The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Sex

On the subject of sex in film, I noticed something interesting. In our discussion of "Best movies of all time" Christian (who says he doesn't like sexual content in film, and doesn't understand why people do) mentions "The Godfather" and "The Incredibles" as two favorite films.

There are, if I'm not mistaken, three sexual sequences in "Godfather"--Sonny banging his mistress up against the wall, Micheal's wedding night, and a scene with Diane Keaton. And "The Incredibles"? About the sexiest family-oriented cartoon I've ever seen, with Elastigirl yanking Mr. Incredible back in the house for nookie. He also mentioned Hitchcock saying he didn't like sex in movies--but at the time, Hitchcock was criticized for having too much sex! I'm watching a collection of Hitchcock classics right now, and the last three were "Psycho", "Frenzy" and "Torn Curtain." Good grief. All three have sexual content. Torn Curtain starts with a famous bed scene between Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, where Hitch famously blew cold air up under the covers to force Andrews to get closer to Newman!

Christian...I don't think you're really paying attention.

##

Sex is such an interesting subject. I studied it formally for years, specifically a Native American approach to spiritual sexuality. Cross-referencing their attitudes with teachings in Taoist sexuality and Tantrism, it seems that those cultures that talk about sex in a non-smarmy way say something to the effect of "the intensity of an orgasm is in direct proportion to the amount of your ego you release at that moment." In other words, if you can remember your name, you haven't come very hard.

Now...on one level orgasm is just a physical reflex--mucous membranes are notoriously undiscriminating, and you can have explosive sex with a very wide range of people. We almost all "fit" each other. Love is trickier. When you can have explosive sex with someone you love, that is insanely wonderful. And when that person is also a friend, and you trust their business sense...WOW! NOW you have the potential for an actual working relationship.

It is interesting that there have been several versions of "Think and Grow Rich", Napoleon Hill's classic self-improvement book. The later editions and re-workings delete some of the more controversial material. The one I've seen dropped the most was an observation that many of the most successful men in the world (who he interviewed for the book) would, when they had to make a serious business decision, wait until after they had made love with their wives to decide!

This touches the edge of the whole "sexual magic" issue. Clearly, sexual energy is fantastically powerful, and can be used to elevate us or tear us to pieces. Cultures place a toll-gate on the road to sex: fantastic guilt and the fires of hell unless you get married. And in most cultures you can't get married unless you have financial security and can meet the approval of the parents. When this breaks down, you get sex separated from love or family-building (which can still be pretty terrific!) but often devolves into "how many" "how long" "how many positions" "what odd locations" and other expressions of an underlying sense that sex is somehow demeaning, "nasty", "bad", "wrong", and so forth.

Sex is probably the most tangible aspect of the core creative energy that manifests on all seven levels. When we look in the eyes of a loved one as we engage, the doors open and we can see our futures...all our futures, and sometimes the past as well. When such unions create children, and for the first time we hold our newborns, the secrets of the universe open to us.

At the very least, those we engage with should be people we care about, whose phone calls we would take at three in the morning, who are more than disposable carnal Handi-wipes. Until we can line up our hearts and minds with our sexuality, we are playing dangerous games with genital dynamite.

And this is why I find sex so fascinating in film. It reveals FAR more of human nature than car chases, fights, or even most conversations. There is no other human interaction in which more information is exchanged more rapidly. It is the ultimate comfort, and can be the ultimate betrayal. Sex and death are arguably the most interesting things about life...and extraordinarily valuable fodder for fiction.

29 comments:

Greg said...

A portion of Christian's comment tickled me to no end.

"For me I don't like sex scenes because if I'm in a movie theater I don't want to be aroused...".

I'm almost scared to ask him if he's ever danced with a girl in public to Smokey Robinson's Ooo Baby, Baby or The Dells all-time longest slow record of Stay In My Corner. Good grief. It gets no more sensual that that.

I'm not exactly sure what would constitute the most erotic of films ever shown barring out 'n out XXX porno, but I think The Last Tango In Paris would make the Top 10, but for as sexual as it was I could in no way imagine me sitting in a theater and catching wood behind it no matter what Brando and that chick did or suggested.

I mean no offense whatsoever, but methinks Christian has more of an issue with going granite in public than the sexual sequences themselves. If that's the case, then well, well maybe staying home and watching things on TV might be the better of all ideas if a measure of self-control won't work.

I can only wonder what PeeWee Herman would make of this.

mjholt said...

Sex is everywhere in film, and the void space where it is not is significant, too, as Steve has been pointing out.

One of the most sensual and erotic scenes was the eating scene in Tom Jones (1963). Then there is the scene in To Catch A Thief (1955).

The inability to consume food forms a persistent metaphor in Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) where no mouthful of food seemed to be able to be consumed.

Christian M. Howell said...

Greg,
Have you ever gotten a hard-on while dancing with a girl you just met. They don't like it and may walk away from you.

Steven,
Hitchcock said and I quote; "It's just a fad. Once you zoom in there is nothing else." He also said that he would never have had a "Marilyn Monroe" type in his moves because there is nothing to discover about her sexuality. I agree.


As far as becoming aroused, it takes me out of the story. I want to be in the story. I still have yet to think of a sex scene that did anything other than show people naked.

Does it show how a person will respond to stress? Or does it show how a person feels about the opposite sex? Perhaps it tells you more about whether the person is truthful in their social dealings.


Sexual content doesn't necessarily mean a sex scene. I have done some really freaky stuff on the dance floor, but it's not sex.

A walk or a wink can be contain sexual content. You mentioned James Bond who in his earlier films only showed foreplay.

I mentioned the highest grossing films I could think of. If I don't remember a sex scene, it was obviously not the kind of thing I'm talking about. I'm talking about the JLo, Natasha Henstridge, Halle Berry type of scene where we show everything but the penetration.

I don't like that. The intimacy between partners can be more readily shown with social interaction as I can't think very good when I'm having sex.

Good sex has no face or thought so how can you describe it cinematically?

I'll look at working up two example scenes that show the difference between intimacy and sex and post it.

There is a HUGE difference. Or if one of you can take a sex scene and disseminate it to show how it forwards the story or reveals character (is cinematic) please post it.

It won't change my opinion but perhaps it will help me understand your point.

Greg said...

Greg,
Have you ever gotten a hard-on while dancing with a girl you just met. They don't like it and may walk away from you.


Not lately. It's been awhile. High school, I'm thinking. However, the method I employed even back then was to mentally recite the Superman introduction and then recall the theme music and distract Mr. Johnson from going sequoia.

Dun-daah-DUN...Daah-daah-daah-DUN...Dun-daah-daah-daah-dudda-dudda-daah-DUN.

It worked. Still might for all I know? Try it, or come up with a more personalized distraction. Buddy of mine told me long ago his method was to envision his grandmother naked. I can REALLY see how that would work effectively. Wow. I'll stick with the Clark Kent music should I ever find it necessary to employ again in life.

But a question, and it's not so much to you though it includes you, but do people that write scripts or are otherwise employed in the film making business ever just go and watch the goddamn movie and enjoy it, or not, for it's own sake without dissecting it take by take, scene by scene and just chilling out and having a pleasant viewing experience just for get-outs sake and perhaps the dating experience whether married, single, or solo?

I mean we're all critics, or can be, as we're paying customers, but I'll just be damned if I pay 8-19 bucks just to get my anal-retentive on when I can sit at home and do it for free.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Am I extremely oblivious or something? Because I haven't actually ever been aware of any guy, ever, getting a hard on while dancing with me.

On sex scenes, clearly I'm using a different definition from Christian, because I think of it as being a sex scene if the couple are shown doing any sort of foreplay at all, and it's then made obvious that they proceeded to have sex. So, kiss and make out, fade out, clothes in disarrary later, to me is a sex scene.

Josh Jasper said...

Chris -
Have you ever gotten a hard-on while dancing with a girl you just met. They don't like it and may walk away from you.


Hasn't been my experience. I've ended up making out or in bed with them in those cases. Mind you, they seemed to have been trying to provoke one.

As far as becoming aroused, it takes me out of the story. I want to be in the story.

You're probably not the average target audience then. Nothing wrong with that. But even women like explicit, intentionally arousing sex scenes. Romance novels these days are full of them.

Your problem here is that something is making you personally uncomfortable, so you're making a judgment about it's artistic merits for everyone else. Presumably if you weren't uncomfortable with it, you wouldn't make these judgments.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

What movies would you say do the best job of portraying magical sex?

Maybe I'm missing something, but while I don't mind sex in movies, sex scenes seem pretty generic-- there isn't a lot of character subtlety.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

FWIW, how I set my standard for what kind of sexual explicitness I'm OK watching is:

Say I have a job which is satisfactory - pays for food, mortgage, medical expenses, whatever, I'm OK doing it, the wolf is in no way at my door.

Say I have the opportunity for an acting job, and, unlike in real life, I have actual acting ability, so I could do the job. And say the job would bring me everything I could want from an acting job - popular acclaim, critical acclaim, an Oscar, my choice of juicy roles. And, in order to get there, I have to do this sex scene. (But, again, the wolf isn't at my door, I'm not poor starving Fantine - the reason I'd be taking the job is opportunity, not desperation.)

If having to do that particular sex scene to get what might otherwise be the acting opportunity of a lifetime would make my stomach knot up, then I don't want to watch someone else do it. (Maybe that someone else feels differently from me, and his or her stomach doesn't knot up at all, I have no way of knowing, but, either way, I'm still not going to be watching a movie with that particular scene.)

Anonymous said...

The documentary This Film Not Yet Rated is available free online. It offers some insight into the MPAA's rating board, its history and its not terribly subtle aversion to adult treatments of sexuality.

Christian M. Howell said...

Your problem here is that something is making you personally uncomfortable, so you're making a judgment about it's artistic merits for everyone else. Presumably if you weren't uncomfortable with it, you wouldn't make these judgments.

You guys are pissing me off now. Stop putting owrds in my mouth.
SEX SCENES DO NOTHING FOR TH EMOVIE. The only thing I see them doing is ruining actresses careers and making men look like studs.

I don't need a sex scene to make me look like a stud.

I didn't say I was uncomfortable I don't think. That sounds like some gay s*&^.

I said it takes me out of the story. You even quoted that. Maybe if you could get real women you wouldn't NEED to see them stripped down on screen.


So if you are so certain that sex is so great take your favorite sex scene and analyze it cinematically. Tell me how it forwards the story or reveals character.

If you can't you're just the average knucklehead who's messing it up for me.

As soon as women get top billing for nudity and sex, I'll think about it.

Until then make sure you tell your daughters all of this. Tell them it's OK if people on the street have no respect for them because you're happy with her tits being out, especially when her long legs drape over the stud's stomach causing him to grab her and pull her closer....

You guys suck.

Steve Perry said...

I have extra shrouds ...

Greg said...

"I didn't say I was uncomfortable I don't think".

Christian,

I believe you said, "I don't want to become/get aroused". This would lead a person to believe you've become aroused before or stood on the brink of arousal.

I knew guys that would get a little bit before they went to gentleman's clubs on boys night out to fend off unwanted temptations. Might I suggest a reversal of sorts? Before going to a flick try getting a little nookie before you leave. Say within 20 to no more than 45 minutes before the main feature starts. For the average length of a film of say 1-hour and 45-minutes to 2-hours that should hold you. Perhaps any arousal could be forestalled and enhance the overall viewing experience with prurienti interuptus, so to say.

In any event, good luck and more power to you. Don't become pissed off so easy young man, you'll live longer and stress less.

Josh Jasper said...

I didn't say I was uncomfortable I don't think. That sounds like some gay s*&^.

FYI, I am not a heterosexual. You can't insult my manhood by talking to me that way.

You certainly can't insult me by telling me that I'm somehow unable to get "real woman". Or man. Or anyone. That's a playground insult. Someone secure in themselves isn't hurt by that.

But I certainly didn't intend to insult your sense of masculinity. If I did, I'm sorry. It's clear this is an emotional issue. Had I know what I said was going to get you that angry, I'd have tried to phrase it better.

And that's all I have to say to you until you really learn to control yourself.

Shady_Grady said...

It sounds as if people are talking past each other.

This is what Steve wrote before.

Anyone who wants to know what I mean by "sex scene" or "love scene" in movies in relation to racial imagery, watch James Bond movies. Every one of them has what I would call a love scene, even the PG movies. Bond and a woman are in privacy. They kiss or embrace, and sink to a bed or otherwise engage. Fade out. Fade in, and they are lounging about with their clothing in disarray. Or they are in bed together, draped with a towel or a blanket, kissing or cuddling. That's PG or PG-13 lovemaking conventions in film. R-rated scenes are more intense: more nudity, buttocks thrusts, oral sex simulations, and so forth. Black or Asian men don't get ANY of this.


So I don't think anyone is necessarily talking about explicitness. What the issue was is why Black men in big budget movies tend to have roles that are desexualized, even if they are the star, even if the storyline has to suffer. Sex doesn't have to be explicitly shown.

My take on what Steve has written and shared from his experiences is that when it comes to Black male protagonists being shown as sexual beings in big budget films, the powers that be place several roadblocks around it. If subtle discouragement doesn't work then explicit rejection is done.

If this indeed is the case, and it certainly appears to be so, then that's interesting. What does it mean? What does it say about society?

That's all I took out of the discussion.

I certainly don't think this discussion is about needing to see women stripped down on the screen.

For my money one of the sexiest scenes in cinema is the banter between Bogart and Bacall about "horseracing" in "The Big Sleep" and they are both fully clothed.

Josh Jasper said...

Shady - actually, the book version of The Big Sleep was far more explicit than the movies of the time could get away with.

Shady_Grady said...

"Shady - actually, the book version of The Big Sleep was far more explicit than the movies of the time could get away with."

Yup. I had heard that. Thanks!
It's one of my favorite scenes.

Steven Barnes said...

Christian:
"good sex has no face or thought so how can you describe it cinematically?"

Excuse me, but while the moment of orgasm goes beyond individual identity, the foreplay and build-up, as well as afterplay contains much thought, and much acknowledgement of identity.
##
Shady said: "My take on what Steve has written and shared from his experiences is that when it comes to Black male protagonists being shown as sexual beings in big budget films, the powers that be place several roadblocks around it."

Close, but not quite. I said that no film with black or Asian films THAT MAKE OVER 100 MILLION DOLLARS have sexual content. Most, but not all such movies are "big budget" but it is fascinating how consistently people don't get my point: it isn't that Hollywood won't make 'em. Its that when they DO, the public doesn't go.
#
Christian: Sure, sex reveals character and moves the story forward. I'll take the top 5 boxoffice examples:
1) In Titanic, we saw the blossoming of a profound connection with Jack--which helped explain why he was willing to die for her (a very traditional male motivation: she might carry his child).
2) in Iron Man, we saw Tony Stark's playboy personae, and the way his casual sexual liasons differed from the delicate flowering of love with Pepper
3) Matrix Reloaded. The desperate need of Neo to keep touch with his humanity, when all around him consider him a god.
4)Ghost. The passion between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, which went beyond life itself. (not explicit, but VERY hot)
5) Mission Impossible 2: the erotic/emotional connection that made Thandie Newton's later seduction of the bad guy truly horrifying.
##
Not all these movies are good. But in every case, the sexual content was as valid as anything else about them.

Christian, in all honesty: the fact that, again and again, I can mention PG and PG-13 love scenes in Bond movies, but all that you hear or imagine is lascivious, degrading, hard-R or X stuff suggests to me that deep down you do indeed think sex is nasty stuff. That "you guys suck" comment, or suggesting that those who get "real women" wouldn't want to watch 'em onscreen stuff weren't your most mature moments. We can tell you're a smart guy. VERY smart. I mean no offense, but I would look carefully at that stuff if I were you. Are you certain you've been happy and successful aligning love and sex in the same relationship? Feeling fully respectful of your partner after the glow has faded? Remaining friends with sexual partners afterwards? Imagining your own mother or sisters or daughter having happy, loving, lusty relationships? I honestly sense a bit of warp in the woof.

Christian M. Howell said...

But that does suck. I want you to raise a daughter particularly to do good sex scenes at whatever level of nudity.

I have had more women than all of you put together. I have had sex in public. I'm actually trying to go back to the club to give a woman head in the bathroom (I stopped because of the brothers who dress like BUMS with no game).

What I want in my personal life has nothing to do with what I want to see in the movies.

Let's look at those examples:

Titanic: If you fall in love from sex you should have more. You could have them sit and actually talk about the future and get the same connection.

Matrix Reloaded: that scene had NO purpose. It was just two naked people. It didn't involve the story of Zion. It didn't say how sensitive or insensitive anyone was.


MI: She could have drugged him or shot someone.


Truthfully you sound like you're trying to convince yourself.

To reiterate:

It takes me out of the story.
It makes women into objects.
It attempts to make a dud a stud.
It makes women crazy.


If it were up to me if you wanted any sex ACTS not SENSUAL CONTENT you'd be watching SkineMax or porn.

NO MAINSTREAM MOVIES WOULD HAVE SEX. I repeat NONE.

I don't want to convince you. I just want you to know how I feel.

Christian M. Howell said...

I believe you said, "I don't want to become/get aroused". This would lead a person to believe you've become aroused before or stood on the brink of arousal.

I knew guys that would get a little bit before they went to gentleman's clubs on boys night out to fend off unwanted temptations. Might I suggest a reversal of sorts? Before going to a flick try getting a little nookie before you leave. Say within 20 to no more than 45 minutes before the main feature starts. For the average length of a film of say 1-hour and 45-minutes to 2-hours that should hold you. Perhaps any arousal could be forestalled and enhance the overall viewing experience with prurienti interuptus, so to say.

In any event, good luck and more power to you. Don't become pissed off so easy young man, you'll live longer and stress less.



Here you go again insulting me. This is my last post about this because I'm getting upset. Don't act like you know me or are some kind of therapist.

LISTEN VERY CAREFULLY. If you can only become aroused once a day there's something wrong with you.

I DON'T WANT TO SEE SEX ACTS IN A MAINSTREAM MOVIE.

PERIOD. OK?

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I have had more women than all of you put together.

Well, I'm absolutely certain you've had more women than me. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if Josh has had more women than me.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

When I started thinking about what can throw me out of a movie, I found some interesting stuff.

There's one that will throw me out of the theater as well as out of the story. There've been a few movies where I've left sooner than throw up-- The Mr. Creosote scene, the book depository killing in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, a Living Dead movie where a zombie is pulling out intestines.

Well, I do have a lot of tension at the base of my throat, and there may be a connection. I've made progress to the point where sometimes I can just feel the tension without the desire to get away or force it to be better immediately. I'm not sure what my next step is with that one.

The other thing is that I can hit a limit with violence in movies. I don't need to leave, but I suddenly disconnect emotionally and stop caring about what happens to any of the characters. This is probably a clue to something that needs healing.

Steven Barnes said...

Nancy--

I'm not so sure that's a dysfunction (an upper limit on cinematic violence). I can handle "Hostel" but there is definitely a point at which I disassociate. If you identify with a character even peripherally, why is it entertaining to watch them suffer? And if you don't empathize, and just want to "enjoy" the gore, that's a different drive altogether. And if you are handling the violence as a means to grasping some artistic point (as in, say, "Irreversible") then there is STILL a point beyond which many people will tune out. Seems natural.

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