- Looking at TV and Film
(Why I Used to Think Erotic Movies Needed Bad Endings)
- November 4, 2021
I know… pretty weird title, isn’t it? Especially if you’ve never heard of Euroshlock before. But it was like this:
I’ve mentioned it once or twice before, but up until I was around 15 or 16, I was DEEP in denial about being bisexual. And that was probably one of the reasons why, in the early parts of my life, I was a TOTAL prude. There’s this thought among adults that kids and young teens are like these innocent and pure beings who never have any remotely sexual thoughts or feelings, but that’s not really true. Not that they’re ready to actually DO anything, but I’m betting a lot of you would be surprised at how DIRTY-MINDED kids can be. I know this because I was (or so it felt like at the time) the one kid who wasn’t. My classmates and kids my age delighted in singing bawdy songs and telling dirty jokes… I was the one who stood to the side and just wished they would stop.
Turned out I was a late bloomer compared to the others, because when I was 15-going-on-16, my hormones kicked in and my mind went straight into the gutter. All of a sudden I was VERY interested in sex… though to the outside world there was no visible change because of course I couldn’t ADMIT it to anyone. If you remember a previous blog post, I’ve touched upon how in my early days of sexual awakening I discovered a passion for erotic horror, and went through a lot of “romance trash” novels.
But… well… it all STARTED sometime before I turned 16. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I do remember it was very early in my days of acknowledging myself as a sexual being, and also kind of beginning to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t entirely straight. Or even remotely straight. And it was around this time that I, quite by chance, happened to catch a movie on TV. It was a 1972 Italian/French movie (though with some English dialogue), starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, and it was called Ultimo Tango a Parigi… or Last Tango in Paris.
Last Tango in Paris was the first erotic movie I ever saw. And if you’ve seen it, you’ll probably agree with me that it probably isn’t anyone’s ideal first anything. I’m going to spoil the fuck out of this movie here, but REALLY this isn’t the sort of film you should watch unless you know specifically what you’re going to be watching:
The movie stars Marlon Brando as Paul, an American man mourning the recent death of his wife, and Maria Schneider as Jeanne, a young French woman engaged to a self-obsessed aspiring filmmaker. At the start of the movie, Paul and Jeanne are both in Paris, looking at apartments, and they chance to meet in an apartment they’re both interested in renting. It’s an old, shabby and empty apartment, and after walking around it for a bit, Paul suddenly and without a word lifts Jeanne up, carries her over to one of the walls and proceeds to fuck her against that wall. Without asking her name or even properly undressing first.
This is the start of an anonymous but intensely sexual affair between the two… which turns increasingly abusive. They agree not to tell each other anything about themselves, not even their names, but over the next few days they meet up in that same apartment (which Paul has decided to rent) and fuck. A lot. Jeanne spends much of the movie naked, though Paul doesn’t… apparently nude scenes were shot with Marlon Brando, but they never made it to the movie. Male gaze aside, in one way it does work because it underlines how Paul has pretty much all the power in the relationship. He becomes increasingly abusive, and several scenes are dub-con at best, outright rape at worst.
The most infamous scene is the “butter scene”… and if you have any knowledge at ALL about this movie, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about here. In case you don’t, though… well, basically it involves one Paul going all cold psycho in response to one of Jeanne’s innocent comments. He pins her down on the floor, pulls her pants down and fucks her ass, using butter as lubricant. All the while he’s on a disturbing rant about how families suck, and he makes her repeat everything he says as he fucks her, and she’s crying and it’s not okay.
You’d think this was the low point of the abusive relationship, but somehow things just get worse after that. At the end of the movie Jeanne tries to break out of the relationship, but Paul gets threatening and in the end she shoots and kills him. The last scene is her just rambling to herself how “I don’t know this man, he followed me, he wanted to rape me, I don’t know his name, I don’t know he is, he’s a madman, I don’t know him,” while he lies dead in the background.
Cheerful, huh? What I didn’t know at the time was that apparently both Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider regretted doing the movie and that the director Bernardo Bertolucci had apparently engaged in some abusive behaviour of his own… apparently, Marlon Brando refused to even speak to Bertolucci for 15 years after the production was done, and Maria Schneider, who had her first major film role with this movie, often spoke about how traumatic the experience was and how she wished her movie career could have started differently.
But for all its dark and uncomfortable themes, and for all the iffy behind-the-scenes stuff, and for what a douchebag Bertolucci seems to have been… the movie itself is actually really well made. The acting is good, the imagery really effective, and the tone switches expertly between “this is so sexy” and “this is to horrifying,” with the result that you really feel the emotional rollercoaster poor Jeanne is on. It’s possible I would have had a different reaction if I’d known the story of Bertolucci, Brandon and Schneider, but since I didn’t… well, 15 year old Dina, in the early stages of her sexual awakening and still deep in denial about being bisexual, watched in morbid fascination.
I was horrified, and I was allured, and while I didn’t quite understand what the movie had done to me I knew that I wanted MORE of it. I began seeking out similar movies… most of them European, often French, but sometimes Spanish or Italian… and all of them darkly erotic and inevitably ending in tragedy. Usually someone ended up killed.
Later, after I started finding my way around the Internet and learned how to do Google searches and things like that, I found out that Last Tango in Paris was considered the “progenitor of the ‘Euroshlock’ genre.” I hadn’t heard about Euroshlock before, but as I read up on it I realized that many of the movies I’d watched in the wake of Last Tango in Paris were Euroshlock movies:
A Euroshlock movie is a European “art house” movie that depicts shocking or offensive material, usually of an erotic nature, but sometimes you get a bit of gore too. They can get REALLY explicit but are usually more about tone and emotion than pure sex, and they can get really angsty… and sometimes they just get weird. They’re very much “it’s not porn, it’s art!” Especially the movies of Catherine Breillat… her movies are REALLY explicit, REALLY gruesome, and REALLY arty. And usually end in blood. death and tears.
Not all Euroshlock movies ARE tragedies… they don’t even have to be European, technically. Sometimes they just ramp up the “weird for weirdness’s sake” up to eleven, until you end up with a movie where the only possible reaction is “what the fuck did I just watch?!” (Sweet Movie by Dusan Makavejev, I’m looking at you!!)
But the fact that most of them end in tragedy, and the fact that for a few months there I ended up seeing a lot of Euroshlock movies (plus other erotic films that tended to end tragically, such as Betty Blue or Amantes), for a brief period of my life I think I just assumed that all erotic movies had to have tragic endings. I don’t even remember which movie it was anymore, but I do remember how surprised I was the first time I saw an erotic movie that DIDN’T end with someone dying or deeply traumatized.
My period of watching Euroshlock movies didn’t really last that long. I discovered other, more accessible erotic stories and got more into them. I got big into erotic novels and comics… and of course I discovered the old saying that The Internet Is For Porn… there was just so much material out there and frankly there’s a limit to how much angst I can handle. (And then some years later I discovered the hypnofetish community and things REALLY changed…)
But I would be lying if I said that this experience with surreal angsty European erotica hadn’t left its mark on me in some ways… among which are my occasional rather dark and morbid fantasies… I suspect my love affair with erotic horror was at least partly fueled by the terrifying allure I’d felt watching Last Tango in Paris for the first time. But I also think that in many ways I can thank my early Euroshlock obsession for my fondness for focusing on story and character in erotic works. Euroshlock may sometimes seem like it’s an excuse to make porn while pretending it’s art, and sometimes it really IS mostly about the fucking… but it’s never ALL about the fucking. There’s always more to it than that… a story, a theme, an exploration of someone’s psyche. Sure, sometimes it gets dark and disturbing, but it does have something to say beyond “go ahead and masturbate to this!”
Well, you can masturbate to it if you like, but it’s always kind of neat when it can evoke other emotions too.