The Sex: In a moment which underpins all the hallucinatory guilt and emotional devastation to follow, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg make love in a scene cross-cut with their young son climbing out of his crib and, as the twin sequences climax, falling to his death.
The Controversy: The moment is deeply unpleasant on its own, but married with later revelations–Gainsbourg’s possible knowledge of her son’s impending death, the couple’s increasingly violent sex, the bit where she chops her bits off–it becomes the foundation for a divisive, exploitative and deeply distressing work. Typical Lars Von Trier, basically.
The Sex: Inarguably real sexual acts were performed on each other by Michael Winterbottom’s lead actors Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley in this fractured look at a young couple in lust.
The Controversy: Widely regarded as the most sexually explicit mainstream release of all time, the film includes several scenes of foreplay, intercourse and even ejaculation, all candidly and fully shown.
Winterbottom and his O’Brien argued the content was ‘natural’ and inoffensive, but the film’s lightweight plotting meant it never escaped the shadow of the controversy.
Writhe And Writhe Again
The Sex: Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, engage in passionate, writhing animal sex during the emotional aftermath of their daughter’s death.
The Controversy: The scene was graphic–one of the first to imply oral sex performed on a woman–and unusually convincing. So much so that rumours have persisted for years that the sex is genuine, something which both stars deny.
Duck Me Silly
The Sex: Yeah, the shot with the lady duck in the bath where she has boobs is weird. But it’s nothing compared to the fact that Leah Thompson and Howard The Duck are right on the verge of doing sex with his tiny duck condom.
The Controversy: Well, it’s screwing a duck, isn’t it? It’s not on. He’s either an alien, or an animal, and either way it’s very bad.
Any Hole’s A Goal
The Sex: The extreme kink at the heart of this David Cronenberg adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novel is a masochistic autophilia–its characters are drawn by the thrill of car crashes, and the sexual potential of the wounds left behind. Eeew.
The Controversy: Several high-profile critics railed against the film’s ickiness, which in part led to its banning by Westminster Council, preventing its release in the West End. It was also heavily edited in Australia, and attacked by newspapers in Italy.
Lo And Behold
The Sex: Implied rather than seen, the sexual relationship between Jeremy Irons’ Humbert Humbert and 15 year-old Dominque Swain’s Lolita was far more explicit than in the original film and still more than enough to cause a great deal of fuss.
The Controversy: The film arrived around the same time as the Child Pornography Prevention Act was written into US law.
Director Adrian Lyne documented the filming of sensitive scenes in case of prosecution, and in a climate of deep disapproval the film failed to find proper distribution, returning just over $1 million at the box office.
The Sex: Nasal nonce Leo likes to de-flower very young girls–like the one he’s seen kissing at the start of the film, who’s 12 years old and has no idea that Leo, just 15 himself, is HIV positive.
The Controversy: Larry Clark’s graphic circus of adolescent sex and drugs caused such a stink over child exploitation that even edgy distributor Miramax (at the time settling into the Disney family) were forced to offload the film to a new company set up by Miramax bosses Bob and Harvey Weinstein.
What Would Jesus Do?
The Sex: In Martin Scorsese’s highly controversial exploration of Jesus’ final moments, the messiah is shown in forked-road flashforwards as living a long life–and doing the bad thing–with Mary Magdalene.
The Controversy: Certain Christian groups were unsurprisingly pretty mad. A fundamentalist group who’d apparently skipped the New Testament threw Molotov cocktails at the Saint Michel cinema in Paris, and the film was banned in several countries.
Baby Wants To….
The Sex: Dearly departed Dennis Hopper in his best role of the ’80s–as fetish kidnapper Frank Booth, wheezing on some kinky gas (nitrous oxide? oxygen?) before forcing himself on Isabella Rossellini.
The Controversy: As if there wasn’t enough to get upset about anyway–the velvet fetish, the de facto rape, the incestuous trash talk–David Lynch’s dream-weird direction blurred the boundaries of deranged and decent. Was she letting him? Was she enjoying it?
I’m Not The Chicken-Plucker…
The Sex: Almost–but not quite–lost in John Waters’ bubbling froth of revulsion is a scene in which Cookie Mueller and Danny Mills have sex with a live chicken pressed between them.
The Controversy: The controversy centred around the fact that while most animal cruelty is perceived, in this instance it was very real, and bordered on bestiality. The film was banned in Australia, Norway and Cananda.
Not So Sweetback
The Sex: In Melvin Van Peebles’ indie African-American shocker, titular hero Sweetback (played by Melvin’s 13 year-old son Mario) loses his virginity at a very young age while working at a brothel.
The Controversy: The film was culturally explosive anyway–it basically invented the Blaxploitation genre–but even critics who praised its racial politics decried the use of the young Peebles in an explicit scene with an older woman.
It didn’t help that Pa Peebles had done all his own sex scenes unsimulated, and had contracted gonorrhea as a result.
Nun More Bold
The Sex: A convent of Nuns go sexually berserk in 17th Century France, attacking a statue of Christ like a Chippendale at a Rotherham hen party, and doing unspeakable things with a crucifix.
The Controversy: What became known as the ‘Rape Of Christ’ sequence was so clearly inflammatory that Warner Brothers insisted on its removal before official submission to the BBFC.
It then passed, following further cuts, with an ‘X’ certificate, but was banned by several local authorities after a vigorous campaign from Mary Whitehouse’s Festival Of Light.