Amazing! Picked up the special edition of Positif from 1964 in Lyon for two measly euros. This was a FIND, partly because it intersects with NATAN, the film Paul Duane and I made. Bernard Natan has been falsely connected with several pornographic films, and one of the “sources” for this is a short list of early smut films in the back of this magazine. Many of the films are unattributed, but a few have the name “Nathan” attached. The anonymous author probably did mean Natan, since earlier publications like a 1938 edition of Match also attributed some of the same titles to Natan. But repeating the allegations strikes me as dodgy, since the Positif “article” gives no sources, offers no evidence, and getting the guy’s name wrong doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence. (Natan’s name is spelled “Nathan” all over the place — Georges Sadoul does it in his Histoire General du Cinema, despite getting it right elsewhere in the same book. This is odd, since the title Pathe-Natan appeared ahead of all Natan’s thirties films, often with his signature.)

Anyway, the magazine has a few other things of interest, as you’d expect, including the following piquant questionnaire, which I think we can have some fun with.

MR INDIA. Invisible man musical sexiness,

1) What is the most erotic movie you ever saw? Give your reasons.

2) What seems to you to be the perfect example of a non-erotic movie? Limiting yourself, of course, to films that deal with love.

3) Has the cinema had an influence on your erotic life?

4) What situations, scenes, objects or attitudes in the cinema, seem to you to have the greatest erotic significance?

5) Who is the actress (or actor) who, for you, embodies eroticism? Why?

6) Of  those who are supposed to embody eroticism on screen, which actor (or actress) is for you the negation or eroticism? Why?

7) What erotic work would you like you see adapted (or would you like to adapt yourself) to the screen? With who?


Fellini’s last drawing: on the bottom of a model in a magazine.

A few notes on the questions and answers.

I love the “(or actor)” and “(or actress)” which are positioned with a hilarious assumption that most of the respondents will be straight men. In film criticism, has this ever been true? At any rate, they at least allow for exceptions, but they want to make it very clear, via parenthesis, that they ARE exceptions. At any rate, the only women quoted are France Roche (respected screenwriter, still with us at 91) and critic Grace Winter.

The aforementioned Sadoul puts Dovzhenko’s EARTH at the top, which surprised me as I didn’t hear swooning over its sexiness at Pordenone, but maybe I didn’t have my ear to the right patch of ground. And maybe I should see for myself. Sadoul is also very keen on Louise Brooks, who was undergoing rediscovery.

Raymond Durgnat is fascinating, as you’d expect. Lots of top choices for erotic film, including but not limited to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 42ND STREET, PICKPOCKET, KING KONG, HAXAN and ARTISTS AND MODELS. Polymorphous perversity! But I have to admit, Shirley MacLaine looks cute as Bat Lady.

Private Property (1960) Directed by Leslie Stevens Shown: Kate Manx

The little-known PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960, above) appears on Durgnat’s non-erotic list, and on Grace Winter’s erotic list. Makes me want to see it!

Michel Ciment champions QUEEN KELLY (a popular choice), Sternberg and Bunuel. The ideal erotic film, he says, would stand at an equal distance between Stroheim, Sternberg and Bunuel.

Ciment and several people mention BRIEF ENCOUNTER as a film about love without sex appeal. One critic hasn’t even seen it, and says it’s a good thing too.

Roche on unerotic actors: “Cary Grant: old young man with still-young arteries, but dry elsewhere. Rex Harrison: furry slippers and lumbago.” Mean! This question is apt to get VERY mean, so let’s try not to turn into John Simon when we approach it. John Simon is not a good look.

Poor Brigitte Bardot gets cited as an answer to question (5) by several correspondents. Vadim is chosen as an unerotic director, but Gerard Legrand disagrees and puts ET DIEU CREA LA FEMME at the top of his sexiness chart. Clearly, the negative feeling about BB was simply a reaction against the prevailing fashion, as if there’s one thing she is for most people, it’s sexy. It’s perfectly legitimate to disagree, but so many erotic nay-sayers?

Also: those who put Delphine Seyrig or Grace Kelly in their hot spot, are correspondingly apt to dismiss BB and all the busty Italians of the era.

Lotte Eisner has the best choice for work of fiction to be adapted: William Beckford’s Gothic novel Vathek, under the aegis of Luis Bunuel. Don Luis crops up as preferred adaptor on several lists. The Gothic fiction he really wanted to do was The Monk, of course.

Someone called Debourcieu chooses a science-fiction novel by someone called Pierre Versins, and wants Minnelli, Sinatra, Novak and choreography by Jack Cole.

OK. Harumph. Now, it behooves me to answer the questions myself, and honestly. Rather than just knocking everyone else’s choices. In theory I have an advantage, since I have almost fifty years more cinema to draw upon, and it’s a half-century that’s enjoyed more latitude than the earlier era. On the other hand, I have a disadvantage: shyness.


Evidence: I was just in a room with Dominique Sanda, who meant a lot to me as a youngster and still does. Now, at her age, would she be horrified if I said, as Jonathan Ross did to Britt Ekland, “Thank you for helping me through those difficult teenage years?” I think not. But instead I just gave her a small salute. She saluted back, perhaps slightly bemused.

1) Impossible to pick a single most erotic film: too self-revealing. But

(a) I had my young mind blown by Robbe-Grillet’s TRANS-EUROP EXPRESS. It’s very dodgy, though;

(b) BETTY BLUE, for all its serious problems, did combine explicitness and photogenics, and if the story had some nasty, unexamined retrograde aspects, the sex was good (everyone seemed to enjoy it);

(c) SOME LIKE IT HOT: kissing as hard porn (fleshly, leering, over-extended), and a film which refused to go as far as I wanted it to, but teetered on the brink like an expert tightrope walker;

(d) GIRL WITH A SUITCASE: the power of enforced chastity: the young hero is home alone with Claudia Cardinale, who seems eminently available. It’s like RISKY BUSINESS for the DOLCE VITA generation. But as he’s a realistic teen not a Hollywood concoction, he doesn’t know what the hell to do so nothing happens. For two hours! It’s hell, I tell you.

(I didn’t see La Cardinale in Lyon, though she was apparently there — the encounter could only be disappointing, in the sense that I would be disappointed in myself.)

(e) THE WICKER MAN had a lot of impact on my b&w portable TV in the bedroom, fuzzy signal picked up from Grampian Regional Television, and probably would’ve “worked” even without the nudity — the singing, the drumming, and the torment, plus the extreme duration

A theme is emerging here in spite of my best efforts: the theme of intense frustration. And yet THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE and the other versions of La Femme et le Pantin don’t do that much for me.

2) Non-erotic movie? I just visited Venice so DON’T LOOK NOW is in my mind. The justly celebrated sex scene is sensitive, intimate, frank, tender, emotional, and beautifully played and rendered. Of course, as a male person I can obviously be stimulated by anything with a naked woman in it as long as she’s not actually Michelle Bachman, but for me what is impressive about the scene is how it doesn’t particularly need the audience to become excited about sex or skin (and as for the age-old “Are they really doing it?” — PUH-LEEZE). It’s beautiful, and not in a vapid way, just not in a way that’s strictly sexual. And it’s one of very, very few films to show married people having sex. With the possible intent of having a child. And the censors still went after it. THAT’S the obscenity.


3) Yes, cinema has influenced my erotic life. It has BEEN my erotic life for more of the time than I care to discuss. It seems unfair to blame any kinks or hang-ups on the movies, though — although James B. Harris, at Lyon, stated unequivocally that the theme of his deeply weird SOME CALL IT LOVING is that people get sexually imprinted by their first encounter with sex, in which case BARBARELLA has a lot to answer for and the continuing unavailability of an affordable Excessive Machine is a major problem.

I am trying to master that thing Donald Sutherland does with his arm in DON’T LOOK NOW. Am certain it’ll revolutionize my bedroom existence when I’ve got it down.

I am extremely lucky to be wed to a very impressive Louise Brooks type, and an even more impressive Fiona Watson type, Fiona Watson. Our shared love of movies is part of the bond.

4) I’m not at all sure how I’m supposed to define “erotic significance”. But I could list objects: The Excessive Machine (one wants to call it an Orgasmatron but it’s not); the windscreen in COOL HAND LUKE; the chair in CABARET; Joel Cairo’s cane in THE MALTESE FALCON; the boa and the numbered cards in IL MAGNIFICO CORNUTO; actually, this is harder than I thought — I guess I’m not much of a fetishist.

5) The embodiment of eroticism? My screen harem is too extensive to enumerate (picture Guido’s mental farmhouse in EIGHT AND A HALF but extending for at least a city block). Cardinale and Bardot both drive me berserk for reasons hard to justify on any higher plain. Ann-Margret in her (extensive) prime also. On a subtler note, Grace Kelly was my first love on the big screen. Louise Brooks is an obsession. For some reason, Elsa Martinelli is leaping unbidden to the forefront of my mind, but on another day it might be the Geeson sisters. Clara Bow. Romy Schneider.

Embodiment of male beauty: Horst Buchholtz. My idea of un vrai homme: James Coburn.


6) The opportunity to be mean: the negation of erotica… Bo Derek never did anything for me. Her breasts seemed boring. Sharon Stone too artificial: la Welch a blushing ingenue by comparison. Madonna, always and forever unappealing, though Fincher tried in the videos. I see the glamour of Garbo and Dietrich but not only don’t want to but can’t even imagine engaging in any kind of passionate interaction with them. They are abstract creatures of light and I admire them enormously. Mickey Rourke always seemed disgusting. Tom Cruise never projects any sense of desire or desirability. Most of these people have other good traits though.


7) At one point, Roman Polanski wanted to adapt the porno comics of Milo Manara as an animated feature. This strikes me as the worst combination possible, but Manara’s comics might be a suitable source. The lousy Jean-Louis Richard film of CLICK is quite good, even though it’s totally lousy, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, Manara is a deeply sexist idiot, and there’s a nastiness to his work I’d prefer to avoid — plus his real talent is his drawing, so why adapt him to another medium? His adaptation of unfilmed Fellini scenarios was a better way for him to engage with cinema.

Bertrand Blier and Alain Robbe-Grillet were both masters of the perverse who really get into their fantasies and make even the most obnoxious imaginings photogenic, but can they be trusted? Nic Roeg was more sound, you could even hand him something like The Story if the Eye. Jane Campion has a wonderful erotic imagination which can create powerful effects out of small, seemingly almost innocent things. Given her flair for the Gothic, Geoffrey Lewis’s The Monk?

The glimpses seen of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND suggest that Welles could have been a great director of sexy stuff.

Plans for another version of Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella have stultified for years, and by the way Robert Rodriguez is the wrong man. Incidentally, if you read the original comic, the lines that sound most like Terry Southern scripted them (the best lines) are already there. I’d love to see a BARBARELLA that had to aim for PG-13, so there was something to struggle with and smuggle through, some necessity for restraint. The original’s combo of American star, Italian design and French director was a neat selection, but they had the wrong Frenchman. Clouzot would have been better!

Keanu would have been a great Pygar.

Imagine Von Sternberg’s DRACULA, with Charles Boyer.

John Barrymore as CASANOVA for Cecil B. DeMille.

Now I want to hear from YOU. Regular commenters and people I never heard from before. Shadowplay just became the Kinsey report of the movie blogosphere. Spill it!

36 Responses to “Sex-Positif”

  1. 1) The Age of Innocence.
    The Victorian clothes are both armour and chains and the way Archer, the Countess and May are controlled by and use their society’s conventions stokes up the effect. Two gloved hands touching are more erotic than two naked bodies in other films.

    2) Last Tango in Paris.
    A wonderful comedy, with Paul as the ultimate obsessive bore, but it’s a pity it took Jeanne so long to put him out of our misery.

    3) Yes, but less than poetry or music.

    4) The greatest erotic significance to me personally or to the film? Gilda‘s glove comes to mind at once and its echo in a Japanese film- Tasogare sakaba. The contrast in the way they move between real-Maria and robot-Maria in Metropolis. There is an erotic charge to the whole of L’Atalante in my eyes.

    5) Maria Casares in <Les Dames du Bois du Boulogne and Orphée.

    6) Audrey Hepburn. Not just unerotic but lacking any kind of romantic interest. I suspect she looked like a Barbie-doll under those clothes. She didn’t often play even romantic leads, though so I’m not alone in my response and she had other admirable qualities as an actor.
    Among officially ‘sexy’ women, Raquel Welch- a superb piece of machinery, except in Richard Lester’s Musketeer films.

    7) A film about the Victorian A. J. Munby’s marriage to his servant would be interesting. James Elroy Flecker- consumptive sado-masochistic (I’m sure they’re connected) poet. Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier– Edwardian gothic melodrama with WWI just round the corner.

  2. Okay David, here goes:

    1) What is the most erotic movie you ever saw? Give your reasons.

    Gregg Araki’s Splendor is a happy erotic love letter to its three lead actors; the sex seems to shimmer right off the screen.

    2) What seems to you to be the perfect example of a non-erotic movie? Limiting yourself, of course, to films that deal with love.

    Bringing Up Baby is romantic and even a little sexy without being erotic at all. Probably that goes for all of Howard Hawks… except the look in Ann Dvorak’s eyes when she wants to dance with George Raft in Scarface. Oh and Kubrick’s Lolita, a movie I love, is flawed by a complete lack of eroticism.

    3) Has the cinema had an influence on your erotic life?

    Not the mainstream cinema.

    4) What situations, scenes, objects or attitudes in the cinema, seem to you to have the greatest erotic significance?

    Smoking is a nice metaphor, and so much sexier onscreen than off.

    5) Who is the actress (or actor) who, for you, embodies eroticism? Why?

    Ginger Rogers, when dancing. Her incredible body, the eventual submission of such a fierce and guarded woman. Stunning. Sophia Loren is erotic just standing there. Ditto Louise Brooks, though it’s more in the eyes than the body. As for men, the gold standard has to be Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, right?

    6) Of those who are supposed to embody eroticism on screen, which actor (or actress) is for you the negation of eroticism? Why?

    I never understood the big deal about Rita Hayworth or Grace Kelly: cold, cold, cold. And I agree about Madonna and Tom Cruise: all that registers is the effort and the endless self-consciousness.

    7) What erotic work would you like you see adapted (or would you like to adapt yourself) to the screen? With who?

    James M. Cain’s batshit-crazy novel Serenade is just waiting for Pedro Almodovar to make it into some kind of erotic masterpiece, with Penelope Cruz and Benedict Cumberbatch fighting over Bradley Cooper’s soul.

  3. Damn you, David Cairns. Deadline, so can’t go into detail right now, but a film I found unexpectedly erotic was Volker Schlöndorff’s Un amour de Swann, chiefly Ornella Muti.

    Some early (live action) Borowczyk, of course. The stocking scene in La peau douce. Schneider and her slinky in L’enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot. Sanda in The Conformist. I found the first sex scene in La vie d’Adèle a huge turn-on.

    Symptomatic that all these examples feature women; must try and think of some men. Suspect I find actor’s voices more erotic than their bodies – esp those of Welles, Livesey, Mason. (This is a copy of my Facebook post)

  4. It occurred to me that my own questionnaire would include a question on voices. What comes to mind immediately are the men: Pierre Brasseur, Jean Servais, Charles Boyer. With women, it would be the freakishly throaty Jean Arthur, Glynis Johns, Joan Greenwood, plus the accent brigade: Romy, Claudia. And any almost girl speaking French or Japanese.

  5. Fenella Fielding in Carry On Screaming! Scarlett Johansson is gradually growing into her voice, I think. James Earl Jones, of course. And I always had a thing for Kevin J O’Connor’s voice, with that weird catch in it.

  6. Voices, well…! Marlene Dietrich was pretty amazing, all the way from her incredibly cruel laugh in The Blue Angel to her fragile, rueful rendition of Just a Gigolo 50 years later. Have you ever heard her recording of “Black Market,” from A Foreign Affair? Devastating.

  7. 1) What is the most erotic movie you ever saw? Give your reasons.

    Flirtation, wooing and unfulfilled sexual longing are more erotic than tangled limbs, whoever they belong to. So it’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and CLAIRE’S KNEE for me. I also find the shy beginnings of romance in THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS and THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES very affecting. Borzage’s SEVENTH HEAVEN too.

    2) What seems to you to be the perfect example of a non-erotic movie? Limiting yourself, of course, to films that deal with love.

    Pretty much anything with nude scenes.

    3) Has the cinema had an influence on your erotic life?

    Yes, but only after leaving the auditorium.

    4) What situations, scenes, objects or attitudes in the cinema, seem to you to have the greatest erotic significance?

    Men dancing – not just the Astaires and Nureyevs of this world, but also (even especially) men you don’t normally think of as dancers. Just a few steps are enough. De Niro in MEAN STREETS comes to mind, but there are better examples I can’t summon right now.

    I agree about voices. Boyer, Welles, Livesey -yes, yes, yes! Charles Laughton too.

    5) Who is the actress (or actor) who, for you, embodies eroticism? Why?

    Buster Keaton stripping to his underwear in the pool changing room in THE CAMERAMAN has had me leaping for the pause button. It’s the combination of that body with that face, you understand.

    6) Of those who are supposed to embody eroticism on screen, which actor (or actress) is for you the negation or eroticism? Why?

    Gregory Peck. So pretty, so lacking in all other respects.

    Other men who don’t do it for me include Warren Beatty, Brad Pitt, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, George Clooney and anyone who’s spent too long at the gym.

  8. Raymond Durgnat is the greatest and most sorely neglected of all film critics. A goodly number of years ago Jonathan Rosenbaum, Ray and I collaborated on a piece for “Film Comment” entitled “Cary Grant’s Socks.”

    1) What is the most erotic movie you ever saw? Give your reasons.

    Here (speaks for itself)

  9. 2) What seems to you to be the perfect example of a non-erotic movie? Limiting yourself, of course, to films that deal with love.

  10. 3) Has the cinema had an influence on your erotic life?


    4) What situations, scenes, objects or attitudes in the cinema, seem to you to have the greatest erotic significance?

  11. 5) Who is the actress (or actor) who, for you, embodies eroticism? Why?

  12. 6) Of those who are supposed to embody eroticism on screen, which actor (or actress) is for you the negation or eroticism? Why?

    Raymond Huntley. This is explained in The History Boys

    7) What erotic work would you like you see adapted (or would you like to adapt yourself) to the screen? With who?

    Paul Bowles’ “Pages From Cold Point” with George Clooney and Daniel Radcliffe

  13. Wow! I knew YOU’D have some interesting responses.

    Agree re Barbara Steele, who sweeps all before her.

    Buster Keaton had a body like Bruce Lee, but I guess he got it from baseball and other activities rather than the gym.

  14. 1. Breathless, because Jean Seberg is a goddess.
    2. The Soft Skin, because love is strange.
    3. No. And besides, that’s an awfully personal question!!
    4. Jean Seberg?
    5. Guess.
    6. Too many to name, but: Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield (though I like Mansfield as an actress), Jane Russell, Kim Novak, Pola Negri all come to mind. They’re all too buxom, except for Negri, who’s just plain scary.
    7. No Sex Please, We’re British. (Oh wait, that already happened.)

  15. For the true negation of sex, the saucy ’70s British sex comedies cannot be beat. They make monastic life glow with a sudden new appeal.

  16. 1) What is the most erotic movie you ever saw? Give your reasons.

    Belle de Jour. Reasons, there’s Catherine Deneuve and the freedom of imagination with all its implications. Until then, no movie ever impressed me enough to go there. And it’s a beautiful film too and funny.

    2) What seems to you to be the perfect example of a non-erotic movie? Limiting yourself, of course, to films that deal with love.

    I don’t exactly understand this question, but maybe Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, which I never found erotic despite Anouk Aimee and Anita Ekberg. Prefer Anouk as Lola and in Eight and Half.

    3) Has the cinema had an influence on your erotic life?

    Subconsciously sure. Not necessarily in a healthy way.

    4) What situations, scenes, objects or attitudes in the cinema, seem to you to have the greatest erotic significance?

    To me it has to do with clothes and hairstyle. Like hair styles of actresses is something I can stare at all day. Not that I know anything about it or anything. VERTIGO was fascinating for me because it got into that, the hair style with a spiral turn, and the old movies did that well. And also Lucia Bose in her films with Antonioni, more so than Monica Vitti.

    Women in Antonioni movies, their body language, the way they move is very striking. I also think of Joan Bennett in The Reckless Moment, especially when she walks with a firmness and purpose.

    5) Who is the actress (or actor) who, for you, embodies eroticism? Why?

    I think the biggest impression was Harriet Andersson in SUMMER WITH MONIKA and also Lucia Bose in Cronaca di un amore and La signora senza camelie.

    6) Of those who are supposed to embody eroticism on screen, which actor (or actress) is for you the negation or eroticism? Why?

    Lon Chaney, I think.

    7) What erotic work would you like you see adapted (or would you like to adapt yourself) to the screen? With who?

    Odd choice, but maybe The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain. Also some of Tolstoy’s stories, maybe Family Happiness.

  17. The Cain, of course, has been adapted several times — what would you like to see done differently? Interesting that he’s cropped up twice.

  18. Well, it’s not so much different, just the theme of it, the tawdry affair which despite the influence of money, greed and betrayal becomes in the end true love.

  19. A great Cain theme, something he returns to again and again, and which even unfaithful adaptations of his work tend to suggest. It has an analogue in the idea of finding a spiritual connection with someone amid the earthier biological business of sex.

  20. British sex comedies are indeed wildly unsexy. The same can’t be said of Monty Python’s spoof of them with the bodacious Carol Cleveland.

  21. I guess the best you could say about the offspring of Carry On is that they were a burlesque of a burlesque. The Python sketch gets a bit closer to the source, although I think Fiona would prefer it if Palin and Idle changed roles. Palin was always the closest thing to a fanciable Python — though Cleese managed to reinvent himself as a romantic lead just once, in A Fish Called Wanda.

  22. The Carry On films weren’t about sex. They were about Kenneth Williams.

  23. Actually, thanks to Amanda Barrie as Cleo, that one comes closer than most to having actual sex appeal, though one would have to mentally erase all the other actors to get to it.

    Williams is another reason to hope that Welles’ Moby Dick Rehearsed is going to appear one day…

  24. John Seal Says:

    And, of course, there’s no one more erotic than Kenneth Williams. Well, maybe Charles Hawtrey.

  25. 1. If…. – though 8 1/2 and many others comes close. It DRIPS with the stuff. It’s all about energy and anger and recklessness that have no proper outlet, so this charge just rises to the ground and sits there like oil dislodge by an earthquake. It has no sex scene despite featuring an unnaturally beautiful central cast. It has something better; misdirection. There’s that bit of foreplay between Wallace and Bobby Phillips on the uneven bars (swoon) and then there’s Mick and The Girl laying into each other as tigers. Which is better than 99/100 sex scenes in all of film. Anderson plays games from end to end. Shooting scenes like the tiger scene or the scum dinner in black and white and the release of color for the scenes that follow serves as a release of tension. The whole thing is a series of seductions. And of course Malcolm McDowell never looked better.

    2. Let The Right One In

    3. Yes, though I’m having a hard time explaining precisely why. Americans look to movies to define what the arc of a relationship should look like in macro and micro detail, so I think we must do the same thing with sex, if only in opposition. All I do is watch and make movies, which means that there’s a very real chance that something like 90% or more intimacy has been preceded by or concurrent to a film.

    4. Shoulders. They’re the most erotic part of the human body. People take them for granted. What’s the easiest way to hint at someone’s nudity then to show their bare shoulders? Films saddled with rating restrictions, or just more interested in coyness, have made ample use of their strange power. Try to count the number of times you’ve seen this pairing: A gown hits the floor, cut to the back of a head, shoulder’s uncovered. Incalculable! As for situations, something about the grime of the apocalypse or warfare works for me almost everytime. Your characters might die tomorrow, and probably shouldn’t have made it as far as they have. And furthermore no one’s showered in days. You gotta want it pretty bad.

    5. I’ve kept a running tally of the most gorgeous women in film for many, many years and though I grabbed some who’ve been synonymous with freakiness, Kathleen Burke’s Panther Woman in Island of Lost Souls and Dororthy Mackaill in Safe in Hell make for a scintillating pre-code double bill. Linda Darnell and June Duprez could hardly be more appealing as personifications of their respective national id’s rampant desire (Darnell’s cheerleader in Rise & Shine, Duprez’s princess in wartime marvel The Thief of Bagdad). Yumiko Nogawa and Harriet Andersson played lost women better than almost anyone. And Soledad Miranda (and to a certain extent her reincarnation Lina Romay) was that rare sex symbol who seemed worth a thousand anonymous men pining over her. I have a massive crush on Edwige Fenech, but that look in her eyes gives me the feeling she never quite seems to know what’s going on around her.

    That’s all well and good, but it’s almost certainly easier to say young Sean Bean and call it a day. He was never less than a perfect physical specimen, had a rare combination of impudence, naivete and predatory cunning, and sweet jesus just look at the man in Caravaggio! He was like Delon Gone Wild.

    6. Zooey Deschanel, whose eyes give one the feeling they’re being transmogrified into a ukulele-strumming unicorn in her brain. Douglas Fairbanks, Sr, (does he count?) who looks more interested in bench-pressing you than treating you right. Sandra Bullock, who doesn’t appear to have relaxed a day in her life and isn’t about to start now, thank you very much. The unremittingly insincere Ryan Reynolds, who should have been a character actor all these years, looks like he’s trying to remember the best place to bury you. Sofia Vergara, for the same reason I never found myself fantasizing about either of the Ricardos. I would say Angelina Jolie, but I was quite taken with her in Changeling. It’s just whenever she isn’t meant to look like a member of the temperance league. That mix of severity and coldness is very easy to look away from. Ditto Milla Jovavich. Megan Fox can be incredibly funny and winning, but whenever she’s forced to be a sex object in films it just never works. Maybe because one can always tell what the filmmakers hope we’re thinking. Does George Eastman count? He sure was naked enough.

    7. I’ve always wanted to make a film about Jesus Franco, or a surrogate if rights proved tricky, to try and find the love behind all the smut, specifically the obsession with Miranda and the long relationship with Romay, which would certainly require an awful lot of sex, but I don’t know if that quite counts. Franco seems an un-castable part, but any actor worth his salt would be willing to give it a shot. Joaquin Phoenix seems like he’d give it a fair shake. He didn’t look like Johnny Cash either…

    As for a real work… Someone ought to remake Kitten With A Whip and actually include a whip. No one could outdo Ann-Margret, but I bet Colin Firth could liven up the John Forsythe role (his actually being desirable ought to help). In fact, make it an all-brit affair and get Yasmin Paige back in her Lulu wig from Submarine. Barring that I think Isolda Dychauk or Lola Créton could credibly wear Firth’s defenses.

  26. Franco would be a fascinating subject. In its innocent way, Torremolinos 73 is probably inspired a bit by his case, but they never begin to approach what the reality must have been.

    I had a student who considered his own version of Kitten with a Whip. Maybe one of those films which needed just a little more latitude to fulfill its creepy potential. I see it as Lady in a Cage meets Bachelor Flat.

  27. Context is everything. I found “Seven Year Itch” erotic because it was all about the sexual fantasy being POSSIBLE, even amongst Nice People. “Some Like It Hot” is too much of a great comedy to be erotic — sex has to compete with drag, gangsters and farcical deceptions. You really don’t have time to dwell on the erotic implications of Curtis and Monroe; you’re focused on how he gets her to make love to him.

    Writer Cynthia Heimel once summed up Monroe’s appeal as being so stupid she could be tricked into sex (Heimel put it a bit more bracingly). That got me thinking about “The Seven Year Itch.” Monroe’s character understands her physical appeal, but isn’t particularly concerned with sex or the power it gives her. She makes clear she likes male company with everything but the commitment. Within the quasi-realistic world of the film, she actually offers fun, consequence-free whoopee. There’s even a special stairway so the neighbors won’t know.

    Not that she’s a sex-mad slut; she simply gives the pleasures of physical intimacy the same weight as air conditioning or playing “chopsticks”. There’s real erotic tension because it seems very possible Tom Ewell IS going to score. Monroe simply wouldn’t mind if they had sex, or if they didn’t. In fact, the movie’s original script implied they DID sleep together (via a hairpin found in his bed) making Ewell’s guilt-ridden paranoia more than cartoonish puritanism. And Monroe’s accommodating nonchalance even more of a fantasy.

    I found and read the original play. It’s hardly a feminist tract, but the girl is totally unlike Monroe’s fantasy figure. She’s young and attractive, but not a bombshell. She’s not a virgin (that fellow last summer did count, her inner voice reminds her). She’s very cautiously interested in a little safe, no-strings experimentation with this passable and available male. And it’s as much about her temptations and doubts as his. It’s a two-handed game as they edge towards bed in as respectable a way as possible (She’s not a ditzy model, but she does ask him about Sarah Bernhardt). First act ends with her coming down the hidden stair, as in the movie. Difference is, they both know she’s there for sex and they’re both a bit nervous. Second act has the girl dressed and ready to get back to her life. No regrets, it was . . . interesting. Meanwhile, he hallucinates horrific retribution. Like the movie, it ends with him rushing to his wife’s side with the girl’s amused approval.

    “The Apartment” is more romantic than sexy, even though it’s even blunter than “Seven Year Itch” about sex. I’m still not sure if it’s a dark romantic comedy or a funny melodrama.

  28. It’s a surprise how successful The Apartment was, even though it’s so good, since it does inhabit that no-man’s-land between genres and tones. Usually that’s a problem, commercially.

    I remember Axelrod and Wilder agreed that without the actual sex, The Seven Year Itch became a very trivial work. But one that does deliver that powerful sense of possibility. As a young teenager watching it on TV in the hopes of sexiness, it drove me crazy because it was all sizzle and no steak, and it took me years to realise that was a merit in this case.

    Big discussion about Niagara in Lyon, so now I have to revisit that one.

  29. Because to the production code Tom Ewell couldn’t sleep with “The Girl Upstairs” in The Seven Year Itch. But because that girl was Marilyn it didn’t matter. He’s a middle-aged man feeling ignored and unimportant and she gives him his “Mo-Jo” back — as only she could. As for the “Mo-Jo” Mr. Tafoya was mentioning —

  30. Have to add my favorite line in “Itch” comes during Ewell’s fantasy of a night nurse coming on to him. He reminds her she’s a registered nurse, but she declares passion has changed that. “Once I was a nurse! Once I was registered!”

  31. Yes, that’s good. Seems more like Axelrod crazy rather than Wilder satire.

  32. And Carolyn Jones is that Night Nurse.

  33. chris schneider Says:

    1) C’ERA UNA VOLTA IL WEST, for its males in close proximity being unhinged and/or unshorn. Or perhaps the verbal seductions of TROUBLE IN PARADISE.

    2) A DATE WITH JUDY is the first title to come to mind, and even that has undercurrents thanks to Carmen Miranda and young Taylor. Basically, anything that’s clean-scrubbed and involving high-schools and sopranos. “Nothing’s as boring as somebody *else’s* fetish” ~ me, while watching Cronenberg admirable-if-unstirring CRASH.

    3) Can’t think of much, although there’s always that episode on top of an inflated mattress when I made out to that accompaniment of a videocasette of WHITE MISCHIEF and the sound of Sarah Miles talking about electricity through her nipples.

    5) Performer I find stirring, or one who embodies eroticism itself? For the latter, Gloria Grahame — from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE to BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL to ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW and then CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER. Talk about a “career arc”! For the former, Robert Ryan. And I’ll keep all thoughts of Howard Vernon and Udo Kier to myself.

    6) Ann-Margret, I suppose, or Tyrone Power or Lana Turner. All performers with good things to be said about them, but more deliberate than exciting — at least to me.

    7) NARROW ROOMS by James Purdy. Filmed in the late ’70s, perhaps, with Jonathan Demme as director and young De Niro as star.

  34. Wow!

    Gloria certainly exuded sultriness, and made it seem an affliction.

    Crash isn’t really anybody’s fetish — Ballard invented a perversion of the future, according to Cronenberg, who made the film as if it already existed. So it isn’t very erotic because we aren’t quite there yet. Though maybe Diana’s death brought it closer.

  35. Thank you Mr. Ehrenstein! That’s the stuff right there!

  36. […] exclaims David Cairns. “Picked up the special edition of Positif from 1964 in Lyon for two measly euros.” […]

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