Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why Movies Aren’t Sexy Any More

By Lars Trodson

Moviemakers today have obviously decided they can’t compete with the mainstreaming of porn. They either try to compete directly -- see “9 Songs” or “Shortbus” -- or they go so completely tepid as to be the antithesis of sex appeal -- watch any Nancy Meyers movie and you’ll see what I mean. Ouch.

There is so little erotica in films today that anthropologists looking back at the mainstream Hollywood movies made in the past decade will think maybe the place was run by a bunch of eunuchs. It needs to be shaken out of its doldrums. Is there nothing writers and directors today can do with a Diane Lane or Kate Beckinsale or Jennifer Connelly or Rosario Dawson or Eva Mendes other than put them in some schmaltzy romantic comedy, or testosterone fueled action number or in a warmed over horror flick? Hey you guys making millions of dollars writing Batman and Superman and Silver Surfer movies -- you know, those movies with no real dialogue or character development? -- write these women the kind of parts that went to Faye Dunaway 35 years ago. Then you’ll really earn your money. Those women were knowing about their appeal, and they weren’t afraid of it.

Take a look at Natalie Wood in “Love With the Proper Stranger” and you’ll see just about the sexiest woman who ever lived.

Why are there no sexy, tough women in pictures today? The thing that Hollywood needs to remember is that it shouldn’t and can’t compete with these other outlets, the porn on the Internet and all that, and they shouldn’t worry about it, either. The kind of amazing appeal Hollywood women have always had is still desirable today, is still marketable today. Look at the way the music industry has marketed its stars, whether they be Shania Twain or Faith Hill or Fergie or Joss Stone or Beyonce. These women are strong and sexy and are out to get exactly what they want. And it looks like they do.

I don’t get the same impact with Cameron Diaz. And -- I know, I know, call me insane -- but there is something chilly about Halle Berry. I don’t think she could be any more beautiful, but why is it she leaves me adrift? I can’t get to her. You never felt that way about Marilyn Monroe or the early Lauren Bacall (still with us, God bless her). You went back to a Marilyn movie over and over through the years because you wanted to spend time with her, and even though she was up on the big screen she didn’t seem so far away.

When I watch Jennifer Connelly in a movie, they way her parts are written it seems like she’s sending me a postcard. Shirley MacLaine (just look at her in “The Apartment”) must only shake her head when she sees what is going on in movies today.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the major studios are simply a business line within some international conglomerate. They’re part of a music/television/DVD/cable/ communications firm and the people who run the studios don’t think of themselves as an extension of the incredible Hollywood legacy that precedes them. Their interests are multifold. They don’t see the heritage passed down from Theda Bara to Gloria Swanson to Barbara Stanwyck to Rita Hayworth to Lana Turner to Raquel Welch to Ann-Margaret to ….? What they should do is think of their particular aesthetic -- the Hollywood aesthetic -- as its own thing, not as anything that’s part of the dynamic marketing and communications pool that is our world today.

If they saw themselves that way -- just as the old studio moguls did, who saw themselves as being able to create something wholly outside what books and theater and radio had to offer -- then they might be able to see how they can access the kind of allure that people have always gone to the movies for.

It wasn’t that pictures weren’t bawdy, or even outright graphic (some of the pre-Code movies made in the late 1920s and early 30s can still shock, if only because you forget that Hollywood could be so untamed). The women were self-assured in their sexuality, and audiences, men and women, appreciated that.

You want to say to the people making movies today: You’re in God Damn Hollywood, for Christ sake, and your brand of sex appeal has nothing to do with explicitness. It was a brand of appeal that was based on illusion, yes, and beauty, yes, but also independence, intelligence and a certain kind of fearlessness.

Go for some old-fashioned erotica. Hey, Hollywood, may just find that audiences -- audiences now forsaking the movies -- will thank you for it by buying a fresh ticket.