Heroes of the Silver Screen

I was interested in Rich’s remark in the public comments on the Infamous Porn Post:

I’ve seen “studies” and resulting articles about the subject and the overriding conclusion is that women are turned on more by their own romantic imaginations than the blunt force “naughty bits” that you refer to. Women are much more attuned to what “might happen” – conceived in their own minds – than the “reality” created by the producer/director. How am I doing?

However, we clods have an appreciation of this nuance as well. I had a crush on Katherine Ross when I was a teenager. That scene in Butch Cassidy – you know the one I mean – was about the hottest thing I’d ever seen. And there wasn’t even partial nudity in that.

Far be it from me to propose that all men are “clods” who have no appreciation of erotic nuance. I’d have to say that a huge percentage of the men I’ve met in my life have been more romantically excitable and sentimental than I am, up to and including what I can only call “starry-eyed.” And many of the others who seemed to be frozen gladiators turned out to have hearts of molten gold under those icy breastplates. So of course men can get very turned on by “what might happen,” too.

But many, perhaps most women must have room for their own imaginations to work when it comes to potential “turn-ons.” In my own case, it was critical. I’m actually a bit embarrassed about the particular weakness that led to the first faint stirrings of my erotic renaissance, but here goes: I get schoolgirl crushes on movie stars. Or, more properly, I get crushes on the characters they play and ascribe those characteristics to the actor playing them.

(Aaaargh. That was hard to admit, especially since I did some acting in my misspent youth, and no one should know better than I do the differences between the actor and the role. I think I would rather have confessed the considerable flaws of my nondescript behind.)

This propensity began early. As was I entering puberty I conceived a grand passion for David McCallum, who played the swooningly mysterious Illya Kuryakin on the old Man From U.N.C.L.E. series in the Sixties (Robert Vaughan did nothing for me, N.O.T.H.I.N.G.). I would haunt the local drugstore to pounce on new movie magazines as soon as they arrived, in which I followed the outrageous and inexplicable spectacle of Jill Ireland abandoning My David for … ugh! … Charles Bronson (at that age I couldn’t see the considerable charm Charlie’s type would hold for me at later stages of my erotic development). But at least that betrayal meant my stoically tortured Illya David was FREE to marry any other woman he wanted — and surely a more grateful one this time!

After I outgrew that silliness, though, movie stars receded from my sexual consciousness in favor of real live boys. Although I would get some thrills in movie theaters, and my fevered imagination was occasionally caught by one star or another, it never blossomed into the kind of obsessive interest I’d had in McCallum. (Some other things were going on during this period that I’ll get to on Monday.) The ridiculous movie star “thing” didn’t raise its curly little head again until after I’d put my libido into the freezer following my marriage.

Buy Shogun by James ClavellThe event that lit a low blue flame under my stone cold casserole (so to speak) was the miniseries Shogun, and the fictional swashbuckler “John Blackthorne,” played with mesmerizing masculine intensity by Richard Chamberlain. Oooh, whatta man!

(Yes, yes, I’m fully aware of the irony. Chamberlain’s memoir Shattered Love is due out in June.)

It was then that I realized my sex drive was not totally dead. There was still something there. Inspired by an imaginary character played by an unavailable man, of course, but there was obviously nothing wrong with my basic sexual machinery. Translating that tentative awakening to real desire in my marital bed was more of a challenge, because there were still Issues. A lot more had to happen between then and the real (and so far permanent) revival.

But while we’re on this subject, I’d like to discuss some more of my Great Moments in Cinematic Eros because they might illuminate some common factors that get many women’s imaginations moving. it’s not that I believe all women react to these elements the same way I do, but this is a start (besides, I’m gettin’ into this embarrassing confession thing. Have I discovered a new kink?).

One mainstream movie moment I recall very clearly to this day was an otherwise utterly forgettable film called The Final Cut, starring one of my perennial heart-throb hubbas, Sam Elliott, and the beautiful but not skinny-perfect Anne Ramsay.

He refused to sleep with her through the whole movie (he thought he was too old and burnt out for her or something, I don’t really remember the reasons), and then after a tense and bloody bomb defusing scene (the perp had wired a kidnapped woman to be an inadvertent trigger for a bomb), Sam and Anne were heading down in the elevator together, filthy, sweaty, exhausted, and he said something funny to her in That Voice of his and they kisssssed, very hot, very hungry, very relieved, like real people would in that situation, sort of awkward, rushed and unpretty. My stomach did a backflip. Great stuff. Practically no actual skin, but a huge wallop of erotic freight.

Another powerful “no skin” erotic moment in the movies was the furtive, almost soundless sex between Rachel Weisz and Jude Law in Enemy at the Gates. the thing that got me about that one was the more-realistic-than-usual expressions and actions, and — maybe most important — the hurried secrecy of it.

In both situations there was more than sex going on. In “The Final Cut” there was a long, tense period of hope and anticipation preceding the consummation (for the audience it was complete with that first kiss), and in “Enemy at the Gates” it was the circumstances of the act (the threat of death, the potential witnesses, and so on). The scene in “Butch Cassidy” that turned Rich on so much has an atmosphere of aggression and threat. In fact, it’s been my experience that movie or narrative sex that has no dramatic context carries little or no erotic charge.

Delayed gratification is the easiest way to escalate sexual tension in an extended narrative. This is a truth that Glenn Gordon Caron exploited in Moonlighting and Chris Carter made ultimately cheap and tiresome in The X-Files (proving that you can’t thwart the audience’s desires forever).

Did I mention I used to have erotic dreams about David Duchovny?



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