The BFI today has announced details of FEMALE DESIRE ON SCREEN, a collection of films and events running on BFI Player and BFI YouTube from Friday 24 April. FEMALE DESIRE ON SCREEN will seek to flip the switch on a century of the male gaze and find space for women’s own lust and sexual expression in film; from classics of world cinema such as BELLE DE JOUR (Luis Buñuel, 1967) to films which explore the complicated relationship between fantasy, feminism, and desire, such as IN THE CUT (Jane Campion, 2003). Also included are queer love stories like BOUND (Wachowski Sisters, 1996) and THE WATERMELON WOMAN (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), tales of teen sexual awakening like DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (Marielle Heller, 2014) and beloved films starring male pin-ups and matinee idols like DIRTY DANCING (Emile Ardolino, 1987).
Alongside films on BFI Player, BFI YouTube will be home to a number of free special events and discussions, including the first in a series of three live online events with GIRLS ON FILM, the film review podcast from a female perspective, hosted by film critic and broadcaster Anna Smith. You can listen and subscribe to GIRLS ON FILM here. Born out of a season originally scheduled to run at BFI Southbank in April, this new online collection and events programme also coincides with the publishing of a new book of essays She Found It at the Movies – Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema, edited by film and culture writer, Christina Newland, who has also programmed FEMALE DESIRE ON SCREEN. A number of contributors to She Found It at the Movies will also take part in discussions as part of the events programme – including Simran Hans, Catherine Bray and Willow Catelyn Maclay.
“Movies have long influenced the way we think about sex. For women, those formative crushes often give us room to think about our more unspoken desires or preferences in a safe environment, communing with the fiction playing out on screen. For some women (including me) it’s a rare comfortable space to explore a relationship with desire. Films are a dream space, allowing room for elaborate sexual fantasia neither as blunt nor as frowned upon as pornography. It’s the reason why fanfiction exists, why teen pinups and matinee idols are reliable bellwethers for every generation’s adolescence. From Rudolph Valentino to Marilyn Monroe to Chris Hemsworth, they’ve been with us for a century.” – FEMALE DESIRE ON SCREEN programmer Christina Newland, in She Found It at the Movies
SPECIAL ONLINE EVENTS ON BFI YOUTUBE:
FEMALE DESIRE ON SCREEN will include a number of special online events on BFI YouTube to complement the collection, with more events to be announced soon:
- The GIRLS ON FILM podcast will devote a special episode to FEMALE DESIRE ON SCREEN on Tuesday 5 May at 18:30. In advance of the show, host Anna Smith asks viewers to share a film that was a sexual awakening for them and discusses these with Christina Newland and other contributors; the show will feature short readings, lively discussion and recommendations for classic films that explore and invite desire.
- The GIRLS ON FILM event is the first in a series, with two more events coming soon.
- To launch the collection, a live watch-a-long of DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (available to rent on BFI Player) with programmer Christina Newland live blogging on BFI.org.uk from 19:00 on Friday 24 April.
- Discussion about IN THE CUT with Christina Newland and film critic Simran Hans on Wednesday 29 April at 19:00.
- Discussion about BOUND with Christina Newland, writer and director Catherine Bray and writer and film critic Willow Catelyn Maclay on Wednesday 6 May at 19:00.
FEMALE DESIRE ON SCREEN will seek to encourage discussion about the female viewers’ relationship with movie-going, welcoming female and female identifying audiences to experience a sex-positive examination of the movies, taking pleasure in shamelessly ogling their onscreen desire and finding joyous and consensual pleasure in the female gaze.
DETAILS OF FILMS AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER AS PART OF FEMALE DESIRE ON SCREEN:
A cultural phenomenon, DIRTY DANCING (Emile Ardolino, 1987) made Patrick Swayze a sex symbol and a sensual focus for the female gaze. As the camera ogles his graceful physicality, the story itself offers a counter-narrative to traditional ideas about women and sex often seen in movies, including its pro-choice messaging. Jennifer Grey’s Baby is a plucky, desirous feminist hero who offers ‘everywoman’ identification for her audience. Luis Bunuel’s chilly arthouse classic BELLE DU JOUR (1967), starring the repressed, glamourous housewife played unforgettably by Catherine Deneuve, is a masterclass in aesthetic eroticism and the complexities of BDSM. Outrageous for its time in its linking of female sexual liberation with the act of prostitution, viewed now it is as daring as ever.
FEMALE PLEASURE AND SELFHOOD
SET IT OFF (F. Gary Gray, 1996), starring Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett-Smith, is a feminist awakening with female friendship more at the forefront than sex. But within its heist movie parameters, it becomes a surprisingly moving treatise on the nature of self-love and sexual confidence, with female pleasure, sex positivity and selfhood above the attractions of any man.
DESIRE IN EROTIC THRILLERS
The season will address the complex relationship between fantasy, feminism, and desire with Jane Campion’s erotic thriller IN THE CUT (2003). Caught up in the investigation of a series of grisly murders in her neighborhood, Meg Ryan’s Frannie falls hard for a homicide detective and homme fatale played by Mark Ruffalo. The film throws convention out the window with its departure from Ryan’s ‘good girl’ roles and genuinely titillating sex scenes that privilege a female perspective.
QUEER LOVE STORIES
The Wachowski’s debut feature BOUND (1996) stars Jennifer Tilly as Violet, a gangster’s moll to Joe Pantoliano’s Ceasar. Their dysfunctional dynamic is interrupted by lesbian ex-con Corky, played by Gina Gershon, whose seduction of Violet comes with a plan to steal money from the mob. This violent neo-noir puts a rare focus on two women who not only unapologetically enjoy sex, but enjoy it with each other. A low-budget and landmark feature, THE WATERMELON WOMAN (1996) was one of the first films to be directed and released by a black lesbian woman, Cheryl Dunye. The story centres on a documentarian who spends her time searching cinema archives for black and queer representation, as well as her steamy love affairs; it’s a movie of both cerebral and sexual appeals.
One of the most controversial and sexually explicit of films from audacious director Catherine Breillat, ROMANCE (1999) tells the exploratory tale of a young woman in a sexually flat monogamous relationship who begins to trawl bars for more exciting opportunities. There she meets a man (played by real life porn star Rocco Siffredi) before embarking on an S&M relationship with her boss. An erotic fantasy journey through several periods of history, Walerian Borowczyk’s anthology film IMMORAL TALES (1973) is as outrageous as it is surreal. IMMORAL TALES examines sexual mores and proclivities across four distinctive historical moments, featuring incest, domination, and blasphemy, all with a dreamy softcore look that’s pure 70s porno-chic.
TEEN SEXUAL AWAKENING
Marielle Heller’s debut DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (2015) tells the audacious story of Minnie (Bel Powley), a teen girl growing up in San Francisco at the tail end of the 1970s. Minnie feels a growing attraction to her mother’s dirtbag boyfriend and an inappropriate affair begins between the two. The result is a pithy, funny film that’s honest about teen sex-drive in a way that’s usually reserved for boys.
Female Desire On Screen launches on BFI Player and BFI YouTube from Friday 24 April.
She Found It at the Movies – Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema, published by Red Press, is out now