Older women and sex in cinema

16:00, Apr 03 2013

It's been right up there with the mind-numbing biff-bang-wallop-ping-biff drum solo, or the endless lead guitar break.

It has equally been up there with the embarrassing nightclub sequence with a girl singer that gratuitously interrupts old movies, or those wincing dance sequences in which 1940s women showed their well-turned but overweight-by-today's-standards legs to advantage. Generations yet unborn will look back at our funny ways and cringe. I do already.

I refer to the everlasting explicit sex scene in the movies. Two I think of instantly as examples: The long outdoor shag in I Am Love (the house is the real star of that film) and the very uncomfortable-looking shag on the stairs in A History of Violence (the violence is the whole point of that one). You look at the ceiling until the gasps stop and the plot continues. Or perhaps you make a pot of tea.

I've long been uneasy about what has been expected of actors over the past couple of decades, since a variety of simulated sexual acts have been expected in their repertoire, dragging them more towards erotica than art.

These form interludes in movies that serve no plot purpose – inference would do the job just as well – and do nothing for character development – sexual acts being neither original nor unique. They have been there, I conclude, for men and for very young women who want to like what men like, so that men will like them. And now they're going. I can hardly believe the good news.

An American market research company has been feeding audience reactions back to film-makers and these in turn have influenced recent scripts. "They shag for a long time, her lingerie is black silk" is accordingly no longer a script guideline.


The research company, Ipsos, says there is a trend for women to choose which films couples watch, and women over 25 make the majority of couples' decisions. They like to see handsome male leads, but not necessarily their heaving naked bodies, and do not like to see actresses cast as subservient, or in sex scenes (see above) that "do not serve the plot".

I report this with relief, since Fifty Shades of Grey has yet to be cast and extended spanking scenes are to be expected. How strange the British are. From memory spanking hurts and there was nothing remotely erotic about my mother's wooden spoon. I do hope we'll be spared the quivering bottoms, if not the quivering everything else.

Other hot entertainment news concerns William Shakespeare, who has so far been – according to various reports and theories – gay and quite possibly Russian or German. A new academic study takes an unexpected path. It claims he was a tax-avoiding merchant, who exploited hungry people during a famine by hoarding food to sell to them at a fat profit.

Jane Archer of Aberystwyth University, whose study this is, focused on what the playwright was up to with his large landholdings during a famine linked to the Little Ice Age, roughly from 1550 to 1850.

It seems he was speculating in malt, grain and barley, trying to dodge tax and also dabbling in money lending. On top of that he acquired tithes on local produce, including "corn, grain, blade and hay" – which earns him disapproval in a newspaper report for "creaming off the profits of others' manual work".

How odd. Such activities are the basis of capitalism and the free market today, while avoiding tax is agreed to be the prerogative of the rich. The point of the sharemarket (I'm told) is to buy low and sell high, and the point of trade is not to be kind but to make a profit.

We should applaud the bard, then, and hold him up more than ever as an all-round Renaissance genius. Nobody ever expected to make a decent living at writing unless they were quite mad; and if he did the same today he would be knighted for it.

The Dominion Post