Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange – How A Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All The Taboos by Robert Hofler
Thursday 20 February 2014
It all seems a long, long time ago. To anyone under the age of, say, 45, this book may well feel like a dispatch – albeit a fiercely entertaining one – from another solar system. Time rolls on, values evolve. When Ken Russell died in 2011, news bulletins struggled to explain why a scene of two men wrestling in the nude in Women In Love had once seemed like the end of civilisation as we know it.
As befits a senior editor of Variety, Robert Hofler’s focus in Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol To A Clockwork Orange – How A Generation Of Pop Rebels Broke All The Taboos is very much on Hollywood and the smart end of Manhattan, but his chronicle of the cultural watershed of the late Sixties and early Seventies does acknowledge the contribution of the Brits. One of the supporting players is John Trevelyan, Secretary of what was then known as the British Board of Film Censors. A schoolmasterly character, he clearly revelled in his role as tastemaker-in-chief. (Here’s a question for the reader. Can you name his equivalent in today’s British Board of Film Classification? No, I thought not. How the mighty are fallen.) Was Trevelyan a sinister hypocrite, as one director claimed? Or did he work wonders, as the late Russell argued, in getting his colleagues to approve as much controversial material as possible? The latter seems much more plausible, but Hofler leaves readers to make up their own mind.
Mick Jagger had a walk-on part too as a participant in that cult film-cum-happening Performance, not to mention the sorry spectacle that was Altamont, the West Coast’s answer to Woodstock which, thanks to the Stones’ hubris, ended in death and mayhem. It’s one thing to toy with nihilism on celluloid; real life tends to be messier. Hofler is clearly on the side of the anti-censorship forces. (You can’t help wincing when he notes that, not long before Midnight Cowboy was made, the Supreme Court had ruled “that homosexuals were indeed ‘psychopathic.’” But he is alive to the inevitable truth that cultural liberation unleashed its share of poseurs and charlatans. Something of that view is articulated by John Updike, who conquered the best-seller lists with Couples, but wondered aloud about the wisdom of turning sex into a form of religion. And Hofler is in no doubt that, at least at first, it was men rather than women who stood to gain most from all the iconoclasm.
But the moralising is done with the lightest of touches. Like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind’s study of the New Hollywood, Sexplosion deftly weaves a path through the friendships and collaborations which created common ground between the nude stage revue Oh Calcutta!, Philip Roth’s novel about masturbation, Portnoy’s Complaint, and Gore Vidal’s transsexual extravaganza, Myra Breckinridge. Above all, he amasses one unforgettable vignette after another. Jackie Onassis and her husband roll up in separate cars to watch the sexually explicit Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow). Marlon Brando frets about his shrivelling manhood on the set of Last Tango in Paris. Princess Margaret, worse the wear for gin, is horrified by the film about a free-spirited bisexual, Sunday Bloody Sunday: “Men in bed kissing!” Hofler captures an era in all its demented glory.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Former East 17 frontman Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
- 4 The inventor of the Facebook 'like' button says he never made a 'dislike' button because he feared the 'unfortunate consequences'
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
James Blunt finally admits the truth: 'You're Beautiful' is annoying
Doctor Who, Flatline - review: Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage
Lord Freud hangs on as MPs of all parties 'call for his head' over disability comments