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NF-Lee's Gildor and Frodo

Men in Kissing Scenes: Brokeback did real good.

Posted on 2006.01.28 at 13:19
Tags: , ,

~ from p. 8 of The New Yorker, Jan. 23 & 30, 2006

I was writing back and forth to another Brokeback Mountain fan (again), and we were talking about whether we did or did not find the kissing scenes hot, exciting, romantic, and so forth....

She definitely did, she said. I replied that I had loved the kissing scenes in the film, but as drama, not erotica.

Why did I not respond to them in a more heated way, personally? (Bear in mind, although I am not "a slasher," I do read slash.) I thought about it....

The fact is, I explained, I rarely find watching love scenes as involving as reading them. In a written story, I can enter intimately into a character's point of view. When they participate in love scenes, I feel as though I am there, too, in their heads and in their bodies. What happens to them happens to me. What they do to their lover, I do. The kissing scenes in the film Brokeback Mountain, while profoundly stirring and moving (tent scene #2), or intense and thrilling (reunion scene on the stairs), did not engage me erotically the way some other film love scenes have done.

Talking about it further, I decided that the scenes in which I really felt erotic excitement were ones filmed from a strong point of view. The BBM scenes were filmed as if we were invisible witnesses, watching with the camera's intimately observant eye, but watching both of the men. How we felt about their kisses would depend on how much we identified with Jack or Ennis, and whether we were a little in love with one of the characters -- or with the actors who played them. Although I love both characters, I am not in love with Jack or Ennis, nor do I swoon for their actors, as much as I laud their work.

If the love scenes had been shot from a strong point of view, though, I wondered if my response might have been different, I said to my conversation partner. I tried to think of an erotic film scene that had really got me excited. What I thought of was a scene in The Piano, in which Harvey Keitel's character makes love to Holly Hunter's character. I saw it when it came out, years ago. It's not a graphic sex scene, although they are naked and what is supposed to be happening is not vague. But it is shot from a strong point of view, the woman's. I might be remembering incorrectly, but I seem to remember things like the camera detailing the stroke of a finger over bare skin, or lingering over the curve of an arm. If a downward glance was noted, the sweep of eyelashes over a cheek seemed to make a sound. I seemed to be able to hear cloth move over skin, soft breaths -- as if every sense were turned up on "high," just as it was for Hunter's character. Her shoulders were hitched and set, uncertain, then, as she assented to whatever her lover might do, her shoulders released, her spine lengthened, she dropped her head back. Flesh shuddered, a nipple quivered. The camera watched from over her bare shoulder as Keitel dropped to his knees before her, never taking his eyes off her. I thought I could hear the pulse beating in her neck.

Well, it didn't show anything, technically, but I remember that my face burned. I squirmed in my seat, glancing furtively over my shoulder. Did everyone know that I had the equivalent of an erection? I was embarrassed, I was so aroused. I was enthralled with the scene as part of the story, yes, but I was also very excited. And I felt this way, mostly, just from watching Hunter's emotionally naked reactions.

Was the intensity of my response because the scene was shot from a woman's point of view, and I'm a woman? I have thought about it. I can think of few love scenes (whether kissing or full sex scenes) that have affected me as strongly. I can think of almost none (that affected me strongly) that were shot from the male character's point of view. When the camera looks over the man's shoulder at his lover, it's to watch what she's doing, not to reveal what he feels about it. It's to look at her responses to his prowess, not his experience of what their love-making is like for him. She is a reflection of his competence. If the man's face is shown, it's usually the sort of look that reflects the efforts he is making to be masterly: determination as he struggles to keep his desire under control. If it goes to climax, he can grimace mightily (reflecting his degree of effort), erupting in a hearty groan or bellow. What I don't see is how the man feels, emotionally or sensually.

Sometimes a kiss has been shot from a male point of view that really allows the man's to face to reveal the mix of his feelings and sensations. Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn managed to do that, kissing Arwen, I thought. Heavens, but his kisses were beautifully acted and filmed. But, that's rare, as far as I can tell. Most kiss shots are of the backs of men's heads and the woman's face seen from over his shoulder, looking swoony. Better shots show side-views of lips coming together, which give the actors more opportunity to convey relationality.

I really don't think it matters from whose point of view love scenes are shot. The important thing, if they are to engage the viewer, is that the responses look real. I didn't have any special affection for either of the characters in The Piano, but the filmmaker led me into Holly Hunter's experience -- almost with the power and immediacy a written love scene can have for me. It was done by attention to sensate detail, and by leading viewers into the character's real, intense, unvarnished reactions to what she was feeling.

Having written all this, I still have to wonder, how did I manage to get such a hot crush on film-Frodo, who has no love scenes at all? I think, for me -- perhaps, for many viewers -- I have had to find my "responsive male" moments outside of love and sex scenes, in films. Whether it's Frodo or some other character (one that actually has love scenes), when is it that I get to see the face of the hero reveal the full range of his emotions and responsiveness -- unguardedly, nakedly? Not in sex scenes, usually. Nope, it's in the angst scenes.

I've talked about this before, I know, but it is the film portrayal of beautiful male characters enduring pain and suffering, whether physical, emotional or psychic or all three, that push all my love/eros/lust buttons. No, I don't get to see Frodo responding to someone making love to him, making him melt, or making him wild until he is flung into a crucible of ecstasy. But I do get to see him respond to every sort of non-sexual stimulus, making him shiver, swoon, sigh, pant, quake, sob, seethe, struggle, strive, sweat, and collapse in delirium. That's when I get to see the "reaction" shots I crave -- and, are they effective!

I've joked how much I love looking at his angsty screencaps out of context, all of which just drip steaminess and erotic tenderness to me. A woman like me just doesn't get to see enough of her male film heros respond frankly, openly, and intensely to making love and being made love to, even when they are given a love scene (much of the time). I take my "responsive male" thrills where I can find them. If men can't be shown responding the way I have been describing in actual love scenes, I'll make do watching their angst scenes.

I was joking to my fellow fan of Brokeback Mountain, when the DVD comes out, I'll screencap the kiss scenes for her. I was laughing when I wrote that to her, but, as I have played the scenes back in my mind since then, I realised she was right to find the scenes so exciting in themselves. I underestimated what those scenes have accomplished.

The filmmakers really did do something different in their approach to those scenes. Perhaps, it is because neither character is a woman that they didn't shoot those scenes the typical way for a kiss (i.e. camera on the back of the man's head, doing his masterly lover thing, and on the woman's face, doing the swoony reaction stuff). In the stairs kiss, for instance, both men ploughed into that kiss like bucks crashing horns, but it wasn't all aggressiveness. They both were shown responding, too, in reactions shots, however fleeting (to convey the urgency of the scene). In the second tent scene, Jack was shot the more typical way, since he was the one in control in that encounter. Ennis, the one coming to Jack, literally hat in hand, was shot the way a film usually shoots the woman in a love scene. It was tenderly shot (low lighting, nice music), but the camera showed Ennis's face nakedly, full of his need for love, mixed with shame and fear, just as the actor played it. The end result was beautiful and powerful to watch. Viewers don't usually get to see so much in the man's face in a typical love scene, only the woman's (if they can act).

Now that I have stopped to think about it, it was a revelation to see a man shot that way in a love scene. In the stairs scene, both men were covered, both ways. Both men laid into each other, nearly knocking each other down in their joy to see each other, starved for each other, panting for each other. We see them as initiators, but also as the ones who react. There are shots of Jack's face, almost contorted with neediness, as if he might burst into tears at any moment. Emotionally buttoned-up Ennis -- once they had broken lip-lock to breathe, fingers still tangled in each others shirts -- pulled back a little to gather himself. He looked into the other man's face with such kiss-swollen, heavy-eyed love and desire, it makes my heart race to think of it.

I swoon for the beauty of the acting in the scene and the finesse with which it was shot, but I also felt what they felt. It rang 100% true: "Yeah," I say to myself, "I remember what that was like, to kiss and be kissed like that. I was 17. I nearly fainted."

That was a real kiss scene.

Does this mean I think there is no hope for a decent love scene again between a man and woman? No. In fact, the film gets my hopes up. I am hoping the kiss scenes in Brokeback Mountain will set a precedent with filmmakers. That directors and actors will take notice and portray the man's reactions in a love scene, as well as the woman's. That they will portray the reactions of both with the same sort of frankness, nakedness, and reality. No posturing, no pretending; no prettying up of the sex or kiss scenes, trying to produce what they think will look good on camera -- the real thing. If it happens, I'll be in seventh heaven.

I guess that's it for now.


I am planning next to present a new series of screencaps. But not of Frodo this time. Inspired by this post, these will be of Elijah Wood, taken from a 1995 rock video of the Cranberries. I hope the Cranberries caps will show what I am talking about. In the video, EW appears to be playing various sorts of angst. But the faces that appear in the caps are, to me, faces of something else.

~ Mechtild

Brokeback Mountain Links Page HERE


(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2006-01-29 02:42 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for commenting, Mews. I have seen The Terminator only once, having sloughed it off until last year as just "another action film," leaving it to my action film-loving husband and daughter to watch it. But, the last time they watched it, I joined them just after it had started. I know the scene you mean. I remember being wowed by it. "What's a scene like this doing in this movie?" It raised my estimation of the film quite a bit. It did a great job conveying the man's side of the experience in the scene.

As for All I Want, please don't flail me, but the scene between Jones and Jane in the motel was the one that disappointed me particularly. I will agree that Jones appeared fearful and nervous, but I saw no desire in his fearfulness, except the desire not to fail utterly with a woman in bed. I saw interest, but merely the sort that focussed on, "What will it be like?" When Jones opened his mouth to receive Jane's kiss (and, in that scene, I thought she did a perfectly adequate job playing "comforting" and "encouraging" and "non-threatening," for a change), he could have been opening his mouth up for the dentist, holding a pneumatic drill. He darted his tongue about but I thought it looked mechanical, rehearsed, as if he had read or seen somewhere that "tongue action" was expected of a man in bed with a woman. For Jane to have taken him to bed with her was a gift from heaven! A boon no boy as bumbling as Jones should ever have been graced with. How did he treat it? Like pearls before swine.

I know that fans of this film and this scene saw awe, fear and trembling in Jones's face, but I just saw fear. Fear of not doing the right thing, whatever he thought that was. I know that fear of incompetency is a real fear, but, in the setting the film portrayed, that fear should have been overcome. The way he behaved in Jane's embrace, he might as well have been having his first time with the neighbor down the street. You said you wished the scene hadn't been so short. So do I. If only to see if the scene might have developed into something richer and more meaningful to them both.

I don't mean to be harsh, but that film's love scenes in particular nearly gutted my EW fandom. I couldn't believe such a good actor could be put in such scenes and play them with so little energy or verve. I know Jones was supposed to be afraid and unsure -- a first-timer-17-year-old and an experienced older woman -- but I got no sense of his desire for her at all in that scene, no sense of interest in her or even what kissing or having sex with her might be like, only fear and nervousness. Once he was in bed with her I thought, "Hunh! I guess it was all wishful thinking, fantasizing what it might be like to love a woman, if he were a character in one of his unwritten novels, only, unfortunately, this is his real life." Jones had been a rather iconoclastic youth until then, however sensitive and introspective. Surely he'd show more zeal than that.
(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2006-01-29 03:11 (UTC) (Link)
[second try - something happened to the first post...?]

Thank you, Mews, for coming back. Again, loads of EW fans, intelligent and savvy (see Honey's post below), love EW's scenes in All I Want. It's one of those brick wall things, I guess. I will say, however, many of the screencaps from Jones's kissing scenes are quite lovely. Looking at the screencaps, I can imagine the scenes differently so that I view them with a lot of appreciation. It is only when I am actually watching the film that I recoil.

I was trying to think of any other movies I had seen that gave more than just the woman's emotional pov, and I really can't. Until BBM, of course. Maybe that's why audiences are relating to it in a way that seems to be so surprising to many of the critics.

I think you are quite right. See Taerie's remark below, hoping that film folks will sit up and listen on this issue.
ms_banazira at 2006-01-29 00:44 (UTC) (Link)
Wow, Mech! I really enjoy your ability to analyze a scene the way you do!

You know, I think a love scene shot the way you describe would be extremely moving even without nudity. Emotional porn, if you will.

That's what I enjoyed so much about Frodo; the ability to see the naked raw emotion in his face. And Mews is right, that it was also there in Jones' face in AIW. And in the "Ridiculous Thoughts" video; I can't wait to see those screen caps!

It's whats so special about Elijah as an actor to me; that occassional ability to make you actually feel what his character is going through. I hope he doesn't lose that ability as he gets older, and more famous, and has to learn to shut part of himself away.

It's funny. After I saw "The Aviator" last year, I told my husband it was "airplane porn." The camera lingered over the skin of the crafts, took in every dip and swoop over the landscape, and showed the characters reacting with pure joy of the experience.
mechtild at 2006-01-29 02:51 (UTC) (Link)
Aw, Honey, I died laughing over your 'airplane porn' example. That was perfect! That's my husband, unfortunately, over historic weapons (guns, rifles, etc.).

I have 74 "Ridiculous Thoughts" screencaps that I made today. I think they are beauts.

You know, I think a love scene shot the way you describe would be extremely moving even without nudity. Emotional porn, if you will.

You are so right! Actually, few of my favourite film love scenes have nudity at all. I blush to confess that I melt during the dance scene on the terrace between Captain Von Trapp and Maria in "The Sound of Music," for heaven's sake (I had hated the film when it came out and I was a snooty teenager). "The Piano" had nudity, though the director limited what was shown, because the characters were in a full sex scene for their first encounter. There was no preamble at all to their relationship, once it was physicalized.

It's the tone and the connection that the filmmaker establishes in a scene, through the performance of the actors, that makes love scenes work well.

As for "All I Want," you will have to talk to Mews about that. I still hate it. I still am waiting for what I would consider an effective love scene from EW. I am confident it will happen, eventually. He's so talented, how could he not be capable of it? It only needs the right director.
taerie at 2006-01-29 01:26 (UTC) (Link)
Yeh. I have complained to Matt about this many times. Love scenes not showing the face of the man the way I want them to. I have not seen The Piano.. but I may try to rent it after what you said. Somebody in the movie industry needs to read what you just wrote. If they could just get the power of the emotion that Frodo was capable of conveying distilled and turned to the cause of good rather than evil.. (or is it the other way around?)
mechtild at 2006-01-29 02:53 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, "The Piano." Read Maewyn's comment, below. I just did. But, yes, the movie people would do well to listen to women, when it comes to what they would prefer to see in films. They think they know, thinking we all want that grocery store romance stuff, but many of us want something realer and deeper than that.

If they could just get the power of the emotion that Frodo was capable of conveying distilled and turned to the cause of good rather than evil.

Oh, yes....
(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2006-01-29 03:36 (UTC) (Link)
Sheees, Mews! *standing ovation*

I leap in to say this in case Taerie is already in bed.

Woo hoo!!!!
(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2006-01-29 03:55 (UTC) (Link)
You are right, you know. Unfortunately, big business guys think they know what women like. But, they happen to be wrong. :)

maewyn_2 at 2006-01-29 01:50 (UTC) (Link)

Female Directors

You mention your experience when you saw The Piano. This movie was directed by a woman, Jane Campion.

I agree with you - that scene was powerfully erotic. I remember squirming in my seat when I saw it (it was a good thing that the friends I saw it with were all women!).

Perhaps it was because we could experience the scene from a woman's perspective that it affected us so much. She was putting us in that scene! We could feel it!

I don't know if there are many other women out there who have directed such effective love scenes. It would be interesting to see the outcome of their work. Or perhaps this was a one-off!
mechtild at 2006-01-29 02:57 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Female Directors

Maewyn, you saw The Piano? It sounds as though our reactions were very similar. No wonder we like the same erotic fanfic!

But, as your post implies, maybe it does take a woman director to pull off a really good love scene -- just like women fanfic writers write the best erotica.

I haven't watched any others of Jane Campion's films. Have you? I never did watch The Piano again, you know. The rest of the story was too angst-ridden and traumatic for me to want to undergo it twice, even though it had a relatively happy ending. I felt terrible for her husband, even though they were no match.
maewyn_2 at 2006-01-29 04:56 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Female Directors

It seems that since there are more male directors, that it's the male point of view that has become the "norm". How refreshing it would be to see that reversed more often!

I haven't seen any other Jane Campion films other than The Piano. I checked out IMDb and see that she's directed 15 films and mini-series.

Estë   (or ST for short)
este_tangletoes at 2006-01-29 12:09 (UTC) (Link)
Superb Mechtild, I’m looking even more forward to seeing this film. I’ve never been afraid of spoilers. In fact they usually make me more eager.

I don’t know when they will show it here though :(

You wrote:

No. In fact, the film gets my hopes up. I am hoping the kiss scenes in Brokeback Mountain will set a precedent with filmmakers. That directors and actors will take notice and portray the man's reactions in a love scene, as well as the woman's.

Oh please let it be so.
mechtild at 2006-01-29 13:02 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, yes, yes. But I hope that, reading all this, we haven't got your hopes up too high for the film. *wrings hands that Este will experience it optimally*
mechtild at 2006-01-29 13:00 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Female Directors

I will have to look in the IMDB. Thanks!
pearlette at 2006-01-31 17:24 (UTC) (Link)
You know what totally annoyed me about The Piano? How the hell Holly Hunter's character could prefer Harvey bleedin' Keitel to Sam flippin' gorgeous Neill.

That just totally blew the whole film's premise to tiny smithereens as far as I was concerned. :D

I mean, c'MON! :p

The most erotic scene in that film was with Neill too. When Holly Hunter's character - I've forgotten her name, but she was an annoying cow - takes control in bed. With Sam at her mercy. *fans self* No really, it's a very tender, very remarkable scene, and it almost made me like the annoying cow. Almost.

I hated the last film Jane Campion did, with Meg Ryan. Ryan was actually very good, but the film itself was DREADFUL. The plot had so many holes in it that it leaked. And it was so gratuitously offensive and nasty ... if that's meant to be feminist film-making, then ppphhhfffftttt. Give me an honest war movie any day.

Great posts here, ladies. :)

I can only add a hearty amen to what mews1945 said:

Give us Aragorn. Give us Faramir. Frodo. Sam. Merry and Pippin too. They were all warriors, each in his own way, but they were also emotional beings who revealed the gentle facets of their natures. Women are the reason the Trilogy was such a huge success. Not CG geeks. Not fanboys. Women. And those men and hobbits are the reason why.

Preach it, sister! :):):):):):)
pearlette at 2006-01-31 17:32 (UTC) (Link)
Note to self: always Google ...

Holly Hunter's character was called Ada (aka, the Annoying Cow.) Sorry, I am irrepressible ...

Little Anna Paquin was a treat in that film, as was the gorgeous cinematography and the Nyman score. And Neill, bumbling and fumbling as Ada's hapless husband.

I did feel sorry for her when he chopped off her finger. Well, one would. She was still a barmy cow for preferring Harvey to Sam though. :D

The movie I refer to is In the Cut, 2003, with Meg Ryan. Bleh.
mechtild at 2006-01-31 22:49 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the filling-in, Pearl, on the details for "The Piano".

Harvey's character was rather enigmatic, I thought. I think he's an awfully good actor, although he has no appeal for me, otherwise. But I didn't see how Ada was going to make herself stick around with Sam, considering the way her character was presented. The finger-cutting was the reason I'll never watch it again. I hated that it was done and I hated that he did it. I also wondered how he managed to cut off only the one.

But he and Ada didn't seem to suit at all. It didn't matter how nice Sam was, Ada didn't really seem the sort to appreciate it. She was never going to be enamoured of his conventional ways, no matter how decent or good-looking he was. Yes, I remember the bed scene between them, now that you mention it, but it didn't do anything for me. You saw tenderness, while I saw her indulging him, almost patronizing him, in a sort of, "Well, maybe I should give him a chance, to be fair," way. Anyway, I was a little embarrassed for him, poor sod. I can't remember the plot that well, now. You remember it far better than I do. :)

I loved Anna Paquin getting personal with the tree trunks.

Never saw "In the Cut" or any others of Campion's films.

It's good to "see" you, by the way!
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