“Oh! Calcutta!” (1972)
“In America, sex is an obsession. In other parts of the world, it’s a fact.” – Marlene Dietrich
There’s an interesting sequence at the beginning of Jacques Levy’s film version of the notorious theatrical revue “Oh! Calcutta!” in which the cast members are unashamedly mingling in the altogether as they go about their preparatory rituals backstage, while the arriving audience is seen sitting with a palpable discomfort as if each of the patrons were awaiting a court sentence. The dichotomy in behavior is both amusing and revealing: the performers enjoying complete ease with their bodies (how refreshing to see nudity portrayed as something other than for a lewdly sniggery effect instead of the casual celebration of the unselfconscious unencumbered state of the human body shown here) while the audience members seem to be layered in extra clothing as if the very act of sitting in the theater is tantamount to a shameful admission of prurient appetites (not to mention fleshy contact with the theater chairs might create an intimate contact with a sexually transmitted disease, as if they were sitting in a midnight showing on The Deuce).
The brief sequence is an unexpected (and, from the evidence of the rest of the film, unintentional) documentation of common extremes of the systemic popular hypocrisy here finding expression in behavior associated with the perceived acceptance of open sexuality in American society while contradictorily proffering an acknowledgement of an unspoken defensive societal posture in publicly denying any actual interest in sex. So restrictive were the watchdogs of the most influential art form of the 20th Century (cinema), who actively quashed any overt expression of the sexual impulse except as a provocation for moral condemnation, that it perpetuated a self-castigating mindset for an unhealthily extended period in popular cultural.
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