Monday, September 25, 2023

In The Name Of Desire: The Very Stupid Sex Scene Discourse

Not long ago, Film Twitter, a place that reeks of sensitivity when it comes to criticism, got up in arms about the place of nudity and sex scenes in movies. While it’s of the minority that sex and nudity are unnecessary and morally wrong, just how Film Twitter reacted so aggressively to that take is an example of how tiring this mob-like mentality is really crushing on the soul and the mind. I use it for my work and to connect with others, and whatever Elon Muskrat has planned, I’m not leaving the site – yet. But, man, the hive of loving (or “Stanning”) or hating a thing is pathetic. 

Now, the exposure of breasts, buttocks, and genitalia has been around for over a hundred years in cinema. The silent film Hypocrites featured a nude woman in the context of religion, yet just seeing a nude woman was met with riots. Under the influence of the Catholic Legion of Decency and the Hays Code, there was no nudity shown in Hollywood films until the 1960s. European films were more tolerant and allowed nudity to go mainstream in the 1950s. Ingmar Bergman’s Summer With Monika, Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman, and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur had moments of nudity, but nothing overtly explicit. 

As the walls of censorship were falling, it was becoming easier to now depict sex with groaning, thrusting, and now male nudity being added. It was the 1970s and sexual liberation was all over and the only one complaining was the conservatives who were calling foul in the name of indecency. But Pandora’s Box was open and it could not be contained anymore in Western countries. Cut to the era of #MeToo and the waterfall of scandals involving couch casting and other demands of sexual humiliation, there is an awareness that actors don’t have to do nude scenes. The “intimacy coordinator” was created to show how a love scene is done properly and get any actor comfortable. 

It is from this a puritanical sense of cleanliness from critics, bloggers, and trolls has come to discuss whether or not it’s fine to have a love scene. Some say watching it is uncomfortable and others believe the actors are being exploited when they do it. Actors have no-nudity clauses in their contracts, so camera angles cut off actors exposing themselves and body doubles in place of the actor when it comes to the nude scene. What was criticism mainly from conservatives over sex and nudity has now shifted over to, shall I say, politically correct liberals who act overzealously in the name of “protecting” women from abuse and think any of it desecrates women and the whole movie.

Sex scenes, if done tastefully and within the nature of the story, can absolutely be part of the movie. The porn industry is the setting of Boogie Nights, Las Vegas nude dancers as part of Showgirls, and the expression of a passionate affair in Blue Is The Warmest Color. Even in isolated scenes – the literal first scene of Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead between Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Maris Tomei – sex is okay in portraying. Even in the era of erotic dramas, where in the 1980s and 90s there were films (good or bad) with steamy romance and raunchy sexuality, it was all beautiful and memorable and no one got hurt making it. This is part of the freedom of expression and the anti-sex discourse is guilty of promoting a form of censorship. 

Much like book banning or prohibiting certain subjects being taught in schools (I live in Florida), the idea of suppressing sex from the screen goes against the idea of free speech. Gay sexuality, trans sexuality, whatever the case, it should be done with total freedom. That’s what made Pier Paolo Pasolini a renegade with his films going into taboo subjects, straight and gay, and showing plenty of skin from everyone. People who’ve come to support the sex scene cited Don’t Look Now and the graphic sequence between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Or, Jane Campion’s The Piano. Or, the first NC-17-rated film, Philip Kaufman’s Henry & June. You could even include half of Pedro Almodovar’s films with his uncompromising moments like in Matador, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, and Bad Education. 

I thought of the controversy over the music video to George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex,” which seems very tame today. Also, the lyrics to it are very tame. Prince’s lyrics to a number of songs are quite obviously filthy. Any controversy today? Let’s not confuse sex scenes with rape scenes or scenes depicting violence toward women. It isn’t shocking as I Spit On Your Grave, Dressed To Kill, Gutterballs, or Irreversible, any part of the exploitative rape-and-revenge genre. We are more aware of certain scenes and how nudity is shown and it is done with care and with taste. The velvet curtain is open and cannot be closed again.

Follow me on Twitter: @brian_cine (Cine-A-Man)

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