy poem to please different backers: hardcore porn, a gay western, a kung-fu musical and a family-friendly compromise.The martyrdom of Saint Sebastian had been a key erotic symbol in western art for many centuries before Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress’s cinematic take.
Given the lack of reliable background information, it’s impossible to say whether this coyness was intended to be erotic or whether a beady eye was being kept on obscenity laws so strict that the philosopher Bertrand Russell once complained that it was impossible to campaign against them without breaching them. British cinema’s oldest direct precursor to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon was the Gainsborough studio’s 1943-47 cycle of costume melodramas, which were more or less explicitly marketed on the strength of their erotic appeal – specifically that of James Mason (often complete with riding crop and tight britches) treating Phyllis Calvert and Margaret Lockwood appallingly badly, but in such an irresistibly smouldering way that the films’ largely female audiences secretly longed for him to do the same to them.Zack had been on her mind since he’d left the company. If anything, it was a maddening, exhilarating addiction. Read I Like My Coffee Black It’d taken 11 years to build her dream to provide fantasies to her wealthy female clientele.In 2 months “Harts House of Fantasies” would open and the fun would begin.After all, it’s arguable that the appeal of 1940s Gainsborough melodramas was far more genuinely erotic than that of the inexplicably long-running Come Play with Me (1977) and its fusion of ancient music-hall routines with only very mildly titillating nudity.There are no direct equivalents of Borowczyk, Brass, Franco or Radley Metzger in British cinema (the hardcore pornographer Ben Dover has different priorities), and serious British films about eroticism remain as rare as the more exotic butterflies on display in Strickland’s film, despite the considerable relaxation in censorship post-2000 – Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs (2004) being the British film most notorious for taking full advantage of this.François Truffaut notoriously suggested to Alfred Hitchcock that there is a certain incompatibility between the terms ‘British’ and ‘cinema’.
This was obvious nonsense, but if you add the word ‘erotic’ to ‘cinema’ you create a proposition that’s harder to deny.
A contractually-tied Mason loathed the films, but this all too evident on-screen disdain only increased his fans’ ardour.
When the British Board of Film Censors (as was) agreed to pass a serious documentary about naturism in the mid-1950s, this gave an immediate green light to numerous similar “documentaries’ by shamelessly opportunist producers who took care to adhere to BBFC guidelines (“Breasts and buttocks, but not genitalia [would be accepted] provided that the setting was recognisable as a nudist camp or nature reserve”). Lawrence creations bookended the 1960s: the obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1963 (the year in which Philip Larkin alleged that sexual intercourse began) and the international hit that Ken Russell made of Women in Love, thanks not least to one of the most notorious scenes in all British cinema, in which Alan Bates and Oliver Reed engage in full-frontally naked wrestling on a rug in front of an open fire to underscore their characters’ latent homoeroticism.
Despite two of the stronger commercial genres in British cinema history being the 1950s naturist ‘documentary’ and the 1970s softcore sex comedy, it says much about the cultural repression of the time that anyone ever found them especially erotic.
There are certainly major British filmmakers with unashamedly sensual imaginations, but can we describe the likes of Black Narcissus (1947), If….
Read Harts House of Fantasies Wayne would spend the first month of any college year choosing the lucky girl to groom for “special” tutoring. Read Professor Pet Cherry had more shoes than most downtown stores but today she was about to have a whole new shoe shopping experience. Read Cherry’s New Shoes Alessia and Silvia could always be found in Hell on a Saturday night, the hippest nightclub in London where the men were of a certain distinction.