Food For Thought: From Porn To Children’s Films

Something I value in a director is versatility. There are some who can seemingly direct anything and switch subject matter, tones and time periods like they’re changing their socks. Ang Lee can do this, for example. Michael Winterbottom is another director notorious for it. Even Takashi Miike, who is well known for his films featuring dismemberment, aborted fetuses, posthumous rape and graphic torture, turns out a family-friendly film every now and then.

Which brings me to the topic here: I’ve observed two directors in particular whose filmographies have some strange credits close together. What I’m talking about is making a movie people laud or dismiss as pornography, then a movie aimed at kids.

Perhaps Wayne Wang is like his contemporaries (see above) in that he likes to try everything. What I find amusing is his move from his very adult The Center Of The World (2001) to Because Of Winn-Dixie (2005) (Maid In Manhattan was released in between those films, but I like to pretend it doesn’t exist).

The two films couldn’t be more different. World is about a psychological tug-of-war between a computer whiz (Peter Sarsgaard) and a lap dancer (Molly Parker) he hires to accompany him to Las Vegas. Some frank and emotionally complicated sexual encounters ensue. In contrast, Dixie is about the daughter of a preacher (AnnaSophia Robb) who adopts a dog and befriends a lonely librarian, a recovering alcoholic and an ex-convict. Heart-warming, goopy feelings ensue.

Of course, the main difference is obvious. World is for adults. Dixie is for kids. There are other considerations. The former was shot on digital video and made on a shoestring budget. The latter was funded by a studio ($14 million) and shot on film. Would this be an indication of what Wang would prefer to be making rather than what is easier to get done in Hollywood? In the end which film was more successful? Which meant more to Wang as a director? This can only be speculated (perhaps researched, but not today).

Much more striking is director Alfonso Cuarón, whose mainstream breakthrough was an adaptation of A Little Princess (1995). Since then he has flip-flopped between children’s films and other genres, some unrepentantly bleak (he did produce one of the biggest downers masquerading as a kid’s flick, Pan’s Labyrinth, for one thing). But what amuses me is how he started out the 2000s. You’ll see why.

Cuarón’s first film of the decade was Y Tu Mamá También (2001), a film about two young men (Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) and a woman (Maribel Verdú) who go on a road trip and have a series of trysts, ending with a threesome that splits the three of them permanently. It was critically praised and launched the careers of Bernal and Luna, but for the most part when I talk to people about it they say something like, “Good Lord there was a lot of sex in that movie,” usually while rubbing their temples.

The next thing Cuarón did? Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004). I kid you not.

How the hell did he land that job? I really don’t know. If the Harry Potter series isn’t for kids, then I don’t know what is. So… somehow Cuarón made a seamless transition from art house porn to a children’s franchise. And he did it well.

Were there any similarities between Azkaban and its successor? Well, it is mainly about two boys and a girl but they aren’t having sex all the time (that would have been awkward). There is some weird homoerotic tension, though. Ask me about it some time. I’ll explain it to you. Other than that I can’t think of any other similarities.

After finishing Azkaban Cuarón went on to something completely different. His follow-up was the dystopian Children Of Men (2006), which was about a world with no children at all. There were no money shots in it either.

Now that’s just funny. All a testament to how some directors are at their best when they’re unpredictable.

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