The Movie Scab Reviews: Sex in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and the Movies.
"The scab you're picking at is called execution."
--American film producer Scott Rudin.
Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!
Monkey Boy rated the sex in the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and sex in movies, 5 Acks! out of 5.
I'm going to explore sex in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and sex in the movies and see what pops up.
I'll get to Tattoo later. Let's get to the sex first.
I like to call sex in the movies Pretend Sex because it's supposed to be faked on-screen sex, as opposed to real on-screen sex. But sometimes things get a little blurry in the movie business, as well as under the sheets when the cameras are rolling, which makes the definition of Pretend Sex rather hard to define because it’s so, uh, flexible.
Is it Pretend Sex? Real Sex? Robot Sex? Muskrat Love? Or what?
It doesn’t help that we're all so used to on-screen Pretend Sex these days, having seen it in countless films over the past forty or fifty years. Any psychologist worth his spermatozoa would tell you we’ve built up a tolerance or perhaps even an immunity to it. For the modern moviegoer, sex in the movies is like turning on the microwave and zapping a bag of hot buttered popcorn in two minutes or less (usually less) that’s mostly tasteless and suspiciously salty.
In other words, it ain't no big deal.
Because of that, I think it's important to define, in no uncertain terms, what I'm talking about before we spread the legs of truth and dive right in.
I'm going to use three words to define sex in the movies:
1) Hardcore: Real actors perform real sex, often in extreme close-up, sort of like a penis-in-your-face in 3D.
2) Softcore: Real actors perform real sex, but there's less penis-in-your-face and there's no 3D.
3) Pretend Sex: Real actors pretend to have real sex, there's no penis-in-your-face at all and the entire movie, including the titles, might be in 3D. This is the mainstream and most common form of sex in the movies (and on TV).
The rules and regulations for Pretend Sex are pretty tight: By and large, the penis and/or the vagina are not permitted on screen (and the erect penis and/or the aroused vagina are verboten).There are no extreme close-ups of genitalia whatsoever, no sexual manipulation of said genitalia or anything like real on-screen ejaculation. Pretend Sex is not real even though it looks real enough to make a nun blush.
The MPAA rating board might slap an NC-17 rating on a movie if a single pubic hair is shown in a Pretend Sex sex scene, but they're cool with pretend fellatio as long as no pubes or penis are visible. Special People are hired on some movie sets to make sure there is no real sex going on because, well, what if someone slips up and in it goes and now they're having real sex? Who these Special People are and who they work for is a complete and total Hollywood mystery and I'm not sure they exist. But if that's the case--Hollywood needs Special People on the set to prevent real sex from happening when shooting Pretend Sex--it should be clear that when it comes to sex in the movies Hollywood is on a slippery-when-wet slope.
The official term for Hardcore and Softcore is pornography, but some people refer to it as smut.
Pornographers are in the movie business to make money and they give their clientele what they want, which is real on-screen sex, and they don't apologize or lie about it.
Hollywood is in the movie business to make money and they give their clientele what they want, which is on-screen sex that is not real. (This is starting to change, however, and I'll get to that in a moment.) Hollywood does not apologize and it often lies about it, calling Pretend Sex Art, even when it isn't pretend anymore. (Just ask Linda Williams, a professor from the University of California quoted in a New York Times article called "It isn't a Real Sex Scene? I Still Need a Cigarette" by Mireya Navarro. Professor Williams calls real sex in movies that aren't considered pornography or smut "hard-core art." Either she's splitting pubic hairs or methinks she protests too much.)
Hollywood does not want you to believe they're making pornography (because it's smut), so they fake the on-screen sex by having actors pretend in the most convincing and sometimes graphic way possible that they're not pretending to have on-screen sex but are in fact having real on-screen sex when they are in fact not.
Pornographers are honest, and that's one of the big differences between them and Hollywood. (There are plenty of others, of course, but I won't explore them here.) When it comes to sex in the movies, Hollywood behaves like a politician, always spinning the truth to protect the thing that matters most: money, honey.
Some Hollywood actors will tell you that shooting Pretend Sex scenes is hard, and I don't doubt them at all. From a technical perspective, it's got to be hard, hard, hard. For example, the movie actor William Hurt once said he didn't have time for an erection during the filming of Body Heat, a 1981 R rated thriller with plenty of pumping and grinding on-screen Pretend Sex. The reason he did not have time for an erection, he said, was simply because he had to be aware of so many things while pretending to have sex with super hottie Kathleen Turner, you know, technical things like all those bright, hot lights shining down on him, getting in the right body position for the shot, melting movie makeup, cues from the director, the 50 person crew standing around and watching, the smell of food coming from the crafts service table, and whether or not he looked fat. On top of Kathleen Turner, uh, er, I mean, on top of all that, he had to stay in character, remember his lines, and do everything else an actor has to do when making a movie. (I've paraphrased what he said, but you get the idea.) That kind of pressure would be enough to cause any penis to shrink into useless oblivion, sent screaming home to its mommy--well, if not any penis, William Hurt's.
Kathleen Turner, on the other hand, who acted with Hurt in Body Heat and pretended to have sex with him on-screen, said Pretend Sex with Hurt got her hotter than a toaster stuffed with thick slices of burning French Bread. (That's paraphrased too, but it sums up her thoughts pretty well.)
And, of course, there are legendary accounts of Hollywood actors performing Pretend Sex that may not have been pretend at all.
Take, for example, the celebrated Pretend Sex sex scene between Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand in 1973's Baby Boomer crap-fest The Way We Were. Director Sydney Pollack let it slip (more than once) that the jockstrap timid Redford wore during the love scene was not working because they could see it on camera, and then, when Redford slipped it off and got naked with Barbara under the sheets...? Well, let's just say the Pretend Sex scene became the celebrated sex scene that we all know and love today. Pollack had a pretty good idea why.
How about the Pretend Sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Nicolas Roeg's 1973 horror movie Don't Look Now? Both actors denied the real sex allegations, but there are other sources, and books, that beg to differ. (And isn't it weird that it came out the same year as The Way We Were? Coincidence? I don't think so!) Like the Redford and Streisand controversy, we will never know the truth, but after you view the protracted sex scene in Don't Look Now and think about just how golly-gosh-darn real it looks, well… Like NYT journalist Mireya Navarro suggested, a cigarette after viewing will be necessary. (Or in my case, a cold shower.)
On an interesting side-note, I watched the Sutherland/Christie Pretend Sex scene from Don't Look Now before writing this and noticed a few things worth pointing out: 1) The bodies of the actors look like the bodies of real, normal people, i.e., they're not sculpted with muscle like the actors you see in movies today. In fact, Sutherland looks pale, puffy, and unhealthy. I worried he might not make it to the climax. And Christie, well, she just looks hairy--it was shot in the '70s, after all. 2) Bad health and copious amounts of hair aside, the characters appear to celebrate their lovemaking, as well as their unhealthy, hairy bodies. You get a real sense of unhealthy, hairy joie de vivre, as opposed to most Pretend Sex scenes in Hollywood movies today that leave you with a sense of joylessness because they're so stylized and hairless (and those fast edits leave you with a not-tonight-honey-headache). They’re like something shot for that old fashioned porno mag called Playboy, airbrushed, glossy, flawless, and absolutely devoid of any sense of joy or reality (or bushy mounds of hair). Pretend Sex for the MTV and Gaming Generation. And 3) Boy, that sure is a looong sex scene and, wow, doesn't the music just suck?
Hollywood moviemakers tell us that Pretend Sex in the movies is there because it moves the plot forward and/or provides important information about the characters, and when that doesn't work, they pull the good, old Art card. But that's just politician spin. Nine times out of ten a Pretend Sex scene in a Hollywood movie does nothing to move the plot forward and tells us nothing about the characters. But it does get you hot and make you want to smoke a cigarette or take a cold shower or wish your sex life was as interesting--or, and here's the point, buy another ticket and see the movie again, which is a whole lot easier than trying to figure out how to improve your boring sex life.
And let me just say here that I don't care what movie directors like David Cronenberg say! It's not about Art. And, besides, Cronenberg is a Canadian and what do Canadians know about sex or Art or anything anyway?
I admire Cronenberg, in fact, but he’s a great example of what I’m talking about because he directed the craptacular 1996 movie Crash. It had lots of Pretend Sex scenes, gratuitous violence, a stupid plot and characters no one cared about, and Cronenberg filled it with a ton of arty pretentiousness to justify the Pretend Sex ("We're making Art here, people!"). An hour into it, I walked out and straight into a bar and got blind drunk, trying to wash the sanctimoniousness of that movie right outta my hair.
Monkey Boy didn't give it a single Ack! And the critics were brutal. So what did the director and cast do? Predictable as ever, they pulled the good, old Art card and waved it around like the people who made Black Swan. "We're making Art here, people, and we're curing cancer!" they said. (Hollywood is always trying to convince us they’re serious about what they do and their Art is high-minded, but it’s just another curtain they hide behind. Truth is, it's always always about the money.)
But like the pornographers, at least the star of Black Swan (Natalie Portman) was honest. When asked why the pretend lesbian muffin-munching scene was in the movie, she didn't pull the Art card—at least, not right away. First, she said it got people into the movie theatre, didn’t it? In other words, it sold tickets. And got her an Academy Award for Best Actress. And then she pulled the Art card.
Got to respect that.
Today, some actors and directors argue that pretending to have sex on-screen is a waste of time and money because it causes the actors to "break character," thereby giving rise to a "dishonest" movie. To be true to Art, they say, they need actors to perform real sex on-screen. That’s ridiculous, of course, and any actor worth his or her sweat knows it, but the “let's be honest like the pornographers” argument is a healthy slap on the ass of truth.
If nothing else, stop the game and just be freakin' honest about it.
Because of this movement toward real-sexual reality on-screen, the dumping of Pretend Sex, we now sometimes get to see more than just a single pubic hair or pretend pumping and grinding and arched backs and big, bouncy boobs. We get to see real blowjobs, ejaculations (the money shot!), i.e., real sex on-screen.
But it begs the question: What's next in the name of Art? Will Jason Voorhees kill people for real in the next Friday the 13th? Will real aliens from outer space be used in Independence Day 2 and 3? Will a real human being with a real English accent replace Madonna in her next box-office bomb?
Back in the old glory days of Hollywood, say the 1950s or so, the Pretend Sex rules and regs were crazy tight: Moviemakers and the folks on TV couldn't show a bedroom with one bed in it. There had to be two separate beds in one bedroom. The censors were trying to get the American public to believe that Donna Reed and Carl Beltz from The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966) somehow had sex in two separate beds (if they ever had sex at all). But fans of The Donna Reed Show knew it was physically impossible for Donna Reed and Carl Beltz to have sex while lying in two separate beds because men don't have penises that can stretch from one bed to another. Men's penises are not like elephant trunks, for goodness sakes, these wily, twisting proboscises that can stretch five times their length, suck up water like a straw, strip bark from trees, dig for roots and water, even open door knobs, or stretch from one bed to another and make love to Donna Reed, and everyone back then knew that, of course. But rules were rules.
Today, since we've chucked most of the rules out with the baby and the bathwater in the name of Art and honesty (money), all the bedrooms in movies and on TV have one bed (whew, thank God for reality!)--and now we're getting real blowjobs, ejaculations, and Hardcore sex on-screen too.
This means that if Frank Capra was shooting It's A Wonderful Life today, after the scene between Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart, when they have their heads close together by the telephone, their love for one another about to become self-evident with kissing and desperate confessions of love, the next scene would be of a naked Jimmy Stewart back-slamming a naked Donna Reed's ass as he performs real Hardcore sex on-screen on one bed in the bedroom, singing, "Buffalo gal, you're gonna come out tonight and dance by the light of my moooon!"
And this brings me, finally, to the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Sometimes the on-screen Pretend Sex in a movie serves plot and/or character--this is rare, but it does happen, as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo demonstrates, at least, to a certain degree. The Pretend Sex in the movie is still in there to sell tickets, of course--it's a simple truth that smut sells--and it's graphic, pierced, tattooed, and leaves little to the imagination, but the sex is, in fact, an important part of the storytelling--well, the rape scene and the revenge-for-the-rape-scene is. The rest of the Pretend Sex? Nothing to do with storytelling at all, and furthermore, whether or not it had to be as graphic as it is, well, that's a question for Donna Reed to answer. (But it did make me want to take a cold shower.)
All that said, what I find most interesting is that when we see Pretend Sex in a movie, or now, in some cases, Real Sex, or Pretend Sex that's so real looking we can’t tell the difference, it doesn't cross our minds that perhaps we've gone from one extreme (The Donna Reed Show) to the other (The Brown Bunny).
Almost every time we go to a nice romantic movie these days, we end up watching two actors we don't know pretend to have sex (or not pretend, depending on the movie) while they're pretending to be people we don't know pretend to have sex (or not pretend). And then we go home.
Or let me put it this way:
Let's say some friends invite you and your family over for dinner. You show up, have a great time and the dinner is tasty. Afterwards, your friends say it's time for dessert. Oh, goody, you think, I love dessert. Your friends go upstairs to their one bed bedroom and you and your family follow, enter the bedroom and sit yourselves down on some comfy chairs with cup holders. Your friends hand you buckets of hot buttered popcorn large enough to feed a small third world country and cups of icy, cold Coke so big you could do the backstroke in them, and then you and your family watch your two friends undress, get into bed and have full-on Hardcore sex, all while you and your family shove handfuls of hot buttered popcorn into your munching mouths, slurping your monster-sized Cokes. When your friends climax together and moan and groan with delight, falling back on the bed, sweaty and exhausted from such wild and energized sex, you get up, dump your popcorn buckets and cups of Coke on the floor, start tapping your cell phones and go home to watch TV.
At least in Amsterdam, when you attend a live sex show, they tell you: No cell phones allowed! And they serve healthy food snacks like frozen chocolate covered bananas.
What would Donna Reed think? Indeed, she may not approve. In fact, she may want to spank us. And now that I think about it, getting spanked by Donna Reed, if she were naked, hot, shot in grainy black and white and in a bedroom with one bed…
Time for a cold shower.