Since the cinema experience was created in the late 19th century, the urge to thrill, shock and test audience boundaries has always been apparent. From the moment cinema goers ran for their lives at the sight of a train pulling into a station in the Lumière brothers’ L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, cinema has dared to test audience’s limits wherever possible.
Now, after 140 years at the forefront of entertainment around the world and surviving many tests to its existence, cinema is still daring to push audiences beyond their comfort zone. Paul Verhoven’s critically adored thriller Elle is definitely a film that dares to go against the norm, and so to celebrate its release on Digital Download from on July 3rd and on DVD and Blu-ray from July 10th, we’re looking at other masterpieces from cinema’s global back-catalogue that dared, keeping the art as bold as it can be.
Straw Dogs (1971)
During the 1960’s and 70’s Hollywood became a melting pot for artistic inspiration. As the political mindset of western society began to change with a new generation, so did the focus of film’s that represented them, as themes of rebellion began to be championed by directors with increasing artistic power on set. A telling example of this era is Sam Peckinpah’s intense thriller Straw Dogs, set in the sticks of the British countryside, as an American couple (played by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George) move into a small village and are immediately made to feel unwelcome by the locals. This tension escalates to the point where Hoffman has to turn his home into a fortress to defend against a gang of intruders with anything he can find (surely an inspiration to Home Alone?). As the tension continues to rise, the leader of the gang graphically and violently rapes George’s character, in a scene that was met with immediate outrage, with many feeling it glamorised sexual violence. Views on the film have since become a lot less negative, as it became an example of how the era was testing audience boundaries during a period of massive social change.
Much in the same vein as Vietnam War-era Hollywood, the 90’s proved to be another mass venture into the bold and beautiful for cinema, coinciding with the emergence of a new indie genre. Many filmmakers looked to rebel against the increasingly generic mainstream the industry was heading towards, culminating in a host of micro-budget, personable films centred around human issues, such as Larry Clarke’s Kids. Written by Harmoney Korine (Spring Breakers), the film follows a group of youths in New York City, one of whom, Telly, has a goal to de-flower as many virgins as he can. When one of his old encounters discovers that she is HIV+, after only one encounter with a guy, Telly ignores this and decides to continue on his mission. During a time where the message of ‘safe sex’ was everywhere, Kids used the fear of HIV in society to test audiences view on youth culture.
Since Oldboy’s release at the start of the 21st century, it has snowballed to become a huge cult hit, as gobsmacked reactions to the film helped fan the flames of word-of-mouth. The film uses mystery as its catalyst, following the story of Oh Dae-su, who is imprisoned in a cell which resembles a hotel room for 15 years without knowing the identity of his captor or his captor’s motives. When he is finally released, Dae-su finds himself still trapped in a web of conspiracy and violence. His own quest for vengeance becomes tied in with romance when he falls in love with an attractive young woman. The film’s particularly violent and disturbing ending asks questions of its audiences morals when new-found information is presented to them in a plot twist for the ages.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)
None of the films on this list are to be advised to watch with one’s grandparents, but this is especially true for Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour. The film runs for three hours, and it feels like at least 10% of that is filled with long and graphic sex scenes, as the lead character Adèle strives to explore her new-found sexuality. Although French cinema is known for its fairly constant examination of eroticism, this gives a much more grounded look at sex, stripped of any glamour. As beautiful and touching a love story as it is a top shelf favourite, the film was met with a mix of rapture and shock but it also represents an age of acceptance over titillation.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
There are many things in Stanley Kubrick’s excessively bleak and crazed masterpiece A Clockwork Orange that make it a necessary mention. This obviously includes the opening 20 minutes where a gang dressed in top hats and jock straps take the term gallivanting to a whole new level, by beating homeless men to death and raping women in their own home. However, the rest of the film continues to test the audiences morals every which way, as after Malcolm McDowell’s gang leader is brought to justice, he get’s the brainwash treatment in a horrific Orwellian-like attempt at rehabilitation. Kubrick presents his audience with a vulgar human being, and then asks the audience whether they are able to sympathise with him in relation to the bigger social picture. Boundary-breaking cinema from the master himself!
Showing that filmmakers still thrive on the opportunity to shock, Paul Verhoven certainly doesn’t hold back with his visualisation of Phillippe Dijan’s novel Oh…. The film’s opening see’s the titular character being assaulted by a masked intruder. Whilst this assault is shocking in itself, it is Elle’s laissez faire response that has caused much of the debate around the film: she rises, sweeps up the broken glass, takes a bath and orders sushi, omits to tell the police but casually tells her closest friends over dinner. Elle appears to be, for the most part, unaffected by the incident, and takes on the task of tracking down the offender herself without help from the police, helping fuel reactions of a feminist masterpiece. Unlike traditional thrillers, it is not the violence that shocks or grips the audience (although violence is most certainly present), it is that Elle makes drastically different decisions to most people, subverting expectations and encapsulating the audience’s intrigue. Verhoven has since said that only the fierce Isabelle Huppert could have given the justification and accessibility to such a closed off character, something we can definitely agree with!
ELLE IS Available ON DIGITAL download jULY 3rd, 2017 AND AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD JULY 10th, 2017
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