Tuesday, August 28, 2007

CRITIC'S PRESCRIPTION FOR AILING HOLLYWOOD


Think about this for a second. Off the top of your head, what was the last great sex scene in a major American film that you recall seeing? I heard someone in the back of the room say The Dreamers. But remember, I said American movie. Hmm… thinking… thinking… Could it have been—No, Swimming Pool was French. Uhhh… No. It can’t be Team America: World Police, can it? Can the last great sex scene from an American movie really be a raunchy parody featuring puppets banging away at each other in ever-increasing geometrically challenging positions? I hope not.

Well, Jim Emerson, he of the essential hub of Internet film criticism known as Scanners, has composed an open letter to “Hollywood” detailing a litany of excellent suggestions to combat what has been ailing “the studio risk-management -- er, movie – business” these days. At the top of the list? Skin, and the artful application thereof. Here’s Jim:

“What's wrong with some graphic nudity? Those gory physical effects are really convincing (most of the comic-book CGI stuff noticeably less so), but why do adults in Hollywood movies still behave as if they're on The Dick Van Dyke Show?... Do you know people who pop out of bed after sex sporting underwear? Who's in such a blasted hurry to get dressed?”

And just so you know that Jim isn’t just all about the unleashed libido, he has some thoughts on other avenues of blockbuster business as well:

“Despite whatever the latter Alien, Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels may have grossed, they cost you a lot in consumer confidence and goodwill. It's nice to have trilogies or tetralogies for DVD box sets, because you get to charge for an extra disc or two that nobody's going to watch -- like Jaws 3-D, Alien vs. Predator or Matrix Revolutions. But you know a lot of people feel ripped off by the final installment or two of a series. I know it's an alien concept, but whatever happened to the showbiz tradition of leaving 'em wanting more?”

Read the whole missive, entitled “Letter to Hollywood—Fixing Your Flops,” and see if you don’t agree with good Dr. Emerson’s prescription. And, Hollywood, though this is a complete examination, there really is no need to bend over. In fact, if I’m interpreting Dr. Emerson correctly, these measures should help your posture straighten up immensely.

And after you’ve finished Jim’s piece, can anyone answer the question this all started off with? What was the last great sex scene to come from an American film?

(Thanks to Kim for pointing me to Jim’s letter first!)

************************************************************************

36 comments:

The Wrong Box said...

Forgive me for posting an unrelated comment; I pointed this out at the relevant post but I guess you're not checking those comments anymore.

When talking about foreign films, you curse yourself for not including Roman Polanski's Repulsion in your top ten list. (On Edward Copeland's blog, several people - including Copeland himself - also lament its absence.)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Repulsion in English?

Robert Daniel said...

My guess would be the first love scene between Naomi Watts and Lara Harring in Mulholland Drive.

Patrick said...

I'd go with Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

The Wrong Box: No problem. I do remember seeing your comment, and my attention got diverted elsewhere. As far as I remember, and it's been somewhere along the lines of 8 or so years since I've seen it, Repulsion is in French and English, but is largely dialogue free. IMDb lists the main language of the film as English. And unless this clip is from an atypical, dubbed version, then it seems that Repulsion is indeed in English. I guess I can stop the self-flagellation at any time. Thanks, WB!

Robert: Good call on Mulholland Drive. I'd say that's a contender. Maybe we should be going for a list of ten examples here, and that's a very good one to start with.

Unfortunately, Patrick, I can't agree about Berry and Billy Bob balling like monsters. That scene made me giggle and cringe in alternating measures, but I didn't find it erotic or rooted in believable character behavior. On sheer exposure of skin, there's some thing to be said for it, but I don't know about anything else.

Cerb Chaos said...

I’m often as disappointed by the “journeys of sexual discovery” as I am by the ‘50’s morality tales (there of course being some notable exceptions). That aside, I do have one thing to say to, maybe not Hollywood but to filmmakers in general, more average people bumpin’ uglies please. After the twenty third or so well lit but ultimately soulless sex scenes with matinee idol-types getting their groove on, you yearn for something, anything different.

By the way, does A History of Violence count as American or Canadian? Because that staircase scene was powerful (if not strictly ‘sexy’)

Jonathan Lapper said...

I think Body Heat was the last one before Mullholland Drive. There's been sex and nudity in films between those two but nothing that actually centered on passion. I guess Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction did to a degree but Body Heat showed more and we are talking about nudity.

By the way, why is it that movie's portray the women in all of these as evil/unbalanced/murdering. Is that the only way sex is acceptable on the big screen. If there is some hope that blood will follow does it make it sexier? How disturbing. Why can't we just have scenes anymore of two people in love, making love? What is so wrong with that?

sheila said...

When was The Big Easy made? That's one of my favorite sex scenes ever. It allowed for vulnerability, misunderstanding - with the same hangups they had when they had clothes on. UnbeLIEVably erotic. Hot, I would even say. Hot hot hot.

I will think further - but that's the first one that comes to mind.

sheila said...

And this might reveal more about me than I want it to - but I liked the sex scene in 8 Mile, too - in all its slutty gritty un-safe splendor.

I liked it because - okay, let me try to put it into words. I liked it because she gets this glazed-over look in her eyes as he's f***ing her that is completely realistic - you rarely see such graphic sexual oblivion in regular old blockbuster movies ...

But I also liked it because (and this might be just me projecting, but whatever, this is what I got out of it): even though they're f***ing standing up - in a filthy warehouse - I get the sense that HE (not her - but HE) feels kind of tenderly towards her. Like - maybe he wouldn't have chosen that particular spot for their first time - he kind of likes her, actually, in a shy way - but she's a girl who can't wait - so he goes for it. But there's something about how he holds her face as he kisses her, and pulls back from kissing her to look at her expression - etc. - that feels very much like real love-making to me ... and it's even more interesting because of the glazed-over "f*** me f***me - I don't care WHO you are, just f*** me" look on HER face.

What I am trying to say is that they are having two separate experiences ... which so often happens in real life ... and I don't know, I thought it was effective.

Not as effective as, say, Body Heat ... but brave, in its own way.

CRG said...

Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon in Bound, Diane Lane had some pretty good ones in Unfaithful, also lets not forget Jennifer Connoly's little DP dildo scene in Requeim for a Dream!


Other than that I'm drawing a blank

Jonathan Lapper said...

Sheila,

I forgot about The Big Easy. That had great passion!

As for strictly showing sex there was plenty shown in Kinsey but it wasn't shown for anything more than analytical effect. But just a sidenote: When Laura Linney walks into the bathroom near the end of the film and ask Liam Neeson why there's blood on the floor and he says he uh... you know... did something prickly to his what-not to see if it would produce a pleasurable sensation - I must say, I got a bit queasy. File that one under something I will never try. Ever!

Anonymous said...

The love scene between Leonidas and Gorgo in 300 wasnt half bad. I actually felt some emotion being carried through there.

The Shamus (formerly TLRHB) said...

omjqYes, that was the only thing wrong with Knocked Up. Who believes this guy's gonna get Katherine Heigl in bed and not take her bra off? Of course, there is a great double standard here, in that male nudity is pretty much verboten (not that I'd want to see any more of Seth Rogen than necessary.) Even back in the '70s when every major female actress was taking it off left and right, it was never considered that the men should be just as nude. (Even now, on Duchovny's "Californication" on Showtime, you never see Mulder in the altogether, but every woman on there strips it off.) My favorite example is Jon Voight wearing the tea towel over his private parts in "Coming Home," while Jane Fonda is topless and moaning. I can buy the argument that it's sexist to show the women nude and not the men, but now we've regressed in Hollywood to showing neither. Meaning that a real part of our emotional and physical lives are cut off from the storylines of mainstream moviemaking. And part of the reason we go to a movie is for a little bit of a turn-on, ain't it? (That's a rhetorical question.) This country's political climate can often be judged by the amount of on-screen nudity, I'd say. And we're in a very tight-ass time right now. Let's hope Ang Lee "brings it on" in Lust, Caution.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Of course Shamus is right. The men are never naked. You never saw Brando's best friend in Last Tango but Schneider bared all.

Nicholson and Lange had some sweaty luvvin going on in Postman and there was even that rumor floating around at the time that that wasn't Nicholson's belt hanging down as he mounts her on the table but his one-eyed trouser snake. Maybe. I've never done a freeze frame to check. Any volunteers?

And we did get to see Peter Firth's penis in Equus but I've never found using a sickle to blind horses particularly erotic. I'm more of a human type guy myself and without the blinding. That always turns me off.

The Crying Game showed it too and finally there's Life of Brian and The Departed but neither of those had anything to do with sex. At least Life of Brian's scene was funny. That scene in Departed feels totally unnecessary.

And as you can see from the above filmmakers will show the man naked only when it has nothing whatsoever to do with sex.

Perhaps the thought is that if they show both completely naked it runs the risk of crossing over into pornography? I don't know, I'm just asking.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I just thought of one that I don't know I would qualify as a great sex scene, but it sure fulfills Cerb's request for more average Joe sex-- the fun-lovin' action the waitress and her big bad boyfriend are having in Sideways when Giamatti and Church sneak into their house near the end of the film. I guess a lot depends on whether you think director Payne and co-screenwriter Wilson are making fun of these people and the spectacle of seeing two overweight folks going at each other, or whether they're just enjoying the opportunity to showcase some bodies that don't usually get showcased in this manner. I went with the latter, because the sarcastic schlub at the heart of the movie isn't any more attractive than these two, and if there's room for sympathy for him, then why not for celebration of these rotund fornicators?

And the non-rhetorical answer to your question, Shamus, is (must be) yes, if we're honest. And I agree with your next sentence too. The good news is, apparently Ang Le is not contesting the NC-17 apparently on the way for Lust Caution.

Nice thoughts on 8 Mile, Sheila. I haven't seen it yet, but your vivid description makes me feel as though I have.

bill said...

I'm completely confused...was there a wang in "The Departed"? What scene am I forgetting?

I've read -- okay, I read it on AICN, I'm sorry -- a theory that the reason there is less nudity in American films (when you guys say that, you mean Hollywood specifically, and not independent, right? Because I've noticed no drop off from that end) isn't because we're all a bunch of prudes these days, which I know is the conclusion everyone likes to jump to, but rather because of the internet, specifically sites like Mr. Skin. That sort of thing skeeves out actresses, and understandably so, and makes them less willing to do nudity. That's just a theory I heard, anyway.

Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet and folks like them seem to be getting naked as often as they always have. And what about that new Robert Benton movie coming out, "Feast of Love", the only news of which I've heard revolves around how everyone is naked in it.

Does "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" count as an American movie? The actors weren't, but the director was. Anyway, it's not strictly a sex scene, but that scene between Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche...goodness gracious!

Jonathan Lapper said...

Unfortunately Bill, I didn't forget the scene in The Departed but wish I had. It's in the porn theatre when Damon is meeting Nicholson and Nicholson walks up to him pretending to be a Paul Reubens type and then yanks out his wanker. And for some reason Scorcese felt it was necessary to show it in close-up. Marty? Issues? Wanna talk about it?

Oh, and I almost forgot Boogie Nights. Great movie, but that thing looked as fake as could be, despite P.T. Anderson's protestations that it was real.

bill said...

Oh, I thought you meant an actual wang. I loved "The Departed", but I agree with you about that scene. Didn't quite work...

Also, when did Anderson ever claim that thing was real? I can't remember ever hearing that. Anyway, it did look fake, but managed to get the point across nonetheless.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Anderson said during all the press junkets for it that it was "really" Wahlberg and no fake. Wahlberg of course spent his time in the junkets talking about what a pain in the ass it was having the damn thing applied so the set-up didn't quite work.

By the way, I'm pretty sure Jim mentioned in his original piece but Don't Look Now's scene is pretty exceptional.

sheila said...

Don't Look Now is an amazing scene. I just re-watched that movie recently and that scene still blows me away.

For me - it's not just about the nudity - although they're both buck naked. It's about the connection - and what they're revealing about themselves, where they're at in their lives, their relationship ...

It's raw. Amazing.

bill said...

But that movie can't really be considered American, can it? Or are we off that?

sheila said...

Actually, no, you're right. Don't Look Now isn't American - Roeg is British - just wanted to weigh in on the awesome-ness of the scene.

bill said...

Fair enough.

I can't say I thought much of this as a movie, but "The Center of the World" had some pretty...good...scenes.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Who would have thought that question would draw any comments?

One of my recent faves is Laurel Canyon, just around the corner from Mullholland Drive. The scenes where the girlfriend is being seduced into straying (into a threesome with her boyfriend's mother) are sweet and hot.

I'm also upset that sex always seems to lead to violence. Take Chinese sex comedy Sex and Zen. A little comedy, a little sex, and horrible retribution on anyone who enjoyed it.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Who would have thought that question would draw any comments?

On this blog, Dennis could ask, "What's your favorite part about brushing your teeth?" and get 77 replies. He's one of the kings of the road if you know what I mean. And with entities like Bill and myself you're guaranteed to have a virtual infestation of commenting.

Now then,

I'm also upset that sex always seems to lead to violence.

I alluded to that in one of my earlier comments and was quite vitriolic about it on Jim Emerson's site (he brings out my angry political side). I don't know what the final answer on that is but I do know that violence in films, judging by the ratings system and box office dollars, is far more acceptable than sex. So I suppose if they combine sex with evil or deceit or malevolance then it becomes more acceptable to the masses. For my more angry answer see Jeeem's.

bill said...

Jonathan - Rinsing out my mouth, once my teeth are sparkling and fresh.

Anyway, one night I was flipping around on the cable, and I came across a movie that, as I landed on the channel, featured a very attractive young woman vigorously engaged atop a man. I thought, Well, okay, and stopped flipping channels. This was clearly a very cheaply made film, and I may have even guessed which genre it belonged to before something very violent and unpleasant happened to the young woman.

It turned out this was one of the earlier "Friday the 13th" sequels. Now, I don't want to start up the whole "torture porn" debate, or -- a subject nearer and dearer to my heart -- start ranting about how my beloved horror genre is being destroyed by raving Philistines, but I will say that that minute or so that I watched of whichever piece of shit sequel that was more or less convinced me that sometimes, just maybe, these movies were catering to a bad element.

And I'm not normally one to think this way, but that juxtaposition (I won't get into details) spoke volumes to me.

I guess what I'm saying is, that was NOT a good sex scene

Spartickes said...

Does In America count as an American movie? Because if so then it would get my vote, it's tender, dramatic, features Samantha Morton...

Without getting too graphic it's touching and sexy, sort of like real life.

Anthony said...

i keep getting confused that apparently there is no real good (interesting, relevent to the story) sex in American movies, i can think of at least 10 in the last half a decade:

people for some reason keep forgetting the strange and fecund Egoyan flick where the truth lies--aside from carefully deconstructing the Hollywood machismo of the rat pack era, it had three of the more difficult, queerest (as in sex as a capsule review of power dialectics), adn erotic sex scenes in recent memory--the threesome with alice, the threesome with the waitress in the Hollywood hotel room, and the hotel room scene.

it also managed to make erotic the everyday, dinner, airplane rides, etc.

(other recent American sex scenes that might count: Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet in little children; Patrick Wilson and Ben Shenkman post coital in Angels in America; Peter Saarsgard and Liam Neeson in Kinsey, Peter Saarsgard and Laura Linney in Kinsey; every scene starring Jake Gyllenhall in Brokeback Mountain (the back of the car, the hotel room, the tent); the weirdly sweet, weirdly conservative wait until marriage ethos of Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener; several of the anti-sex scenes b/w Scharwtzmen and Dunst in Marie Antoinette, plus the shoe/candy scenes and the Swedish prince), and a large chunk more.

i think this might be one of the best times for sex in American movies, frankly.

bill said...

I think I agree with Anthony. I mean, yes, we have a conservative administration, and boo hiss, conservatives are bad and hate sex, boo hiss. But where is the evidence on film to support this thesis?

However, Anthony, I believe "Where the Truth Lies" must technically be considered a Canadian film.

Anthony said...

what lies beneath was made with american capital, starring mostly american actors, from an american source, shot in america, and is fundamentally about an american ethos.

having a canadian director seems beside the point.

Steve said...

Man, all my first-thought answers got snatched up but quick. See what happens when you show up late to the party, kids?

And for the record, as much as I loved Superbad, it definitely could have used some boobies. Ditto for prudy Katherine Heigl and Knocked Up. Damn you and your paucity of mammalian protruberances, Judd Apatow! DAMN YOU!

bill said...

Jeez, Anthony, I agreed with just about everything else you said! Why you gotta focus on that!

Besides, if the ethos, actors, and source meant so much, that would make "Letters from Iwo Jima" a Japanese film.

bill said...

Although, I do seem to be spending an inordinant amount of time questioning the country of origin of other people's picks, so forget I said anything.

Anthony said...

it was more harsh then i intended, im sorry.

bill said...

Don't worry about it. Let's just be friends forever.

Chris said...

It's not fair to include Team America: World Police in the running because it is easily the best Hollywood movie in the ten years, even without that sex scene.

Anonymous said...

William H. Macy and Maria Bello in THE COOLER.