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May 19, 2004
Nine Songs, Plus A Tap Dance

The Guardian (UK) reports on a controversial new film, Nine Songs, being released in Britain, and its lead actress who took Method acting to a level not seen anywhere else except ... er, California?

You could, perhaps, have seen it all coming. Or maybe not, if you were a 21-year-old with no significant acting roles to your name. What is clear is that Margo Stilley, the female lead in Michael Winterbottom's film Nine Songs - already famous as the most sexually explicit film in the history of mainstream British cinema - is at the centre of an almighty media ruckus. On Tuesday, tabloid headlines gleefully announced the arrival of the "Muckiest Film Ever" and the "Rudest Film Ever to Hit Our Cinemas". By yesterday Fleet Street's finest had caught up with friends and family in Stilley's native North Carolina. "Mother of Beauty in 'Real Sex' Film Shocker Prays For Her ... Oh God! Oh God!" trumpeted the Daily Express, on startlingly baroque form. "My Prayers For 'Porn' Daughter" and "Bible Belt Mum's Fear For Her Sex Movie Daughter", were the contributions from the Daily Mirror.

The Guardian treats its subject with a bit more decorum, but manages to become overwrought in a completely different way. As the leading leftist voice in Britain, the Guardian swings back far to the other end of the spectrum -- trying to convince its readership that watching explicit insertion scenes on the silver screen does not pornography make. You simply have to read this to believe that anyone would be silly enough to write it:

Some might say that one would have to be either very brave or very stupid to do what Stilley has done. She has exposed herself in all possible senses of the word. Her genitalia quite literally fill the screen. She gives a blowjob. She is penetrated. She lies on a bed, blindfolded, while her on-screen boyfriend, played by the much more seasoned actor Kieran O'Brien, performs cunnilingus on her. But what she is keen to make clear - and she is absolutely right - is that Nine Songs is not some kind of kinky porno flick.

Don't be silly -- why would I think that explicit fellatio, cunnilingus, blindfolded submission, and 20-foot high female genitalia demonstrate pornography?

Winterbottom's idea (whatever its merits and demerits as a concept) was to tell a love story from a single angle: that of the physical encounters between the couple.

Well, still sounds like a night with the Playboy Channel to me.

The sex is a metonym for the rest of the relationship: from it, the audience is led to infer the trajectory of their affair. First comes loved-up infatuation; later, there is a moving sequence when the pair, deeply in love, spend the weekend together at the seaside. Finally, we see a poignant endgame when Lisa, Stilley's character, finds more interest in her vibrator than her boyfriend.

Ah, yes, that most common of romantic plotlines: boy meets girl, girl meets vibrator, boy loses girl. Next year, they'll make it into an After School Special.

In fact the jolt of the film is seeing sex so forthrightly portrayed, not that it shows anything that one imagines most couples don't do behind closed doors. "It isn't shocking," says Stilley. "If you know you are going to watch a film like this, it's not abrasive. It's normal sex that everyone has, not crazy stuff." She also points out that only two episodes go beyond "normal" cinematic sex scenes (though the film is extremely explicit, by any standards). These are the fellatio scene and the final sequence, in which the couple have full penetrative sex.

In fact, there are two shocking components to Nine Songs. First, most couples probably indulge in all of these behaviors behind closed doors -- which is where most couples would leave them. Second is the fact that Stilley and her co-star, Kieran O'Brien, aren't a couple, and she got paid at least in part to perform intercourse and fellatio on him. Now, either that makes Stilley a "sex worker" (to use a euphemism) or a porno actress, although the two may be synonymous.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying the film should be banned or that Stilley or O'Brien should be arrested. My libertarianism informs me that she's an adult capable of making her own decisions. However, don't try to rationalize this film as anything else than what it is, because you don't need to show insertions to tell the story that Stilley describes. It's either there to tittilate or shock, or both, and insisting it's mainstream just insults everyone's intelligence.

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Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 19, 2004 11:39 PM

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