Sunday, February 12, 2006

Real Sex in Cinema

A few days ago, I watched the movie 9 Songs, and then yesterday I watched Gaspar Noe's video for Placebo, both of which feature actual sex. So, watching these two raises some questions about where the line between art and pornography is, and more importantly, is there really any reason that you need actual sex in a film?

9 Songs isn't a porn, but it does seem constructed entirely around showing people actually having sex, and that's where it fails. I think there's definitely films that would benefit from the frank depiction of sex that this film has, but the problem with this movie is that it clearly with the idea, "Let's do a film with actual sex," and went from there. I'd guess that the basic conception of the film was to show how a relationship changes by showing us the ways that their sex changes over time. It's not a bad idea, but the film doesn't really work because we've got no context for their relationship and only a vague idea of who these people are as characters.

So, rather than feeling a greater sense of intimacy with the characters, the audience is put in a voyeuristic position. We don't know these people, so watching them go at it doesn't have much emotional significance. Plus, the band appearances felt disconnected from the rest of the movie. The film is definitely spectacle in the sense that you're there to watch some bands and some people have sex, there's no sense of real narrative progression.

Now, I'm not saying it's a bad film. There's some strong parts, the increasing antagonism of the two characters, who seem to be unable to connect to each other and start to do all sorts of role play stuff rather than confront the reality of their relationship. The best scene in the movie is when Matt blindfolds Lisa. The image is striking, and there's a lot of subtext to what they're doing there, escaping into fantasy rather than being content in the reality of where they are at the moment.

So, this is a film that's more an experiment in the depiction of sex on screen than a real narrative. I think it would have been much more interesting to drop most of the band performances, and spend more time developing the characters. The film is only 70 minutes, so if you add another 20 minutes, you could get a better sense of the relationship as a whole. Then, the sex would feel less exploitative and more like we're just seeing every facet of these people's relationship.

In terms of depicting sex on screen, it's certainly true that there's a falseness in a lot of mainstream Hollywood movies. The not so subtle positioning to avoid showing any actual nudity can seem a bit contrived. However, I don't think the reaction to this needs to be actual sex. For one, that puts actors in a really awkward position. Where's the line between kissing someone for a role and actually having sex with them? In both cases, it's supposed to be meaningless, but where is the line drawn? What should you have to go through to serve a role? In this film, there's not that much gained through the shots of actual penetration, they don't add to the emotional reality of the scene, and ultimately that's what the point of the real sex is supposed to be, to make things feel more real.

If the sex was just one part of the plot, I might have had a different reaction. If these were more developed characters, there would probably be less sense of contrivance, but as it is, it's not that the film goes too far, it's just that it seems designed only to test the limits, rather than having the boundary breaking come out of a fundamentally engaging story.

I was reading an interview with Vincent Cassel where he talks about how Gaspar Noe originally approached him to do a film in which Cassel and his real life wife, Monica Bellucci would have sex on screen. But he didn't want to do this, and that's what led to the creation of Irreversible. Even once they started Irreversible, he was saying that if they wanted to "make it real" in the scene where they're in bed together, he'd be cool with that, but Cassel and Bellucci both said there was a line between the character and the real person, and they didn't want to cross that line in the film.

That's a film that I think finds a good balance in terms of depicting intimacy on screen. The two of them wander around their apartment naked, and the fact that they're so comfortable with each other tells you what you need to know about their relationship, you don't need them to actually have sex.

Yet, Noe clearly fancied the idea because in a video he did for Placebo he goes back to the real sex idea, it's basically two people wandering through an orgy. Now, in this case, there's no narrative, what makes this video different from porn?

I would argue that it's not in the narrative, it's the technique. Watching the film, what's being shown is almost incidental to the astounding camera movement. Noe's camera glides through space, capturing this environment in a great long take. Like a lot of stuff in Irreversible, it's astounding filmmaking, but for a lot of viewers, the brilliance of his technique is negated by his subject matter.

I like the video, but I could definitely see why someone would consider it pornographic and exploitative. Noe's someone who loves to shock, and this video is an example of that.

So, what's the conclusion. I feel like in general, you don't need to have actual sex in a film. For one, it can obscure the rest of the film in terms of media attention, as with what happened with 'The Brown Bunny,' but also because I feel like it's not needed. Actual shots of penetration don't really add anything, and as long as you have actors who are willing to go to an emotionally real place, you're good. Looking at Buffy, there's a show that had to deal with network television restrictions and still managed to portray sex in a really strong, interesting way. Buffy and Spike having sex in the falling house doesn't need nudity to convey its meaning. But there are other scenes that feel hamstrung by the need to keep any real nudity out of the scene.

It would be interesting to see the reaction to a mainstream film that features real sex, but I don't see it happening, and for the sake of actors involved, I'd say that's a good thing.


Mihnea said...

I agree with you, though i haven't seen the movies u referred to in the beginning...

I fail to see why the usage of real sex is thought to bring a larger audience or make the movie much more popular in a certain way. I tend to believe that producers want to drag more teens into the's just a thought, but why would they think we're all about sex these days...:|

Anyway, great point of view, it's about time someone tried to explain this s**t..good work!

buy viagra without prescription said...

Real Sex in Cinema??? I have heard about it , so I think that it is so cool, I would to watch of produced a movie with real sex, it is so good!!22dd

Raheja Atlantis 2 said...

I wish that they had gone ahead with that nude scene..... atleast we would had got to see some awesome performance by her!!!!

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