A cinematic history of the horny female gaze

'She Found It At The Movies', a new anthology from Christina Newland, celebrates female thirst on screen. Here, she picks her absolute horniest faves.

by Katie Goh
|
01 April 2020, 3:47pm

“Oh, I always say Rebel Without a Cause which is funny because there’s no sex to be found in it,” says Christina Newland with a laugh. We’re discussing the movies that opened up the world of horny cinema to us over the phone. “But even though there’s no sex, it taps into this idea of the matinee pin-up idol and the cultural values we project onto them. From James Dean to Timothée Chalamet, it’s not just the person we find attractive but their stance or worldview, whether it’s the suburban alienation of Dean or the diffident cool of Chalamet…”

Sex and cinema have always gone in hand for Newland, so when she found herself being scolded by older male veterans of film criticism for expressing somewhat thirsty thoughts for actors of the past it came as a surprise. “They said it was inappropriate for me to express those thoughts and that experience got me thinking about why it’s actually important for me as a young female critic to talk about actors’ physicality, the relationships female viewers have with actors and why that particular train of thought is perceived as confessional and therefore feminine and therefore unserious.”

After writing an article about this very subject for Sight and Sound back in 2017, Newland found she had only scratched its surface. “It was such a big topic but it was also a subjective one,” she says. “And I couldn’t be the only voice expressing it, especially as a straight, white, cis woman.” An anthology then on the topic was the perfect solution and so She Found it at the Movies was born. Edited by Newland, the book features a diverse range of film critics, pop culture aficionados and perspectives on female and non-binary sexuality and cinema, from complicated crushes on abusive men to pretending to like boys because of High School Musical to being horny for Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

In a world and industry where female sexuality is still stigmatised, She Found it at the Movies is a joyous, sexy and smart exploration of why movies get us going. “Sex is in cinema’s DNA,” says Newland, emphatically. “It’s been there from the word go, so why shouldn’t we be talking about it and providing a corrective to how male-dominated it's been, not just in the way sexuality is portrayed on screen, but the makers, critics and everyone involved in making it that way.”

As an expert in all things cinema and sex, we asked Newland to pick some of her favourite movies that say something about female thirst.

Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan, 1931)
“It’s directed by Leontine Sagan, who was so far ahead of her time as a proto-feminist, very anti-fascist, out lesbian who made her films in a collective way. The story is centred around a forbidden romance between a teenage schoolgirl and her headmistress at a boarding school. It’s one of the first films to have an all-female cast and features one of the first ever on-screen lesbian kisses. It was banned by the Nazis and heavily censored for years and became popular again amongst second-wave feminists in the 70s. It’s an incredible historical document and I think it’s important to go back and see that there were women making films about female desire that far back.”

American Gigolo (Paul Shrader, 1980)
“Even though it’s directed by Paul Shrader, in terms of interrupting the male gaze, American Gigolo has got an unusually focused erotic gaze on Richard Gere, his tanned, toned, mostly undressed body and the sensual details of his life. It’s a story about a man who pleasures women for a living and there’s a whole monologue where he talks about how his favourite thing is to sleep with much older women who haven’t orgasmed before or in a long time and the pleasure he gets from making those women orgasm. It’s kind of a remarkable thing especially for a film from 1980 directed by a man. It’s also an incredible film for just sheer male beauty and Gere was one of those actors that became the woman’s man rather than the man’s man.”

Bound (The Wachowskis, 1996)
“Directed by two -- closeted at the time -- trans women, Bound is one of the quintessential movies about female desire and getting lesbian sex right. It had what would now be called an intimacy coordinator on set, a feminist writer called Susie Bright, who was there to show what scissoring actually looked like and to make sure there was a focus on hands in terms of the sex scenes. In She Found It at the Movies, Willow Maclay writes about Bound and its focus on hands and wetness and visual metaphors, like Gina Gershon’s character fixing gushing water pipes. There’s an awareness there about what lesbian women want in sex and pleasure, it’s not just making up for not having a dick which is how a lot of men direct those kinds of scenes.”

Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)
“This is one of those movies that I rented too young, watched at home and thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I come across here!’ Growing up, it was still fairly unusual to see a woman who was that openly sexual in a film and not be subjected to an awful judgement or punishment because of it. It’s a love triangle between a woman and two younger men so she’s worldly and in charge of the situation which is a reversal of what you usually see. There’s a multiplicity in the kind of desire that’s been shown because it’s a open-ended bisexual romance and it felt remarkable in terms of its freedom and lack of judgement. Also Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal are very beautiful which also helps!”

Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, 2015)
“I think it would be remiss not to mention Magic Mike XXL. I think it’s really rare for female viewers to have our pleasure catered to that extent. Given the climate that we’re in, so many conversations about women and sex in the film industry are about Weinstein or horrible abuses that we’re trying to bring to light and that’s an incredibly important coversation that we should be having, but it’s also made a lot of the joy about consensual sex go away. I think women deserve to have fun, too, and talking about pleasure is important. So to see these male strippers get so much career fulfillment by performing for these really happy female audiences of all different races, shapes and sizes is a beautiful thing. If you’ve seen the film with an audience you know it has the tendency to electrify the actual audience and you get such a party atmosphere when women see this movie.”

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, 2015)
“This story of a teenage girl who ends up in a dodgy sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend who’s meant to be around 30 is a really strange thing. You’re completely in the mindset of this young girl who is just really horny and independently minded and making some mistakes along the way. The film is so generous about the fact that for a young girl growing up, your road to sexual maturity is rarely unproblematic. The film is so open in allowing her independence and not saying she’s a victim per say but showing the complexity of sexual relationships. She uses him to get a sexual experience and moves on which is such a reversal of expectations of female victimhood. It’s nice to see a teenage girl take control of her circumstances for once.”

'She Found it at the Movies' was published on 31 March and is also available digitally now on Christina Newland’s Instagram

Tagged:
Film
Y tu mamá también
American Gigolo
Magic Mike XXL
bound
Christina Newland
Female Gaze
the diary of a teenage girl