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SEX IN THE CINEMA
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sex articles jen frankelSEX IN THE CINEMA
SEX ARTICLES

by Jen Frankel

There must be a lot of prigs in Hollywood.

That's the most straight-forward explanation of the way that big films treat sexuality and inter-gender interaction.

The apologia is that Hollywood is only giving us what we want, but that's as much bullshit today as it's always been. If there really was an attempt to appeal to viewers, to the people who actually shell out their bucks at the box office, Hollywood would be a very different place.

And no, it's not the bottom line that drives relationships on-screen either, although that's another of the saws that gets hauled out every time the current state of ridiculous is questioned.

What we're all victim to when we go to the movies is prudery, pure and simple.

Film violence is all about pushing the envelope. You can virtually sell a film in Hollywood today just based on a new, more spectacular method of dismemberment. But the envelope on sex, such as it is, has been sealed since the 60s.

Filmmakers do not receive kudos for trying to inject a measure of either novelty or realism into their sex scenes. The trashing "In The Cut" received is a good example. Here you had a film that trod pretty unapologetically over some taboo lines, and the critics were almost universal in their squeamishness.

What was it about that film that brought out the Orange County matron in writers who'd previously been heard lamenting the lack of really original chase scenes or horror flicks? What is it about sex that makes Hollywood draw the blinds – or at least start self-censoring at a more furious rate than anything the U.S. Senate accomplished at its most sexophobic?

The United States Motion Picture Production Code of the 1930s is also known as the Hayes Code for the Republican lawyer who headed what would eventually become the Motion Picture Association of America. Its three central principles were:

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

2 . Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

It also stated that "pictures shall not imply that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing," which is one of those types of regulation that drives both artists and legislators crazy – whose viewpoint are we considering when we say something is a "low" form of interaction? At the time of the Code's introduction, it also absolutely forbade, for example, any portrayal of interracial romance. There goes Halle Berry's Oscar...

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It also had a prohibition against the equally vague concept of "vulgarity," which of course is so utterly essential to the success of stoner films like "Dazed and Confused" and the new "Pineapple Express" that its removal from the Hollywood vocabulary would also destroy one of the studios' greatest income streams. The worst part about Hayes is that it was something that film producers adhered to voluntarily out of fear, not because it was ever law, or ever even officially enforced at any level of government. Yes, it came out of a real public outcry after a number of particularly grim Hollywood scandals, like the death of the young actress, Virginia Rappe, at the hands of box office star Fatty Arbuckle.

But then, as now, it's damnably dangerous for any large reaction to follow a public flare-up. Can you imagine a world in which legislation followed the demands of Star magazine?

So Hollywood has been into self-censorship from the beginning, with its governing body set up not by artists but by politicians. And it has followed not real wants of the public but the hysteria of the media and the strong, organized voices of lobbyists like Catholic groups who claim to represent common morality.

But while violence, depictions of drug use, and profanity are a virtual free-for-all on the screen, sex has remained stuck in the 50s. How else do you explain the lack of gag at "Knocked Up," where a woman makes a decision to not only keep an unexpected child that will probably K.O. her budding career but that she will make every effort to forge a relationship with a man she dislikes?

The only other corollary is to smoking, to which we are currently in moral opposition. The addition of sex to the list of "things that corrupt" only really makes sense, possibly, if you think that maybe our biggest problem with sex is that people might smoke afterwards.

Strangely, of course, although many of us pay lip service to the so-called double standard of sexual conduct, and Hollywood appears immovably mired in it, few people actually operate under the same restrictive conditions in their daily lives.

We date, we have sex, we get ourselves in situations deliciously, dangerously over our heads, and we live and love and learn.

We go to violent movies to see a more extreme version of what we imagine the most exciting life could be. Why do we settle for vanilla sex?

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