Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sex with Mystery Man!

Hey guys,

It’s possible I’ve been laboring intensely researching and writing an article for what might be a popular magazine. And it’s due mid-August for the Nov / Dec issue and it might be about Sex in Screenwriting.

However, I need some feedback, and I thought I’d turn to my ridiculously smart readers. I need your thoughts on three points:

1) I wrote an article last December on
Internet’s Impact on Cinema. What do you guys think about the following comments:

Sex no longer sells.

I wonder if the failure of Basic Instinct II should mark the end of an era where sex in film sells. As a result of free porn on the internet, which has
sent the porn industry into a financial freefall, people don’t look to movies to see nudity like they used to. Even if the hottest movie star shows skin in some new film, odds are that those images will get leaked on the web long before it ever hits the theaters, and thus, the film must fall back on something else to sell tickets – like story? I suspect sexy sells more nowadays than sex.

There was an interesting article by Dylan van Rijsbergen called
Sexing the Handbag. He wrote: “Time has come to start a new movement inventing new images of sexuality and pornography. Time has come for a new Jan Wolkers, male or female, someone who can write powerful stories of authentic sexuality. Time has come for all kinds of individuals in the media, art and literature to invigorate the tired imagery of commercial porn. Time has come for a slow sex movement, which stretches sexuality beyond the single moment of the male orgasm. Time has come to return sexuality to what it has always been: elusive, exciting, intense, playful, authentic, dynamic and sublime.

2) Can you share with me the best examples that come to mind in which a sex scene was absolutely crucial to the story?

3) This sounds random, I know, but can you think of any films in which an important character (not necessarily the protagonist) was asexual? The only character that comes to mind is Depp’s Willy Wonka of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

More questions may be forthcoming...



Anonymous said...

For 3, first character that comes to mind is the Joker. Does that mean only cartoon-like characters are asexual? HAL in 2001 etc. Hard to find asexual characters in cinema if every film needs a love-interest, especially difficult to find asexual protags, less-so antags.

Plus movie-stars are typically good looking, so although there may not be anything going on with the other characters, there may be some (hoped for) sexual energy with the audience (Ripley, say. The producers had her in vest and panties in Alien, though maybe that's not a good example, there are probably theses out there about the sexuality of the Alien).

For 2, I'm sending something to your hotmail address if you still use it.

Emily Blake said...

I think it's less about sex than it is about romance. The sex scene in the second Matrix movie goes on and on forever and serves very little purpose - it's an entire chapter on the DVD. But a short scene of two people you've been hoping against hope would get together has a great deal of impact because you're emotionally invested.

That's why I often find sex scenes in television to be a lot more stimulating. If I've been waiting two seasons for a couple to get together I'm going to feel the passion between them when they finally do.

A sex scene that's pivotal? Brokeback Mountain, Disclosure, The Lover, Waiting to Exhale.

Mystery Man said...

Terraling - I got the e-mail! Thanks, man!

Emily - What do you think about the phrase, "a sex scene is only as good as its characters"?

DougJ said...

1. I agree with your thesis. I can't imagine a sexual thriller being released now outside of direct-to-video.

2. The History of Violence

3. Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Sling Blade, Ghandi.

Lisa said...

For #2: Monster's Ball. And what a scene it was, but it was necessary.

For #3: I'm coming up blank.

Joshua James said...

#2 KNOCKED UP, for obvious reasons. STARMAN. Man, a whole bunch that I can't think of right now, LOL!

#3 LEAVING LAS VEGAS . . . they're in love, but he's incapable of having sex.

Did someone mention PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE here already?

If I recall, Eddie Murphy's character in TRADING PLACES is remarkable asexual . . . he hits on a lady when he's pretending to be handicapped, but after that, once he has the dough, nothing. He finds a naked women in his bed in the mansion and he tells her to get her clothes on and get out.

Eddie Murphy in BEVERLY HILLS COP, now that I think about it, is surprisingly asexual . . . he talks about it from time to time, but other than going to a strip bar, he doesn't seem at all interested.

Christian M. Howell said...

Wow, you finally posted something I HATE.

Sex in cinema is the worst idea ever. I don't think the days of Natasha Henstridge and JLo will return. At least I hope not.

I have never seen a movie where the sex scene did anything except make me hate the rest of the movie. I guess it's similar to home video porn. People originally "raincoated" it and when VHS and DVD and now streaming appeared, people became "over sexed" and now sex in a movie is a joke. Mainly because, I at least, find myself confused as to whether I should be aroused or offended. Monster's Ball was the last movie I EVER want to see with sex (I was offended by it).

Sensuality on the other hand is what people really want. A flirting woman is much sexier than a naked one. A kiss on the neck sexier than a kiss on the nipple.

The gentle smile afterward is much better than the grunts during.

I mean, I hear people say you can expose personality, but I don't agree. What can you find out about a person from a sex scene that you can't find out during clothed foreplay?

As afar as asexual characters, they're everywhere. Both Wahlberg and Sheen in The Departed. That's if I'm getting what you mean. I assume you mean no lines about sex or intimacy.

Everyone in Snatch. Most characters is Ocean's Thirteen. I'll think about it as I know there are more.

Seeing_I said...

The sex scene between Cher and Nicholas Cage in "Moonstruck" comes to mind as essential. And funny!

Asexual characters...the Joker seems that way. Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors doesn't display much sexuality, indeed, his attraction to Audrey seems purely romantic and in stark contrast to her relationship with the Dentist. Then again, you could argue that his sexuality is sublimated into his onanistic relationship with the plant.

deepstructure said...

i would recommend against using basic instinct 2 as an example of why sex in cinema doesn't work. that movie was obviously garbage from the opening 10 minutes.

terraling - why couldn't you mention your #2 answer in your post?

christian - what an ironic name for that kind of response. "Sex in cinema is the worst idea ever." man, that's...amazing.

sex is not going away from cinema. it may have lost some of it's prominence for various reasons (the ascendancy of the younger audiences/pg-13 rating/blockbuster phenomenon probably playing a major role). the availability of porn online is NOT one of them - there's a huge difference between porn, which especially today is more amateur and isolated sex act-based than ever, and cinematic sex.

i am however fascinated to learn of stories where the sex was critical to the plot. there are stories that weren't hurt by it (no way out, against all odds, any stories about illicit love affairs), but i can't think of any where a sex scene is critical - but then again, couldn't that be said of any type of scene? anything can be referenced without showing it - the question is, should it? and that question should be grounded in whether or not the story is enhanced by it, not by any notions of morality.

as for #3 - clyde in bonnie and clyde.

Matt said...

I think you mean "free fall." A windfall means they're making more money than usual.

Nestori said...

Finally, one of my favourite subjects.

Here's some movies that has sex as integral part of their structure and content (some kind of sexual activity or fantasy) - I leave out the too obvious sexual provocation movies like those of Larry Clark's or Catherine Breillat's, while I still include something like Irreversible which I like a lot more.

Sex and transformation/fantasy: Lynch's Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. (and Inland Empire -> paranoid sex.)

Sex as violence: A History of Violence, Trouble Every Day, Blue Velvet. And some important rape scenes: Irreversible, Dogville, Blue Velvet (again), From the Life of the Marionettes, Straw Dogs.

Sorrow and sexual frustration leads to mastrubation in Mulholland Dr. (again), and to a dream/memory(?) of a fellatio in Vincent Gallo's underrated Brown Bunny.

Sex and mysticism: Tarkovsky's Offret and Reygadas' Japon. Certainly an important part of the story.

One of the best sex scenes in movies - in my opinion - is in Bergman's Persona. It's only descriped by a woman to another woman without any illustration/flashbacks. Very intense. (Slavoj Žižek talks about that scene in the hilariously titled documentary Pervert's Guide to Cinema, which I recommend.)
Another similar scene is the one with Kidman and Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. That movie is all about sex anyway - almost every scene of it. And of course Cronenberg's Crash which walks the line between pornography and study of human behaviour/critique of society. (And I also have to mention the liberating orgy in von Trier's The Idiots.)

Those are all the artsy stuff. (Maybe one should admit, in some dark moment, that explicit nudity and sex is also one of the appeals of the so called art house cinema). Still most of the movies these days seem to include sex only to provoke arousal in the viewer, and to offer the hero a short break between battles in the story.

And lastly, we shouldn't forget those clever innuendos in the golden oldies, such as the train to the tunnel in the great North by Northwest, and the sly remark of Bogart to the book store lady in The Big Sleep: "I'm a private dick on a case" etc., cut to couple hours later. But I'm not so sure about the necessity of those scenes to the story, althought they are great fun and I wouldn't dream of leaving them out.

P.S. Come to think of it, I've seem make a list of my favourite movies here.

GabbaGoo said...

Maude Lebowski: Do you like sex, Mr. Lebowski?
The Dude: 'Scuse me?
Maude Lebowski: Sex. The physical act of love. Coitus. Do you like it?
The Dude: I was talking about my rug.
Maude Lebowski: You're not interested in sex?
The Dude: You mean coitus?

I thought that quote is suitable for the subject far as the physical act of love in movies, I don't think it's ever really necessary...more or less you get the picture if they are in bed and wake up next to each other in the morning...

Like in Before the Devil Knows your Dead...we see Seymour Hoffman just giving it to Marissa Tomei...I mean, I love to see Tomei naked just not Seymour Hoffman on top...

So, I just don't find Sex being vitale to any story...without the obvious of them being in "Love"...speaking of sex in god have you ever read the Tonight, He Comes...jesus. It's not that theres lots of it going on, but the way he uses his choice of words.

Sexy does sell though...just look at Megan Fox in Transformers...that was one of the reasons I went.

Anyways, I really don't know what I'm talking about here...i'm just rambling.

Nestori said...

Just came to mind that Gelsomina in La Strada is kind of asexual, and she still seems very human and alive. Maybe some religious characters like Joan of Arc are a bit similar.

And to answer the first question I think van Rijsbergen has got a point, especially the last sentence "Time has come to return sexuality to what it has always been: elusive, exciting, intense, playful, authentic, dynamic and sublime." Sex and eroticism in movies should have more foreplay and understanding of human relations.

Anonymous said...

deepstructure: it was my own script where the sex scenes are an essential part of the structure of the story.

I keep thinking of asexual characters - Forest Gump, many of the principals of Lord of the Rings - but essential sex scenes continue to escape me. I can recall a few that I've really enjoyed, but that's not the question.

David Alan said...

Sex no longer sells?

I disagree...but I also agree. Bear with me here...

Unlike in the real world, sex has to have a purpose and meaning. Said energy also has to build up over the course of the movie to the point where we are hoping the characters get together. If not, the sex has no meaning.

Monster’s Ball was mentioned. I found it comical. Seriously, it’s hard to buy Halle’s rapid transformation from crying to popping her tit out that gives Billy Bob that "well, if you force me to" look. If that wasn’t absurd enough, I am then watching Billy Bob knocking the bottom out of poor Halle through a fucking bird cage, which in turn made me think about Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. So I completely checked out. Maybe it’s just me? I don’t know.

Now, what’s a good example? Black Snake Moan. Yeah, it’s a morality tale that tackled sex abuse and its subsequent affects...but, the sex was apart of the plot. It just wasn’t there to be there. So the sex had meaning, but why didn’t the sex sell? This is where I agree and disagree...

I don’t believe sexuality, teasing and nudity have ever alone sold. True, the sexuality and teasing may stimulate you more than seeing two people fuck. Yet, it alone will not draw people to see a movie. While Jessica Alba’s Latin ass is awesome, it wasn’t getting my ass to the theater to see Into the Blue or Good Luck Chuck. No chance in hell. A movie must still have a story a wide audience wants to see. And what movies have successfully mixed sex and story? I’d argue that Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds did.

So, is the internet killing sex in movies? No. Bad movies, mindless sex...and moron producers that think sex alone will sell their shitty movies are. Make the sex matter and surround it with a good story and it’ll sell.

-- David Alan

James said...

It's a mark of the times.

It is not that the want for sexual content is gone. It is that we can get it in other places than the movie theater.

The internet, DVD, (in the 80s) VHS, have all revolutionized the content of movies simply by relocating where we can get certain "types" of entertainment. Prior to this, "sexual images" were either magazines or movie theaters.

This also times out in conjunction with the late 70s of Spielberg and Lucas who were breaking through with high blockbuster entertainment that only had a hint of romance and sexuality (if at all). Nothing really graphic.

It is really about who your audience is --

The people starved for naughty raunchy sex scenes can easily fulfill their needs at home in this day and age.

But for big over the top 300 million dollar action/adventure entertainment -- well, that's still the movies.

James Patrick Joyce said...

“I suspect sexy sells more nowadays than sex.”

Hasn’t it, always?

If sex was what sold in Hollywood, Wild Orchid and its sequel would have achieved POTC box office records.

Tease sells. The porn industry is vast, but no single porn title even approaches the sales figures of an average Hollywood movie. Hard-core porn is interchangeable, tease is character and actor specific.

The sex scene between Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, in Bound, was FAR sexier than any lesbian porn I’ve ever seen. And I work in a porn store.

It’s not original to me, but I’d have to offer The Secretary.

The first scene doesn’t involve coitus, but Spader masturbates (I recall) while spanking Gyllenhaal. The act, Spader’s uncertainty as to how she’ll react, and her acceptance... a crucial scene that required the act, for effect.

The final sex scene is also crucial, in that the differences demonstrate how the characters have changed.


Metatron, Serendipity, Bartleby, Loki, Azrael, and God, in Dogma.

Though an argument could be made that Jay’s over-the-top heterosexuality balanced that out.

Scott said...

#3: Hans Gruber in the first DIE HARD is the first to come to mind.

Something that I have been thinking about lately, and which is worth exploring, is that I know someone who has been sexually assaulted. And whenever I watch a film where that happens, or something similar to that happens (like the staircase scene in HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) it deeply affects me and I cant watch it anymore. It destroys the movie for me.

I honestly believe that in some of the movies I have seen where there is a rape scene, there is no need for it and it has been done purely for shock value. It is ugly, brutal and pointless to the story.

Is it just me though?

Laura Deerfield said...

Most of the time, the tension built through flirtation, teasing, and interrupted or blocked sexual energy is more exciting than the act itself...(exactly as with suspense about other plot points)...

When it's important to the story that two characters have had sex, most of the time, the act itself can be off-screen and implied as effectively as being shown. (The kiss/cut/waking up together)

But sometimes the details of how the sex plays out are important.

Films where the sex scene is essential to the story -

the one that came immediately to mind was Body Heat. If that scene had been off camera, then there would not have been nearly as much tension regarding later plot points

In last Tango in Paris, the sex is essential to character - because it's not just the sex, but the tone of it, the way they interact during it, which matters.

Cat People - might have worked if the sex were implied, (it does in the original) but I think that it's well-placed and justified. I'd say the same for The Hunger

Raise the Red Lantern and Woman in the Dunes - sex is a core part of the story

Roeg does a good job of using sex in a meaningful way in The Man who Fell to Earth and in Don't Look Now. And sex is essential to the story in most Greenaway films.

Short Bus is a great example of sex in a movie - and a fascinating experiment that (IMO) works as intended. (The actors, whose characters were mosty developed out of improvisation during rehersals, really have sex... with the result that the sex scenes feel more organic to the characters.)

Lust, Caution - sex scene that is very telling about the characters, and contains turns that are important to the plot.

purpletrex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
purpletrex said...

It used to be that either you bought a "dirty magazine," went to an adult theater, or actually had sex.

Now sex is pushed at us at every possible opportunity, in every form of media. I read that the Japanese are suffering from "porn burnout" as they are a severely oversexed culture.

Also, thanks to cell phone/PDAs/Iphones, Sex and Porn is available ANYWHERE at ANYTIME.

So pretty much even the "hardest" R rated movies pale in comparison to what is available on the internet.

The best Asexual movie of all time was "It's Pat." :)

Matt said...

1. Sexy over Sex. That's exactly it. Jessica Alba had a period where she was hot and in the public eye - mostly for playing a series of sexy characters, who invariably wound up in their underwear, even though she herself vowed to never get nude. The flip side is Angleina Jolie's continued popularity - I can find about 300 pictures of her, naked as the day she was born online in about five minutes (and perhaps I will, when I finish this post), but people still go see her in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Wanted, etc. I may have my timeline off here, but Marilyn was still working after posing for Playboy, yes? Because she's sexy. You know, people looking at naked people to get their rocks off wasn't invented with the Internet, it just made access easier. But movie stars have been movie stars because they're EXUDE sex, even with all of their clothes on.

2. I can think of a few. The heretofor mentioned HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, BOOGIE NIGHTS (which might be too obvious), MULHOLLAND DRIVE. FIGHT CLUB. A few scenes in WALK HARD (an underrated gem, that). The DEVIL'S ADVOCATE scene with Keanu and Charlize/Connie Nielsen is important to that film's plot, too. UNFAITHFUL, for what that's worth. But Jeez - when was the last time I saw a film, in the theatre, with a sex scene? Can't recall, but it's probably something I saw with a family member and wanted to vomit after.

This is a tough question, because my gut instinct for this question was AMERICAN BEAUTY - seeing Annette Benning going hog wild with Peter Gallagher was important to the movie - although I found it integral to the plot, theoretically, the narrative could've done without it (and it's not really a scene, but a shot). Ditto OUT OF SIGHT, which isn't a sex scene, but is everything but, and again is vitally important to the film.

Writing this down, I think in films, what works is more about the leading up to, or the immediately afterward - never the act itself. There's some food for though, but I'm sure you're already on top of that.

3. First off, I disagree with terraling - the Joker's not asexual, he's PANsexual - as was, for that matter, Jack Sparrow.

Asexual characters in film? Meaning, completely genderless, or without an interest in sex at all? There are a few that come to mind in the latter, but not many in the former. And I'm drawing a blank on both.

These are really interesting questions; I think if I think about this some more, I'll have some better answers.

GimmeABreak said...

Other than Debbie Does Dallas, Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat, I can't think of a single movie where the explicit sex scenes were necessary. Recent example - in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, the opening scene is Philip Seymour Hoffman banging Marisa Tomei in "glorious" detail (mirrors included). Absolutely not critical to the story, was unappealing visually, not erotic or romantic and totally gratuitous.

Mim said...

For number one, everybody else has pretty much already said it. Sex still sells, but it has as much to do with character as the sex itself. People with natural sex appeal don't just show up on street corners. They happen once in a generation.

As with any action, does the sex move the story forward? Does it reveal something about the characters? All the examples given so far do this.

I once read that a sex scene should only be in a movie if there was some conflict to it. The sex scene on the stairs in History of Violence is an excellent example of this, but sex can illuminate character as well.

My pick is the sex scene in the first Terminator. If you haven't seen for yourself how much passion was between them in that stark, raw moment, then her understated, yet intense, "We only had one night, but we loved a lifetime" at the end doesn't mean as much.

Asexual characters? Peewee Herman is such an interesting pick. Is he really asexual? What about Dotty? She was obviously interested in him, but all he seemed to want was help and favors. Was he truly disinterested, or was he sublimating his attraction because it made him uncomfortable, much the way young boys on the verge of puberty do?

The Joker? How can you say that after seeing the way he was sniffing up Rachel Dawes at the party?

Jack Sparrow? Remember that lovely scene where he introduces the women one by one and they all slap him so hard his head spins?

I think you'd have to look long and hard to find a truly asexual character.

Willy Wonka? Who knows? He seemed very interested in "adopting" Charlie. This indicates that he was longing for a family. He probably repressed his sexuality around the children out of a feeling of propriety, but his interaction with the mothers is telling. I think he definitely saw them as women, but not as his ideal of WOMAN.

Anonymous said...

1. Sensuality is much better.
2. Monster or Boys Don't Cry
3. Edward Scissorhands

Christina said...

Important asexual character? Try Benji or any other star of a talking dog movie who has had his balls cut off.

Emily Blake said...

Yeah, I definitely think a sex scene is only as good as its characters. Same goes for a fight scene. In fact I usually approach a sex scene the same way I approach a fight scene.

And Christian, many people don't always need sensuality. I quite enjoy the grunts during. Not all sex is soft and loving. Sometimes you gotta get slammed up against the wall.

Anonymous said...

1. I agree that it's the tease that sells, not the sex itself.

2. I can't think of a film in which depicting the actual sex scene was vital. Maybe the scene in which Jody Foster was raped in The Accused. I'd argue, however that it wasn't actually a sex scene. In fact, I'd argue that no rape scene is in fact a sex scene.

There are many films in which the characters HAVING sex is pivotal. But the depiction is unimportant compared to the audience's knowledge that it happened, and to the ramifications of the act.

3. I completely disagree with the notion that the Joker is an asexual character. One of the best moments in the film is when he first sees Rachel. He reacts like he's been shocked, and then he smooths his hair and licks his lips and says, "Hello beautiful." It was most definitely a sexual response.

bob said...

sex scenes that are crucial to the story:

Fatal Attraction- the transition in character comes through the release (so to speak) of forbidden desire in the sex scene. The animalistic pawing and wildly thrashing about was important to see that transformation of Glenn Close to the psycho she ended up being

Kite Runner- The one boy witnessing the rape of his friend and doing nothing to stop it was crucial. Yes, it can be argued that it wasn't a sex scene, but a rape scene.

American Beauty- Although they ultimately didn't have sex, Lester getting to the Brink of having sex with his teenage daughters friend, and then regaining his senses and his dignity was critical to the story. It was the sensuality of seeing this forbidden fruit and how beautiful she was and that he was able to resist that and do the right thing.

Crying Game- I can't remember if it was crucial per se, but the scene with Forrest Whittaker and Jaye Davidson where he discovers she's a he is certainly a major turning point.

Asexual characters:

Spiccoli from Fast times at Ridgemont High - it was all about the surfin and the bud, dude.

I guess you could argue that many characters in stoner movies are also asexual because they are more interested in getting high and that supercedes their sexuality. They are about seeking pleasure through drugs to motivate their character. Sexual characters seek pleasure through sex to motivate their characters.

Pee Wee Herman- to me was Asexual, but he was almost child like, so I don't know if you could classify him as an adult character..

Christian M. Howell said...

Deep Structure,
That's what I think. I mean, what does the woman on top mean versus sex in a staircase? That the woman is strong? That the couple is daring?
Perhaps it's the explicit scenes that don't appeal to me.

Sure I'm the first one to want to slam someone against the wall, but I don't want to see it on a 50ft. screen.

To all who think a sex scene can be necessary for ANYTHING other than exploitation, what do you look for in a "good" sex scene?

Also, is it really comfortable to become aroused in the theater (or for that matter in the living room)?

Is the idea to become aroused just so you can have blue balls?

Is it to judge if an actor can look excited in a fake sex act?

I'll take flirting and foreplay any day over a full blown sex scene.

Another question is how many people have had sex with their clothes on (not all of them of course)?

Was it more passionate? Did it feel

Ben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trevor said...

I don't think a sex scene is ever integral to the story. Sex itself is, but it can either be shown or not, that's up to the writer. Just like violence can either be shown or not, what matters is the effect the act has upon the characters. For example, the absence of kill scenes in No Country for Old Men.

However, I'm not saying in any way that sex scenes shouldn't be written. This is a visual medium after all. But it's up to the writer. A screnplay can be written in infinite ways, so nothing is absolute.

Joshua James said...


How could I forget?

The first time Dirk has sex on camera, very integral to the story.

It's what it's all aboot, really.

rdas7 said...

For 3, pick any Pixar movie: from Toy Story to WALL•E, all the protagonists are asexual.

Emily Blake said...

Christian, just like a fight scene, the kind of sex a couple has tells a whole lot about their relationship. Imagine the sex scene in Titanic if he had plowed her from behind while she screamed his name? Not the same effect at all.

Now imagine if during the sex scene in Shoot 'Em Up Clive Owen had been gently whispering romantic nothings in that chick's ear while slowly making love to her when the bad guys burst in? Not the same effect there either.

Anonymous said...

A movie were the sex scene was necessary and integral to the plot:

Nearest To Heaven

Catherine Deneuve and William Hurt

They were both fully clothed...a little hand under her skirt during a bar scene...but the topper is Hurt's dialogue during the act. He's basically telling her to shed her fears and do what feels right...while at the same time he's showing that he doesn't have the same fears by slipping her the hand in a public place and doing what feels right to's the act that finally makes her open to the possibility that she's falling for him.

The Anonymous Production Assistant said...

2) I'm pretty sure the sex scene in Knocked Up was necessary. :)

By the way, you've been awarded a Brilliante Weblog Premio by... me. Enjoy, and pass it on!

hwee said...

One film which I felt the sex scenes were crucial to the story was Ang Lee's 'Lust Caution'.

Mim said...

Whew. I've really enjoyed this. Can I offer you a cigarette, Mystery Man?

Christian M. Howell said...

Emily, we'll never agree on this. In Titanic, the THOUGHT of sex would have been because she was unhappy in her relationship.

I actually couldn't watch that far into Shoot Em Up. But those are the worse sex scenes. Ones that happen in the midst of a life or death struggle with armed gunmen are pure fluff.

But if you could answer the questions I posed, maybe I could understand your point.

Emily Blake said...

Christian, the answer to all of your questions is your comfort level. Sex on screen clearly makes you uncomfortable. The purpose of a good sex scene is the same as the purpose of a good fight scene. To move the story forward while offering something exciting to watch.

And if you couldn't get into Shoot 'Em Up, you really would hate everything I ever write.

It's simply a taste issue. You don't like sex in your movies. Lots of people do.

I can't stand sappy stories about somebody's autistic grandma learning to love, but lots of people do.

Mystery Man said...

I love it! I just LOVE IT!

On asexuals - I guest it'd be safe to say that while there have been times that asexuals were prominent in films, there hasn't been a case yet where a character's asexuality was an issue, as in a romantic conflict - am I wrong?

When I first started research on this article, I wanted that question answered - "what's the point?" It was definitely answered in spades, and I have many examples. Knocked Up is a good. I hadn't thought of that. Woodsman with Kevin Bacon comes to my mind. Here was a pedophile experiencing "normal" sex for the first time, so you can see a slight transformation of his character in the sex, which was with Kyra Sedgwick. Ya know, I'll bet sex with Kyra would cure any man! Hehehe...

Thank you, EVERYONE! I love these lists! If I use something here, I WILL give you a shout-out in the article. It's a two-part series. (It'll be difficult to trim the material to only two parts.) A book could easily be written, although Pennington's "History of Sex in American Film" is the best I've read so far. Part One will be in the magazine and Part Two will be on (what will be) their newly redesigned website. I'll offer my personal thanks to everyone at the end.


Unk said...


And I think both Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter are asexual.


David Alan said...

Shit, I finally have a cool one...


And channeling my inner Ovaltine...

More Natasha Henstridge, please!

-- David Alan

GabbaGoo said...

I just watched "The Wackness" and it seemed to have that vital need of the kid finally have sex...

Christian M. Howell said...

Christian, the answer to all of your questions is your comfort level. Sex on screen clearly makes you uncomfortable.

No, it makes my D*&K hard. I hate that. It takes me out of the movie. The more explicit, the more aroused I can become, the less I care about the plot or characters.

Whip out more tits at that point is all that matters. It may as well be porn.

Excuse my bluntness. I've had sex outdoors, in public staircases. Once almost in a club. I'm very comfortable about sexuality. I just don't think it has a place in cinema - at least serious cinema.

Comedy is the only place it really works as comedies don't really have a great narrative, just jokes and set pieces.

Laura Deerfield said...

Christian, I am sometimes aroused by explicit scenes in films, but when they are integral to the story, I don't find my arousal distracts me from the story.

I think the films I mentioned in my example would not have been as good, or would have failed completely, if the sex scenes were not shown. (Especially Lust, Caution - I really can't think of another way to show what was communicated there)

Spanish Prisoner said...

This is cinematic sex.

This is why Ghost made 500 Mio Dollars. Ok, part of that scene goes to Unchained Melody, which is the best.

One more:

This works again because of the music and cinematography. The love scene was reshot.

Now, you can do all of this, shoot frame by frame the same way. It won't work. Because sex in movies is about creating the context of the character's goal.

Would Ghost be as powerful as a movie if that scene was missed? Would the end of TopGun worked without that scene?

At the end of Basic Instinct there's even suspense in the sex scene. Will she stab him or not?

Hitchcock used sex a lot. That close up in Rear Window with Grace Kelly entering the scene for the first time kissing James Stewart and asking questions like: "how's your love life".

Asking if sex is still needed in cinema is like asking if violence is still needed in cinema. Or briefcases or men in black suites. It's all about what suites the purpose of the characters and the movie. If it is just exploitative than we can dismiss it as amateurish unless it has in itself a point.

Cody said...

1. I do think sex has an important effect in films like Body Heat, Fatal Attraction, Bull Durham, White Palace, Unfaithful, Henry and June, Dangerous Liasons, and even 9 & 1/2 Weeks. In many other films it's just a rubbish tack on, but sexual relationships are central to the above films because the hero often acts without control, consumed by passion. Perhaps this story form is derived from Lady Chatterley's Lover.
Also making significant use of sex are Russ Meyer films, where sex causes chaos, drama, violence, and much laughter.

2. Hard to recall asexual beings in films, but I reckon Johnny Depp is asexual by definition. He's an object of beauty rather than of sexual power. Weird, but Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands are two examples that have been mentioned, and even his Ed Wood comes across as interested in nothing but touching cashmere sweaters. Even his cross dressing is strangely asexual.
Keanu Reeves is sort of asexual in a similar way, like a pretty stone statue.

Christian M. Howell said...

Christian, I am sometimes aroused by explicit scenes in films, but when they are integral to the story, I don't find my arousal distracts me from the story.

Sorry, you'll never convince me. I have never seen a movie that has a sex scene that does anything to forward the story or raise the stakes.

I actually shy away from movies that are said to be "explicit" as I don't want to see sex on screen.

Now don't think as a screenwriter I haven't added sexuality and sensuality to movies, but that isn't explicit sex.

SOmeone made an example of American Beauty. Answer me this, did you get more of her frustration as she hollared "Oh yes your majesty fuck me" or "I really needed that?" and the singing of the song in the car?

That scene could have worked with the camera outside the room panning up from the car, with the headboard noise in the background intermingled with light moans every few seconds.

Then a transition could be made from her "singing" to her "singing."

Mark said...

Although slightly off the path of discussion here, there is the interesting element of 'sex sells'. 'Basic Instinct' came out in 1992 after a fairly repressive Reagan presidency of the 1980's(all that talk of decency - even Jimmy Stewart talked out against the sex and violence in film).

Since 'Basic Instinct' came out, cable television and the internet have opened up to much more nudity and sexuality (and easy hardcore porn access on the internet). That sexual tension we got from 'Basic Instinct' is much less potent now as we have so many avenues for titillation.

Which then brings me back to your point. Is the sex scene nescessary in the film? Is it for exploitation (which is much harder now given what is available outside of the cinema) or is it an essential element of the film (to be viewed). Can sex sell a film in this time of desensitivity?

Anonymous said...

I've been offline for a few days - yoicks! it's like not having electricity - but still had some final thoughts to post even though this is pretty much dead.

As for the original assertion about ready access to porn killing off the rationale for explicit nudity and sex in movies, I'm not so sure. Bad porn might even make us appreciate sex in good movies even more.

If there is a 'satisfaction' hierarchy for visual arousal tools, porn videos have to come pretty much bottom of the heap: just tits, cocks, orifices and rubbing. No role for the imagination (other than imagining it's your cock), ergo a pretty empty experience.

Good old fashioned print-porn offers a better experience, because all it does is provide a jumping off point for the imagination.

But some people's imaginations are better than other's, which is one of the reasons we go and see movies. A well done explicit scene that has been arrived at as part of a good flirtatious story might provide the ulimate in arousal - especially if the illicit nature of watching it in a public venue and being unable to do anything about it (never mind the guy in the row behind in the rain mac) adds to the frisson.

Assuming people have any appetite for on-screen sex at all (and clearly lots do), the difference between video porn and [well done] sex within movies is probably a bit like the difference between sex with a hooker and sex with your loved one (I imagine).

It's all about character and our depth of engagement with the people on the screen...

GameArs said...

1). Sex may not sell a movie ticket, but it is such an important part of what it means to be a human that it will always have a place in human stories. Each writer/filmmaker will choose to use it in their own way, it can be gratuitous or poetic, just like in real life.

2). "Coming Home". Jon Voight and Jane Fonda. Absoloutely crucial moment.

3). What about Bishop from the Alien stories, so wonderfully portrayed by Lance Henrickson. Sure, he was an artificial unit but perhaps, for that very reason, he is representative of the ultimate in asexual human beings?

Daniel Larsson said...

I would say that Spielberg and Lucas both are great fans of asexual characters. Take Darth Vader, the Emperor, Luke Skywaker (to a point) Chewie etc etc

Jeffrumm said...

1) Sexy seems to sell more then sex. I think the best example is the way hollywood builds up these "Celebrity Relationships" to sell the movies like Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The hook for the audience is finding out if Pitt and Jolie have reall on-screen chemistry, and the studios have an easier time selling the products (celebrities) then the story.

2) I can think of just a few recent movies where sex was crucial to the store, but they are indies and European. Perhaps sex sells more to the indie crowd then the mainstream.
Etu Mama tamdian, Brokeback Mountain, Marie Antoinette (interesting because it was the lack of sex in the sex scene that made it crucial) Sex and Lucia, and Secretary (as mentioned above)

3) Michael Pitt's character in Funny Games

Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood

Seems Wes Anderson creates many characters who are at least indifferent to sexuality if not asexual. His films are especially interesting, because sex is often overt or overtly missing.

Mystery Man said...

Great comments, I love it! I can't address them all, but I've read every single one.

I finished the article - a 2-part series, almost 6,000 words. It's never been done before. I think it'll be popular. Will give more details in a few.

I have a section at the end of part two where I thank everyone who left comments on this article, but the names only went up to Aug 12 or 13 or so. If you're not mentioned, please don't think I've forgotten you or didn't appreciate your thoughts, because I truly do appreciate them.


Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

i prefer sensuality over sex in movies.

Lucas Clark said...

Christian M. Howell, sounds like you have some deep sex issues to work out.

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