Most people when watching these movies: “How was this allowed?!”
Chloë Sevigny performed oral sex on costar Vincent Gallo in the climax of the 2003 film Brown Bunny.
The experimental movie is about a motorcycle racer (Gallo) who is haunted by tragic memories of a former girlfriend (Sevigny), but it’s most known for that scene and its reception at the Cannes Film festival (more on that later).
Gallo, who also wrote and directed the movie, told Film Freak Central that he pitched the project to Sevigny (with whom he’d had a previous relationship of sorts) by saying, “Remember that night in Paris when I did that thing to you but you didn’t do it to me because you weren’t so into it? Well, you might have to do that. On film.” He went on to say that, to his eyes, the scene was needed to demonstrate the connection between male sexuality and self-loathing.
That Sevigny agreed to be in a sure-to-be-notorious scene was surprising, considering that she was a well-known, Academy Award–nominated actor, but she stood by her decision over a decade later.
“I’d probably still do it today. I believe in Vincent as an artist, and I stand by the film,” she told Variety in 2016, adding, “It was a subversive act. It was a risk.”
Unfortunately, the risk didn’t quite pay off. The debut screening of the film at the Cannes Film Festival ended in massive boos, with famed film critic Roger Ebert calling it the worst film ever shown at the festival.
Robert Pattinson, when called on to simulate masturbating in the 2008 film Little Ashes, felt his efforts weren’t coming off realistic enough, so he went ahead and did the deed on camera.
Kimberly White / Getty Images, PT Films/Aria Films
If masturbating on the set of a major motion picture sounds surreal, perhaps it’s fitting that Pattinson was playing surrealist painter Salvador Dalí.
In a 2013 interview with Germany’s Interview magazine, Pattinson revealed that his authentic orgasm face is captured in the film. When asked why he didn’t simply pretend, Pattinson replied, “Try it. I can tell you right now, no chance. It just doesn’t work.” He went on to say that he was worried the scene might ruin his career, but very shortly after production wrapped, he got the call telling him that he’d been cast in Twilight.
Fortuitously, it seems that Pattinson’s acting chops have improved since those early days of his career. He has since successfully simulated masturbation in four movies: High Life, Damsel, The Devil All the Time, and The Lighthouse.
2015’s Love became a hit on Netflix this year after TikTokers turned watching the film’s graphic opening scene, featuring unsimulated sex, into a TikTok challenge.
Gaspar Noé’s film about a young couple whose relationship takes a turn when they invite a third person into their bed didn’t make a huge splash upon its release. But five years later, it hit Netflix’s Top 10 after the TikTok challenge — where people filmed themselves watching the opening scene without knowing anything about the film — took off. (Sorry, folks, Love is no longer on Netflix, but the film starts with the couple totally naked in bed, pleasuring each other to climax with their hands. It’s no Indiana Jones entering a Peruvian temple to retrieve a golden idol, but it’s still a helluva a way to start a film!)
Noé told Esquire that despite all the unsimulated sex, the actors did not prepare by having practice sex. “They kissed for the first time on the first day of shooting. And in the movie, most scenes are real, but some are simulated. We don’t want to promote what is what.”
The stars of Lars von Trier’s 2013 film, Nymphomaniac — Shia LaBeouf, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, and Uma Thurman — all perform in unsimulated sex scenes in the film…just not how you imagine.
Producer Louise Vesth explained to the Hollywood Reporter prior to the film’s release that the production had the stars simulate their sex scenes, then brought in body doubles to film the same sex scenes unsimulated. Later, in postproduction, they used digital effects to combine the two. “So above the waist, it will be the star, and below the waist, it will be the doubles,” Vesth said.
Bob Guccione, founder of the adult magazine Penthouse, produced exactly one movie: 1979’s historical epic Caligula, which featured renowned thespians like Peter O’Toole and Helen Mirren…and lots of hardcore, unsimulated sex.
The production originally presented itself like a straightforward, albeit sexy take on Roman history, but once production wrapped and director Tinto Brass and his acclaimed stars went home, Guccione sneaked back onto the set with a crew of Penthouse pets and filmed a bunch of orgiastic scenes featuring real, unsimulated sex and added them throughout the final film.
The released film — now bloated to nearly three hours — did very well in Italian theaters before it was confiscated by authorities for being obscene. In America, the film grossed $23 million (making it the highest-grossing independent film ever at the time) but faced many obscenity lawsuits.
Director John Cameron Mitchell’s 2006 film Shortbus features lots of unsimulated sex — so much so that Mitchell performed fellatio in the movie as a show of solidarity with his actors.
This film by Mitchell — the co-creator and original star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch — was about a diverse group of young people trying to find their place in New York. Mitchell told Medium, “I wanted to work with real sex as part of the story, as it is in our lives — we don’t cut away the first time we have sex with someone we are in love with. … So Shortbus was an experiment, and the actors would have to be very special actors who’d want to go there with me and trust me. We worked with them for two and a half years before we filmed it.”
The Guardian called Michael Winterbottom’s 2004 film “the most sexually explicit mainstream British film to date.” It featured, among other things, a foot job.
The film’s stars, Margo Stilley and Kieran O’Brien, do almost everything that can be done in the film. Beyond the foot job, they masturbate with and without a vibrator and perform fellatio, and O’Brien even ejaculates onscreen.
In the end, though, all the sexual fireworks didn’t impress critics or viewers. The critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is, “The unerotic sex scenes quickly become tedious to watch, and the lovers lack the personality necessary to make viewers care about them.”
Andy Warhol’s 1969 film, Blue Movie, was the first movie featuring real sex to gain widespread exhibition in the United States.
Contantin Film / Via Everett Collection
Today Warhol is best remembered as the revolutionary pop artist behind iconic silk-screened paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans and Marilyn Monroe, but he was a prolific filmmaker. His films, however, rarely looked anything like what most people imagine a film to look like. His five-and-a-half-hour film Sleep, for example, was entirely made up of footage of his boyfriend asleep.
The plot of the 133-minute Blue Movie was a little more involved, but pretty simple: A couple (played by Viva and Louis Walden) hang out in their New York apartment. They chat about things like the Vietnam War, cook, shower, and, finally, have unsimulated sex.
The movie debuted very successfully at theaters in New York and also screened in Berkeley, California. It wasn’t all roses, though: One New York City theater that screened it was fined $250 for obscenity.
1972’s Pink Flamingos had the tagline “An exercise in bad taste,” and it wasn’t kidding: The film featured Divine performing oral sex on the actor portraying her son in the movie.
New Line Cinema
John Waters, in a bit of comic irony I imagine he finds highly amusing, is best known these days for his contribution to the wonderfully wholesome musical Hairspray! But for the majority of his career — and especially early in it — he was known for making some of the raunchiest, most offensive cult films ever.
The most famous of these films is Pink Flamingos, which stars Waters’ longtime collaborator, drag queen Divine, as — oh boy, how to synopsize this movie — a woman named the “filthiest person alive” and her rivals who try to steal the title from her. If you’re familiar with this movie, you probably know it ends with Divine picking up real dog poop off the ground and eating it.
Equally unsettling is the scene where Divine, excited by defiling her rivals’ home, performs oral sex on the actor portraying her son, Crackers. Understanding what Waters was going for from the vantage of 2020 may be hard, but he told the Washington Post on the film’s 25th anniversary that the film was thumbing its nose at middle-class and suburban values. “We wanted to do cultural terrorism in a funny way,” he said.
The film became a hit across America in underground theaters, although it was declared illegal in places like Hicksville, New York, and Switzerland.
And finally, Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland — President Coriolanus Snow from The Hunger Games films himself — had sex on camera in 1973’s Don’t Look Now…maybe.
The graphic sex scene in the supernatural thriller — featuring what appeared to be oral sex performed by Sutherland — was buzzed about even before the film’s release, and director Nicolas Roeg had to edit it in a fragmented manner to enable the film to receive an R rating in the US. In England, the film got an X rating.
For years after the film’s release, rumors swirled about the scene, with some saying that Christie’s then-boyfriend Warren Beatty lobbied to get the sex scene cut out of the film, and others saying that there was unedited footage of the scene floating around Hollywood that clearly showed they were having intercourse.
Finally, in 2011, former movie executive and Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart released a memoir entitled Infamous Players, in which he says that he was on the set and saw the much-ballyhooed scene being filmed. He wrote, “It was clear to me they were no longer simply acting. They were (having sex) on camera.”
That solves it, right? Not so fast. Sutherland vehemently denied Bart’s claim, saying that the sex was simulated and that Bart never saw it because only four people were in the room while filming: the two actors, the director, and the cinematographer. Peter Katz, one of the film’s producers, backed up Sutherland, saying, “While there was a sex scene captured on film, it was not a scene that would lead to the creation of a human being.”
You know what? Simulated or not, they must’ve done something right if everyone is still talking about it almost 50 years later!
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