Full frontal

Indie Sex

Whoa. Rewind that. Helen Mirren was in Caligula? She who recently commanded movie screens as England’s most famously repressed queen? Come to think of it, if you’ll pardon the phrase, Caligula’s decadent Roman orgies did have a whiff of aristocracy; that’s what really made them so tantalizing. Yes, of course it was her.

But hang on a second. Are you saying, furthermore, that if all I wanted was a vaguely pretentious art movie with an un-simulated fellatio scene, I could have skipped the bore of The Brown Bunny and gone back a few years to Devil in the Flesh? Are you telling me that the glory-hole-as-motion-picture-plot-point actually predated Porky’s? Wow. Who knew?

Filmmakers Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg did, as is clear from their instructive hit IFC documentary miniseries Indie Sex, now on DVD, and much better than its dumb, demographically calculating title suggests. Ades and Klainberg are keen to remind us what the cinema always has been good for: a carnival of carnality. In episodes examining censorship, taboos, teens and extremes, they get to all the bases; Indie Sex amounts to a gleefully comprehensive celebration of liking to watch.

Be warned, though: That does mean it’s full of libido-leeching interviews with movie critics talking about movie sex. But there are interviews with filmmakers of intelligence and art-house cred, too: Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Allison Anders, Catherine Breillat, John Waters, others. There is Peter Sarsgaard confessing to being stimulated by watching movie characters being stimulated. And, yes, there are many, many explicit clips. It’s not just blandly catechizing. It’s actually kinda hot.

Better still, Indie Sex honors our most primal human desires by acknowledging omnivorous appetites: straight, gay and other—from Brando’s butter in Last Tango in Paris to Gene Wilder’s sheep in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask. Ades and Klainberg aren’t about scoring points against prudish repression-mongers. They’re about scoring. Turns out on-screen sex, like real sex, is complicated, mysterious and great fun.