Sex: The Revolution
(Documentary — VH1, Mon.-Thurs. May 12-15, 10 p.m.) Produced by Perry Prods. in association with Sundance Channel and VH1. Executive producer, Dana Heinz Perry; producer-directors, Hart Perry, Richard Lowe; writer, Martin Torgoff;
By BRIAN LOWRY
The producers of “The Drug Years” get back into bed with VH1 and Sundance on “Sex: The Revolution,” a disjointed but nevertheless entertaining four-part documentary the cable nets will again share. Beginning in the post-World War II years, the project breezily races from the Kinsey Report through AIDS, framing an evolution in sexual freedom that author David Allyn rightly calls “central to the political debates in this country today.” As presented, though, the argument remains almost wholly one-sided, limiting most interviewees to those who view cultural warriors on the right as prissy scolds.
Directors Hart Perry and Richard Lowe have considerable fun with sex-ed films from the 1950s, capturing the repressive messages (Chapter I is titled “Save It for Marriage”) that began to unravel — from Kinsey’s sex study (“A momentous event,” says writer Gay Talese) to Hugh Hefner launching Playboy to the Stonewall Riots jump-starting the gay-rights movement.
Perhaps inevitably given all the ground there is to cover, the project has a herky-jerky quality, indicative of how the sexual revolution fragmented into various directions (free love, feminism, gay rights, etc.) in the late ’60s and ’70s. As a consequence, many of the threads fly by, a lightning-round of Plato’s Retreat and Studio 54 and “Deep Throat” taking porn into the mainstream.
Plenty of the footage here is a gas — whether it’s Hefner being berated as a sexist on Dick Cavett’s show, anti-gay activist Anita Bryant’s tearful prayer for the guy that hit her with a pie, or Marilyn Chambers being simultaneously featured as a porn star and a soap model for Ivory Snow.
The filmmakers also do a nifty job connecting key events to the overarching theme, from Kinsey’s scandalous second report on women — shattering the “myth of the American virgin” — to the Roe vs. Wade ruling. Similarly, signature movies are touched upon throughout to display the shifting cultural sands, including the growing unease in the 1980s exemplified by “Dressed to Kill” and “Fatal Attraction.”
What’s most conspicuously lacking, largely, are balancing voices from those opposing the revolution. Yes, there are clips of Jerry Falwell, discussion of how Playboy was followed by Penthouse and the gynecological rigor of Hustler, as well as Erica Jong’s observation about how “The pendulum swung back very hard” — helping sweep Ronald Reagan into the White House. Almost nowhere, however, are those who question the revolution’s legacy.
Instead, the talking heads feature an array of authors (including the doc’s writer, Martin Torgoff) and usual suspects, including director John Waters, comedy writer Bruce Vilanch and musician David Crosby. It’s essentially taken as a given that anyone resisting a permissive stance is a priggish hypocrite — a thesis which would have benefited from allowing them to state their case.
That said, “Sex: The Revolution” qualifies as a contextualized, sniggering-free examination of a legitimate (if titillating) issue — in the same way “Drug Years” explored a topic that seldom receives such thoughtful treatment. Given VH1’s own evolution from one-time classic rock channel into a home for celebrity-driven train wrecks known as “surreality,” credit these docs with temporarily putting sex, drugs and even a touch of class back into the mix.
Camera, Hart Perry, Robert Telen; editor, Frank Keaudren; music, Steve Jordan, Meegan Voss. RUNNING TIME: 4 HOURS
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