American sexploitation cinema of the 1960s and early 1970s has gained a second life in the past two decades through a boom in video and DVD distribution and rerelease, and consequently a new, generationally distinct audience. This article proposes that what appeals to cult audiences in the present about the “impoverished” tableaus of sexploitation films is the shunted melancholia of obsolescence. Sexploitation maintains a hold on contemporary viewers precisely through the films' constriction by history, by their seeming containment within their own historical moment and inability to transcend it — as if “time capsules” without a destination. An exemplar of the penchant for “dated sexuality,” filmmaker Anna Biller restages the profilmic universe of the sexploitation oeuvre in her film Viva (2007). Viva's narrative of two women's entrance into the sexual revolution and its meticulous reconstruction of the genre and its vintage mise-en-scène evokes both sexploitation cinema as well as the commodified landscape of the late 1960s and early 1970s, embodying itself as a time capsule constructed in retrospect. Viva, in its indulgence in the material artifacts, conventions, and “dated” precepts of the genre and its period, encourages a historiographic reconsideration of the sexploitation form, particularly in how it speaks to the spectatorial experiences of women, the undesignated audience of the genre, as well as to public memories of the sexual revolution. This article argues that Biller's relay of her own spectatorship of the sexploitation cinema represents a way of imagining female spectatorship as a form of cinephile wandering through the historical frame — and through a cathexis on the world of forgotten bodies and discarded objects, both material and cinematic.
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Elena Gorfinkel; “Dated Sexuality”: Anna Biller's Viva and the Retrospective Life of Sexploitation Cinema. Camera Obscura 1 December 2011; 26 (3 (78)): 95–135. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-1415443
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