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.