By Annamarya Scaccia (, 2005)

Title: The X List
Author: Jami Bernard, editor
Publisher: Da Capo
Publish Date: 2005
Pages: 314
Genres:Film StudiesCompilation,Film & ArtsNon-Fiction

Movies, by nature, are meant to turn us on. Whether it is culturally, intellectually, cinematically or sexually, films serve the purpose of stimulation–visual or otherwise. The arousal may come from the riveting wordplay of a script or the simple lift of an eyebrow from the film’s “hunk.” No matter the case, a film purely born out of expression will stir something in you.

In The X List: The National Society of Film Critics’ Guide to the Movies That Turn Us On, edited by Jami Bernard, the idea of stimulation weaved into the politics of cinema are explored, discussed and ripped apart, only leaving the heaving chests of the critics. What was it about Irreversiblethat left such a mark on David Sterritt’s mind? How come, for all its explicit glory, is Deep Throat still considered one of the most enticing films of today? How come Forest Hump isn’t in the anthology?

Simple. The X List is not about outright sexual encounters or the level of nudity counted in a film, but rather the mental intrigue that may occur. Granted, there is enough fellatio in Deep Throat to make any man go insane, however, deep underneath the film’s expose, lies the idea of freedom and controversy. “Context is crucial. Deep Throat was released amid the nation’s most significant social movements: sexual liberation, the Vietnam War backlash, the Black Panther movement, feminism, gay liberation, equal rights…It’s doubtful that if Deep Throat were made today, it would have such an impact on American culture,” writes film critic Emanuel Levy, and he is right. Today,Deep Throat is nothing more than a porn flick, but to those who were around the time of Deep Throat’s first inception, it will always represent the first step of cinema liberation in the mainstream.

So why bother picking up The X List? Many reasons. Firstly, the analysis of each film is clear and concise, although sometimes repetitive. Secondly, each critic, in his or her own way, opens our eyes to different concepts. For example, in Michael Sragow’s discussion of Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass, one would never suspect any grain of sexual provocatipn while watching it in the context of present time. However, the boiling tension between Bud Stamper, played by the confident and erotic Warren Beatty, and Deanie Loomis, played by the late Natalie Wood, and snarky social commentary served as a “touchstone for generations that grew up when young love on screen was airbrushed into Gidget and Tammy, and sex education consisted of scare films about VD,” according to Sragow.Splendor in the Grass is a film of questionable dialect, as Sragow continues to analyze, touching on insanity, parental control and the intensity of desire, making the proclivity towards subtlety erotic.

Of course, the more outwardly erotic films are valued as well, from the teasing of Kathleen Turner in 1981’s Body Heat, to the nameless encounters of 2001’s Intimacy and the surreal fetishes of the 1986 David Lynch flick Blue Velvet. However, what each film critic touches upon in their ponderings are not the effects of naked flesh but what the naked flesh represents. As Peter Travers puts it in his talk of Body Heat, “I feel like a fool for getting hooked. But, isn’t that the point of Body Heat (and all femme fatales)–to make fools of men?” Yes, Travers, that is the point. Turner’s seduction through movement was not the only “boing factor,” her ability to make fools of men (and women) is also erotic. Then again, the ability to wield power over another person has, to some, always been erotic.

There are, however, some odd choices that make the book, which the majority of society wouldn’t agree with. One would be The Mummy, as explored by Charles Taylor. According to Taylor, the things that make The Mummy “perversely erotic” are “the atmosphere…so thick and vivid,” and “the mood so enveloping that the picture proceeds less by narrative than poetic logic.” Not all would necessarily agree with this deduction, but that’s what makes The X List glorious. The X List is an exploration of the perverse, the strange, the erotic, the intimate, and the culturally shocking.

In addition, the book also includes short essays by the film critics that serve background information and a peek into their minds. Not completely needed, not completely useless, these shorts help as a reference, as well as a laugh factor.

The X List is a must-buy essential for film critics, film lovers and film students. It’s much more than coffee table reading. The X List deserves a place on the bookshelf.


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