Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On Australian prudishness -- and lack thereof

 
Here's a piece I started a couple weeks ago that got lost in the shuffle. This note prevents me from having to change the time reference in the first paragraph. 

This past week I finally saw Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, about a guy (Gordon-Levitt) with a porn addiction.

I had been waiting for it to get an Australian theatrical release, but finally gave that up and just rented it from iTunes.

See, I don't think Don Jon is getting an Australian theatrical release at all. That's pretty odd for a movie starring Gordon-Levitt, but it's really odd for a movie starring Scarlett Johansson. (A movie starring Julianne Moore may fall somewhere in between those two on the oddness scale.)

Oversimplifying the probably complicated side of the business known as foreign distribution, and the many pitfalls it has from time to time, I may have to chalk it up to Australian prudishness. But like many other things in this country, it's the most confusing kind of prudishness, one that contains enough exceptions that it hardly seems appropriate to call it prudishness in the first place.

In an earlier post about the Australian rating system, I talked about how movies of an explicit pornographic nature (showing actual sex) are supposedly only available for sale or rental in a couple Australian states, Victoria not being one of them. It seems hard for me to imagine that's really true, but I have no evidence to the contrary. My understanding is that blue laws -- which prevent certain businesses from selling certain products, or even being open, during certain hours, for religious reasons -- were only recently retired here. In fact, in some ways they are still alive and well, such as malls not being open after 5:30 on every day of the week except Thursday and Friday.

The apparent prudishness of Australia may extend to Don Jon not getting a release. It may not, since not every movie that opens in the U.S. opens here. But the ones with A-level casts that don't open are few and far between, and they make you sit up and take notice.

A certain sensitivity to explicit content may also explain this funny little difference in the movie posters for We're the Millers, first the poster that advertised the movie in the U.S., and then the one used here for the DVD release. See if you can spot the difference:



I couldn't find evidence of the second one online, so I had to grab a snap of it at my local video store so you would know I hadn't imagined it.

Assuming it's not just my local video store being prudish and ordering a custom poster for We're the Millers, the ad campaign here changes Jennifer Aniston's assignation from the rather bawdy "stripper" to the considerably more chaste "dancer." (They also excised the word "drug" before "dealer," but that's not what I'm talking about today.)

If this were all just leading to a conclusion that Australians are uptight about sex, that would be something, but consider this:

Prostitution is legal here.

I'll say that again:

Prostitution is legal here.

No, this is not the Netherlands. This is good old prudish Australia.

I'll tell you how I found out that prostitution was legal. On my walk to the aforementioned video store, there's a dodgy looking building of questionable purpose. There's a neon sign outside that I've never seen lit (probably because I've never walked by at night) that reads Club 77. But it shows no other signs of being a dance club, as the parking lot is always empty and no one is ever seen loading kegs of beer into the building.

Curious, I looked it up online, and a site called Melbourne Brothels came up. Immediately I felt like Jon in Don Jon and wanted to clear my browser history, but I ventured on and indeed discovered that it is one of at least a dozen legal brothels in Melbourne. I read a few user comments that left little doubt as to what goes on there. They aren't a chain of sketchy massage parlors where an extra hundred bucks will get you a hand job. No, they are full-service whorehouses.

Yet Don Jon makes them squeamish enough for it never to see the light of day.

Like I said, it's probably not as simple as that. But I was starting to really gather steam on this impression when I saw that Blue is the Warmest Color, with its explicit scenes of lesbian sex, had not been released here either. I had to backtrack on that impression when I saw a February 13th release date announced. (Just in time for Valentine's Day, ha ha.)

Without reading extensively about prostitution in Australia -- evidence of which I really don't want to be on my computer -- it appears that the legalization/decriminalization of it has to do with a) the long history of prostitution dating back to the country's formative years, and b) protecting sex workers by installing government regulations. Still, I'm kind of surprised that the laws even made it up for discussion on the parliament floor with the way this country's prudishness rears its head in other ways. 

If Blue is the Warmest Color, you can color me confused.

I'll have to find out more about this and get back to you.

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