Foreign Bodies

As the Hollywood-movie sex scene has grown increasingly chaste (or vanished altogether), European films have gotten more explicit than ever.


It has been said that Hollywood, and movies, are all about sex--but if that's true, then lately, Hollywood and movies have been barely about anything at all. Where has the sex scene gone? Put it in perspective: In 1972, the most respected actor in the world, Marlon Brando, took all of his clothes off and had at it with pillow-lipped tart Maria Schneider on film. Then, he issued very specific commands involving a stick of butter. Now, imagine you're my mother. You loved On the Waterfront, you loved The Godfather, you go to see the new, supposedly sexy Brando flick. There in the dark, your world is rocked. You go home to my unsuspecting father and conceive my little brother, who, it can be said, owes everything he is to Marlon Brando and his midlife ya-yas.

Those were the days. Thirty years later, where's our Last Tango in Paris? Sure, Last Tango was something of a freak, even back when sex was free, drugs were ballistic, and movies would routinely indulge in unhappy endings, genuine working-class milieus, thematic realism and everyman actors. (Think about it: the '70s were when Gene Hackman, Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould became stars.) But the grim fact is, it couldn't happen now. It doesn't happen now. No one seems to have noticed it, but the price we've paid this past decade or so for computer animation, theater-seat cup holders, Cameron Diaz and ticket preordering is the extinction of the Hollywood sex scene.

We have, after all, clear-cut this jungle already, but randy, what-ever-became-of-my-underwear pioneers like Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Debra Winger and Sharon Stone seem to have panted out their primes in vain. (It's one thing to say that Dunaway's guffawing field frolic with Warren Beatty in 1967's Bonnie and Clyde couldn't-- wouldn't--happen today, but it's another to realize how far Hollywood is from the brazenness of Stone's shenanigans in Basic Instinct, released just a decade ago.) Today, the sex scene is cinema non grata. Sure, a director will sometimes talk the shirt off Charlize Theron or the pants off Kevin Bacon, but for only a brief glimpse and rarely involving sex of any variety. You'd never know from watching its movies that Hollywood is, in fact, a working community of twisted nymphos and compulsive libertines. You'd think Fred Rogers runs Universal.

You can look for evidence anywhere, but you're most likely to find it in movies that could've and should've gone squirrelly with sex, like last year's The Mexican, Blow, Someone Like You, Sweet November, Summer Catch, Say It Isn't So, Glitter, The Fast and the Furious, Serendipity, Angel Eyes, From Hell, Life as a House, Riding in Cars with Boys, Ocean's Eleven, etc. Even Moulin Rouge, a pulpy, romantic cleavage-heaver if ever you saw one, was conspicuously carnality-free.

What's going on? Surely, the absurd growth and power of the youth audience is a factor: movies are no longer made, in large part, for adults, but for pimply, starry-eyed high schoolers still freaked out by their pubic hair. The most profitable demographic in America wouldn't know an authentic sex scene from an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, and moviemakers rarely dare to shock them with one. The all-important, supercool R rating is usually achieved by a sprinkling of salty language--mostly references to sex acts the films don't depict. The ballyhooed, advertiser-plague NC-17 rating has turned out to be as useful as a training bra on Pamela Anderson, since most movies thus rated are done so for ludicrous reasons. (The first, Henry & June, was helped over the R brink by a glimpse of a painting of a woman entwined with an octopus.)

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