I Am Curious

by Erin Cressida Wilson, Screenwriter of Secretary

The first sex in film that I ever saw was a girl's butt in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and I saw it through my fingers. My mother took me to racy films when I was a child, but always told me to cover my eyes when the naughty parts came on. These were Saturday matinees in the late 1960s and early '70s, in San Francisco, at musty-smelling, red-seated theatres like The Bridge, The Vogue, the Four Star and the York. In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie I yelled out loud, "I can see her butt." I didn't find it sexy so much as extremely alluring, interesting; I'll never forget that ass. It made me curious.

We lived in North Beach a block from Café Trieste, where Carol Doda—the famous stripper—came in for a macchiatto before work; she stripped at Big Al's a few blocks away where an enormous billboard displayed her with huge flashing nipples over Broadway. Once, in the Tenderloin, I saw a go-go dancer inside a glass box which was placed on the top of a pole. After that I wanted to be a go-go boot-wearing stripper with huge tits. But instead of getting go-go boots for my birthday, I was given a Schwinn with a long sparkling blue banana seat; this, in my perverted—but very innocent—mind, seemed sexy enough.

And then I saw more movies: The Mother and The Whore, I Am Curious (Yellow), 2001 and Swept Away..., in which I was literally in pain. Perhaps for the first time in my life I was truly aroused, but I was sitting next to my mother. It was a nightmare, and all I wanted was to be swept away like Mariangela Melato was with Giancarlo Giannini. Our basement was full of mildew-drenched Playboys and Hustlers, and my father's top shelf in his study held scores of dirty books. I mixed high culture with low culture from an early age; it was what I was taught to do. To lace them together.

This said, I ran screaming from Fantasia, which I found to be the scariest movie I'd ever seen, and I announced that we had to leave The Jungle Book—it completely freaked me out.

I was perhaps a bit of a weird child, a little Wednesday Adams who longed to be a film director the second I saw Al Pacino's bedroom eyes in The Godfather. I have grown up to have more the personality of a writer than a director. I get to stay in the luxury of my own home, and often my own bed, and dream up entire worlds, direct films on a computer screen right in front of me. I simply move my fingertips along the letters upon the keys to make the words that form the lives and the people that I interact with day after day. This is the voyeuristic world in which I live and the voyeuristic world in which my sexuality awoke when I was a child and I went to the movies.

For me, movies were like looking through windows. The windows were the screens on which I got to watch the lives that I might never live myself.

And when I'm watching a bluish film, I can still bring my hands up to my face to "not look." I can peek through my forefinger and my middle finger at an Asian woman going up and down a set up stairs over and over again with a pot of noodles, the focus on her hips; she wears necklines that hold her like a strong hand. I close my fingers and open them up again to see Harvey Keitel's rough and worn finger working its way inside Holly Hunter's stockings, then her bare shoulder, and then his gorgeous nakedness. Closing my fingers, I open them one more time and see James Spader's eyes, his mouth, his tics, and I fall in love with James Spader in sex, lies and videotape because he makes me curious.

About five years ago Steven Shainberg sent me a package to North Carolina where I was teaching at Duke University. In the package were videotapes of films he had made and a book of stories called Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill. Shainberg asked me to read the story "Secretary," and if I would like to write a film based on it. It was the story of a secretary who is spanked by her boss, and the thought became, what if it were a love story? And then the question became, what's so nice about such a naughty thing? And I was curious again.

All Text 2002 Erin Cressida Wilson
All Stills from Secretary 2002 Lions Gate Films