This time in ‘Elements of the Screen’ I’m going to express my views on that other classic cinema stumbling-block (the one already addressed being violence). It doesn’t take a genius to see where I’m going with this (or to simply read the title!). Though some people may not be aware of it, sexuality- even explicit sexuality -has always found its way onto the movie screens, even before the medium had a sizable audience. People being what they are, it’s almost impossible to separate the topic from our entertainment. So let’s go ahead and rule out the idea of eliminating sex in film. It simply isn’t going to happen. The question is, when sexual matters are dealt with, how much should the viewer be exposed to?
Sex is a very complicated issue, naturally, so there’s more than one answer. What facets of sexuality should go to what line, exactly? The first issue that comes to mind is sexual dialog.
Much of human foreplay is mental, so that necessitates communication. If I want to establish two characters, a husband and a wife, as having an intimate relationship (which, like it or not, involves sex), I should allow the audience to experience a sampling of this. Innuendo, implication, is far more powerful that explicitness. I don’t think it is necessary for the audience to listen to the wife describing the husband’s genitalia, for example. Maybe- at most -an innuendo, but nothing more. Sexual tension is sold by looks and emotions, not explicit dialog. I’d say the clear line, for me, where I become uncomfortable, is where the writing takes what goes on behind closed doors and puts it out in broad daylight. Sex is intended to be a private thing. Exposure nixes imagination, and anticipation. So sexual dialog can be necessary, but it should be for the end goal of enhancing character, increasing emotional investment, not titillation.
Titillation, arousing the audience, is a difficult thing to avoid. Let’s be frank. The very subject or implication of sex, in any context, can arouse the audience; just as witnessing a villain’s act of violence can make the audience wish for his death. I’d say that avoiding titillation, like avoiding the subject of sex itself, is fairly impossible. It’s a natural byproduct. In my view, filmmakers should avoid it only when it becomes gratuitous and doesn’t serve the story. I’ll put it this way; you can show the beautiful woman, but you shouldn’t show her naked.
Which brings me to my next facet: the ever-popular subject of nudity. In a more objective view, how much nudity that can be shown relies more on cultural ethics than strict morality; for example, in some countries, showing a woman in a skirt can be scandalous, while here in the U.S. it is tame. Does this mean we should throw caution to the wind and display nudity liberally? In my view… no. The reason? For one, motivations. Are we showing a person’s bare torso for a good reason, or simply as glorified pornography? I can’t think of any reason other than completely lowbrow entertainment to show a person entirely nude, honestly. At least in this country. In some cultures, nudity is commonplace, and doesn’t have sexual shock value; what matters is what a person does while nude.
Which brings me to the next facet: intercourse itself. This I think is the most unnecessary to a film’s story. Sex scenes are often completely over dramatized and unlike reality, serving as, once again, pornography. I can buy a sexual attraction between the lead characters in say, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, without ever seeing them in the act. Sex scenes are entirely unnecessary and gratuitous, in my view. Emotional response in the audience is more important that shock. It applies to violence, and it applies to sex.
Obviously, this is a very controversial issue, and one that is hard to articulate in absolutes. So, what is your view? Do you think modern films go too far? Where should the lines be drawn?