Don’t

The sex scene in DON’T LOOK NOW is something I’ve already written about, but what the hell — there’s always more to say. It’s a sequence that rewards study. The last time I ran it I was struck by elements of explicit actor-on-actor contact I’d never noticed before — possibly because they disappeared in pan-and-scan TV and VHS versions, actually. Possibly because director Nic Roeg places them at the edge of frame to make you only subliminally register them. So the scene feels stronger than it appears to be?

But I want to address another impression that struck me, and which belatedly occurred to me to write about as I’ve been walking around with Pino Donaggio’s score playing on my old coal-burning Nano. I want to talk to you about the very weird stuff Donald Sutherland is doing.

The scene starts, really, with Julie Christie, as Donald’s lady wife, observing that he has toothpaste on his chin from his recent ablutions. “Lick it off,” commands Donald.

This is, one might think, a quirky form of loveplay, and not one we can really blame Donald for. But since Donald is genetically of Scottish blood, and co-scenarist Allan Scott is likewise, I’m tempted to blame the famed frugality of my own race.

“You’ve got toothpaste on your chin.”

“Well jings, woman! Dinnae let it go tae waste!”

We then get this odd moment, during the actual “at it” sequence (editor Anne Coates to Soderbergh on the rip-off version in OUT OF SIGHT: “They don’t seem to ever actually… go at it.”) — Donald bends one arm behind his back, as if being arrested by an invisible judo instructor. I don’t know what kind of mime training they gave him at Perth Rep, but it’s paying off in spades.

That’s one moment I was always aware of. Fiona claims that she pointed it out to me, but don’t believe her. Possibly it’s some kind of rarified tantric technique Donald picked up in the sixties. Possibly he just had an itch between the shoulder blades. But it’s IN THE FILM. It clearly means something.

STOP PRESS: It’s NOT in the film. On revisiting the sequence, I find I’ve misremembered it entirely. Donald’s arm is bending behind Julie’s back, not his own, as if he’s preparing to swivel her around on his member. Still: not quite normal.

Then we get Donald physically licking Julie’s lips. Licking his own lips would be bad enough. There’s nothing, on paper, about licking a pretty girl’s lips that’s off-putting to me. For some reason I’ve never been moved to try it, possibly because it seems somehow weird, but the principle doesn’t seem obviously worse than French kissing, for example. But now, having seen Donald do it, somehow the possibility of my ever wanting to try this diminishes rapidly. I’m ranking it somewhere below incest and coprophilia on my list of things to try. Maybe it’s the mustache.

Of course, in putting together a sequence like this, so intricately edited, many shots did not make the cut, so I was pleased to come across the genuine continuity sheets for this day’s filming, with the notes next to takes that were judged “NG” (No Good). here are a sampling, for your edification ~

Take 4. NG. Donald inserts his head between two pillows and barks like a seal.

Take 7. NG. Donald seems to become hypnotized by his own knee. Falls off bed.

Take 11. NG. Donald starts biting Julie’s hair. Julie becomes irate. Donald bites own hair.

Take 12. NG. Donald starts biting Julie’s hair again.

Take 15. NG. Donald behaving strangely. Explains that he’s trying to lick his own eye.

Take 16. NG. Donald begins playing an Ozark harp. Julie complains this is distracting.

Take 17. NG. Donald’s whistling puts Julie off.

Take 18. NG. Julie discovers Donald is wearing flippers. Urgent conference with Nic. Donald agrees to remove flippers. Asks for snorkel. Agrees to do without snorkel. Asks for perm. Nic agrees to perm.

Throughout all this, the only strange or unbecoming thing Julie does is to bite Donald. Which I’m down with, seems like only fair retaliation. But she bites him on the ball of the foot. Maybe I’m prudish, but I generally like to keep the feet as far removed from the actual sex act as possible. “I’m not knocking it,” as Donald repeatedly says in LITTLE MURDERS, it’s just not my scene. So, Julie, I’ll let you off with a warning this time: never bite a man’s ball.

A friend once corresponded with la Christie, concerning a movie. The starting point was an old chestnut about a couple having sex on a train, who offend their fellow passengers by sparking up cigarettes after performing the act. At some point the script improved from the initial idea of sexy young people offending the fuddy-duddies, to the more interesting idea of an older couple offending the stuffy kids. So Julie was approached. And sent back a very nice letter, handwritten, explaining that she did not buy into the story, because in her (apparently considerable) experience of having sex on trains, discretion had been the watchword, “even down to having my lover place his hand over my mouth to stifle my cries.”

Which is more information than was requested, yet not necessarily more than we wanted to know.

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9 Responses to “Don’t”

  1. Well what Julie Christie says about anythign is deinitive.

    The thing about the Don’t Look Now scene is the fact that it’s about married people mking love. This is exceedingly rare in the movies. it’s not just that they’re not dewey-eyed kids — they’ve done this with each other before.

  2. Yes, that’s almost unique. The controversial sex scene in The Last Temptation of Christ was an ironic problem since it showed a married couple having sex for the purpose of procreation — the only kind of sex Christian fundamentalists normally tolerate. And it got them REALLY upset!

  3. what does no good mean , i did see it when i was teenager 15 the first time , and i don,t know i really liked it , its sexy and its Angst , but maybe one can only like that as a teenager. Saw it recently again, was just surprised about the music but it seem to be pretty good conserved and i still liked it , does this mean I am a German Kink , but ont the other hand I do not have to consider every sex practice for myself. Seeing the ball picture is weird now because when i saw the movie it didnĀ“t wither my asthetique & sensual pleasure, better then biting the other ball. Coming to think about the ball of the foot bite it makes most of the people scream with ticklelaughter of the stronger kind, anyway.

  4. Well it’s Jesus for one thing, his wife is Mary Magdalene for another. People like to accept Jesus as a reformer of prostitutes but not as someone who would take one as his wife. That upsets their psychosexual construct. Which is odd since Jesus says that anyone who even looks at a woman in appreciation of her beauty is already an adulterer in his heart. That would include every hetero who ever checked out a girl. We are all philanderers and considering how much of cinema is devoted to lighting a woman’s body and the wide distribution it enjoys worldwide…well no one’s celibate.

    Maybe rare in English language cinema but Ingmar Bergman’s films dealt with sex in marriage many times and then he made the film about marriage – Scenes From A Marriage (which according to Bergman, was such a big hit, the divorce rate shot up overnight, of which he is very pleased).

    It’s interesting people bring up sex scenes because honestly when I think of erotic moments in film, I find it hard to name sex scenes, that is directly showcasing sexual intercourse (simulated or otherwise). Honestly the most interestingly made ones that I’ve seen is between Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring in that David Lynch film and not well known but the lesbian encounter in Atom Egoyan’s underrated Where the Truth Lies where Colin Firth drugs Alison Lohmann(who knows he slipped her but takes it anyway) and then arranges her to be seduced by a girl in an Alice in Wonderland costume.

    I like it for the way it’s edited and the eroticism(apparently there’s quite a talked about scene in his Chloe as well). Another film where the sex scenes are quite poignant is Red Angel by Masumura, a key precursor to Oshima’s 70s films. And I can’t forget Un chant d’amour. In other words, I have yet to see a single satisfactory moment of heterosexual fulfillment on screen.

  5. Happy Birthday, Dear Joe!

  6. Happy Birthday also, Joe.

    Satisfactory sex is often avoided by movies which pursue drama and conflict rather than harmony. And first-time sex is fetishized because it has more obvious “narrative significance.”

    The significance of the scene in Don’t Look Now is entirely unstated, but Roeg had in mind that Julie’s character becomes pregnant again. That’s why the opening titles play over a shot of the fatal pond and a shot of the hotel curtains: the end of one life, the start of another.

    Nico, just to be clear, I think it’s a brilliant sequence, and the key to it is the way Roeg intercuts with the pair of them dressing to go out afterwards. It creates a real tenderness.

  7. “…………. and the key to it is the way Roeg intercuts with the pair of them dressing to go out afterwards.” Yes, absolutely. It’s more their recollection of lovemaking that we’re watching rather than the act itself. And that’s what makes it so memorable.

  8. It also shifts it entirely out of any kind of voyeurism, since it becomes subjective.

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