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January 9, 2002 9:58 PM   Subscribe

This article covers an interview with an actress about her role in a film she recently starred in. It's the first time I've heard of the film. At the expense of sounding prudish, what is the difference between this film and pornography? Her mother is quoted as saying she "loved" the movie. Her boyfriend was "very supportive" of her "going to work every day and performing oral sex on her co-star". Hello? Getting paid for having sex sounds more like prostitution than "art". That goes for the lead actor as well, by the way. Are we supposed to believe that this is legitimate movie content? What do you think?
posted by netsirk (58 comments total)
I guess the real crunch is that I probably wouldn't have a problem if the sex in the storyline was simulated. Does that make me a hypocrite?

I could apply the same question to movies with lots of violence in them - it's OK to watch someone get shot and die on screen, because it's all acting. But I wouldn't want to watch a snuff movie, where someone actually gets killed. There's a difference between acting and murder, or acting and suicide.

Similarly, I guess I'm drawing a line between simulated sex and the genuine article.
posted by netsirk at 10:00 PM on January 9, 2002

Naw, i think it is fine. It's just sex. There have been theatrical plays that do the same thing.

sex is not something to be afraid of. Why does it make you more comfortable to know that they are "faking it" when you watch "Sex and the City"?
posted by benh57 at 10:05 PM on January 9, 2002

Are we supposed to believe that this is legitimate movie content?

Who's to say porn can't be art, too? You are prudish :)

I can't say I've seen porn I'd call art, but surely it could be, and it doesn't automatically make a movie bad if it has real sex in it -- the only way you'd believe it could is if you were doing a little puritan finger-wagging.

The snuff film analogy is completely inappropriate -- there is always a victim in murder, its quite possible that two people can have sex and neither of them is a victim (its even happened to me once or twice!).
posted by malphigian at 10:13 PM on January 9, 2002

I'm not sure why they have to actually have sex. It reminds me of the story about Dustin Hoffman staying up all night to look exhausted during the filming of Marathon Man, and Laurence Olivier advising him to "just try acting."

However, I though Ms. Fox was very attractive in Shallow Grave, so maybe I should see this one, too.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:13 PM on January 9, 2002

"those outraged that such sex acts could ever be part of what's broadly classified as entertainment. "

That's a great line. Probably just worded strangely and makes these people seem naive rather than unappreciative of the film. Tt makes me think of other such lines like "There's porn on the Internet?"
posted by ODiV at 10:16 PM on January 9, 2002

Baise-Moi and Romance both feature penetration, also. I don't think it's a matter of prudishness, but I consider it a problem because, as kirkaracha said, it's not acting. It's performing, and it detracts from the fiction of the film.
posted by muckster at 10:19 PM on January 9, 2002

muckster, et al.:
Compare to some less touchy subjects actors might do -- Should kissing be faked as well? What if someone is actually driving a car, are you upset that its not faked on a stage? What about an actor who performs their own stunts?

I completely fail to buy the arguement that a movie with dry humping as automatically better than the same movie with real sex.
posted by malphigian at 10:28 PM on January 9, 2002

At least there doesn't seem to be any public outrage directed towards her male co-star...
posted by the_ill_gino at 10:44 PM on January 9, 2002

Just because the overwhelming majority of movies that feature real sex don't cut it as "films" doesn't mean that including real sex makes a movie automatically bad.

Great, involving, intelligent movies with real sex are just a lot harder to find. (I'm all for porn, btw, I just don't watch it for the acting).

And the_ill_gino makes a very interesting point...
posted by Badmichelle at 11:06 PM on January 9, 2002

Certainly going the other way and insisting on full authenticity -- say, the rape scene in Lawrence of Arabia really involving Turkish actors whipping and sodomizing Peter O'Toole, drawing blood -- has very limited application, and you won't get many actors lining up for the jobs. (Not to mention the Milgram implications.) But I don't see netsirk's reaction having much of a place, either. If the actors, producers, distributors, and viewers of the content are OK with it, what does it have to do with you? Certainly porn with women like Linda Lovelace (who claims to have been at times "at gunpoint") is particularly ugly to watch. The mainstream equivalent would have to be the threesome scene in Wild Things -- never have I seen actors look as uncomfortable about being in a scene as Denise Richards. But on the other hand, there are plenty of porn actors and actresses who have no problem doing what they do, getting paid for it, and people watching it. Either they think it's a fun (or at least tolerable) way to get paid, or maybe they even think they're doing a kind service for their fans. I'm a full-on libertarian on porn, and I believe the exact same arguments apply. After all, arguments such as netsirk's have been used, historically, to ban content that didn't even involve real sex.

So we come back to the original question: what's the difference between this and pornography? Well, given that I don't think there's much place for societal restriction on either, we can still distinguish between the two. In Intimacy (which I haven't yet seen) there is clearly a story involving characters acted by professionals with a great deal of experience, those things that in the critical Miller decision invoked the grandly-titled "serious artistic value". There are three criteria in Miller:

appeal to the prurient interest in sex. Surely some people will go to this film for that reason, though they'll probably be disappointed in sitting through a lot of stagey drama for a few moments of authentic sex.

portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way. Offensive being, of course, in the eye of the beholder. The description I've seen seems to suggest that it's scenarized such that the sex is depicted lovingly, though at the same time it's considered cumulatively degrading to the characters. That might make audiences uncomfortable, but when it's handled in this way, many adults would be able to sit and watch it in mixed company and discuss it afterwards. We're edging into community standards here. Bottom line is that it isn't a clear loser on this point.

do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. And here it's an outright winner. It's clearly aimed at the artistic value goalposts. That it has more, and more authentic, sex scenes than other movie dramas simply makes it a more interesting and challenging case on this point. I still think it's safely in the end zone, because of the caliber of the talent involved, and the reviews which have taken it seriously even while criticizing the need for such authenticity.

On balance, only the second question is really debatable in this case. So it is not pornography. But even if it were, other case law in the US has eliminated mere pornography as a reason for state censorship, devolving those powers to community standards under zoning laws for retail distributors. Maybe you can't get porn from the local 7-11, but you certainly can get it someplace, and if you can't get what you like here you can order it over the phone or net. Despite some rocky moments, the community standards rule has only rarely been invoked. Don't ask; don't tell is working for living-room porn.

Which brings us to the applicability of definitions of prostitution to the production of pornography. In the most general, shortest-dictionary-definition sense, they may seem to be the same thing, but the actual laws involved tend to be written with much greater specificity to cover types of compensation and sexual transactions which are banned, to distinguish them from the other ones which are viewed as social goods (e.g. marriage). The battle for decriminilization of prostitution is itself long in the tooth, and while outright legalization has stalled beyond certain Nevada counties, a nominal decriminalized status has evolved for types of "prostitution" that are not flagrantly destroying property values. Thus hookers standing on 9th Avenue flagging down drivers may be arrested, but escorts who carry credit-card readers may be listed in the yellow pages. See, it all comes down to the social good involved. Even the prosecutors and politicians who zealously chase sex out of their communities, e.g. Giuliani and NYC's 42nd street sex shops, now much dispersed to industrial neighborhoods around the city, acknowledge that it's about property values and how public these businesses are and what kind of clientele they attract. Sadly, it's difficult to operate such a business and only serve haute couture rather than hoi polloi, if you wish to be profitable. The right of private invidivuals to have such businesses as sex shops or even prostitutes available to them is generally seen as unipmortant in the larger scheme of things, if it's acknowledged at all.

But there have been changes, and the internet has been a big part of it. Now you can order your sex videos online, instead of slinking around the back wall of the video store behind the velvet rope. Porn is no longer merely the domain of the sleazy, mob-run dildo retailers, it's available in people's living rooms -- and often produced in them, behind the walls of unassuming suburban homes. Starting to place terms like "legitimate" on such private transactions necessarily involves a greater degree of government, state, and community involvement in my affairs than I'm willing to tolerate.
posted by dhartung at 11:14 PM on January 9, 2002

Getting paid for having sex sounds more like prostitution than "art".

Actually a porno movie is seen as a film that requires the actors to have sex. Prostitution on the other hand is one party buying sexual favors from another. Considering that porno actors are being paid to act out roles involving sexual intercourse and not paying each other to have sex the prostitution analogy fails, and it fails badly. This is why pornographers and porn stars don't go to jail for their movies.

Second, who says prostitution can't be art or an art?
posted by skallas at 11:23 PM on January 9, 2002

i'm not saying that having real sex in a movie automatically makes it bad. i also don't believe that dry humping rather than real sex makes the same movie better - though i doubt it would make it worse either.

does this movie represent to first move towards real sex becoming acceptable in mainstream box-office release movies?

should we even care, one way or the other? does it really make a difference?
posted by netsirk at 11:31 PM on January 9, 2002

If I've read some of the reviews and synopses correctly, this is a movie about what happens when sex is the primary basis of a relationship, and how it often backfires. It's about carnality, and how with nothing else to work with, it often becomes a bankrupt experience. It has real actors, a plot, and what even seems to be a message, and apparently (though I haven't seen it myself) the sex scenes serve the purpose of not being "sexy" but being sad and horrifyingly empty.

Porn (*or so I've heard*) is nothing but a sexual, voyeuristic transaction between the viewer and the screen, serving the purpose of gratifying the viewer and little else. No plot, no "acting", certainly no message (except that women have big breasts, men have big penises, and everyone makes a lot of noise and make grouchy faces when they have sex). I'm not condemning it, but if that is (one possible definition of) porn, I don't think the film "Intimacy" qualifies for the "porn" title. "In the Realm of the Senses" has full penentration and oral sex in it too, and while I didn't admire the film, I could defintely recognize that it wasn't porn either. Sex does not porn make.
posted by readymade at 11:36 PM on January 9, 2002

If you were the writer / director of this film, what would be the rationale behind showing such explicit action on screen? As far as I can see, the only thing gained by doing so is the publicity it has garnered.

It's obvious they're not really pushing any boundaries in terms of characterisation or anything, since porn actors have been doing such things for years.

The film-makers could have spent some time on something truly radical, like, say, writing some damn dialogue or something actually character-based, rather than taking the easy way out and counting on the interest that including fellatio would create.

(my first comment!)
posted by John Shaft at 11:40 PM on January 9, 2002

Besides, it's not really porn unless it features bukottke.
posted by dong_resin at 12:04 AM on January 10, 2002

Er, bukkake. What did I say?
posted by dong_resin at 12:04 AM on January 10, 2002

Indeed, in my mind, there is nothing inherently wrong about pornography. Though most "hard core" pornography seems crude and characterized by low budgets and low artistic ambitions, I find it easy to believe that pornographic scenes can be both aesthetically pleasing and expressive.

Instead of "why?", the real question is perhaps "why not?"
posted by cx at 12:06 AM on January 10, 2002

de gustibus non est disputandum
posted by raaka at 12:38 AM on January 10, 2002

I can't believe no one has noticed this yet:

> I could apply the same question to movies with lots of violence in them - it's OK to watch someone get shot and die on screen, because it's all acting. But I wouldn't want to watch a snuff movie ...

Eh? The salient difference is that violence is bad and sex is good. Getting or giving a blowjob isn't really comparable with getting or giving a bullet in the gut.

If the idea that the actors might actually be having sex rather than just faking it makes you feel uncomfortable in the same way and for the same reasons as the idea that the actors are actually stabbing and shooting each other then ...

... you must be American ;)
posted by sylloge at 12:54 AM on January 10, 2002

I can't wait to see how CAP Alert reviews this film....
posted by salmacis at 1:05 AM on January 10, 2002

This is a good discussion. I think what it boils down to is that sex is not (or should not) be viewed as a shameful thing to be swept under the carpet. As long as both actors knew exactly what they were getting into at the start of the project, which is the case here, then there is no exploitation involved.

To compare this with real violence in a film misses the point entirely. With real violence, somebody does get hurt. If you want to see that, go see a boxing match.

When does pornography become art? Well, when does a child's scribble become a masterpiece? The sex itself is not the art, whether real or simulated. The art is in the overall movie and the story it tells. The sex is there only as a part of the story. You can't examine how two people react to a sexual encounter by ignoring the sex altogether. Pormographic films are not are because the sex is the story.
posted by salmacis at 1:18 AM on January 10, 2002

Mainstream films are regularly released that graphically depict the perfectly ordinary acts of kissing, eating, sleeping, boozing, exercising, giggling, dancing, talking like Jar Jar, arguing and breathing. What's so special about the everyday act of boinking that portraying it should -- in and of itself -- affect the inherent value of a film? Certainly any of these elements could detract from a movie, but that doesn't make it always so.

Somehow I completely fail to see the point of making specific issue out of sex in film, be it allusive, simulated, or literal. There's value in overtness as well as subtlety as far as I'm concerned. Does that mean I would I let my daughter watch a film with people getting boffed? No. She's too young to make any sense of adult interactions. She doesn't get to see Lord of the Rings yet, either, and there's not one whit of intercourse in it. In both cases, the subject matter exceeds both her grasp and her interest.
posted by majick at 1:31 AM on January 10, 2002

I agree with salmacis, this is a good discussion. It's interesting to read what people think.

>To compare this with real violence in a film misses the point entirely. With real violence, somebody does get hurt. If you want to see that, go see a boxing match.

but, as mentioned:

>As long as both actors knew exactly what they were getting into at the start of the project, which is the case here, then there is no exploitation involved.

You could make this argument for violence as well as sex.
posted by netsirk at 2:01 AM on January 10, 2002

John, you really shoud read the article.

This movie does not have real-sex for real-sex' sake, or for publicity.

It has real sex because that is the central idea of the movie. it is about sex, and how empty a relationship with only sex can be. From the description, the sex is NOT used to "titillate", but to make a point.
posted by benh57 at 3:01 AM on January 10, 2002

I suspect this thread would sound very funny to people a hundred years from now.

Talking Head 1: They appear to have thought their genitalia were voodoo, perhaps sacred. They watched television shows with strangers paid to lick the insides of each other's mouths but seemed to worry that oral sex was acceptable if hidden in the contractual bedroom but immoral between consenting performers. Imagine what they would have thought of our Nightly Interview and Ejaculation! {chortle chortle}

Talking Head 2: Yes, and David Likes Dogs would have just killed them! {guffaw guffaw guffaw}

Cut to a commercial for Tasty Boy condoms featuring the Chinese president's daughter. "As the daughter of the most powerful man on earth... {camera pulls back to show a ring of handsome secret service agents around her} sometimes get more cock than you can handle..."

posted by pracowity at 3:19 AM on January 10, 2002

Really though -

1. Why should there be a problem? - After all - people have sex all the time. Some people like to do it in public and some people like to watch. Some don't which leads me to...

2. If you no like, no watch.
posted by Spoon at 4:01 AM on January 10, 2002

Frankly, I don't care whether the actors really did it or not. They were adults, and they were consenting. Regardless if the film is about an empty relationship based only on sex, it's lazy filmmaking. From a storytelling point of view, filming penetration (or oral sex) doesn't add anything, it's only there to titillate.

The opening sequence of Klute wouldn't be as effective if the camera lingered for three or four minutes on the bump and grind that Jane Fonda's character was enduring, because the actual act is not what it's about- it's about the boredom, the contrast between what the prostitute's client believes is happening and what is actually happening.

Baise Moi is no different- if the movie is about the emptiness of a relationship with no emotion, the director should strive to show us emptiness, not sex. Or, be grown enough to admit the movie really is about performance sex, with a little theme to carry it.
posted by headspace at 4:18 AM on January 10, 2002

I think this comic sums up my feelings nicely.
posted by esch at 4:19 AM on January 10, 2002

From a storytelling point of view, filming penetration (or oral sex) doesn't add anything, it's only there to titillate.

How do you know that without seeing the film? Eighty years ago, some people might have said the same thing about filming a kiss.
posted by rcade at 5:28 AM on January 10, 2002

Call it an educated guess- I'm a screenwriter. Here's an example where sex is incredibly important to the storyline and is, in fact, a major plot point:

JEROME walks IRENE to the steps of her apartment. Jerome thinks about departing but Irene takes him gently by the hand.

So sure of what you can't do.

Jerome follows her inside.


JEROME and IRENE climb a staircase to her bedroom. Without another word they begin to make love.

LATER THAT NIGHT, JEROME cannot sleep. He rises quietly o as not to disturb IRENE. He silently opens the double-windows of the upstairs bedroom. He carefully gathers his pillow from the bed and shakes it out of the window.

Slowly Jerome turns to gaze at the wood floor. In the moonlight we see an EXTREME CLOSE UP of a single hair lying on the floorboards. Jerome bends and picks up the hair, trying to identify it in the dim light. On his hands and knees he tries to clean the floor with a towel.

-"Gattaca," by Andrew M. Niccol
Just in case not everyone has seen Gattaca, in the near future, Jerome is borrowing the identity of someone who was gentically engineered- he himself was born the old-fashioned way, and has a genetic defect that prevents him from realizing his goal to become part of a space mission team. In borrowing the identity, he has to keep to himself, and make absolutely certain that he keeps all of his hair, skin, blood, fluids, what have you- to himself, as well.

Choosing to make love to the genetically perfect Irene is (storywise) an important plot point- the powers that be are already aware that there is an imposter, investigators are already on the trail. The act puts him and Irene in danger. It's important to Jerome's character arc that we see what he is willing to risk (his life, his goals and aspirations) to be with Irene.

So, from a storytelling point of view, the sex is extremely important, but it's also not about the sex. However, the director can choose to film the scene any way s/he likes: as written, it's a single, simple line "They begin to make love." Depending on the director's decision, we, as the audience, can see hard-core, desperate balling, or we can see the two protagonists risking everything to be together. A close up dick shot is well within the parameters of the screenplay if that's what jollies the director, but it doesn't help tell the story.

As for kisses, those can be overdone as well- directorial and acting decisions come in to play there as well. "They kiss" can be tongues a'flappin', or a gentle peck. The one that tells the story better is the one that should ideally be used.
posted by headspace at 6:13 AM on January 10, 2002

I do think that comparisons with earlier, more prudish times, are valid. As you say, headspace, the sex is an important plot point. Therefore, there would be nothing wrong with graphically showing the sex. It would be a director's decision as to what to show, but if the director chose to use explicit, actual penetration, it would be unfair to call it pornographic.

My enjoyment of older films is sometimes marred by the strict morality code that directors of the day had to adhere to. Similarly, mainstream TV programmes can seem unrealistic because of the strict controls on sex and swearing. (Moreso on American TV, I've found.)

I wonder what MeFi-ers have to say about the news that the next Bond film will include a topless shot. A sad reflection of today's moral standards, or a welcome move towards adult realism?
posted by salmacis at 6:33 AM on January 10, 2002

I'm not really concerned with pornographic/not pornographic or the morality of it, though. Midnight Cowboy was originally rated X, and it won an Oscar for Best Picture. My point is, a penetration shot really doesn't serve to forward the story of an emotionally bankrupt relationship; it is what it is, a dick sliding into somebody else's orifice. I think a good analogue to this is the alien-semen-guzzling scene from Naked Lunch. It was kinda gross and squeamish to see people standing there performing fellatio to get their jones on, but it furthered the story.

I know that I am often frustrated when writing a teleplay because of decency in communication standards, I have to write around what real people would actually say. "Fuck this shit!" as dialogue is certainly more crude than, "Well, heck," but it also serves a storytelling purpose: it builds the foundation of a character. Someone who'd say the former is likely a very different person from someone who'd say the latter; whereas you can tell the same story of meaningless sex without actually tight shotting a beaver.

If the images a director chooses don't propel the story forward, either as plot point or character advancement, then they may be interesting to look at, but they don't make a significant contribution to the film as a whole.
posted by headspace at 6:50 AM on January 10, 2002

There's a difference between acting and murder, or acting and suicide.

And there's a difference between violence and sex. As sylloge noted.
posted by rushmc at 7:13 AM on January 10, 2002

headspace, I hear where you're coming from, but I think such artistic decisions should be left to the individual artists, not applied with a sweeping blanket generalization. I would ask you what makes sex uniquely unable to contribute to the meaning or aesthetic of a film, unlike every other mode of (let's say) physical interaction: hand-holding, hugging, kissing, staring into each others' eyes, etc. It could equally be argued that any of these could equally be bypassed..and yet, I doubt seriously that you would make that case. It seems clear that there is an underlying bias in your attitude against the depiction of this particular type of physical interaction, and it might be interesting to wonder why.
posted by rushmc at 7:17 AM on January 10, 2002

what is the difference between this film and pornography?

Probably the lighting.
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 AM on January 10, 2002

"I wonder what MeFi-ers have to say about the news that the next Bond film will include a topless shot."

This will not be the first time a Bond film has a topless shot. In both the original cut of The Living Daylights and Never Say Never Again there are brief topless, or exposed breast shots. The original video release of TLD was the only copy of the film to include the nude scene. Future copies of the film cut the scene based on complaints.

Speaking of Bond and breasts, I can't believe that the director of the last film wanted up to believe that Denise Richards' character could drown. I mean, look at her. She is boyant!
posted by DragonBoy at 7:40 AM on January 10, 2002

rushmc: I agree that in the end, what ends up on the screen, or the page, or the stage, is ultimately the artists' decision. My bias lies that sex is often used to add time, and titillation to a movie that's already short on story. It's a cheat, it's easy to get closer to that 120 minute gold standard, if you spend 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there on sexual filler. I feel the same way about violent filler.

It's gotten so easy for a movie to eat up time with random acts of violence, that what could be really good, tight movies become bloated with unnecessary additives. Often, less is more. Nobody needed to see the witch in Blair Witch Project for it to become a screaming blockbuster that scared the pants off an awful lot of people.

Don't get me wrong, not only do I enjoy pornography, I also enjoy slasher flicks and action movies, because they are what they are. They're meant to arouse, or scare, or thrill and that's what they do. However, it's becoming a Hollywood line that no movie can open without sex, or violence, or both- regardless of whether it furthers the story or not; and often that line gets blurred to movies with no story but lots of sex and/or violence open all the time.

Film is a visual medium, a lot of directors think the perfect film would be one with no dialogue at all- the story told completely with images, but the bottom line is that with words or without them, a story still needs to be told. I don't think a love (or in this case, lack of love) story needs graphic sex to be effectively told. I don't think that a tear-jerker about the ravages of disease need toilet cams to graphically display the effects of diarrhea, either.

(Not that I'm equating sex with diarrhea, just making the point that what is the reality of a situation doesn't necessarily require near-medical scrutiny for the audience to "get" the point.)
posted by headspace at 7:50 AM on January 10, 2002

Hehe... CAP uses Jesus® Networking Technology.

posted by insomnyuk at 8:17 AM on January 10, 2002

sometimes the limitations of censors (or community standards) can be a creative mechanism, tool. like peter chung talks about the scene in one of the aeon flux episodes where he implies sex by showing travelling sperm. there's also the one where trevor goodchild performs "explicit surgery" on someone's back (mimicked btw in cronenberg's eXistenZ). a lot of japanese erotic anime is so off the wall for similar reasons (tentacles etc.) or like in futurama where bender is allowed to do stuff cuz he's a robot.

otoh, movies like boogie nights and salo somtimes remind you how real (and uncomfortable!) sex can be. i think tom ewing put it best:
I suppose it's a matter of personal conscience - by consuming something, are you supporting it? Wholeheartedly? (Even if you don't actually pay for it?). And a wider question: at what point should we start policing our responses? If I "like" something but know I, politically, 'shouldn't' like it, should I be examing my tastes or my politics? Can I separate the two? I think from a personal standpoint I feel I can: but from a societal standpoint I have a lot more doubts. I want a world in which homophobia doesn't exist but Eminem does - how does that work? (Quite easily, actually: I also want a world in which people don't kill each other but Goodfellas exists.) Adding to the confusion, when I encounter Em's lyrics as text I'm repulsed, but the same lyrics as sound might amuse me: does the line I'm prepared to draw somehow lie in between?
i thought that upsidedown shot in gattaca was inspired :)
posted by kliuless at 8:24 AM on January 10, 2002

The art question is neglible. Anything can be art regardless of its subject matter. I don't think that anyone would care to argue that point here (I hope). I think that the actress is phenomenal (see shallow grave?) and I'm sure that the movie is good as well, and it doesn't make me uncomfortable in the slightest to think of watching graphic sex that is an integral part of a worthwhile film.

But... can I envisage a future where every magazine, advertisement, movie, and tv show that I see is hardcore porn? Sure. Wasn't that newscaster for CNN promoted as being sexy? Do I care about that?

It doesn't offend my morals. I just worry about our Brave New World sometimes.
posted by xammerboy at 8:49 AM on January 10, 2002

What headspace said. I could care less about the morals of it -- the only interesting question is, how does real screwing further the story? In 9 cases out of 10, penetration won't do anything to, uhm, deepen the characters or improve the story. Instead, the director risks taking the audience out of the film because they go, "Whoa! they're really doin' it!" That's why penetration is different than kissing, and similar to violence: "Whoa, they really chopped his head off" also takes me out of the story. The same goes for "Whoa, Divine really ate that dog shit."

In my fiction workshops, we call it the "nosepicking problem" -- of course you're free to do it, but it probably won't work. Sure, social mores might change and we'll all be cool with watching blow jobs in blockbuster movies, but until then, in most circumstances the inclusion of real sex is probably not a wise decision for a director to make. When you're watching Intimacy, will you be watching it for the plot or because you're waiting for that real sex scene? "Whoa, here it comes." It's distracting, and in most cases, you don't want that.
posted by muckster at 8:58 AM on January 10, 2002

Well done muckster. Agree 100% on that. Seems to cheapen the film in some way. I remember being floored when I saw "Kids" for the first (and only) time. It was so real and shocking to pushed the line really hard, but it didn't go over it. Had there been "real" sex in it, or all the hype that goes along with that, I would have been distacted, and the movie would have failed. Excellent Point muckster.
posted by Greener at 9:32 AM on January 10, 2002

I just saw this movie last night, not knowing what was going to be in it. There was only one scene that was unambiguously real (oral) sex, and it lasted for all of three seconds. There were lots of other very graphic sex scenes - there won't be any doubt that there are two people doing it.

I think that the director did the right thing. Hollywood has a very well established mythology of sex, so audiences are used to filling in what isn't there with their imagination. Intimacy is portraying a relationship in which there isn't anything else, and the comparatively graphic sex scenes were a very effective way of preventing the audience from reading too much into things.

Some of the people in the theater with me apparently disagreed - four people from an audiece of perhaps 12 walked out. I thought it was a good, thought provoking movie, but your mileage may vary.
posted by jaek at 10:14 AM on January 10, 2002

It's only distracting if you've assigned some sort of "naughtiness" quotient to it. If you think "watching people have sex is bad," then you'll be distressed.

I think it's particularly telling that, unless this is an X-rated film, the sex scenes it's showing can't be any more revealing than those that are faked in the usual R-rated/M-rated categories.

In which case it's not a matter of what they're showing that's going to be distracting/upsetting, but the knowledge you have that it's not faked.

I think that's amusing: that knowing that something as wonderful as sexual intercourse isn't faked, should be a cause for distress!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:19 AM on January 10, 2002

I don't doubt that there's possibilities for character development or storyline progression during real sex scenes.

If we're talking simply about showing a tight shot of penetration, maybe it is hard to argue that it advances a story. But is there any room left for cinematography in films? Does a film need to start off and gallop straight through a plot to be any good? Is film only about telling a story (subtext, I suppose: are 'art' films not films?). Why have a closeup on a landscape -- or say a flower, or a door? These things don't necessarily advance the storyline, but the images and the way they are framed often make the viewer feel a certain way. I'm guessing that in Intimacy (again, from reviews I've read... Has anyone seen this film who can comment?) the director wants one to feel a bit complicit in everything -- a bit dragged into things -- I think this purpose could be served by 'explicit' shots. Making the viewer aware of their own voyeurism has been a fairly common tactic in post-modernist/feminist art, and I'm actually surprised it hasn't cropped up as much in films (disclaimer: i'm not a film student).

Furthermore, I *want* to be torn away from the fiction -- I don't want all films to be some happy freshly washed hollywood fantasty with Pitt and Paltrow. I think it's a bit dishonest to run away from the grit of the real and to dodge the complexities of actual intercourse -- there's a lot to explore in both the psychological and the physical -- I don't have sex like movie stars (or porno stars) and bravo to someone -- a writer, a director -- who considers that. I grant you it's a nosepicking problem if you make it that -- if you're writing "they had sex." and well, it's unimportant -- well, hell, why bother saying it? You don't need to inform your reader that the protanganist is urinating -- unless say, this is how he finds out he's bleeding internally, or if you've some desire to look closely at the act of urination. Sure, editing's important, but it should be done on a case by case basis (disclaimer: I'm obviously not an editor.)

Whoa, they really chopped his head off"

Whoa -- what film was this?
posted by fishfucker at 11:15 AM on January 10, 2002

"Whoa, they really chopped his head off"

Whoa -- what film was this?
Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Okay, so they didn't actually KEEP that part in the film....
posted by headspace at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2002

My bias lies that sex is often used to add time, and titillation to a movie that's already short on story. It's a cheat, it's easy to get closer to that 120 minute gold standard, if you spend 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there on sexual filler. I feel the same way about violent filler.

I am in complete agreement with you on lazy filmmaking. But I think that's a separate issue from the one we were discussing.

I don't think a love (or in this case, lack of love) story needs graphic sex to be effectively told.

Perhaps it doesn't. But if we cut out EVERYTHING that was unnecessary, strictly speaking, to the telling of a story on film, we'd be a lot closer to 12 minutes than 120. I think certain artistic, aesthetic, and idiosyncratic touches (even flourishes) are what distinguish one film from another, no? After all, there are only so many stories to be told....
posted by rushmc at 5:45 PM on January 10, 2002

As long as it's 100% consensual between 2 adults, sex on film: whatever. No big. If it makes me uncomfortable, I won't watch it.

But I'm comfortable. (o:

Sex shouldn't be... taboo-ted (er) like that.

I'm guessing this film won't make it past the Singapore Board of Censors, netsirk and I will have to watch it elsewhere (buy it for me on video when you're in Oz, will you?).
posted by jetgrrl at 6:38 PM on January 10, 2002

Hm. I'm a screenwriter too and I disagree if I understand what headspace is saying. The degree of sex shown doesn't matter in that scene in Gattaca, but that's just to do with that scene in Gattaca. Take the sex in Basic Instinct, for instance. The movie was about, among other things, the way basic human drives such as those for sex and violence can overlap each other and eclipse everything else. Watching the way the characters had sex was important, because a) we needed to see there was a violent aspect of it, b) the details of the way the Sharon Stone character liked to have sex were vital to the plot, and c) we as an audience were supposed to be turned on and disturbed at the same time. Of course, there are workarounds, if you really want to communicate these things without showing the sex, you could. Through dialog, for example. But that wouldn't be the right thing to do dramatically if you have the option of showing the sex.

In my most recent script I give specific indicators of the characters' attitudes toward each other during the sex scene, as I think it makes a big difference. People can be very vulnerable and passionate and honest during sex, and using it as a way of showing character may not be the norm but should certainly not be dismissed.
posted by bingo at 7:21 PM on January 10, 2002

What I'm saying is this: if the sex is important to the story, it should be there, be it gauzy rolling around beneath sheets or slamming somebody up against an alley wall and screwing like dogs. However, I don't see how a lingering shot on actual penetration or oral sex can further a story, unless it is a story about penetration or oral sex. The director of this movie says it's about the emptiness of a relationship based only on sex. So what's the story? The director said the story was the tenor of the relationship. How does showing the audience a blow job further that?

Screenwriters and filmmakers basically have 120 minutes to tell a story. We could spend 40 of those minutes watching Protagonist Doe get up, get out of bed, scratch their privates, take a dump, brush their teeth, take a shower, make breakfast, read the paper, get dressed, put the dirty laundry in the washer, look for their keys, and head off for their plotted destiny, but why? Everybody does those things, but why write them? Why film them? It's not interesting, and it does nothing to forward the story.
posted by headspace at 7:44 PM on January 10, 2002

The director said the story was the tenor of the relationship. How does showing the audience a blow job further that?
I just wanted to clarify that a little (as if I haven't written a thesis already today.) What's interesting, what furthers the story is their behavior during or afterwards. Do they touch each other? Does he just get up and walk away while she washes the taste of him out of her mouth? That's what I'm trying to say- the mechanical act of the blow job is just a blow job- it's not interesting, and everybody old enough to see the movie presumably knows what a blow job is. What happens around the fellatio is the story.
posted by headspace at 7:51 PM on January 10, 2002

"we as an audience were supposed to be turned on and disturbed at the same time"

Bingo, bingo. (heh)

To me, a movie should involve you emotionally, good or bad. This is why I'm pretty much disgusted with movies in general right now, but especially big-studio American film. I don't need a happy ending in every movie, OK? It's all right to leave the theater upset, or angry, even if it's over something like "did they actually show her giving him a blowjob?" Maybe especially over something like that.

Apologies for overusing the bold tag.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:11 PM on January 10, 2002

Like I said, I don't care about morals, I care about good movies. Mr. crash davis and jetgrrl, this is not about getting upset over broken taboos. Movies that leave me angry & upset are fine, and Hollywood happy endings are not the issue. There are plenty of alternatives to Hollywood out there, but they generally don't rely on real sex.

The point I have been trying to make was that generally, actual penetration will do damage to the movie. I don't care about breaking taboos at all, but penetration is a bit like the Ring: it's too powerful for anybody to wield but Sauron/porn directors (perhaps because ours is a prudish culture, or for good reasons -- you decide). It's bound to overwhelm the fictional aspects of the movie because it's not acting.

Now, I said "generally." Not having seen Intimacy, I can't say if it works in that movie or not. I'm sure there are ways to make real penetration work in a film -- possibly some real off-kilter thing like Gummo that breaks down borders between fiction and non-fiction, real actors and amateurs, and aims to shock and unsettle. Sooner or later, somebody will figure that out, and I will applaud it. But in 99% percent of movies -- anything that relies on traditional suspension of disbelief -- it isn't likely to add anything, and even worse, it'll diminish the movie.

So, I don't think it should be off-limits (nothing should be). I'm just arguing that most of the time, it simply won't work. If I was a filmmaker, I'd stay away from it.
posted by muckster at 9:59 PM on January 10, 2002

I guess one of my thoughts regarding this movie is that sure sex is good as part of a movie if it is there to drive the plot. (And by the way does anyone else think that the plot synopsis sounds suspiciously like Last Tango in Paris?) However most of the use of nudity and sex in cinema these days seems to be particularly gratuitous and pointless. Also it is so rare to have a sex scene in a movie that is original. Amelie get a lot of credit my book for showing sex but doing it in a way that is creative, funny, and in the conclusion of the film actually erotic.

I'm wondering how much of the reaction to this movie is influenced by the fact that sex is overhyped just about everywhere. Many magazines throw a sex article on the cover just catch your attention and the practice seems to spread not only beyond the men's and women's magazines but into such titles as "Jazz Times."

But back to movies, part of the problems that sex is so much part of a formula. It is all blends into one generic scene of conventionally attractive actors engaging in stereotypical humping on-screen. The sex in The Thomas Crown Affair looks just like the sex in The Tailor of Panama that looks just like the sex in Goldeneye.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:54 AM on January 11, 2002

Another good one is Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. I think that it was the first NC-17 movie, and one of the censors' comments was that "they make love too realistically." And the way they make love does have to do with the story.
posted by bingo at 3:17 PM on January 11, 2002

I think that it was the first NC-17 movie

Must! Nitpick!

Actually, Henry & June took that honor.
posted by Skot at 3:22 PM on January 11, 2002

(I'm all for porn, btw, I just don't watch it for the acting).

I watch for the soundtrack.
posted by adampsyche at 3:35 PM on January 11, 2002

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