Candida Royalle (b. 1950) founded her Femme Productions line in 1984, shooting two video collections that same year, Femme and Urban Heat. Royalle used the music video, which had come into prominence only three years before with the launch of MTV, as the format for the short films on these collections, marketing them as “erotic rock videos for couples.” While avoiding potentially stiff lines by porn performers without much acting experience, the rock video format illustrates how effective sound can be in communicating the development and intensity of desire and pleasure when the music matches what we see.
At their best, these fifteen to twenty minutes long erotic rock videos present the audience with a sexual dance where bodies come together in a harmonized flow where neither is more or less active or passive. Among my favorites is "TV Idol" on Femme, portraying the masturbation fantasy of a young woman. The film begins with a picture of her. She’s in her early twenties, dressed in a long pajamas T-shirt, tennis-socks, and a bandana around her head along the line of fashion at that time, and lying casually on a bed draped with a well-worn velvety red blanket. The lights are dimmed; she’s watching television.
All of a sudden the man from the show she’s been watching is in her room. He looks kind and handsome with his head covered by dark blond wavy hair. The camera rests on him while he, looking intently at her, begins to take off his clothes, sitting down on her bed when she sits up to help him.
|"TV Idol" (Femme)|
The camera focuses in on his firm buttock as she pulls down his briefs, slowly, capturing his hips in profile; her breasts just barely touching his stomach. His penis rises up towards her as she gets his briefs off.
An electronic dissonance has charged the picture from the moment he entered her room. Now suddenly for a moment silence fills the picture until the music picks up again ever so gently, only tentative strokes on the piano at first, then more confident, an almost rocking but also titillating melody as the two now come together. She caresses his penis; he strokes and licks her breast.
The camera continuously captures the two bodies in profile, creating the image that neither one of them is above or beneath, but both on the same level. She lies down, pulling him with her, but his body is not on top of hers. Rather their bodies are intertwined, with her legs wrapped around him. The camera closes in on them in floating extreme close-ups: the softness of skin, the curve of a thigh, her foot, a leg around him, his hips. The camera continues like this in a constant flow, caressingly and democratically without prioritizing either body or body part.
Close-ups of their faces capture the intensity of the pleasure they sense while the music fills with an intense modernistic dissonance, as if from a distorted voice: soaring pleasure enters the piano melody. His face contorts with pleasure; she closes her eyes and turns inward, feeling her face with her hands. Through fervent thrusting and massaging of her breast, the dissonance escalates until their flesh shivers in ecstasy, their entire bodies tightly strung bows, melting in the last contractions.
At last a few quiet piano strokes after a silent pause. His body a spoon around hers as he kisses her gently; she smiles, running her fingers through his hair, and he smiles back. Wrapped around one another, the two hold each other with their bodies and eyes.
A non-objectifying gaze
Except when eyes are closed–as the gaze turns inwards–the two characters in "TV Idol" hold each other continuously with their eyes. What I find striking about the way the two look at each other, is the exchange of a desiring gaze while the camera for its part on the other hand refuses to objectify either one. Instead “objectification” here becomes an affirming, adoring act.
The position of the camera is a factor here. Even when he at first is standing while she’s lying down in bed, the camera frames the two in a way that gives the impression of both being on the same level. The camera does not look down at her from his point of view or up at him from hers—it focuses instead on the shared space between them. The closer their two bodies, the closer the camera moves to this shared space, always proportionally attentive to the both of them.
The significance of the camera’s position and how it frames the characters’ bodies becomes even clearer if we compare this film with an average mainstream porn film like the German Feuchte Tagträume (Wet Daydreams) by Philippe Soine. This DVD was distributed in 2006, though as is the case with a lot of mass-produced porn, the year of production is not listed on the cover or in the credits.
The first episode shows the daydream of the presumably Italian lifeguard “Marco” getting laid by his female German colleague. Whereas in “TV Idol” Royalle continuously directs the camera onto the shared space of the two, Soine shoots from the lifeguard’s perspectives and uses a series of high and low angles to signify the power difference. In this way the representation of the two in the “wet daydream” becomes unproportional. Take for instance the introduction of the penis.
In “TV Idol,” where the camera captures the bodies of the two equally and proportionally, on the same level throughout, his penis is seen as rising up to greet her when she pulls down his briefs, as both sit on their knees in bed together (see picture above). In the "wet daydream," on the other hand, the lifeguard’s penis appears in fact larger than all of her as it enters the picture from the top left corner where he’s standing by the pool: his cock a commanding rod above her head with her down to the right in the pool.
“Objectification” is typically used to describe something negative; a discriminating fixation on body parts that reduces the subject into an object. This is certainly the case in the “wet daydream” where the camera obsessively focuses on her butt, boobs, and pussy, from his perspective, and where she is cast as the object of his demand. In “female friendly porn” then one might expect to see women as the actively doing subjects and not first and foremost gazed at objects of men. But this approach fails to consider a notable attribute of the gaze: its quality of devotedness by which someone can experience to be really seen and affirmed.
"TV Idol" captures such devotion. The woman and man hold one another through a mutual exchange of a desiring gaze, as well as by an intertwining of their arms and legs. In this way “TV Idol” is able to portray intercourse as a gender equal act. It is not he who “takes” her, or her him in reverse. Instead the two encounter each other on the same level as an integrated interlacement of bodies in continuous roll-around flow.
Royalle further develops the desiring gaze in later films such as Revelations and Eyes of Desire and Eyes of Desire 2. In upcoming posts, I will write more about how.