Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nothing sexy about sex

Locally shot comedy shows sex to be 'awkward and funny and often uncomfortable and embarrassing'

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In Winnipeg's not-so-distant past, our city was once a battlefield over onscreen sex in cinema. In 1971, the 3D skin movie The Stewardesses was seized by the Attorney-General's office and obscenity charges were laid against the Metropolitan Theatre for daring to screen such soft core smut (albeit smut with six minutes of sex chopped from the film by the Manitoba Censor Board).

In 1973, it was no less a prestigious film than Last Tango in Paris in the cultural crosshairs. The Oscar-nominated Bernardo Bertolucci opus starred Marlon Brando as an American expatriate in Paris engaging in a self-obliterating sexual relationship after the death of his wife. But it was dragged into courts like a common stag film. (Eventually, the Manitoba Court of Appeal was obliged to decree that the film was not obscene, albeit with a close vote of three to two.)

That was then. The cultural landscape has shifted by leaps and bounds, due to relaxed standards of obscenity and also the way in which films are watched, first in the home video market and now via the Internet, the delivery system of choice for erotic content.

In the context of our conservative history, it's that much stranger when Winnipeg became the shooting location of a movie that probably would have inspired a police raid a few decades ago.

 

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The film is titled My Awkward Sexual Adventure, scripted by and starring former Winnipegger Jonas Chernick.

The film's director Sean Garrity (Inertia, Lucid) acknowledges its adult content has been difficult to discuss with his four-year-old daughter.

"She normally talks about princesses, and the other day she asked me, 'What did you shoot in your movie today?'

As luck would have it, that day was particularly raunchy, he recalls.

"We shot three scenes that day and I thought: I can't tell her that one. I can't tell her that one.

"There was one scene where all sorts of vulgar, juvenile stuff happens," he says. "But in one scene, Jonas falls into some garbage bags and gets pretzels thrown at him.

"She thought that was very funny and that was good enough for her. There was nothing else we shot that day that I was able to tell her about."

 

The script for the movie has been fomenting for years in the mind of Chernick, the 38-year-old actor who collaborated with Garrity on the script for Lucid and most recently starred in his under-the-radar low-budget thriller titled Blood Pressure shot earlier this year.

"It never started off as a sex comedy, it started off as a cultural comedy," says Chernick, who spoke to the Free Press during a lunch break on the set located on the former site of the Plug In Gallery on McDermot Avenue. While eating lasagna, Chernick is sporting a sleeveless leather tank top and a studded collar for today's shoot, which involves some whipping and the administration of hot wax to his onscreen girlfriend.

"The first script that I wrote 11 years ago was called Kosher Sexy and it was a story about a very conservative Jewish guy who falls for a very free-spirited ex-Christian girl and about the challenges that would pose to his family and his cultural identity," he says.

Over the years Chernick worked on the script and struggled with the two disparate aspects of his story: "the story of a Jewish guy in his late 30s figuring out who he was culturally and the sexual coming-of-age story.

"Those two things ended up batting against each other and about three years ago, the revelation was that I was less interested in that point in the religious story and I was far more interested in the other.

"And once I got the cultural stuff out of there, and focussed on the sexual coming of age story, that's when things started to happen. And that's when producers and distributors started to take interest and say, 'Oh, you've got something here.'"

In the film, Chernick's accountant character is on the verge of breaking up with his girlfriend (Sarah Manninen) because he's a sexual bore. He turns to another female friend (Emily Hampshire), a stripper, to help explore his own sexuality.

But once he and Garrity concluded that they had a sex movie on their hands, the project posed a different set of problems. But the two did agree that the film's tone would be comic, and however explicit the action (and much of the movie was shot on a closed set, with only the actors, the director, boom operator and cameraman present), they would aim for the funny bone, not the groin.

"I was very much influenced by movies like The 40 Year old Virgin or Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Knocked Up, the Judd Apatow movement," Chernick says. "They're comedies that are about sex, but aren't necessarily sexy.

"There's a lot of talk about sex in those movies but not a lot of actual sex."

My Awkward Sexual Adventure promises to be more sexually explicit, but the sex will live up to its title, Chernick says, with the operative word being "awkward."

"Sex in movies is for the most part played for eroticism, but very rarely do we get to see the reality of sex in movies, which is that sex is awkward and funny and often uncomfortable and embarrassing and these are the kinds of things we wanted to look at," Chernick says.

"There's a lot of comedy to be mined there. We asked ourselves: What haven't we seen yet in a movie? What is the unmined territory as far as the comedy? And I think we found some interesting stuff."

Ultimately, the filmmakers aren't interested in audiences working out their own sexual issues. They are far more interested in finding a wide audience for their film.

"Watching comedies is a community experience," Garrity says. "Watching a funny movie by yourself is one thing. Watching it in the theatre with a group of people who are all laughing, there is something very traditional about that. That's what we're going for."

My Awkward Sexual Adventure is expected to be released in 2012.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2011 G1

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About Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

His dad was Winnipeg musician Jimmy King, a one-time columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. One of his brothers is a playwright. Another is a singer-songwriter.

Randall has been content to cover the entertainment beat in one capacity or another since 1990.

His beat is film, and the job has placed him in the same room as diverse talents, from Martin Scorsese to Martin Short, from Julie Christie to Julia Styles. He has met three James Bonds (four if you count Woody Allen), and director Russ Meyer once told him: "I like your style."

He really likes his job.

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