Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Could This Be Love (Abel Ferrara, 1973; photographed by Jon Rosen)

Tender sleaze. This shot's from the lesbian threesome scene in Could This Be Love, a little bit of softcore "to wake up the audience," scored to the Stones' "She Smiled Sweetly." If you look really closely, you can see that it's a woman kissing another woman's back.

Since the beginning, Ferrara has been getting his art and his exploitation mixed up. Or, even more accurately: in the beginning, Ferrara thought that he could prove that exploitation could be "art," or at least arty (Ms. 45), but then he realized that art itself was exploitation (Dangerous Game).


Christopher Lopez said...

Do you feel pornography has the potential to be Art? It seems to very effectively rub the unconscious part of the brain, shutting off the mechanisms of reason and appreciation. Is this instinct getting in the way of its higher-contextualization?

Does this in any way relate to the way classical dramatic-narrative is a form of exploitation; exhibiting complicated (comparatively subtle) controls of tension and desire?

-- Just curious, carrying around a rant in my head. Florida.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Certainly -- and if we're talking about filmed / photographed pornography, I think it has realized that potential many times.

Drama / music / horror / everything "rubs the unconscious part of the brain" -- so if it's okay to laugh, get scared, etc., what's wrong with getting a hard-on? I think the impulse to "higher-contextualization" might be what gets in the way: the way in is to go through the instinct, through the very thing that makes it pornography. Appreciating it through "context" strikes me as the more facile route -- but taking it on its own terms would probably take a lot of either bravery or exhibitionism, since it would end up revealing so much that most people prefer to keep secret about themselves.

Trevor said...

I just had the thought earlier today, before I read this, that Ferrara is to film somewhat as gangsta rap is to music, and what I was thinking of specifically (and actually, this could apply somewhat to pornography, to obliquely address Christopher's question) was that there is in both an unwillingness to cleanly express oneself in a way that sharply delineates "exploitation" from art. In both Ferrara's work, and in gangsta rap, there is an acknowledgment and acceptance that to express oneself artistically often means "getting a little dirty" (aesthetically, morally) in the sense that one cannot always control the boundaries of one's work, so that it becomes easily "exploitable" by consumers in ways uncontrolled by the artist.

In discussing art, some people often express a prejudice against art like this, art that has too many confusing, paradoxical, and contradictory strands of meaning. Some people idealize an art that can never be misconstrued and so always replicates in the audience exactly the artist's intentions. This is why we often get into debates about, say, Peckinpah and whether the violence in his films overwhelms and contradicts any (anti-violent) "message."

Bad Lieutenant was the last film I wrote about on my blog, and I happened to mention that it is a film that dangerously gives us a lot of exposure to drug use in a way that doesn't necessarily condone it but nevertheless makes it highly visible, "tactile." And I'm sure he recognizes as well that there can be all sorts of "problems" related to depicting the rape of a nun. But it strikes me that Ferrara probably doesn't care (in the traditional sense) if people get turned on (and, it is then implied, fail to "get" his "higher message") by any of this. Likewise, a lot of what I appreciate in rap music is how forcibly and viscerally certain feelings and sensations are presented, sensations that are rarely neat, clean, or "unproblematic" (as some people would say). What I feel from Ferrara is that he accepts all of this as true--and acceptance of the full reality of life is something that radiates powerfully from his work--and his art is, for me, all the better for it.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Sorry it's taken so long to respond to your comment -- I've been mostly absent from teh interwebz the last few days.

Even as a "Ferraran," I find Bad Lieutenant problematic (though far less so, that, say, Ms. 45) -- but at the same time I find that very "problematic" quality kinda exhilarating. I think you're on to something here, because that exhilaration is very similar to the way I feel about, say, Death Certificate.

And of course there's Ferrara's longstanding relationship with Schoolly D (whose "Signifying Rapper" originally played played over a key scene in Bad Lieutenant...).

Anonymous said...


It makes me incredibly happy to read a verification, almost verbatim, of what I'm feeling as well. I asked in a wrap-around-kind-of-way to better gauge the answer.

So to everything said: Yes, Yes, and Yes.

To clarify a term: "rub unconscious part of the brain" -- good point, yes, most/all forms of aesthetic experience work on this (and/or takes this facet into consideration); what I of course too-generally was referring to was its rub on the Primal (our reaction to pornography being: "I want to fuck whoever is on screen") vs. a download by the Cognitive/Logical/Reason (Not to by-pass the medium in our desire; to appreciate, play along with, associate... an empathy for desire, but not exactly full-on personal Desire).

I think this is incredibly apparent within the nature of the genres themselves: Though classical dramatic narrative films and pornographic films are both pictures in motion/sound in motion... it's undeniable that in one a close-up of the protagonist is (usually) an enhancement of the experience, and with the other takes away from the experience all together. As Joseph Campbell makes note of, one runs on the principles of empathy/information/tension ... the other solely on a deeper animal-Desire (almost to break free and grab what is on screen). It's a state of spectatorship that can't be helped, it just is (and in my opinion, revealing of a humanity as important as Reason's revelation of [X-SOCIAL-THEME]).

No specific thesis just yet. Just close and serious observation(s).

Appreciate the responses,
Christopher Lopez