By now, you might have heard about the notorious lollipop scene that occurs in the beginning of Wayne Wang's unrated drama The Center of the World. This is also the scene that audiences in my hometown of Cincinnati failed to see at the city's leading art-house cinema, Clifton's Esquire Theatre.
A stripper leans over her male customer. She inserts a lollipop into her vagina, quickly pulls it out and inserts it into the mouth of her mesmerized customer. The image is brief and fleeting. I would also argue that the scene is integral to the film's storytelling. For a film hopeful of some box-office friendly controversy, The Center of the World has gotten its wish. Of course, the fact that the movie is a mediocre drama has been lost in all the media glare.
It's a scandalous spirit that drives audiences to see a film like Center. They want to see what everyone else is talking about, or in the case of Cincinnati, what everyone is fighting about. After watching the film twice, I'm confident that audiences will be surprised by all of the fuss.
Still, The Center of the World is one of those rare adult films that dares audiences to walk into theater doors. At a time when Hollywood movies have become more conservative, Center is authentically mature. In a perfect world, Wang's attempt to make a sexual drama would also be a creative success.
Center begins its story inside a clandestine strip-club. It's here that a nerdy dot.com millionaire (Peter Sarsgaard) falls for a pretty stripper (Molly Parker). Unaccustomed to normal social interaction, the nerdy millionaire persuades the pretty stripper to spend three days with him in Las Vegas. After living life immersed in a digital world, it's fair to say that a weekend in Vegas with a stripper at one's side is a drastic change of pace. His hope is that before their three days are over, they will build a real relationship.
But the provocative moments are fleeting in Wang's wannabe-steamy tale about sex, power and Las Vegas getaways. More importantly, its straightforward drama is not any more compelling. Wang does manage to create a true adult story that accompanies images of a gyrating ass and heaving breasts with human drama. Sarsgaard is believable as the nerdy computer geek desperate enough to pay a woman to spend a weekend with him in Las Vegas. But Parker looks too much like the girl-next-door to play a credible stripper. I know that Parker's innocent appearance delivers the film's message that anyone can be a stripper. But Parker's inability to heighten the film's few erotic moments turns out to be a dramatic disability. The Center of the World aches to be a 21st-century update on Last Tango in Paris. But by its anti-climactic ending, it's clear that any new truths about money, power and sexuality will have to be found in another movie.
A lot has happened since I first watched director Wayne Wang's adult drama some weeks ago. My relationship with Wang's film began in the usual critic/movie fashion. To allow myself time for an interview with Wang, I watched Center weeks before it was set to open in my hometown of Cincinnati. A feature article was filed in early May. My unenthusiastic review of the film followed three weeks later. The objective, critical distance remained intact. Things turned complicated when sources on the Esquire Theater's staff told Cincinnati CityBeat that on May 24, one day prior to the film's local opening, Esquire operator Gary Goldman ordered one of his managers to cut an early sex scene from the print of the film. This was not a response to complaints from theater customers since the film hadn't even opened. Goldman refused comment until a faxed statement was later issued.
On June 6, CityBeat broke the story about Goldman cutting the "lollipop" scene from the film. Soon after, the word from Goldman's office was that I would be banned from his theaters. On June 8, Goldman faxed a statement to CityBeat. His explanation for cutting the film was to avoid risking prosecution from Hamilton County authorities.
After my June 13 column criticizing Goldman's faxed explanation, he confirmed that I was no longer welcome at screenings at both the Esquire and Mariemont theaters due to the "personal and gratuitous" nature of my columns regarding the controversy. I'd no longer receive any programming information from his office.
Long after The Center of the World survived a ratings battle with the MPAA, I'm facing a bizarre battle of my own. I still stand behind my opinion.
While I don't consider the movie to be entertaining, I'm convinced that the film is not the slightest bit pornographic. It's an adult drama appropriate for adult audiences.
HOME | THIS ISSUE | ACE ARCHIVES