How does she do it? With what grace, panache, and drollery? With what sort of esoteric knowledge? As much as ever, I am mystified by the enigma that is Isabella Rossellini.
I wanted to spread the word about veteran actress Isabella Rossellini’s brilliant, largely self-made series of short films entitled “Green Porno” and “Seduce Me”, produced for the Sundance Channel. For those of you who are still unfamiliar with these amusingly artistic gems, they are an effort to promote ecological sustainability by educating people through scientific research about the sexual habits of animals. In other words, they offer insight into the need for preserving biodiversity by revealing in a fun and lighthearted fashion the often shocking and scandalous sex lives of our biological brethren. They show us how animals have sex to help us sympathise with them. And that is good.
Technically, the “Green Porno” series is an offshoot of the “Seduce Me” series, the former being more focussed on the environmental aspect, but both are equally deliciously bizarre treats to devour. I think this idea is genius, not only because it’s outlandishly humorous, and not only because it teaches us about sustainability, but also because it teaches us that sex ambiguity is truly a universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom–including human beings.
The episode that I think touches best on the issue of sex ambiguity is “Noah’s Ark”, from “Seduce Me”. Keep in mind, the theatrical piece itself is basically the brainchild of Rossellini: she wrote, directed in, and starred in the feature, basing the script on scientific observations of animal habits. Basically, she shows that Noah loaded his ark with one female and one male of every species in the world, but she then points out all the myriad species that do not rely on copulation between one female and one male in order to reproduce. Finally, she asks, how did Noah account for these non-heterosexual species? And, oh, do the permutations stretch the imagination. Truly. Without further ado, let us wrap our minds around the fantastic world of animal sex in the eyes of one of the most elegant dames of modern film:
First of all, I just have to enumerate the different types of sex that are possible in order to reproduce (let alone to bond socially or experience pleasure for pleasure’s sake):
Hermaphroditism: an organism can copulate by choosing one sex role or the other, because it possesses both
Segmentation: an organism can procreate by splitting into two and creating a clone
Transsexuality: an organism becomes the opposite sex in order to mate
Parthenogenesis: all members of the species are female, and they develop eggs without male fertilization; they give virgin births, and so do their young
Masculine obsolescence: the species no longer needs males; females mate with one another by simulating sex with one another, thus stimulating one another’s hormones in order to ovulate, develop eggs, and reproduce–without male fertilization
Homosexuality: some organisms have sex with other organisms of the same sex–sometimes, this results in oval maturation via mutual same-sex hormone stimulation
Semen is so overrated!
Most poignant is the ending, where Rossellini quizzically asks the viewer, “How did Noah do it? Hermaphrodites, transvestites, transgendered, transsexual, polygamy, monogamy, homosexual, bisexual. How could it all be heterosexual?” Immediately conservatives will respond, “human beings cannot change sex to reproduce, they cannot segment and clone themselves, and human females cannot reproduce among themselves”. True. But this is reductive. It is like saying that aphids can’t do what earthworms do. Humans are a part of the spectrum–they have their own permutation of sexual possibilities. They can be homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, and intersexual (hermaphroditic), and any combination of these can raise rather healthy children. They don’t need to do what crabs do, or what limpets do, in order to be a part of the spectrum of animal behaviour.
“But that’s just showing sexual diversity across species”, says the conservative. “It doesn’t mean that a single species in and of itself is sexually diverse”. You’re right. So let is move on and show a species that does show sexual diversity. Ah, here is a species that shows sexual diversity. Dolphins.
Damn. I was going to send you an embedded code, but the Web site wouldn’t let me for this particular clip. Anyway, if you want to see exactly what dolphins do for fun, go here, http://www.sundancechannel.com/greenporno/, and look for “dolphin” on the right side of the screen. But listen to me, because I know what they do in the clip. Let me tell you. Really. Straight dolphins do it in the missionary position, some dolphins masturbate against coral reefs, some lesbian dolphins stick their fins into other females’ vaginas (kind of like fisting), and gay male dolphins stick their penises into other dolphins’ blowholes.
Talk about a blow!
In sum, we should appreciate Rossellini’s artistic panache–that is, her talent as a filmmaker. I knew she could toy with us in a feature-length film, but I never expected her to create such pithy and stylish mini-documentaries in short-film format. We should also recognize the urgent state of overfishing–it really is serious, and we shouldn’t joke about it, even though it’s fun—AH–HAHAHAHA—because it affects every person who puts a piece of calamari in her hole. Finally, we should be amused by Rossellini’s creatively bizarre style, for all of the eyes it opens, the minds it bends, and the chortles it creates in the chests of those who understand exactly what she is going for. But we should also appreciate her articulate commentary on gender ambiguity. You just don’t see too many stars doing that.
I think my work here is done.