Thursday, December 10, 2009

SEX IN MOVIES

Ringo Starr reading.

Is it me or has sex largely disappeared from multiplex theater movies? When I think back to the seventies and eighties, there was a lot of sex going on on the screen. At some point, did we get bored with it? Did Hollywood decide it wasn't worth risking an X rating. Have we seen it all by now? Are there only so many ways to peel a potato? Sometimes I think there is more sex on cable networks than at the movies. Are the actresses so thin they're afraid for us to see their ribs. Or, are romantic films basically consigned to women of a certain age reluctant to expose themselves (Sandra Bullock, Sarah Jessica Parker, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Rene Zellweger, Julianne Moore)
What was the last mainstream movie you saw with much sexual content? I'm not looking for porn here--just the evocation of a normal act or at least a hint of it.

38 comments:

Corey Wilde said...

Good grief, the first 45 minutes of The Reader was all sex. I got it after a couple of minutes, okay the boy is having an affair with an older woman, but apparently it took a lot longer for it to sink in with the filmmakers. Or else they were just having so much fun they forgot to stop.

Sex has mostly been replaced by special effects in the movies. And I think American society as a whole is, in some ways, a lot more priggish than it used to be. Guns, monsters, sadism, all okay. Sex? NONONO! Someone's delicate child's psyche might get knocked out of kilter. Except on tv sitcoms, which are now all about smirking sexual innuendo. We lack balance... esp me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, yes, THE READER. Good exception.

Bryon said...

I think the Judd Apatow movies are some of the best examples of real depictions of sex in movies with all of the warts and all. Forgetting Sarah Marshal has a couple of great ones and so does Superbad.

pattinase (abbott) said...

But are those scenes mostly for comic effect rather truly romantic or truly sexy. I've seen all his movies, just can't remember.

R. T. said...

Patti, you may be right about sex in movies. I rarely go to movies anymore (i.e., I've probably seen fewer than half a dozen movies in as many years), but I used to be quite a moviegoer. What always struck me as odd about portrayals of sex in movies was the silly superficiality of it all (unless so-called "adult" movies are included in the analysis); portrayals in mainstream films--even when presented as "art"--were artificial, incomplete, and silly. Many human experiences may translate well to the screen, but portrayals of sexual encounters (for lack of a better phrase) simply do not measure up to the real thing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think you hit on the problem, R.T.. It is very hard to capture sex without it looking silly, repetitive, pornographic, awkward, dull. And sometimes scary.

Todd Mason said...

It depends on the film...when one has Kate Winslet willing to do a sex scene, one is likely to go forth with that. There was a great desire to get more films past MPAA with a PG-13 rather than R rating (so as to facilitate the attendance and re-attendance of teen boys), and the easiest way to to do that was to soft-pedal the nudity and quasi-sexual depictions (despite the rather blatant nudity in one of the first PG-13s, SIXTEEN CANDLES...which presumably would've been a PG film without it). WEDDING CRASHERS was not the turning point by itself (nor even the first, but perhaps the flagship of its cluster), but it, even more than THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN or OLD SCHOOL, helped show that the raunchy comedy could still be a very potent commercial property, so more jokey pseudo-sex scenes. I dunno, I don't find the Apatow sex scenes all that realistic, since most of them are rather sad (and they do seem to tend to be harder on the women)...but the sex in LITTLE CHILDREN and FEAST OF LOVE still seems pretty sad, usually literally and too often figuratively. Some films, such as SHORTBUS and LIE WITH ME, are pretty explicit and have some sequences that look like everyday sex (though SHORTBUS particularly also is largely devoted to sexual exploration and metaphorical orgies), but they don't play too many mulitplexes, no...both would probably have NC-17s if they were submitted to the MPAA.

Chad said...

I can't think of a recent movie I've seen that had any amount of sex in, that wasn't for some sort of comedic effect like you mentioned.

It does seems like there used to be a lot more sex and nudity. Recently, my wife and I were rewatching a bunch of films for the 80s and early 90s we liked and hadn't seen in a while. We were struck by how much more often you used to see bare breasts and sex scenes.

I think it comes down to a couple things. There seems to be a growth of fundamentalism with a "sex is bad, m'kay", the MPAA has gotten a lot stricter (watch the documentary This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated), and with more of the studios and distributors being owned by only a couple of corporations, things become a lot more profit driven and an R or an NC-17 rating is considered too risky to the bottom line.

I've personally always thought it sad that its more acceptable to see a breast chopped off with an axe than to see it lovingly caressed by a hand.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, let me add sad to the list.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, you almost never see breasts anymore. Butts seem to be on display more than anything else.

Desmond Soames said...

I haven't seen them, but I wonder if the kind of romance in the Twilight books and films is replacing sex? Also, if we look back o the decades before the 1970s, there wasn't much if any. Partly because of restrictions and partly because audiences would shy away from such films as unseemly. Maybe we've come full circle?

Todd Mason said...

Well, thank goodness for the French (and the Canadians).

wv: exing

Todd Mason said...

Desmond--nah. Teen girls have always had a lot to worry about with sex, even in the supposedly permissive (and too often pressuring) times. TWILIGHT appeals to anyone who has a problem with sex, clearly, and there are always a lot of those.

People tended to flock to anything that could get around US censorship up through the '60s, though not all people, it's true.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Lord, The Reader is so heavy handed with everything. It hammers home it's points like it's made for fourteen year olds.

The Antichrist wasn't prudish, was it? Good film, too.

Todd Mason said...

Paul--most "message" films are made for 14yos of all ages. CRASH was made for Really Stupid 14yos.

John McFetridge said...

I think Bryon makes a good point (I know, I'm shocked, too). Judd Apatow uses the sex scenes for comic effect, yes, but also to dig a little deeper into character - exactly what a good sex scene should do. If you'll pardon the pun, a sex scene can be the best way to reveal character.

What's gone is the use of a sex scene for dramatic effect. It's like story stops when the sex starts because the acts in themselves aren't used for anything.

Todd Mason said...

But in the Apatow films, as in the John Hughes films they remind me of, the deck is stacked rather blatantly. Attempting to dig deeper into shallowly-drawn characters. They're not all bad, just good/bad enough to make me wish they were better.

(I note that when Spielberg attempts and fails to be adult, he goes for bared breasts, as in MUNICH.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I like that idea, John. Are we more willing to explore character through sex if the people are young? I have a youngish friend who walked out of a recent movie with a lot of sex (foreign)because she found it embarrassing to watch people of a certain age have sex. Does sex have to be about toned, young bodies in North American cinema?

John McFetridge said...

I think, Patti, the medium of movies just isn't for people of a certain age. the whole industry is geared towards the young.

One of these days someone will set a really good cable TV show in a retiremnt home and it'll be full of sex...

Wait a minute, I like that idea, I may run with it.

Todd Mason said...

Well, getting the message that I'm adding too much to this discussion (or is that subtracting?), I'll drop out with the thought that your young friend, Patti, has some wising up to do.

Rather reminiscent of the IMDb commenter on ORDO, based on a Westlake novel, who noted that "if you want to see a 30 year old woman swimming naked, I guess this is a film for you." Horrors, no.

Corey Wilde said...

Todd: I never heard of ORDO - which Westlake book was it based on? Thanks.

George said...

Because porn is so available, Hollywood movies look lame whenever they try to deal with sex. Perhaps that's why sex is used mostly for comic effect (like the Apatow films) or merely suggested as in most current romantic comedies.

Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, good question. I never really thought of it, but I can see your point. I get more sex on Nip/Tuck than in most movies I've ever seen in the past, including some porn

Todd Mason said...

Tapping back in, I note that I should've written "novella"--"Ordo" was published in the 1977 book ENOUGH, the other half of which is "A Travesty."

George, very little porn sex bears much resemblance to sex (or perhaps I've just been missing all the more authentic-seeming porn). Then again, Charles, NIP/TUCK bears little resemblance to anything but Soap World.

Mike Dennis said...

I believe Julianne Moore was in "Boogie Nights", and was involved in a flagrant sex scene or two.

Charlieopera said...

For Julianne Moore (and I mean all of her), see Short Cuts (based on the Raymond Carver short stories). It is Brilliant. Tom Waits, Jennifer Jason Leigh ... all star cast, really.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I go out to see PRECIOUS and all you guys can talk about is sex, sex, sex!
Julianne Moore was great in both movies and it's time to rewatch them. She looks ravishing in A SINGLE MAN from the trailers.
Only saw porn once. We were in Amsterdam for a semester and the TV in our student digs had a channel that was all sex all the time. Same shot, different couples. I think that's when I finally came to understand men. It wasn't about the romance, the lighting, the costumes.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Notice how many women have weighed in on this topic.

Todd Mason said...

Your women readers have better sense. However, not all men are porn fans, and not all porn fans men, even of the rather, um, stripped down sort. But there are certain trends (but also, as those of us with an, um, feeler into the erotica world gather) including more women coming out in their appreciation of, for example, Schweddy things. ( http://www.hulu.com/watch/4156/saturday-night-live-nprs-delicious-dish-schweddy-balls or see the link on my name below)

I myself find much late '70-'80s US porn hilariously unexciting in part due to the tendency was to make up the women to resemble inflatable sex toys, or perhaps Lucille Ball ca. 1971.

pattinase (abbott) said...

HA!

Todd Mason said...

PRECIUOS, btw, in its trailers (never that good a indicator) seemed like yet another Afterschool Special...I'm hoping it's better than that, but it did seem awfully CRASH-level (Winfrey and Perry producing it did Nothing to reassure me). How'd you like it?

pattinase (abbott) said...

On the whole, I did. It is far too savage to be on afterschool. Great acting. The only thing that took me out of it was the actress who plays her teacher is far too noble and pretty. Monique is amazing as is the actress who plays the lead. And Mariah Carey. Who knew?

Todd Mason said...

The color-coding is putting some people off, too...Paula Patton and Carey as very pale and essentially wise and good, Precious's family and tormentors all being very Dark. Others are trying to defend this by noting that the paler folks often do make it farther. (In Sapphire's novel, the teacher apparently was also very dark-complected and wore dreads, which probably would've been a good thing to carry over.)

And, of cours, Afterschool Specials means any sort of hortatory uplifiting or cautionary drama (they tended to do a tawdry job of dealing with serious issues)...if you liked it, that means it's better than that...

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can see that objection now, but on watching the movie it didn't really occur to me. Patton was just so pretty it took your mind off of the story.

Todd Mason said...

Hey, did Melody Bardot stand out on AN EDUCATION's soundtrack?

http://www.rhapsody.com/melody-gardot

The title track of her first album, WORRISOME HEART, is a good place to start...

Todd Mason said...

She (Patton) certainly caught my eye (and most folks', I'd guess) in the time-travel fantasy DEJA VU.

Travis Erwin said...

I watch very few movies but withing the last few months caught some flick with full frontal male nudity. But damned if I can remember what it was now.

cmkempe said...

Well, as a writer of erotic romance, I can say that there's a huge disconnect between romance and sex in this country. A lot of it has to do with the persistence of the Mary/Eve dichotomy that is fundamental to Christianity's gender role construction, but the commodification of sex has complicated it too, as you suggest Patti. Who wants to see a bag of bones make love? Somebody's eye is going to get poked out. The terror of male nudity on the part of the same film execs who have nothing but contempt for women anyway, seems to have as much to do with their own (tediously detailed in every "daddy's approval" movie they make) insecurities as it does with the perception that "sex" = "naked women" and no more. Advertising gives us sex as a tease: everyone's aroused but no one's getting any. So they buy more.

(LOL -- word verification? "aches")