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SHAME is not the first promiscuity epic

In Steve McQueen’s much buzzed about SHAME, Michael Fassbender is a New York professional who’s focused on scoring more than on sharing, and who will hook up with almost any dame he sees, as long as he doesn’t get to know her first.

But this is hardly the first screen treatise on the hollowness of sexual anonymity.

Let’s start in 1972, when Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS caused a sensation by casting Marlon Brando as an American in Paris, tormented by the suicide of his philandering wife and ready to lose himself in some body parts. When he meets young, pouty-lipped Maria Schneider, they launch into a no-questions-asked relationship of the type Fassbender’s Shame character would have paid for. This leads to all the momentary thrills and deep-seated resentments that sex can pave the way for, and in the legendary butter scene, it even leads to cholesterol abuse!

In 1977, at the height of the sexual revolution, Richard Brooks adapted Judith Rossner’s smash novel Looking For Mr. Goodbar into a pitch-dark film with Diane Keaton as a teacher who by night seeks sexual education, gradually developing a taste for drugs and violence. It ends violently all right. The film winds up being a metaphor for what can happen when perfectly nice people think too much with their genitalia. Maybe Fassbender’s character should have watched it.

The 1987 classic FATAL ATTRACTION, directed by Adrian Lyne, is the sexual Grand Guignol story that made a whole generation celibate out of sheer terror. In it, married Michael Douglas enjoys a quickie fling with Glenn Close, but finds that not only is she planning to be around for the long haul, but she’s totally psycho! This chiller diller is the most effective film ever made against infidelity and promiscuity, even more so than anything concocted by the Health Department.

And finally: In 1993, fresh off the release of her Sex book, Madonna hit the big screen again with BODY OF EVIDENCE, which I’m not ashamed to admit is a guilty pleasure not undevoid of entertainment value. It starts with a rich dead man chained to the bed, having left his dough to his lover, namely the material girl herself. She ends up getting defended (and back-ended) by lawyer Willem Dafoe, who doesn’t know what he’s in for as they embark on all manner of dangerous and kinky adventures, the most memorable one involving even more candle wax than in a Police video. Rarely has a film so convincingly argued that sex can kill—especially when you’re so embarrassed by the screen antics that you often have to avert your eyes! Shame indeed!