Sex scenes

There’s certain things that films do really well and the number one thing is sex.  In fact, it’s so good that there’s an entire industry dedicated to doing just sex films.  There’s not an industry dedicated to, I don’t know, eating scenes or arguing scenes or even action scenes (maybe video games qualifies for that).

Good film sex is hard to beat.  Sure, real sex is better, usually, but film sex is clean and even when there’s orgasm, you never have one (unless you’re beating off in the theater), so it’s all sizzle and no steak.  It’s always going to leave you wanting more, and what better feeling can you have as an audience member.

It’s easy to film a cliche sex scene.   You know how they go, the kiss gets a little more passionate.  The music turns up.  Breathing gets heavy.  Lights get dim.  Girl rolls on top in a passion play, but really so we can get a good shot of her tits.  Backs arch.  Hands clench sheets.  It’s always, as they used to say in Penthouse Forum, a “simultaneous orgasm”.   The actors are beautiful.  The cameraman makes them look good.  You can’t fuck this stuff up.

Except, you would think there’d be a little more variety in the sex scenes we’re served.  I’m not talking about different positions, although that helps.  I know that the first time a man and woman have sex, they’re not going to reinvent the wheel.  But, there’s a lot of talk about these scenes before they’re shot.  Actors and actresses want to know exactly what to do.  They’re excited  about it, usually.  Rules are set with the crew about who’s allowed to watch.  What body parts they show is usually discussed.   So, with all that talk, you’d think that they would come up with something a little better than that scene I was talking about.

Obviously, there’s some puritanism going on.  Women don’t want to be exploited, and who can blame them.  Men don’t get to show anything except their ass.  There’s a fine line between acting sex and having sex, and actors have their own feelings about how far they want to cross that line.

And there’s the audience too.  I can’t stand people who say they don’t want to see sex in their films (or bad language).   Or people who say that sex was gratuitous, as if sex wasn’t an important part of the character’s lives.   I’ve heard, or read, people say that a film was pretty good, except all that sex.  These people must live in Disney World.

It’s funny too, when a filmmaker decides to make his sex film, or when you see a film about sex how awkward this can be.  The first mistake to watch out for is the over-serious sex movie.  I always get turned off by films without humor, and I like to have fun with whoever I’m in bed with, so these movies always strike me as silly.  Then there’s the variety sex movie, where each sex scene gets it own sequence and theme.  Like the food sex scene and the leather sex scene or the outside sex scene.  Anyway, films that are all about sex are generally uninteresting unless you really have something interesting to say about it, like Catherine Breillat.

It’s much more interesting to have your sex scenes mixed up in your romantic films.  Films like Annie Hall and The Man Who Loved Women have easy, meaningful sex scenes.  The orgasms are kept mostly off screen, but you still know what’s going on.  They’re treated in an adult way and they’re still fun.

But those films were from the 70’s and, while the French are still laid back about these things (and have better sex scenes), America has regressed to the point where a sex scene is a political act.  All the more reason for it to be there, and for it to be good.

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11 thoughts on “Sex scenes

  1. Who says that they have to serve the story or the plot? Who made up that rule?

    Usually they are used as shorthand to say that two characters are in love, but that’s useful for some filmmakers. I agree, I’d like to see it be something a little less simple than that, which is why I wrote the post.

  2. Not a rule. But that’s a ittle like saying ‘who says movies have to be entertaining?’ or ‘who says I have to care about any of the characters?’ No one does, but it certainly makes for a more enjoyable film.

    And if a filmmaker resorts to an on-screen sex scene in order to convey to their audience that the two characters involved are “in love” then that is one profoundly lazy and unimaginative filmmaker.

  3. There’s a million of these profoundly lazy and unimaginative filmmakers! That’s my point exactly.

    I’m always wary about rules in films. I’m constantly surprised by what I find enjoyable, and part of the enjoyment, I’m sure you’d agree, is when you are surprised. I’m with Capra on the rules of film. “There are no rules in movies, only sins. And the cardinal sin is to be boring.”

  4. I’m confused. Are there a million lazy and unimaginative filmmakers resorting to on-screen sex or is the number one thing that films do well is sex?

    You seem to be a large proponent of on-screen sex, stating that “I can’t stand people who say they don’t want to see sex in their films (or bad language). Or people who say that sex was gratuitous, as if sex wasn’t an important part of the character’s lives.” Just because sex is important to a character’s life doesn’t mean showing it on the screen isn’t gratuitous.

    I don’t live in Disney World but, to me, 99% of all on-screen sex is gratuitous and superfluous.

  5. Films do sex so well that even the most unimaginative filmmakers can make a passable sex scene, whereas the most unimaginative filmmakers cannot make a passable dialog scene or action scene. And imaginative filmmakers often freeze up on their sex scenes and do the passable one when, if they put the thought and care into their sex scenes they’d be better. Different directors have different strengths.

    If they stick a sex scene in to tell us that the stars are in love, I’d rather it be imaginative, but that doesn’t meant that sex isn’t part of falling in love. People have sex. What’s the big deal? Why is it any more gratuitous than the rest of the film? Do you mean, they should do it like they used to, and fade to black? I like those films too, but it’s naive to think we could or should go back to that.

  6. My loathing for on-screen sex isn’t a moral one. My main issue is that the scene becomes all about the sex. The film comes to a screeching hault under the weight of the scene and, almost always, it’s for no good purpose other than showing some sex on screen. It doesn’t serve the story or the plot, it serves the filmmaker.

    Assuming for a moment that your assumption is correct — the use of sex is done to show two characters falling in love, which is an inaccurate and cheap device — it still is, at best, redundant. There is no direct correlation between love and sex. Therefore, the filmmaker would have had to already show the two characters falling in love without the sex before then resorting to the sex scene. Call me crazy but I believe, in its ideal, everything in a film should be serving either the story or the character(s). Despite the perceived lengthy run time, in actuality there are very limited frames with which one can use to tell the story. Why should any of those be wasted on a sex scene?

    Obviously, there are exceptions; primarily ‘Coming Home.’ Even if it’s important to the plot that the audience be aware that two characters have sex I still don’t see the need to spend a handful of valuable minutes showing it. Like I said earlier, I often find they bring the rhythm and momentum of the story to a screeching hault and usually only serve to cut the proverbial umbilical cord between the film and its audience.

    I really couldn’t disagree with you on this topic enough. I’d even go so far as to say that, in many cases, the film medium does an incredibly poor job on the topic of sex. As a side note, I just watched the foreign trailer for ‘Chasing Sleep’ and it looks like it might be pretty good. I’ve added it to my Netflix queue.

    • Actors and directors often try to find ways of making the sex scene do exactly what you say – ie. serve the story and develop the characters. They don’t usually succeed because, in the end, we all have sex in pretty similar ways. Of course, sex and love are connected.

      Film is story, but it’s also images and emotions and ideas. Film can be a lot of different things. I love in films when they stop and have a scene that’s just there because the scene itself is good. One of my favorite scenes is in Amadeus, near the end, when Saliere helps Mozart write the Requiem. It’s just a fun scene that doesn’t really have to be there, but I like it.

      I think I do agree with you that the topic of sex hasn’t faired very well, or not as well as the sex scene.

      I hope you enjoy Chasing Sleep, but I warn you that it has a sex scene that you may find gratuitous.

      • Sex and love can be connected but they are not intrinsically connected. Just because two people are having sex doesn’t mean they are in love and vice versa. Therefore, the use of an on-screen sex scene solely for the purposes of showing the audience that two people are in love is a failed means.

        Are you serious about the Amadeus thing or are you pulling my leg?

  7. Are you serious about this sex and love thing? WTF?

    Sex and love among adults is intrinsically and fundamentally connected. Sure you can have sex without love, but love without sex is a different kind of love. In any case, using a genre convention in a Hollywood film is standard stuff. And those love scenes qualify. They tell you that the couple is in love. That’s their purpose, like it or not.

    I don’t agree that a films’ story always stops because there’s a sex scene, but if it does, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If movies aren’t allowed to digress, then what else aren’t they allowed to do?

    I think sex in films is good, and you obviously disagree.

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