Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the

Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible"

by Linda Williams
     
 

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In this unprecedented and brilliant study, Linda Williams moves beyond the impasse of anti-porn/anti-censorship position-taking to analyze what hard-core film pornography is and does—as a genre with a history, as a specific cinematic form, and as part of contemporary discourse on sexuality. Working against tendencies to oversimplify hard core—either as

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Overview

In this unprecedented and brilliant study, Linda Williams moves beyond the impasse of anti-porn/anti-censorship position-taking to analyze what hard-core film pornography is and does—as a genre with a history, as a specific cinematic form, and as part of contemporary discourse on sexuality. Working against tendencies to oversimplify hard core—either as pure abusive power or pure liberatory pleasure—Williams sees the form as inherently contradictory. Hard core claims to speak confessional and involuntary "truths" of sex. However, analysis of its forms (including its spectacular "money shots" and sexual "numbers" parallel to those in musicals) reveals that sex in the sense of a natural, visible "doing what comes naturally" is in fact the supreme and deeply contradictory fiction of the genre. Gender, the social construction of the relation between the sexes, is what determines this fiction.
For most of its history, pornography has been for men and about women. Yet in hard core's attempt to solve the riddles of sex with more, different, or better sex, the monolith of masculine pleasure breaks down and the possibility of women using pornography for their own purposes begins to emerge. To this end, Williams traces the roots of contemporary hard core's quest to see the "truth" of sex back to the origins of cinema itself—in motion studies of women's bodily movements. She then follows the generic development of hard core through its silent, primitive stag form and into feature-length narratives like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, up to its recent sadomasochistic and "couples market" permutations—showing how the form has begun to respond and react to changing gender relations. Neither a defense of what pornography has been nor a utopian dream of what it should be, this daring book refuses simply to scapegoat the form as the cause of all our ills. Instead, Williams utilizes the insights of recent studies of mass culture to show that hard core is a discourse, a genre, and a rhetoric that can only be understood through comparison with, rather than separation from, other forms.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In academic prose, film professor Williams of the University of California offers a graphic analysis of hard-core porno movies such as Deep Throat , as well as early, anonymous stag flicks. She finds that the newer, ``softer'' X-rated rental videos ``show a more genuinely adult quality'' than earlier videos. She ponders the ``utopian problem-solving intent'' of the hard-core genre and makes specious comparisons between blue movies, Hollywood musicals and films like Dirty Dancing . Sadomasochistic porn films, she claims, let viewers experience ``a clearer confrontation with the oscillating poles of our gendered identities and the role of power in them.'' A critic whose professed goal is to understand film pornography, and who opposes those who would censor it, Williams begins this obfuscating study by analyzing the portrayal of women in the 19th-century kinetoscope, prototype of the motion-picture projector. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Hard Core traces ``. . . the changing meaning and function of the genre of pornography. . . .'' As a scholarly study of ```mainstream,' heterosexual, hard-core pornography,'' that is, as a specific film category, it is both articulate and comprehensive. However, the anticensorship view, while offering some valid arguments, minimizes today's realities--the violence and degradation of women. Perhaps pornography should be about fantasy and sex, but at least for now, it is more about power. As a study of film genre, Hard Core is recommended for upper level students. However, its social context should be tempered by other works.-- Frada L. Mozenter, Univ. of North Carolina at Charlotte Lib.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780520066533
Publisher:
University of California Press
Publication date:
01/14/1991
Edition description:
Older Edition
Pages:
342
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.96(h) x 0.86(d)

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