MOVIE OBJECTS (7)
April 19, 2020
CANDLE | DEBBIE DOES DALLAS | d. JIM CLARK | 1978
There are exactly two erotic moments in Debbie Does Dallas.
The first is in the script. Early in the movie, Debbie and her friends get afterschool jobs. One is hired at the local candle factory, a Chekov’s gun that must go off, or at least, get off. Later, we see her lounging in the factory’s office alone. She gets hot and bothered, fondles her breasts, and starts fingering herself. And, pow! She reaches for whatever is at hand — a candle, of course — and uses it as a dildo. A candle, for fuck’s sake, who thought of that? It’s erotic both because it’s the only shot in the movie that’s purely about female pleasure — and because it’s funny. To me.
I looked at dirty pictures for the first time when I was eight or nine in the late 1970s, a copy of Playboy, slid out from between the mattresses of a friend’s half-brother’s bed. Clichéd as it is, this story is true. Most exciting was a sequence with a man in a sailor suit meeting, disrobing, and spanking a cheerful woman. They were having a blast, the whole thing seemed very goofy. This imprinted something deeply for me about sex — that it is fun and silly and is not tied directly to romance. Which is not very often what the implied sex in regular movies looks like. And fun is definitely not what’s going on in the pornographic movies I saw bits and pieces of in early adulthood. Everybody takes the whole thing too seriously.
In the mid 1990s, a boyfriend and I decided to rent some porn. Neither of us was turned on by ‘90s stuff, so we got the 1970s classic Debbie Does Dallas. As you would expect, there’s a touch of plot and a lot of cocks being sucked and vaginas being penetrated. Since it was the ’70s, there is hair everywhere, and ass pimples, and the common imperfections of unsculpted bodies. It was somehow sexy anyway because it was also hilarious. To us.
The second erotic moment is a slip-up. Finishing off a very long blowjob, an actress directs a stream of cum to her cheek (de rigueur). The whole operation goes off the rails, and some of it gets in her eye. What’s hot lasts just a heavy heartbeat: she looks up at someone off camera and she smiles, the bare beginning of a laugh. Something real has happened. She got cum in her eye by accident and there’s no second take here. Just a mistake in the middle of a stylized, slightly relentless process. What’s erotic is that it’s funny. To her.
Let me add that the narrative premise of the movie — high schoolers who want to earn money get jobs that come along with fondling by bosses, and decide to make a business of it — is pretty creepy and I’m not saying you should actually watch it.
But when I watched it again, I had forgotten all that. Twenty-odd years after I saw it on VHS, the girl with the candle was all that stayed with me, an emblem of the overlap between eroticism and silliness.
MOVIE OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Ramona Lyons on EYE OF THE SERPENT (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) | Faythe Levine on BEDKNOB (BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS) | Gerald Peary on CUP OF COFFEE (THE BIG HEAT) | Christopher Orr on TOM’S HAT (MILLER’S CROSSING) | Lynn Peril on TRANSISTOR RADIO (DR. STRANGELOVE) | Whitney Bowers on DUCT TAPE (NOW AND THEN) | Kio Stark on CANDLE (DEBBIE DOES DALLAS) | Tom Roston on CALCULATOR WATCH (BREAKFAST CLUB) | Miranda Mellis on LIMOUSINE (MELANCHOLIA) | Carolina A. Miranda on HAUNTED ACCORDION (THE WIND JOURNEYS) | Vanessa Berry on FIBREGLASS MARLIN (LOVE SERENADE) | June Thomas on CERAMIC DUCKS (A TASTE OF HONEY) | Madeline Ashby on LETTERS OF TRANSIT (CASABLANCA) | Dave Walker on ETTINAUER 226-XL (REAL LIFE) | Jonathan Lethem on SINGLE-JACK HAMMER (EARTH ABIDES) | Guy Trebay on STAMPS (CHARADE) | Annie Nocenti on PASSPORT (THE PASSENGER) | Tony Arcabascio on SHEEPSKIN COAT (BEAT STREET) | Alix Lambert on TYPEWRITER (MARY AND MAX) | John Sellers on WHITEBOARD (A QUIET PLACE) | Carlo Rotella on POWDERING CONE (REIGN OF TERROR) | Laura Miller on SEVERED EAR (BLUE VELVET) | Josh Glenn on CASSETTE TAPE (BREATHLESS) | Vicente Lozano on NOTEBOOK (WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOME?) | Jeff Malmberg on SPAGHETTI SAUCE (THE GODFATHER).
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 2): INTRODUCTION | Joe Yonan on MACRAMÉ ART (ill. Theo Ellsworth) | Ben Katchor on LUCITE CARRYING CASE | Debbie Millman on GLASS POODLE | Lydia Millet on ROCKY HORROR NOVEL (ill. Berta Valló) | Ben Greenman on WARHOL CAN (ill. Clara Selina Bach) | & 20 MORE.
FETISHES: INTRODUCTION | Josh Foer on DEATH MASK | Beth Lisick on MURDERED-OUT KFC BUCKET | Christina Couch on LEECH ACTION FIGURE | Kenneth Goldsmith on THEWLIS SOCK | Abby Rapoport on MAGNATILES | & 20 MORE.
FOSSILS: INTRODUCTION | Allegra Huston on SKATAWAY JACKET | Kevin Obsatz on HOMEMADE NUNCHUKS | Ian Bogost on DESKTOP TELEPHONE | Jeff Lewonczyk on CHA-CHA JACKET SCRAP | Kelly Horan on VOLVO KEY | & 20 MORE.
FLAIR: INTRODUCTION | Cliff Kuang on ROLEX DATEJUST | Ethan Zuckerman on LAPTOP STICKERS | Ann Shoket on LEATHER JACKET | Kembrew McLeod on KEMBREW MERCH | Paola Antonelli on MERMAID TEARS | & 20 MORE.
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 1): INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Allison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | & 20 MORE.
ILLICIT OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.
TALISMANIC OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.
POLITICAL OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.
SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018) | FETISHES series (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 series (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS series (2Q2020). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.