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The Reagans and Sex Parties: Recapping Female Sexual Fantasies in Film

(l to r) Emily Carmichael, Josephine Decker, Amy Seimetz, Ry Russo-Young, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Ashley Connor

“So many fantasies are fear based, so I can understand why you’d want Ronald Reagan shoving cake in your mouth,” said Amy Seimetz. She was responding to a particular fantasy from an anonymous audience member after a screening of Josephine Decker’s Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, nearing the midway point in its one week run at the IFP Media Center. Seimetz and Decker, along with Mild and Lovely d.p. Ashley Connor, Ry Russo-Young, Emily Carmichael, and Celia Rowlson-Hall were all in attendance for an interactive panel on Female Sexual Fantasies in Film. The filmmakers began with a discussion that centered on the concept of the “female gaze,” before providing detailed descriptions on how they would render any given audience member’s fantasy.

Citing Fish Tank as an exemplary counterpoint to the male perspective, Russo-Young noted that, “As a female filmmaker trying to portray sexuality, [we have] a very complicated relationship with looking, because we’re so used to looking at women. So making a movie about being a woman, looking at a woman, or trying to portray a woman looking at a man, is a really complicated paradox that I’m not sure we know how to do yet.”

Continued Rowlson-Hall: “I have spent so many years seeing myself through the lens of men, so now it’s about seeing myself the way I see me. That’s the goal of my work. Free of any ideas of what a woman should be, or what someone who looks like me should be. To be a woman is to be bloody, and pissy, and shitty, and muscular and not so sterile…I’d like to see a woman just being human.”

As the panelists passed around a box containing the audience’s “sexual fantasies,” Russo-Young drew an unsavory description about a crack addicted girl who gets gang banged so she can satisfy her fix. Although she was supposed to describe how she would film the incident, Russo-Young deftly took the opportunity to acknowledge that this is an altogether common “fantasy” in film history. It’s something we’ve seen before, and more often than not, the most gruesome thing about the depiction of rape, is that it’s not always clear that the woman is not enjoying herself. Corroborated Carmichael: “The most fucked up thing about The Clockwork Orange gang bang is that it looks like she enjoys it. Rapes in film can be shot in the same way that a lot of ‘great’ sex scenes are filmed.”

The actual process behind sex scenes is also a problematic enterprise, and Connor weighed in on the measures her and Decker took to make their actors at ease in both Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely. “It’s about making sure everyone is comfortable,” said Connor. “It’s not necessarily that they’re enjoying it, it’s a job, but that they’re being watched in a comfortable way. It’s about being there with them. In Butter on the Latch, because the actors had to be nude, I took my top off. I still had to run up a hill, so I kept my bra on.”

Russo-Young expressed the importance of blocking, and walking through things in a fun yet clinical way to “demystify it.” Carmichael prefers to call it “physical choreography,” and to “think of it the same way you would do a fight scene. Don’t say, ‘Okay, now we’re gonna come over here and get it on a little more. Be specific.” Having both directed and acted in sex scenes, Seimetz mentioned that she always feels comfortable, until she starts looking around and gauges everyone else’s discomfort: “It’s when you make eye contact with someone who is clothed and uncomfortable about looking at you naked…that’s when it just becomes, ‘Get out of my eye line.'”

Ronald and Nancy Reagan aside, the other fantasies were more mild. After Connor drew the final one about two bisexual men and nothing else, Decker insisted that everyone close their eyes, and she went back into the audience to grab one last fantasy for herself. A doozy concerning the porn star Daphne Rosen, Lizzy Caplan, and his/her mom “in the corner, in a non-participatory way,” the description had a revelatory effect on Decker. Drawing a parallel between the fantasy and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, in which a parent appears at an inopportune moment, Decker said, “There is nothing hotter than being in high school and having that feeling of someone’s going to walk in, so we have to really enjoy it while we can before the impending doom. Everyone always asks why sex and violence are always linked in my films and I think I just figured it out. I think that it has to do with that sense of punishment.”

She then regaled the room with a reminiscence of a sex party she attended while filming Bi The Way several years prior. She would stage the Daphne Rosen/Lizzy Caplan/mom fantasy in the exact same way, moving between rooms, with separate sexual encounters in each, until, “You’re so turned on and you turn the corner into the last room expecting the climax of your life and you close the door behind you. And it’s your mom, in the corner, wearing really sexy clothes. This is it! And this is the worst!”

 

 

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