Sunday, January 21, 2007

Anatomy of a Perfect Love Scene

Whether it’s seeing Jeremy Irons do love damage to Juliette Binoche or Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon’s vampiric coupling in The Hunger, there’s something about watching romantic escapades on the Big Screen that sparks a certain primordial electro-chemical response in us. Shortness of breath. Rising body temperature. The little high school makeout butterflies that start to flutter behind the sternum.

These close-up cinematic moments can make a forgettable movie memorable. But we also know the missteps—the precalculated sexuality of Showgirls, full-frontal Bruce Willis in Color of Money, the obligatory naked B-movie actress riding Jeff Fahey like a cowgirl on any late-night pay cable flick. Somehow, the filmmakers responsible missed the little man in the boat. They had the main ingredients, but they forgot that special something in the recipe for making love.

Anatomy of a Perfect Love Scene

Attractive Lovemakers: Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise getting it on in Eyes Wide Shut… okay, I get it. Jim Varney and Whoopi Goldberg getting it on in anything… no.

Mood Lighting: Whether lit by oil lamps or the neon glow of a Vacancy sign in a cheap motel room, nothing says love like the illumination of two sweating bodies caught in flagrante delecti. In the underrated erotic thriller “Body of Evidence,” candles not only light the scene, they become players in the action as Madonna drips hot, bubbling wax on Willem Dafoe’s chest.

Location: It doesn’t have to be a field of wildflowers or a tranquil pool of azure. As a matter of fact, any old sink full of dirty dishes will do, as evidenced by the passionate rendezvous between Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. As far as exotic locations go, Rebecca De Mornay’s tryst with Tom Cruise aboard an elevated train in Chicago is worth full-fare and the 35 cents extra for a transfer.

Music: Typically, love scenes are accompanied by a romantic ballad, but not necessarily so. Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is a song dripping with passion, perfect for John Cusack and Ione Skye’s consummative romp in the backseat. But in real life, I think the song would really throw off your rhythm. Contrast that with Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern’s romp to the thrash metal stylings of Powermad in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.

Exposed Flesh: A sex scene usually can’t be that good without a glimpse of the anatomy, but sometimes the mere suggestion of exposed flesh is enough. Sex,Lies And Videotape has absolutely no nudity–just Andie MacDowell in her underwear, Laura San Giacomo in a tank top, Peter Gallagher in a houseplant, and James Spader in a bad feathered haircut – but it also one of the sexiest movies of the last decade.

Food: The aphrodisiacal qualities of food have long been celebrated by would-be Cassanovas and talk-show sexologists, but whether oysters and asparagus make for better lovers (Or, in the case of the latter, just strange-smelling pee), well, that has yet to be scientifically proven. However, in film, ingesting the food isn’t enough—edibles are integrally involved in the act of lovemaking. Who can forgot Mickey Rourke emptying the contents of the refrigerator on Kim Basinger’s quivering thighs in 9 ½ Weeks or Peter Coyote lapping milk off of Emmanuelle Seigner’s body in Bitter Moon? Or for that matter, the main course of Eating Raoul?

Poetic Language: While there is nothing wrong with monosyllabic grunts and groans, expressions of love phrased in verse--or at least an evolved language—is, of course, highly desirable. A love scene with Joseph Fiennes and Gwenyth Paltrow speaking Pig Latin would still be highly sensual, but caged in the Elizabethan tongue of the Bard, it becomes, well Shakespeare In Love. But reciting poetry is one thing, writing it in Japanese characters on your lover’s back with a quill pen is quite another. After seeing The Pillow Book, that Mendhi tattoo you went out and got to turn on your boyfriend will begin to look like so much henna.

Dirty Language: Poetry, schmoetry. I believe Demi Moore said it best in Disclosure, “Come on, @#!%! me with your @#!%!”

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