The sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in the 1973 Nicholas Roeg classic Don't Look Now always makes the top ten lists of best cinematic nookie ever. And for good reason, as the Guardian's Mark Lawson points out: the scene is "an extended, fragmented, ecstatic encounter." But Lawson uses that sex scene, and other "soft-porn" scenes from the 70s, to prove a point that I don't necessarily agree with.
"When Don't Look Now was released, the big screen was the only place that people might expect to see sex scenes in which they were not personally involved," Lawson argues. "Now, any act involving any actors - animal, child, living, dead - is available online. Philip Larkin, a poet subsequently revealed to be keen on porn, immortalised the view that 'sexual intercourse began in 1963'. But, for cinema at least, sexual intercourse ended in about 2005, when the most explicit images possible became as readily available as television." Sex in cinema still has erotic power in my mind because of the medium more than the message.
Sure, you can download any sort of DIY banging you want from the confines of your own home. But there is something powerful, and transgressive, about sitting in a room with a bunch of other people witnessing an explicit act of sex. Because the end game (unless you're Paul Reubens) isn't the consummation of your own sex act, you can appreciate the artistry of the director, the bond between the actors, and the reactions of the people around you.
I saw the notoriously horrendous Brown Bunny in a theater with a platonic dude friend. The explicit blow job scene between Chloe Sevigny and Vincent Gallo was, in person, shocking and sort of funny. It comes out of nowhere in the context of the movie, which is largely ponderous and dialogue-free. Sitting in a room full of people, shifting in our seats and giggling nervously, made the viewing of that cinematic BJ an experience. Had I seen some XTube clip of that same scene, divorced from the rest of the film and viewed from my couch, I'm pretty sure I would have just thought, "Huh. The Sev's giving a BJ to some greasy looking dude. Gross."
I agree with Lawson that there has been a "sexual desensitisation" since the days of Don't Look Now, and perhaps there is something "passe" about the sex in Roeg's new release, Puffball. But as someone who never had a chance to see Don't Look Now on the big screen, there's still something transgressive about watching sex on the big screen.
The End Of Cinematic Sex [Guardian]