Linda Williams is a feminist writer and professor of film studies at the University of California, Berkeley, specialising mainly in the academic study of pornography! I first came across her writings in an anthology called 'Sex Exposed: Sexuality and the Pornography Debate' in the early 90's, that opened my mind to another, more libertarian side of feminism, in opposition to the authoritarian anti-sex feminism, represented by the Dworkin/MacKinnon axis.
Screening Sex is not about pornography (although Deep Throat, the 70's gay porno Boys in the Sand and the present day porn film-Pirates are discussed) but the depiction of sex both straight and gay, soft and hard, in art and mainstream cinema; from kissing in early silents and post Production Code Hollywood, through the 60's and 70's with Sexploitation, Blaxploitation and explicit art films such as 'Last Tango in Paris' and 'In the Realm of the Senses,' up to a new wave of hardcore art films, for instance Romance and Shortbus. Linda Williams shows how the screening of sex has changed over the decades but also how the divide between hardcore (explicit expressions of sex as in pornography and European arthouse) and American movies has remained in place. She brings in lots of psychological and sexual theory, Freud, Bataille and Foucault, into her analysis but keeps it personal with her own anecdotes about watching sex on the screen. As a fan of the erotic in cinema and in moving images generally Screening Sex was fascinating, but as the book has many very intimate black and white stills I was unable to read it on my commute to work or in public spaces.
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