• lgauge

    Both sex scenes in American Honey between Lane and Labeouf are definitely the highlight for me this year and are probably in the pantheon for the last few years. And though for different reasons, I do have to give a shout out to that scene in The Neon Demon (please don’t ban me). Otherwise, I sort of agree that there hasn’t been too much, though it’s not something I had considered and not something I’d consider too important. Sexuality is definitely important for cinema, but sexuality doesn’t need sex scenes or nudity. On the other hand, I’m never one to mind their inclusion (as long as it’s not just an excuse to show boobs). I think sex scenes mostly serve the purpose of making us feel strongly the emotions of the characters. Sometimes that’s needed, but sometimes it suffices to do it in other ways.

    • Which That Scene in The Neon Demon? There are at least three That Scenes in that movie.

      • lgauge

        That’s true I guess, even with the constraints of this topic. I was referring to the necrophilia scene.

        • That was the scene my brain immediately went to. Hopefully those two will win “best movie couple” at the MTV awards, if that still exists.

          • My brain went first to the knife scene, which is also a That Scene, and the one I was far more uncomfortable with.

          • The Ploughman

            These scenes are returning to my brain like a forgotten nightmare.

          • They are burned into my brain…

        • thesplitsaber

          Because of the necrophilia or the sexualization/simulated masturbation of 16 year old Elle Fanning? Its one of the few scenes i cazn think of that could be THAT SCENE for more than one reason haha.

          • lgauge

            All of the above, though really it was the conviction with which Malone played the scene that had me glued to the screen.

    • Miller

      Loved Deadpool’s sex scenes — yes, they’re standard non-nude but they are explicit in ways most movies aren’t and funny in ways most movies never try for. It’s an immature mature depiction. And I’ll cut Manchester some slack because nude “teens” are even more taboo than regular old nudity.

      • Re: Deadpool, when was the last time a major feature featured pegging?

        • Miller

          Shrek 3. But before that, you have to go back to Driving Miss Daisy.

    • I think there’s something to be said for sex and sexuality in cinema as it stands in the larger culture. By hiding it behind closed doors and NC-17 ratings (see: Blue is the Warmest Color), are we treating sex as dirty? Is it keeping us in a taboo nature? Advertisers are very leery of anything that talks frankly about sex even as many use sexualized imagery to sell product. They don’t like deciphering between adult discussions of an existing portion of life and pornography.

      The lack of mature sexuality across 9 movies feels like a comment on both AMPAS voting members and the general public.

      • lgauge

        This could also be a matter of perspective. I’m from a country where nudity and sex is far from the taboo it is in the US. It doesn’t immediately cause a high rating and is often a natural part of TV shows shown on the main networks. A lot of films that get an R-rating in the US for nudity and/or sex can get fairly low ratings here. Everybody Wants Some!! to take a somewhat recent example, got the rating “6 years and over” and the main reason for it even getting that rating is listed as the bar fight. Blue is the Warmest Color did get “15 years and over”, which is typical when the sex is more explicit (though it should be noted that 12 year olds accompanied by adults are allowed at these screenings).

        So maybe this feels less immediate for me. I can definitely sympathize with your point of view on this.

        • Oddly, sex and nudity is far more prevalent in our television than anywhere else. American Horror Story: Hotel, for instance, went farther in depicting graphic sexuality than 95% of American films. And it’s on semi-basic cable.

          Television does have the V-chip to attempt preventing kids from watching naughty television, but i find our relative chastity off putting.

          Strangerland, for instance, had more nudity and sexuality than most American films. It’s frankness was rather refreshing.

          • The Ploughman

            I was thinking about that also when commenting on @DJJD ‘s comment above. In addition to the Internet, TV has our sexy bases covered pretty well these days, and now movies don’t have to use up prescious screentime reminding us what a butt looks like.

          • DJ JD

            Well, now you’ve got me wondering if sex is better served on television than in movies by its nature. After all, you can only kill someone once, so violence will always find a place in movies–but a healthy sexual relationship typically involves having intercourse more than once, and often the best sex isn’t the earliest sex. And as I think about it, some movies have gone to downright comedic lengths to make their one sex scene be super-duper relevant and not, you know, a playful, hopeful, probably slightly-misfiring taste of things to come. (I like how the Highlander movies keep having him stab himself so the rotating female lead will throw herself at him in a lust-crazed madness, myself.)

          • I also wouldn’t mind awkward first sex scenes. I dunno, I just want more cinematic integration of sex as a healthy part of life. Not that it has to be fixated on, but even The Terminator had a good meaningful and steamy sex scene (I don’t remember if there was even nudity in that), and it seemed like a thing to put in a film made by and for adults.

            Even our erotic thrillers are far less sexual than before. The Girl on the Train was all about sex and yet none of the characters seemed to actually have sex. It was weird how Lifetimey its treatment of sex was.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            I’ll give credit to some of the Apatow-produced movies for having some funny, awkward sex scenes (Knocked Up, Bridesmaids) and some very sweet, even sexy ones (Trainwreck, Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

          • Belated Comebacker

            Well, maybe not exactly what you’re interested in, but one erotic thriller that did have a bit of the ol’ in-and-out was “Side Effects.” Though maybe it was too clinical for what you’re looking for?

          • thesplitsaber

            I liked The Girl on the Train for its Lifetimey on meth feeling haha. But in that case I liked the lack of sex since the main character wasnt getting any. It helped add to the claustrophobic feeling.

  • Drunk Napoleon

    Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets.
    — Andy Warhol

    What did we watch?

    • Wild Guitar, a cheap 60s b-movie about a young singer (Arch “who?” Hall Jr.) who heads to Hollywood to make his fortune and immediately hooks up with a corrupt manager (played by Arch “dad!” Hall Sr.!). Bad acting, cheap jokes, mediocre songs and an unexpectedly incredible ice-skating scene ensue. There’s not much to recommend this over any number of similar films from the era but I had a good time with it – plenty of charm and just enough odd storylines to stop it from ever dragging.

    • lgauge

      Hail Mary: Jesus Christ. This is probably the most beautiful and formally elegant film I’ve seen from Godard yet (which is frankly really saying something). Perhaps most striking his how different it looks and feels. Of course, the change in setting from 60s France to 80s Switzerland is significant, but you can also sense that a major transformation has taken place, even as this is very much a Godard film. As if the Nouvelle Vague has been taken out, leaving only that which is uniquely Godard and then constructing a new cinema around it. Although there is something more immediately mundane about the locations and even a slight touch of neo-classical European realism in how the film looks at first glance, there’s a different kind of beauty that quickly emerges. In particular, the natural world is suddenly allowed in. I never would have guessed that there would be a beautiful sunset or an almost Tarkovskyan vision of wind disturbing high grass in a Godard film, but here it is and it’s as mesmerizing as any of his urban visions of Paris in the 60s. However, most striking of all are the wonderful cuts occurring frequently throughout the film. It’s hard to describe the immense pleasure, bordering on rapture, I felt at so many of these. It’s the satisfaction of everything being just exactly right in technical or rhythmical sense and also beautiful and evocative at the same time. Like musical notes emerging from a particular kind of percussion instrument. Any one of the dozens of these edits would be a landmark in any other film and here they keep on coming.

      Myriem Roussel gives a breathtaking performance that’s as impressive in its physicality as in its use of facial expressions and its reactivity. Together with the other actors (Thierry Rode in particular), she and the film engages in a series of tacticle gestures that convey both puzzlement and agency, leading into a security that refuses unnecessary constrictions, but accepts and flows with the natural currents that are outside of human control. The way this ultimately interplays with The Story (or rather the subversion of The Story) is quite satisfying.

      There’s a lot of displacement going on here; from the repeated intertitle “at that time”, suggesting simultaneity both temporally and thematically of separate events, to the way both plot and sounds bleed through the border between scenes and locations. Perhaps most obviously this is suggestive of the main plot’s displacement from its biblical origin to modern times. More generally, there are perpetual contrasts between sounds of classical music (usually suggestive of inner, unvocalized thoughts and the serenity of a focused mind) and of man-made “noise” from cars and planes and the hustle and bustle of ambient society. These are doubled by the beautiful images of the natural world like the sun and the moon and nature (standing in for God, the divine or nature as abstracted deity) contrasted with the very mundane locations in which the story is otherwise taking place (the everyday, the simply human).

      Most interesting and impressive of all is the way Godard rephrases pregnancy from a story of the unborn child to the story of a woman’s body. Especially in the context of the immaculate conception, Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Christ — a foundational Western text — this redefinition, a shift of importance, seems particularly significant. Even more, this strikes me as making the story of the coming and birth of Christ into a pro-choice narrative. While obviously mostly subtext (she never considers abortion), there’s just something about how the unborn child is made very secondary to its effect on, or rather as a specific change to, the woman’s body and also how the story becomes mostly about Mary’s control of her own body against a man who must learn his place and the angels as extensions of her own will and agency. Constructing all that around this of all stories, the last place one might expect (though also in a way not), is nothing short of remarkable and brilliant and is (even with all the film’s formal triumphs) the main achievement here.

      The one somewhat puzzling element in the film is the separate group of scientists/intellectuals who ponder the possibility of a non-natural origin of life. I can sort of see this as complementary to the idea of the immaculate conception (an immaculate conception of life itself), but it’s a bit unclear how their set of personal dynamics and the outcomes of these relate to the film overall beyond this. Though this is more a question I’m left with than a specific critique.

      Without (at all) disparaging the 60s work, this seems to be a maturation and crystallization of Godard’s technique, form and intent. The prankster settling down and putting on the robe of the elder. Not really less playful, but more clear and concise. More disciplined without really being rigid. Suffice to say, it’s as much of a masterpiece as anything I’ve seen from Godard in the 60s. Another high point in my continued exploration of his work.

    • Miller

      Swiss Army Man, aka Farty Boner Corpse — walks an interesting line between parody (the magnificently shitty music) and not (A.A. Dowd described the puppety stuff as “Michel Gondry’s wet dream” and the sticky whimsy that implies is bang-on). But the last 20 minutes or so are unexpected and not predictable, which counts for a lot, and the movie follows its leads in committing to the weirdness. Radcliffe in particular is absolutely hilarious. And I will always laugh at farts.

      • glorbes

        I hate when people complain about fart humour. Sure it’s cheap, but people who claim not to find farts funny are lying to themselves on some level. Embrace the fart!

        • Miller

          Tears of laughter, every time: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5J3Jw2xdszQ

        • Louie CK: “It comes out of your ass, it smells like poop because it’s just been hanging out next to it for a long time, and it makes a little trumpet noise when it comes out. I mean, come on, man, what’s not funny about that?”

      • The Ploughman

        I was surprised how much that movie won me over. Maybe not my favorite of the year, but probably my favorite surprise.

      • Belated Comebacker

        Don’t forget my favorite part of the whole movie: Cameo by Shane Carruth as coroner!

        • Miller

          Ha, didn’t recognize him but perhaps that’s because he wasn’t a pig.

          • Belated Comebacker

            Makes sense to me. Although…maybe it was one of Carruth’s doubles from “Primer?”

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      Putney Swope – The dubbing of the actor by the white director (which was preplanned) made me pretty uncomfortable, and there’s your standard 60s misogyny but overall its a fascinating, vibrant satire that doesn’t end with triumph over the Man and the capitalist system, just a quiet, uncomfortable sense that you might have to walk away from all of this just to save your soul. The weird, jarring disruption of cinema verite also is a clear through line to Jarmusch and Louis CK, where oddities burst out amidst mundane life. I might like it better and better as I think about it.

      New Girl – Fun but this could/maybe should be the last season.

      • The Ploughman

        You’re probably aware, but Putney Swope is the movie that inspired Louis CK to make films. Both in the sense of content and in the “well, I can do that” quality of the production.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Yes! It was on the Wikipedia page.

        • thesplitsaber

          Supposedly it was during a random shopping trip with Marc Maron in NYC where CK found it after digging through an entire vhs bargain bin.

    • Belated Comebacker

      Speechless: Which is knocking it out of the park right, I’d say. Definitely a show that has found its sea legs, undoubtedly helped by Michaela Watkins’ guest appearance! Plus having one of the kids being a savant who can re-create the pathway that his mom took before losing her keys was golden (shades of the superstar in crime dramas who can “think like a criminal” here). Not something I always have time to watch, but glad I caught this one episode.

      Side Effects: Third time (I think) watching this, and, as always, it holds up. Probably one of the funkiest things here is how effortless Soderbergh makes the movie work, as it leaps from grounded psycho-pharmacological thriller to…more noir-ish terrain. Obviously, in the wrong hands, this whole affair could have seemed overblown, but he keeps the cards close to the vest (and Burns clearly did enough homework to make the whole world of pharmaceutical psychotherapy realistic) that you’re lulled into the movie’s world before it turns into a “Fatal Attraction”-styled thriller. However, the one thing I was mulling over after watching it was the moment when Rooney Mara’s Emily left Banks’ office at the very end of the movie, and is surprised by her husband’s mother, lawyer, and the prosecutor. Did Banks set her up to discredit her? Because re-watching that scene, it doesn’t appear as though she said anything too damning..

      Either way, an excellent movie, though I can’t say I saw Soderbergh’s sympathies the same way the Narrator Returns did. (Oh, and if you have the DVD, the Behind-the-Scenes is worth watching, on par with what the Coen Bros. did for their first re-release of “Blood Simple,” with the phony film preservation society intro/commentary.)

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        What do you think Soderbergh’s sympathies in comparison?

        • Belated Comebacker

          My theory was that he was merely an observer for this film. Because at the end, you do have Banks reunited with his family, having “vanquished” the turncoat and villain from the movie, having worked with the authorities. I understood what he was saying (Narrator, that is) but couldn’t bridge that divide. It seemed more like his sympathies were in crafting an effective, efficient thriller, and he succeeded (creating a balance that doesn’t always work with other directors, who typically end up taking sides, a la the Coen Bros. and Visser’s running commentary).

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            I have a theory that Side Effects, The Informant, and Contagion all have a similar bent of having a political, systemic problem before zeroing in on the individuals using this problem to profit. Tbh I’m not sure how to feel about that.

          • Belated Comebacker

            Well, it certainly dovetails with Burns’ views. Soderbergh as a director is someone who has always come across as more neutral and observant, than condemning others and railing against them. This is probably why he’s one of my favorite directors working today, because his attitude in his work is not so dissimilar to that of a journalist (my current professional calling). That and he’s insistent on being hella accurate (the end of the first scene in “Haywire,” where Carano racks the gun and bullet falls out of the chamber, was added in post, since that was something that would happen. It had already been fired once by Tatum’s character).

      • The Narrator

        Have you read the interview Soderbergh did with Rooney Mara for Interview Magazine? It’s very much a part of the tone of “behind-the-scenes” feature.

        • Belated Comebacker

          Yes I have. You gotta give Soderbergh credit for being able to cut loose and act completely silly, while also churning out these incredibly tight, efficient movies (and now TV shows too!)

    • Margaret–I’d never seen the theatrical cut, but I just jumped right into the extended cut based on reputation, and it was so very, very good, even if its (by design) messiness does keep it from being completely great. I really appreciate just how teenaged its teen characters are; it’s some of the most true-to-life depiction of teen behavior I’ve ever seen.

      But help me out here, folks: I’m not a New Yorker, but I could have sworn there’s a scene–J. Smith-Cameron is looking out from her boyfriend’s balcony, commenting on the view–where it shows the Twin Towers in the skyline. Am I just seeing things? Because it really threw me for a moment, because it made me think the movie was supposed to take place pre-9/11 until they started talking about the attack in the past tense.

      • Balthazar Bee

        I recently read a piece that made a case for the theatrical cut being superior, but damn if I can remember where. The dominant opinion seems to go in the opposite direction; I think there’s a lot to be sifted in either form, and you’re absolutely right about its incredible level of teen verisimilitude. (Shame there isn’t a high-definition transfer of the extended version.)

        I probably wouldn’t have sought out Margaret at all if not for Jim Emerson’s Scanners blog (incidentally, what happened to that guy?): http://www.rogerebert.com/scanners/three-faces-of-margaret

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          I know! I miss Emerson even when I disagreed with him.

          • Balthazar Bee

            Back around the time his blog went dark, I seem to remember him making a few ominous references to his health, so it’s hard not to fear the worst.

          • He has a few tweets from January regarding the election.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            I know he talked about his clinical depression a lot.

        • The Ploughman

          Could that have been one Lovefest by a Dr. T. Ploughman, the most shamelessly self-promoting Margaret academic?

          Emerson’s blog is also how I came to discover the movie and his posts on it are great (I would love for him to do a book covering the whole messed-up production). I was afraid he’d been scuttled away by angry Dark Knight fans, but he pops up every now and then on twitter. Loved his blog.

          • Balthazar Bee

            By Jove, you’re right! Great work, Dr!

          • The Ploughman

            When you’re one of about three people on the Internet who have written more than 100 kind words about Margaret, you flaunt it.

            (The other two being Emerson and uber-Margaret champion Mike D’Angelo)

      • The Ploughman

        I noticed the same thing the second time I watched it! I think the scene is only in the extended cut. The film is so post-9/11 oriented that I’m sure it had to be filmed after, and it’s so quickly come and gone and a little confusing thematically that I doubt it’s a special effect. My two theories are 1) us out-of-towners identify any similar tall buildings near each other as Twin Towers and they don’t register as such to New Yorkers or 2) this skyline was deliberately included to invoke the Twin Towers (whether the location was chosen because of the similarity or the discovery was made on set) as another moment that should be nice but can’t escape the shadow of 9/11. Either way, it’s a bit jarring and another scene I don’t miss in the theatrical cut.

        • Thank you! I was so worried I was just completely making things up. I’m positive the movie was filmed post-9/11, so it’s either #1, #2, or SFX. It threw me for a good 10-15 minutes of the movie, too–there’s a scene soon after where they’re walking in what looks like downtown Manhattan, and the camera pans up to look at the buildings above them, and I thought for sure we were about to see a plane collide with a building.

          • The Ploughman

            I’m not entirely sure that feeling is unintended. Or at least unwelcome. The whole movie evokes that time in the wake of 9/11 where people were trying to get back to “normal” while wondering if they should brace for another attack.

            ETA: Which makes watching it several years after it was intended to be released a little extra trippy.

    • Balthazar Bee

      Parents: Ladies and gentlemen…Mr. Bob Balaban, director.

      Maybe it was inevitable that I’d love a 60s period piece in which Randy Quaid plays a chem warfare scientist (at Toxico!), but that’s just scratching the surface of this gem. During a fleet eighty-two minutes, we follow “the boy” (Bryan Madorsky) through the travails of his daily existence, which mostly means coping with the idea that his titular parents may or may not be cannibals.

      His nightmares reflect a struggle to process this, along with the sight of the pair making love, and through the magic of dreams, this gets conflated into some very heavy shit — gigantic pools of blood and piles of organ meat, accompanied by Angelo Badalamenti’s suitably horrifying score.

      There’s some great kid acting here, particularly during a wine-soaked day of sin for our hero and his sky-scraping would-be girlfriend from the moon (London Juno). Do I have to point out how refreshing it is to see kids just acting weird because they’re kids? And not hyper-cutesy weird — mugging for the camera and “kidz say the dernedest thingz” — but what I would characterize as a legitimate representation of what it’s like to feel in over your head all the time, being perpetually forced to react to stuff that doesn’t seem normal, while everyone else refuses to acknowledge that something’s off.

      It’s always great to see Sandy Dennis too, and needless to say, Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt do some glorious scenery chewing up in here.

      Withnail & I: This movie threatens to put me into a laughter-induced coma every time, so I was more than a little relieved to find my son enjoying it too. His comments during the movie included, “Not many other people would find this funny,” (which I heard as, “My peer group doesn’t have a functioning sense of humour”) and, “That was a surprisingly sad ending.”

      I feel like I have to quote at least one line or this post will be a failure. To that end, last night I woke up around 3 a.m. and started laughing, because I kept hearing Richard E. Grant’s plaintive voice imploring, “Are you the farmer?”

      • Miller

        I have yet to see Parents but I do own My Boyfriend’s Back, the other major Balaban-directed piece … it’s a bit of a mess? But there is an indelible Philip Seymour Hoffman performance as an angry dumb jock tucked in there.

    • pico79

      Color of Pomegranates, in the 4k digital restoration. Was great to see this on the big screen, even if the material’s a little esoteric. It’s too bad tableaux vivants is such an underused technique – the only recent major example I can think of is Roy Andersson’s “Living” trilogy – because it’s so ripe with possibility. Parajanov’s visual imagination is hard to beat.

      • lgauge

        There’s a very good recent Estonian film called In the Crosswind which uses tableaux almost exclusively. Though in this case, they are 3-dimensional and the camera tracks slowly through large crowds of people and surroundings while a voice narrates the scene which is visually frozen (but dynamic because as the camera moves through the scene, so does time in a way, but without any actors moving). It’s like a very well conceived museum exhibit, but way more interesting as cinema than that would imply.

        • pico79

          Ah, that sounds very cool. I’ll check it out, thanks!

  • The Ploughman

    Hey! The Handmaiden! You want your sexy movie of 2016 that may or may not cross a line? Look no further!

    As for American Honey, I found the sex scenes naturalistic but also a touch depressing, as I wasn’t sure LeBouf’s character was worth her time (in fairness, the she is asking the same question in the movie). As I wrote at the time, we see the characters screw but never see them cook, and do something feels out of whack with this ad how community, even if it does have its surface appeals.

    • lgauge

      I think the reason it worked so well for me in American Honey was that the way the scenes were acted and shot completely bypassed my thoughts and went straight to my senses. Thinking about it after I would probably agree with you in a way, but during I was too busy feeling to think (as I’m sure they, or at least she, were).

    • I was thinking about the American movie scene.

      The main reason I had Stranger by the Lake in there was because I couldn’t think of that many American films with nom-rapey unsimulated sex. I could (should?) have replaced it with Nymphomaniac or Shame or Love or The Handmaiden.

      • Damn. What I should have gone with was Interior. Leather Bar. *shakes tiny fist*

    • Belated Comebacker

      It’s a sign of the times that when I first read your comment, I was thinking of “The Handmaiden’s Tale.” Wait a minute, I thought! That’s a TV series, not a movie!

      • The Ploughman

        When it was first announced I was stoked that Chan Wook Park was adapting the book, before I learned that that was not the case at all.

  • Conor Malcolm Crockford

    I’ll echo @chrisblunk:disqus with The Handmaiden – the puppet scene and the POV shot *from* the vagina are stunning pieces of sexuality, one negative (if so deranged it’s more funny than explicitly uncomfortable) and one very positive and rooted in the emotions of the characters.

    • The Ploughman

      “POV vagina shot” sounds much more ludicrous than it is. The shot is the right amount of ludicrous.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        I mean its so rooted in the characters falling for each other and exploring the other’s sexuality that its rather lovely AND ludicrous.

  • DJ JD

    I’ve been stewing on this pet hypothesis of mine, and I’m probably going to misstate this at some level. I wonder if our problem with sex isn’t our puritanical morality so much as our relatively-unassessed, apparently culture-wide level of (over?)consumption of sexual materials. We – and I use the term “we” to encompass multiple, disparate levels of kinship simultaneously here – have increasingly fragmented our intake of sexual materials, on the one hand forbidding even a hint of sex in places where it seems very likely to be present, and not so long ago was considered quite normal (remember how Jaws started? What about “Wanna get drunk and fool around?”) and on the other hand utterly bombarding ourselves with disposable sexual material. The stereotype is that for males, it’s internet porn and for females, it’s a certain type of reality show like The Challenge or The Bachelor (which, my wife does not approve of internet porn but I’ve seen stuff on the Bachelor in front of my mother-in-law that made me blush.) Of course that stereotype is outdated. Still, however we get there, we have a situation where our population at large has a nearly constant stream of sexual material available, at whatever intensity and crafted to whatever nature best suits the viewer.

    And yet at the same time our overall comfort level with sexual material appears to have plummeted. Like you pointed out, the current crop of nominees is deliberately, strikingly sexless, even when it seems like it would logically follow the action onscreen. The idea of an erotic thriller being considered highbrow entertainment is faintly unimaginable today, and the bawdy comedy – a nearly-permanent fixture in human entertainment, going back to what I understand to be the first recorded joke – is essentially a novelty act these days. Even von Trier’s Nymphomaniac wasn’t taken all that seriously, relative to his filmography. (cf: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lars_von_Trier_filmography .)

    This is where my pet hypothesis is definitely a work in progress, but I don’t necessarily tie the phenomenon of less sex in movies to puritanical morality: I wonder if overall, our culture has lost its spark with sex. Maybe we’re numb to sex in a way we never have been before, because it’s literally never been this easy to have this much third-person material available. If that’s true, it follows that one could expect to see some unintended consequences.

    The issue has been polarized by the church and its rampant hypocrisy on the point, of course. They’ve completely (and characteristically) demonized the concept to the core–which makes quite a few things worse in the here-and-now, and has not always been true, significantly (Thomas Aquinas: “Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority, rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred: thus Augustine says (De Ordine ii, 4): “If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.””) The church continues to call for increased regulation of the very material that studies have shown we/they consume at a greater rate than anyone else, to the point that you’d think that they wanted it to be completely illegal. It doesn’t help the larger, “secular” conversation that follows, because framing things as “sex-positive” as a response sets up the same exact blind spot in our larger, society-wide thinking.

    (Relevant sidenote: the most porn-friendly place I’ve ever lived – as in, the place where porn was most likely to be a side discussion with a colleague in a mixed-gender office setting without anyone batting an eye – was Oklahoma, which has the strictest anti-porn laws I’ve ever lived under–as well as the strictest alcohol and tattooing laws, to boot. The state is practically ringed by adult bookstores, liquor stores and tattoo parlors, all doing brisk business right on the state line, and it was also the drunkest and most inked-up state I’ve ever lived in, either. Go figure.)

    So: I’m not calling for a mass vilification here, but I have certainly wondered how deep a blind spot we have to this issue. I suspect that most people would say that “consumption in moderation” is key, but it’s so carefully avoided in open conversation (except among groups with a tangible, strident opinion on the subject that, umm, nobody else ever wants to talk to) that we don’t really discuss the dangers implied in suggesting that moderation is even necessary. I mean, we say “drink in moderation” because we’ve all seen (if not experienced) what happens when that maxim isn’t followed; most of us probably have someone we think of with porn, too. But we don’t openly assess the point. I wonder if this is something future generations will call an obvious blind spot in our culture.

    I’d also assert that at its core, the misogyny and larger gender-related misanthropy that formerly comedic sites like 4chan have devolved to scans as sexual insecurity, with the “humor” simply the open indulgence of neurosis. I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers, in mental health settings and in perfectly “normal” settings, and I feel a sharp twinge of familiarity when I come across a certain type of bro-friendly talk that certain sections of the internet seem to harbor. But these can easily be people in their 40’s or older that are talking this way! The fact that our society has a sizable enough minority of people like this – and a sizable enough majority of self-appointed moral watchdogs (/hypocrites, by the numbers) suggests to me that our current model certainly isn’t working for everyone.

    As a postscript, I dearly wanted Hot Girls Wanted to deliver on its premise. Alas…

    • DJ JD

      Reading other comments here that appeared while I was penning my tome, I’m struck by how very American my perspective here is. Comments are welcomed, of course.

    • The Ploughman

      I think you may be on to something with the easy access to porn in the Internet. If there’s two kinds of sexual needs/desires – one for actual physical release and one for titillation – the needs for the latter can be easily sated. There’s no real need to put some extra breasts in a movie because breasts are plentiful and free these days (“breasts are plentiful and free” appeared on early 19th century pamphlets advertising America, btw). So maybe it’s less prudence on the part of American movies and more a supply and demand equation.

      When something deliberately sexy comes out like a 50 Shades movie, well, I have on anecdotal data to back this up, but it seems like the movies are driven by audiences who would have a moral (or other) aversion to straight-up porn?

      • DJ JD

        I absolutely scanned 50SoG’s target demographics as groups who hadn’t found their comfort level within the larger society’s current sexual milieu, but found this to be an acceptable analog. Sex and the City found a degree of success with a comparable model almost two decades ago (which, not-so-relevant tangent, makes me feel old to think about.)

    • I’m terrified of how teens today are growing up re: sexuality. I know that’s an old fogey attitude, and was probably said about my generation (I grew up with fairly easy access to internet porn), but it was never on the scale or acceptance of today. And it’s a fine line to teach them that sex can be healthy and good, but too much of it can distort their attitudes towards it. Especially when so much of their lives exists online, it’s easy to reduce even girls they know to objects instead of dealing with them face-to-face. I could look at Playboy online and understand the difference between them and my classmates, but when they now see their classmates posting photos online as racy as celebrities’ Instagrams, how to you educate them on the difference between fantasy and reality?

      • DJ JD

        It’s so tough. Hell, it’s tough to even discuss in a setting like this, where we all know each other but don’t know each other’s families (an oddly freeing combination, that.) To take one example, I get why the child-predator guards went up over nude selfies, but I also felt like we were criminalizing what should have been a safe way for teens to explore their sexuality, too. (Nobody got pregnant from just a picture, which the teens in question almost certainly noticed at the time.) At the same time, it was hard not to notice the way that the teens were turning themselves into images (that never go away) for other teens to notice them…

        • Regarding families, I’ll say I’m not asking this hypothetically. My gf’s kids have both had problems with sex & tech. There were consequences that made me scream of course this happened that they were oblivious to considering.

          • DJ JD

            Ooo. I’m sorry to hear that, and I hope the matter in question is reasonably concluded, with a minimum of long-term effects. I have friends that have suffered life-changing consequences from innocuous choices made in their youths, for sure.

            For what it’s worth, I’m not discussing the point academically either: my boys are both too young yet, but there’s a whole world of heart-stains out there that I have no idea how to protect them from. Most of my musings on this topic have come from my trying to synthesize who I want to be with who I am and who I want to guide my sons towards becoming.

          • It could’ve been more serious than they were, thankfully. I’m sure more problems will happen in the future, but one crisis at a time.

            I am a blunt person. I swear, I tell dirty jokes, I like taboo humor. And their mother doesn’t believe in sheltering kids. So they’ve been exposed to sexual topics since they were young, and they know they can talk about it with us. When they discuss sex with me, I never use euphemisms. It’s always “penis”, “vagina,” etc. That keeps the conversation honest because there’s no hiding what we mean. We encourage informed decisions, and they can only make them with the right information. It’s not easy, but it’s the best we can do.

            As for aims, I take Aristotle’s advice on that. You will always fall short of your goal, so aim as far as you can, so you’ll fall short farther than if you made a more modest goal.

      • The Ploughman

        Internet porn didn’t really hit its stride until I was in college (it was always there, of course, but spending 5 min downloading a Playboy pic on a dialup connection is a far cry from being presented seven unwanted options when Googling a tossed salad recipe). And forget about smartphones. So I have no real precedent when I’ll have to deal with this with my kids, and it’s a bit scary. I suppose every generation has something to figure out that the previous didn’t have to, excepting maybe after the fall of the Roman Empire or something (“well, guess we don’t have teach Jimmy safety around the aqueducts”).

      • This is gonna sound creepy, but I do wonder how sexually active my niece is. I don’t live near them, but she’s definitely of the age to be fooling around (HS Senior). It’s not my business, though. I mean, who wants their non-judgey older gay uncle to be asking if they’re having sex already.

        But, she’s dated but not been knocked up that i know of. She also is relatively radfem, and open to queer topics.

    • Miller

      Humor as the open indulgence of neurosis, I like that a lot as a definition (if not as humor itself). Some drunken hypothesizing based off comments above and my own recent viewing. Sex is personal where other things — namely, violence — are not. John Matrix can murder hundreds of dudes in Commando, a guy who bangs hundreds of dudes or ladies in a movie has made not just a porno but a porno to end pornos. This despite the fact that a banger on that scale is realistically plausible, and depending on your age or maturity laudable, while a real life killer on that scale is horrifying.

      We easily disassociate killing, in other words. I am guessing because we generally don’t do it. But we do bone. We can see what is on the screen reflected, or not, in our lives in that area and it makes us anxious. We are more sensitive to what seems wrong and more likely to be upset by what seems right that we are not doing. And we are more sensitive, literally, to an act with a non transitive power. Killing is a fantasy without, one would hope, attainment, while super sexy sex could happen. But it’s not! At least not with those people on screen. It’s a complicated thing constantly made more complicated by, as you note, refusing to engage with it.

  • I am a prude (of the religious sort). I make no secret of it. As such I tend to dislike sex scenes, and am grateful on the whole when I am warned a movie or TV show has sex scenes.

    But I also get why people like sex scenes and why filmmakers wants to include such scenes. And I would rather people watch a movie that glorifies acts of pleasure and love than a movie that glorifies death and violence. Equating sex and violence in the ratings system, and then being much faster to censor people having sex than people bleeding profusely from multiple wounds, is really sending a bad message. I will never be the loudest voice for sex positivity, but I think sex positivity is far better than the opposite.

    How this relates to the current trend, I can’t say, though. But I will note that just because a film lacks any bedroom scenes doesn’t mean I am going to see it. What ultimately defines a good and interesting film for me is not the lack of one thing, but the presence of other things. And once in a while, the presence of those other things allows me to live with the one thing.

    Boy, I hope this makes sense.

    • Belated Comebacker

      Another interesting note is the regulation between violence and sex on broadcast television. Since it’s a “public commodity,” there are strong safeguards about showing too much explicit sex (hence the reasons for every network having a Standards and Practices Department). Can’t recall what the deal is with violence, although they’re clearly more comfortable with that being shown on TV (which is what I think you’re saying with films).

    • I used to dislike sex scenes in film and television, too, and largely, I still do–not because of morality, necessarily, but because I think it’s very often poorly done. There are tremendous sex scenes out there (I just watched Margaret, and that has a good one), but so often, they feel out of place, poorly lit, poorly choreographed, or just flat-out awkward. American directors especially seem pretty bad at sex scenes.

      • DJ JD

        I think there’s also a problem of author appeal (on the creator’s side) and ego (on the performer’s side) that gets in the way of what I’d think of as “real” sex. Real sex is ungainly, undignified, messy and faintly ridiculous, and that’s at its best. Cinematic sex very often isn’t any of those things.

        • Thankfully, the Margaret sex scene actually is ungainly, undignified, messy, and faintly ridiculous.

  • The Narrator

    Hey, just thought you should know that Get Out is currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. With 71 reviews in.

    • The Ploughman

      That’s Pixar-level numbers!

    • Belated Comebacker

      Hey-yo! That sounds promising! As someone who’s just found out about it last weekend, this is very cool, and makes it even more worth my while to see!

  • The Ploughman

    The Ploughman’s Lunch Link

    Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? (2005) dir Miguel Arteta

    Hey everybody, here’s a bit to make you smile from a couple champions of the mid 00s indies – director Miguel Arteta (Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl) and writer Miranda July. This dropped the same year as Miranda July’s also quirky and very sweet feature debut Me and You and Everyone We Know.

    https://vimeo.com/130598297

    July has a great talent for imbuing her writing and performance art projects with contagious good will and usually themes around a desire for connection. This was manifested in her unusual (and currently discontinued) app Somebody. The app was a sort of crowdsource conduit for message delivery. Your message would be sent out to other Somebody app users along with the name and description of the nearby intended recipient. Directions on how to deliver the message (sadly, while laughing, while touching their arm, etc) could be included. In theory, your otherwise impersonal text message would be delivered by an actual human being to the person you were messaging.

    For many logistical reasons, the app did not work as intended (the website claims a sub-Pony Express success rate of 25%). But its quixotic attempt at connecting strangers is pure July. Indeed today’s short recasts the most anonymous of stranger interactions, the unsolicited survey, as an opportunity for reflection and support.

    The whole point of the exercise, of course, is to make the viewer ask the same question of themselves. And so in the spirit of July, I turn it around to all of you, walking by this comment on the streets of the Solute. Are you the favorite person of anybody?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      I have favourite people. That’s enough.

      • The Ploughman

        Beautiful. Have an orange.

  • pico79

    For what it’s worth, Moonlight does at least have ejaculate, which most films won’t touch (uh… literally). It’s from a wet dream, but that’s still a bit more explicit than films that show the “tasteful grinding” that passes for sex in most mainstream movies.

    Of course it doesn’t go as far with that as Toni Erdmann, but … that worked for Toni Erdmann, wouldn’t work for a lot of films.

    • lgauge

      There’s also implied ejaculate in the later scene on the beach.

    • In the film Happiness, PSH has phone sex (sort of), ejaculates on the wall, and covers it by using it to glue a postcard to the wall. There are many postcards already. It’s no wonder censors didn’t like that movie.

      • pico79

        Heck, Something About Mary did, too, but I think it got off (heh) easier because it used it for comic purposes.