By Helen Clarke
Last Saturday Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met) hosted an event entitled Hot Sex Time Machine as part of the Humanities in Public Festival (HiP) SEX strand. The event included three films from 1985, each portraying different representations of sexuality. The idea was to see how films about sexuality differed in 1985 compared to the modern day.
First up was My Beautiful Laundrette, based in London. A young man named Omar, played by Gordon Warnecke, is given a laundromat by his uncle who hopes to see the business thrive. Omar, however, becomes the victim of assault by a group of racists as he is from Pakistan and he realises that the group’s leader is his ex-boyfriend Johnny, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. The two men set out to run the laundromat together and start seeing each other again. The film is a compelling story about a gay relationship and the obstacles the two men must face.
The film was introduced by Manchester Met Reader in Cinema History Dr Andrew Moor, who talked about its relevance. Speaking to Humanity Hallows, Andrew said, “We picked 1985 as the theme because it was a time when Thatcherism was rife and it was interesting to explore another conflict such as a same sex relationship.” When asked about the target audience, he said, “The target audience is people who wouldn’t normally attend these events but as there is an LGBTQ theme, you do expect a certain group of people.”
Next up was Desert Hearts set in 1950s Nevada. This film is about the forbidden love between Vivian, a school teacher played by Helen Shaver, who recently left her husband and Cay, played by Patricia Charbonneau, the young attractive daughter of a ranch owner. The film explores the relationship between Vivian, Cay and Cay’s old fashioned and disapproving step mum. The film follows a typical lesbian conversion narrative in an attempt to show a real love and friendship between two women.
Desert Hearts was introduced by Dr Monica Pearl from The University of Manchester. Monica spoke about the importance of an LGBTQ film with a happy ending as there are a list of films that see the main character’s story end in death. One attendee of the event said, “This film is the first movie that shows a same sex relationship where I wasn’t scared for the lesbian characters.” Monica also addressed the important question of how the film constructs the viewer, whether it assumes you are a woman, gay or straight, judgemental or accepting. She said, “Students should see the full scope of representation, especially those that make them uncomfortable, otherwise you just see old ideas reinforced.”
Humanity Hallows spoke with Helen Darby, HiP Festival Co-ordinator, about the importance of starting a dialogue about sexuality and why she chose the year 1985. “The first two films we are screening had a big impact on me as a teenager in the 1980s and I wanted to put them together and see how attitudes to those films had changed. I also wanted to look at BDSM to relate its representation in 1985 and with today’s contemporary culture after the rise of 50 Shades of Grey. 1985 was also a key year for HIV and AIDS awareness, which brought with it both stigmatisation and liberation of sex.” Helen also wanted to speak about why the sex strand meant so much: “Contemporary society is saturated with sex but there are still lots of things that need talking about”.
The last film was Nine and a Half Weeks, a BDSM film that portrays the loving yet controlling relationship between Elizabeth, played by Kim Basinger, and John, played by Mickey Rourke. This film portrays a very different kind of relationship that relies on one partner being submissive and wholly trusting of her boyfriend, while he manipulates her and uses their relationship to fulfil his fantasies. The film was introduced by Professor Linda Ruth Williams from Southampton University. Linda wanted to bring attention to the way the movie was marketed, as both a melodrama for couples and as a sexual chick flick for single women and their friends. The film was based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Elisabeth O’Neil. Linda said, “Everyone went to see it. It was known as a water-cooler film, meaning you went to see it last night and would talk about it with your friends the next day at work.”
The audience at the event were treated to free popping candy and 80s tunes and Rachel Telfer, a Sex and Relationships Education Outreach Worker for the NHS, was on hand with information about safe sex, free contraception and misconceptions about sex. Rachel told Humanity Hallows that she wanted to do this job as she believes she is “giving young people the education they deserve and that they don’t get elsewhere.”
The next events in the Humanities in Public ‘SEX’ strand are:
Exploring sexual coupledom and the everyday
Wednesday 9 March 2016 6.00pm – 8.00pm
No 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 5NH
Free – See HiP website for tickets
with Kate Fox
Friday 11th March 6.00pm – 9.00pm
No 70 Oxford St, Manchester M1 5NH
Free – See HiP website for tickets