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Monday, June 11, 2007

Cinema and Copulation

posted by on June 11 at 14:27 PM

As yet to be made is a great movie based on a novel by Vladmir Nabokov—Rainer Werner Fassbinder came close with Despair, and Kubrick’s Lolita is weak because it’s unfaithful to Nabokov’s screenplay. The Russian had this to say about the horrible movie that was made out of Laughter in the Dark.

I have [seen it]. Nicol Williamson is, of course, an admirable actor, and some of the sequences are very good. The scene with the water-ski girl, gulping and giggling, is exceptionally successful. But I was appalled by the commonplace quality of the sexual passages. I would like to say something about that. Clichés and conventions breed remarkably fast. They occur as readily in the primitive jollities of the jungle as in the civilized obligatory scenes of our theater. In former times Greek masks must have set many a Greek dentition on edge. In recent films, including Laughter in the Dark, the porno grapple has already become a cliché though the device is but half-a-dozen years old. I would have been sorry that Tony Richardson should have followed that trite trend, had it not given me the opportunity to form and formulate the following important notion: theatrical acting, in the course of the last centuries, has led to incredible refinements of stylized pantomine in the representation of, say, a person eating, or getting deliciously drunk, or looking for his spectacles, or making a proposal of marriage. Not so in regard to the imitation of the sexual act which on the stage has absolutely no tradition behind it. The Swedes and we have to start from scratch and what I have witnessed up to now on the screen—the blotchy male shoulder, the false howls of bliss, the four or five mingled feet—all of it is primitive, commonplace, conventional, and therefore disgusting. The lack of art and style in these paltry copulations is particularly brought into evidence by their clashing with the marvelously high level of acting in virtually all other imitations of natural gestures on our stage and screen. This is an attractive topic to ponder further, and directors should take notice of it
(The Sunday Times, 1969). Has sex on the screen improved since then?

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Is there a soft-porn scene in the Scotland /Africa movie? His two documentaries on mountain terror and Munich Olympics were very good, so I imagine his porn would be ok.

Posted by Garrrett | June 11, 2007 2:39 PM

Hey Charles, did you see 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated'? There were some great sex scenes in that one... Of course they were all arbitrarily rated R or NC-17 by the MPAA. Clearly it's morally dangerous to show women obviously enjoying sex on-screen. It's gotta be "paltry copulation" to be widely distributed. No wonder our society is so afraid of sex... Even on screen it looks awkward!

Posted by Katelyn | June 11, 2007 2:44 PM


Posted by monkey | June 11, 2007 2:54 PM

Amen! For all of Kubrick's gifts a "Lolita" based on almost-too-subtle-to-catch innuendo and pointed glances was doomed to fail, because "Lolita" *is* sex, is sensual. Plus I'm not sure how old Sue Lyon was, but there was no way, even in my most concentrated suspension of disbelief she looked or seemed younger than 30.

I thought the recent Lolita was quite good (though this may be due to a crush on Jeremy Irons), but I think they made him a little too sympathetic. Rereading the book now (which on my first reading at the age of 15 I took to be a grand love story), I'm suprised at what a misanthrope and general asshole Humbert is.

Posted by KatieDay | June 11, 2007 3:00 PM

Nabokov and Charles have obviously missed the hilarious Shortbus, a vast improvement of on-screen sex.

Posted by SDA in SEA | June 11, 2007 3:37 PM

If I had a time machine, it would be used to go back in time and fuck Vladimir Nabokov. Never has non-erotic literature been so arousing.

Shortbus did a great job with on-screen sex, but that also had to do with the fact that much of the sex was real, not simulated. His comment was on how terrible we are at sexual pantomime.

Posted by Aislinn | June 11, 2007 4:34 PM

Well... I doubt we ever can ever get good sex scenes in a general sense of the word, because sex in a general sense of the word actually sucks. Good sex is exceptionnal; we tend to forget because we only remember the few good times, and, heck, because we spend so much time fantasizing about good sex that actually doesn't exist.
There's almost always something terribly wrong with my girls; apart from physical aspects, they rarely dream of what I dream--and I'm not even a kinkster, even more rarely do they dream it at the same time as I do.
Why would it be different on screen? Most of the time, the type of girl feature simply won't turn me on, the sex scene comes exactly at the moment I don't want it to come and the eroticity of the pictures shown is miles from mine. So all I get is a mild hard-on at best, which I usually don't feel like having anyway. Only if I hate more than and hour and a half ago and I'm not hungry, only when I'm in a mood for sex, only when it so happens that the movies' eroticity more or less matches mine and is not entirely devoid of originality (which is too rarely the case), only when its setting in the scenario doesn't turn me of and only when the actors are fit can the sexual scenes exit the world of every-day mediocrity to hold some sublime--if sublime they have. And when it fails, well: every-day mediocrity.

But I don't think they are there for the beauty. They are present for their eye-catchiness. Sometimes they are serve the scenario (take The Empire of Senses). Honestly, I loved it as a teenager, but as a man, it's just a bother and a way to throw sex into everydayness--or rather throw the audiovisual of sex into everydayness.

Posted by Mokawi | June 11, 2007 5:07 PM

*Only sometimes do they actually serve the scenario

Posted by Mokawi | June 11, 2007 5:09 PM

mokawi is awesome.

if the problem of having good sex scenes is lack of authenticity perhaps it's then in convincing actors and actresses to have authentic sex on camera.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 11, 2007 6:25 PM

I also find it difficult to imagine situations where people have sex in a context where it adds to a story line, or isn't just tacked on for eye candy.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 11, 2007 6:31 PM

Imagined sex or written imagined sex is always better than visual representations thereof. In one, you are a particiant, in the other, always a voyeur and consequently, always lonely. To be a voyeur watching people pretend to have sex, badly, is probably the ultimate experience in pointless torture. I am with Nabokov on that 100%

For good acted sex in a non-porno motion picture look no further than "The Night Porter"(Liliana Cavani) "Crash" (Cronenberg)or to blur the line, some Tinto Brass... up to "Caligula" which blurs many lines. For unconvincing real sex, see any major US porno flick.

The thing is, I think that with sex, there is always doubt... unless its written. Has sex on screen improved? "Shortbus" was genius, and it has been a long dry spell since the mid-1970s with only occasional wet patches.

Posted by Alice | June 11, 2007 6:44 PM

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