A version of this piece appeared in my old blog, Dec 12 2010.
In the 1970s and 1980s there was a phenomenon of men appearing on film posters bearing what can perhaps be safely described as overtly dumb expressions. Particularly popular in the area of sex comedy, such posters typically feature a beautiful woman (seen head-to-toe), while about her on either side are the faces of 2-6 very average, even unattractive men who look as though they have lost all reasoning capacity, are in fact made fools, struck dumb by the beauty they see before them.
From Jack Stevenson’s Fleshpot: cinema’s sexual myth makers & taboo breakers —
“In the excessive content of the Italian sex comedy, the constructed nature of masculinity is revealed… the sexual space of [these films]… are so over-the-top in their celebration of heterosexual ideas that today they are almost parodies”
Are such posters, and their images of men as idiotic figures of moronic lust, conservative, retrograde? Certainly their brief popularity in mid-1980s Hollywood was historically tied to the height of consumerist Reaganism. Maggie Günsberg’s Italian Cinema: Gender and Genre suggests much the same was true of Italy*; I don’t know enough about Italian politics to comment on any equivalences there, but I do know such male expressions were stock comic relief in not only Italian but also Mexican sex comedy cinema of the 1970s.
Should we consider that such male-dominant, even macho, societies might be confident enough in their masculinity that said masculinity could be safely depicted as something foolish, fun, even brainless – silly slaverings to sirens, evoking not the handsome male of so many a standard cinematic artwork, the mutual attraction, or romance portrayed in so many ‘rom-com’ film posters, but instead a tongue-out sort of pig lust? Or is it the reverse, exaggeration masking deep insecurities? I don’t know. Still, I confess when viewing these ridiculous faces, I can’t help seeing something of value in them, however unattractive it may be.
“Lina Wertmüller established herself in the 1970s as Italy’s most important female director. Her best works were all typical of the commedia dell’italiana genre: The Seduction of Mimi (1971); Love and Anarchy (1972); Swept Away (1974); and her previously discussed masterpiece, Seven Beauties . Wertmüller’s comedies, filled with stock characters and presented with the typical vulgarity of traditional Italian slapstick farce, treated controversial political subjects, such as feminism, women’s rights, working-class chauvinism, and the opposition of love and anarchy, with grotesque humor.”
When women going out to male strip clubs became chic in the 1980s, I recall men’s sexual stoicism quickly coming under the gun – women were whooping it up in these clubs, thrilled to finally be seeing men dancing naked before them, so we were told. These women were in touch with their lust, it was fun and healthy to be vocal and enthusiastic; by contrast, men sat sullen and silent at their own strip clubs, apparently bored out of their minds. What was wrong with them? Were the gyrations of naked bodies not something to be celebrated? Made merry over? Perhaps even get downright silly over?
I don’t mean to excuse these goofy grotesques, but perhaps cast them in a different light, give them another context. As a young man growing up and focusing obsessively on anything that smacked of this mysterious magnet called sex, such posters (or late-night viewings of lusty Italian comedies on CHIN TV) conveyed that goofy, foolish, unattractive men, and sexy busty bombshells went together like a fork and spoon. I for one salute this lost ideal; we certainly can’t all be George Clooney.
This ‘lusty fool’ type was not limited to the posters of such films of course but was in fact a mainstay character type of sex comedy, pre-AIDS; in Italy and latin countries, often an older man, apparently past his prime; in the U.S., a young man, eager to loose his virginity at any and all costs. In these films, certain aspects of reality are turned upside down: clumsiness and awkwardness are endearing, not off-putting. Physical comedy often serves to ‘accidentally’ undress a woman, there being no acceptable means to view the vaunted T&A other than voyeurism, cliche soft-focus romance, or frequently aggressive ‘accidents’ (at this time, that could include basically just grabbing a woman’s top off). Private School is one such film featuring all three types of nudity, for anyone looking for examples.
* from a review of Maggie Günsberg’s Italian Cinema: Gender and Genre —
“Chapter Two (‘Commodifying Passions: Gender and Consumerism in Commedia all’italiana’) is dedicated to the commedia all’italiana, and especially the relationship between sex and materialism. The Italian social context is brought into play here, with a discussion of the increased commodification of Italian social relations during the boom years (which coincided with the peak of the commedia). It begins by looking at consumerism and commodity fetishism within a theoretical framework marked by psychoanalysis (Freud, Lacan) and Marxism (Baudrillard) and then explores how one commodity (the car) functions in a number of films, and the effect on gender relationships of the commodification of relations. It also examines the commodification of the female body (through its sexuality) and of the male body (through its labour power). The films which provide the focus for this chapter are Germi’s Divorzio all’italiana, De Sica’s Matrimonio all’italiana, and others, such as Audace colpo dei soliti ignoti.”