Fri, 11 Feb 2000

Steamy local films leave censors hot and bothered

By Gotot Prakosa

JAKARTA (JP): Pornography in film, from the first grainy shots of nubile women in the all-together, dates back to the time when the medium became a business commodity.

In Indonesia, eroticism and soft-core pornography have been part of film since its introduction in the country, and has spread to magazines, novels, books and calendars. Erotic films dominated the national film scene in the 1970s and early 1980s when production reached over 100 titles a year.

Worried by the impact, the government waged an antipornography campaign in 1984 in a bid to put a stop to the prevalence of locally produced films full of sexual content and calendars featuring scantily dressed women.

There was a national uproar the same year when the authorities said they found a calendar, called Happy New Year 1984 Sexino, which they said was the first to show all-nude pictures of Indonesian women. The clamor prompted then president Soeharto to order the Ministry of Information to take action against pornography in the media and films.

Although the antipornography drive eventually lost steam, another brouhaha broke out in 1988 with the release of Pembalasan Ratu Selatan (Revenge of the Southern Sea Queen). Starring Yurike Prastica, the film incurred the wrath of religious leaders. The information ministry withdrew the film following a strong protest from Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI).

The Film Censors Board subsequently revoked the distribution license for Akibat Terlalu Genit (The Result of Being Too Flirtatious) on similar grounds. But the film was later released under the new title, Coba-coba Dulu (Try First). Interestingly, there was no public protest and the film attracted reasonably large audiences.

The government renewed the war against pornography in 1994 when suggestive content once again became the staple of locally made films. The provocative titles of some of them were enough to indicate the films were not high art: Ranjang yang Ternoda (Stained Bed), Ranjang Pemikat (The Enticing Bed), Perempuan di Persimpangan Jalan (Woman at the Crossroads), Gadis Metropolis (Metropolitan Girl), Kenikmatan Tabu (The Pleasure of the Taboo), Janda Kembang (The Alluring Widow), Selir Sriti (Sriti the Concubine), Akibat Hamil Muda (What Happens from being Young and Pregnant), Skandal Iblis (A Devilish Scandal), Misteri Permainan Terlarang (Mystery of the Forbidden Game) and Sorgaku Nerakaku (My Haven My Hell).

More than 40 titles were categorized as "pornographic" in 1994. They were condemned because they were full of scenes showing as well as simulated sexual acts.

But millions of Indonesians saw them, either in movie theaters or on video. There is no denying the public lapped them up; several of the films played to packed theaters in some cities for more than two months.

Steamy movies were popular in all localities, from small, isolated towns to Greater Jakarta. Crowds flocked to see sexy starlets like Kiki Fatmala, Lela Anggraini, Inneke Koesherawati, Ayu Yohana, Febby Lawrence and Ayu Azhari.

Data released by PT Perfin (Indonesian Film Distribution) showed that in 1993, each Indonesian film title was seen by an average of less than 10,000 people. But Gadis Metropolis attracted 200,000 people in Jakarta and 50,793 people in Surabaya alone. In Surabaya, Gairah Malam was viewed by 114,160 people.

On the average, an erotic film screened in 1994 was seen by 40,000, four times the number of those viewing nonerotic films.

Inspired by the trend, veteran producer Turino Djunaedy planned a remake of Bernafas Dalam Lumpur (Breathing in the Mud), a classic film which originally starred 1970s' star Suzana. But the antipornography campaign forced him to drop the plan.

Since 1994, local film production has continued to fall, reaching its nadir in 1997 when the economic crisis began. Production of some erotic films was postponed or canceled because of financial constraints.

Last year, producers approached the government for financial aid to continue the making of 27 films postponed due to financial woes. They told the government that unless they received help, many movie theaters would have to close down.

Among the 27 titles now in movie theaters are Birahi Perempuan Halus (Libido of a Fiery Woman), Gairah Cinta Maria (Maria's Lust), Panasnya Cinta (Heat of Love), Skandal Cinta (Love Scandal), Skandal Erotik (Erotic Scandal), Trauma Perselingkuhan (A Traumatic Affair), Gejolak Seksual (Sexual Drive), Gadis yang Ternoda (The Disgraced Girl), Ranjang yang Berbisa (Poison Bed), Cinta Terlarang (Forbidden Love) and Wanita Penggoda (The Tease).

The titles tell the story. Last year, Sophia Latjuba, Inneke Koesherawati and Sarah Azhari made news when they were summoned to Jakarta Police Headquarters because of their provocative poses in several magazines. Sophia was rumored to have posed nude, a charge she denied.

Pornography, and how society and the individual define it, make an interesting topic. Nan T. Achnas, a director of several feature and documentary films, organized the discussion Pornography in Films at Wisma Lingkar Mitra Budaya from Feb. 9 to Feb. 11. The organizer screened Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom (1975) and Nagisa Oshima's Ai no Corrida (In the Realm of the Senses/1976), plus footage of pornographic films from all over the world, including Indonesia.

Pasolini is the famed Italian director known for his films about social realities and moral decadence. Salo, his last movie before he was brutally murdered, was criticized by some critics for its graphic scenes. Oshima made erotic films based on Japanese tradition; Ai no Corrida is considered a masterpiece in its exploration of voyeurism.

Pornographic films are made based on social realities in the particular society (Pasolini transported the excesses of the Marquis de Sade to the fascistic society of Italy in the 1940s). As Indonesian filmmakers have always made pornographic films over time, does it have to do with the social realities in Indonesia?

Whatever the answer, a discussion on pornography always stimulates people's curiosity.