Mrs Lovett (to Sweeney Todd) ‘My, you do like a good story, don’t you?’
Like Sweeney, I do like a good story. I admire depth of characterisation, mise-en-scene, twists and turns in a well-wrought plot. What I don’t much care for is all the f*cking.
It’s not a new thing. I always felt like this. I did not grow up in an old-fashioned household. It was middle-right, rather sensible, not uncomfortable with the topic of sex. I am neither a prude nor easily embarrassed. I have been known to write the occasional sex scene, and I’ve been told I write them well. I don’t happen to be heterosexual but I believe, like Kenneth Tynan, that ‘you don’t need to know why people fall in love, just that they do,’ and that’s fine with me.
What absolutely bores me to tears, however, are the obligatory sex scenes that pepper all American cable shows (and now many British ones). ‘GoT’ recovered from its relentless sex scenes (so-called ‘sexposition’ moments in which the boring plot-bits were expounded during dreary bits of background shagging) to become a relatively intelligent show about machiavellian politics. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ started brilliantly, only to become lost in reams of desperate coupling, at least two bouts per episode, and the addition of more male perspectives. At least in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ sex indicates a crisis of principal rather than identity – a miracle considering we live in such a culture of individualism. But a note to the makers: You don’t make f*cking meaningful by slapping a melancholy violin solo over it.
In a visual context, sex, like a song, slams the brakes on the story unless it enlightens, as it did in the film version of ‘Don’t Look Now’, in which renewed intimacy explains how changed Laura has become by her experience of meeting the old ladies. One could argue that the sexual wall-slapping scene in original ‘The Wicker Man’ perfectly serves its purpose by confronting Christianity with Paganism. Interestingly, those two films went out on a double-bill in the UK.
Are sex scenes empowering? The current fashion is to replace a male hero with a feisty woman – and why not – but the more cynical among us *raises hand* knows that this is simply a ploy to make more money. Witness the transformation of Wonder Woman from her original purpose as an avatar for male fantasies.
However, tastefully-lit, Emmanuelle-style, vanilla TV bonking scenes are stuffed into every Netflix and Amazon show for no other purpose than to stop viewers from changing channels. In the earlier post about screwball comedies, I pointed out that we understood all the sex dynamics without having to sit through the humping, and it was a lot more sophisticated, clever and adult by being circumnavigated. In the hands of a fine writer censorship can make everything sexier.
This is not an opinion that has grown with age. I can think of a handful of other instances when showing the act of love changes and deepens our perspective on what we understand about characters, and that’s fine and valid use of sex. But random f*cking exists because we live in the objectifying era of ‘Love Island’, a period that makes the ‘Me Generation’ now look positively benevolent. In that show the participants are forced to have sex to stay on camera. Teenaged girls constitute the majority of ‘Love Island’s audience.