Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,

Men in Kissing Scenes: Brokeback did real good.

~ 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

Tags: brokeback mountain, film, love scenes

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