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Wet Dreaming, Sort Of

Posted on Saturday, May 1st, 2004 at 7:05 pm

Author: Natalia Antonova

Decadence is good for you. Take your decadence like you take your vitamins.

I understood this whilst freezing my bum off outside a Canadian Cineplex, arguing with the boyfriend about the artistic merits of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers,” the movie that has the gatekeepers of America’s family values system being pumped with Thorazine up to their gills.

The film dares to display full frontal nudity, you see.

The horror! The horror! I can’t handle it! Give me some family-friendly bloody violence instead!

[Tangent] I don’t understand why Americans get their knickers in a twist over seeing genitalia on the big screen. I am personally more offended by the sight of nuclear warheads. Genitalia certainly can’t wipe an entire city off the face of the earth in the matter of seconds. No matter how hard it tries.

For whatever reason, genitalia is “unsafe,” even for viewing (its practical uses can lead to some scary results if not handled properly, and the Bush administration is doing everything to make sure that your children will have as little a clue as possible in dealing with dick); meanwhile, little Marie Osmond is trying to fill the void left by Howard Stern on Clear Channel’s airwaves by providing “safe” commentary for mums, dads, and coma patients. *cue vomiting noises* [/Tangent]

So I didn’t like “The Dreamers” at first. I thought the movie was too self-aware and pretentious and not sensual at all. Quite the opposite of sensual, in fact.

But while the naked ‘enfants terribles’ that populate Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” didn’t make me rip off my clothes and start an afternoon orgy in the aisles (lest the MPAA is worried about my moral well-being), but it did make me wonder about the function of art in our daily lives.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I needed to see this movie (and it was worth the long bus-ride, and falling twice in the mud in front of a group of spectators on the way to the cinema), if only to be reminded that decadence is just as important of an aspect of life as, say, knowing how to balance your checkbook.

Decadence would come with a warning-label, if we could bottle it. It can lead you to bad, dirty places, and then leave you stranded and wasted, on wine or on crappy luck (or a really crappy combination of both, as I have already had the pleasure to find out). Succumbing to decadence is taking the risk of not ever getting out, if certain bratty students and bloated celebrity novelists are any indication.

But decadence of the mind is like designer mineral water to the soil of inspiration, if you don’t mind a particularly horrid metaphor. Every thinking person goes through stages of doing diddly-squat for the heck of it in order to find themselves. People that don’t have the capacity to be decadent from time to time usually don’t have the capacity for anything interesting either, unless reading tabloids on the toilet or something is your idea of interesting.

“The Dreamers” chronicles exactly that sort of stage of intellectual becoming, when drinking and sex are only colourful distractions next to the process of finding out who you really are and doing something with the newfound knowledge.

So, to the boyfriend, to whom I complained about how this film “didn’t live up to expectation,” I concede to have been wrong at the time (the fact that I had mud on my pants probably didn’t help). This was a good movie. Even more, an important movie.

Sure, it was pretension layered upon pretension, but it was the sort of pretension we, self-righteous realists, with our stylish yet practical wardrobes, our protests for world causes we cannot begin to understand, our desire not to “offend,” and our tendency to mistake what my poetry professor calls “provincialism” for art, need to learn to appreciate again.

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