Not Porn

March 27, 2019 § Leave a comment

While the mainstream grows more accommodating of frank, honest sexuality, the conversations around sex on screen remain fretful, the championing of artistic freedom offset by the burden of moral responsibility. From the breathless curiosity that characterized the response to the “marathon” sex scenes in Blue Is the Warmest Colour to the harsh accusations levelled at Catherine Breillat’s Romance and films of a similar ilk, filmmakers are often charged with justifying sexual explicitness. As ever, the crux of the matter is intent. Even amongst seasoned critical ranks, the evoking of a genuine emotional response—be it a scream, a belly-laugh or a face strewn with tears—is generally considered a sign of a moment’s potency. By this metric, what kind of response should a filmmaker crafting a sex scene hope to evoke in viewers, and with what degree of certainty can they expect the inevitable wave of moral panic, should they succeed? Audiences and critics alike resented Michael Powell and his film Peeping Tom for making them feel complicit and deviant, so it’s not at all surprising that contemporary filmmakers are quick to declare “not porn!” for fear of career sabotage or the “dishonor” of being labelled a pornographer. But when intent and effect are considered, just how cleanly can “art” cinema and “porn” cinema be separated?

* Currently published on MUBI Notebook (

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