The Erotic Screen: Desire, Addiction and Perversity in Cinema

Author(s) : Thomas Wolman

The Erotic Screen: Desire, Addiction and Perversity in Cinema

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The Erotic Screen takes as its starting point that Hollywood movies were steeped in eroticism from the beginning but censorship forced filmmakers to devise hidden sexual subtexts to preserve a film’s subliminal eroticism. Science fiction films were particularly effective, using horror to induce sexual excitement, as studied in ‘Part I: The nature of desire in a trio of science fiction thrillers.’ Another device was to display unrestricted consumption of alcohol and tobacco and gratuitous spending. Today, this is a cliché of mainstream cinema but some filmmakers expose the dark underbelly.

The five films scrutinized in ‘Part II: Portraits of addiction in Hollywood melodrama’ make explicit the connections between greed, addictions, and sexuality. Finally, in ‘Part III: Perverse desire in mainstream cinema,’ the nuanced position toward the psychosexual obsessions on view in the films is investigated by posing the provocative question of whether S&M practice can work as a “cure” for psychic suffering, by raising the alarm over sexuality run amok in a suburban community, and by offering a devastating critique of voyeurism’s “fatal attraction” to viewers.

The Erotic Screen stirs up discussion and debate – and helps these movies live on in our minds.

Reviews and Endorsements

'The Erotic Screen' encourages us to peek behind the surface appeal of films and to explore the depths of their sexual allure. Thomas Wolman’s insightful revaluation of canonical Hollywood films reveals how sexuality is at the heart of so many movies. His commentary is persuasive. He shows that whether we know it or not, sex and sexuality are always a source of pleasure for viewers. Look for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
Dr. Luke Hockley, Professor of Media Analysis, University of Bedfordshire UKCP, ADIP, FRSA

'The Erotic Screen' is a compelling and vital contribution to psychoanalytic film scholarship. It emphasizes a multitude of relevant themes including the complexity and mystery of sexual desire as depicted in film and how the use of visual representation in film technique helps to access unconscious and conscious representations that affect the film viewer. It discusses how screen memories reflect memories projected on the screen and the role of film in exploring contemporary culture. Dr. Wolman elaborates on how censorship forced filmmakers to devise hidden sexual subtexts to preserve films’ subjective eroticism.
Bruce Sklarew, M.D., Chair, Forum of the Psychoanalytic Study of Film and co-editor of Bertolucci’s Last Emperor and Cinematic Reflections on the Legacy of the Holocaust

Table of Contents

About the author


Part I: The Nature of Desire in a Trio of Science Fiction Thrillers

The Object of Desire: The Thing from Another World

The sleep of desire: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Female sexuality in Alien

Part II: Portraits of Addiction in Hollywood Melodrama

Psychoanalytic Observations on the Depiction of Greed in Two Hollywood Movies: The Maltese Falcon and Wall Street

The Psychic Under-pinning of Alcoholism: The Lost Weekend, The Days of Wine and Roses, and Leaving Las Vegas

Part III: Perverse Desire in Mainstream Cinema

The S and M Cure in Secretary

Sexual Undertow in Little Children

The Camera as Psychotic Object in Peeping Tom



About the Author(s)

Thomas Wolman, MD, was born and raised in New York City, where he now lives after residing in Philadelphia PA for forty-four years. He attended Johns Hopkins University and the Pennsylvania State University Medical College. Subsequently, he trained at the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Center, where he taught in both the psychoanalytic and the psychotherapy training programs. Until his move, he held the title of assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has written on Winnicott, Mahler, Kohut and Lacan, as well as on contemporary films, and more recently on greed, bereavement and privacy issues. Currently, he teaches a course on the history of psychoanalysis at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

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