Monday, April 8, 2013

The Young in One Another's Arms

Last night I watched Jon Garcia's 2012 film The Falls, about two Mormon men who fall in love with each other while on their missionary service.  It's a lovely, low-key piece of work, with good production values and fine performances by the leads.  And though I feel a bit weird for saying so (as if that ever stops me), I appreciated the film's relative reticence about sex: there are no attempts at hot guy 2 guy action scenes, not even any frontal nudity -- just one brief shot of one character's naked backside.  In keeping with this approach, a fight that occurs midway through the film also takes place offscreen.  This evidently confused some viewers, who couldn't figure out what happened, though it was explained clearly enough in the dialogue. 

But there were several scenes where the boys lie in bed in each other's arms, talking to each other.  There's an old saw to the effect that boys give girls love in order to get sex, while girls give boys sex in order to get love.  My attitude is analogous: I like to see boys (or men) getting naked together so they can hug and kiss and hold hands and cuddle, while many other gay men seem to like to see boys hug and kiss and hold hands in hopes that they'll see some skin, hopefully a penis or two, and some hot guy 2 guy action, even if it's simulated.  (There may be excited dispute whether a scene was simulated or real, though like most people, gay men are often irritatingly naive about the fact that movies involve acting, and aren't necessarily reality.)  Several customer reviews of The Falls at Amazon complained that it wasn't sexy enough, like the guy who ambivalently observed that there was "no bedroom Olympics" in the film, though another exulted that "towards the end of the movie we get to see a male butt!"  On the other hand, some did praise it for its restraint.  But judging from many reviews of gay male films I've seen, a lot of my brethren watch them only for the sex scenes.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I find myself increasingly bored by such simulations, and sympathetic with the actors for having to fake it.  The simulations generally seem to have no function within the film, yet they're almost obligatory. After all, there's plenty of porn around, even more accessible these days than charming low-key romances like The Falls, so why expect hot hardcore action in films that aren't about it?

And yet I often do enjoy sex scenes -- the one between Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung that opens Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together, for example. which I wish was a bit longer.  But I'm much more moved by the scene later in the film, where Leung and Cheung slow-dance fully-clothed in the kitchen of their Buenos Aires rooming house.  From narrative films I expect stories of developing (or unraveling) relationships between characters; I've begun to wonder if that is even compatible with hardcore sex scenes.  Paradoxically, I expect actors in fiction features to depict characters who are rendered emotionally naked, as they come to know themselves and each other.  I once had an online exchange with someone who was bothered by the way male characters in many Asian films are more emotionally expressive than their American counterparts, often weeping with abandon.  American actors rarely seem to be expected to do that.  My interlocutor admitted that maybe he was just embarrassed by seeing men cry and generally express emotion.  He was straight, but I've come to suspect that many gay men are also embarrassed when male characters get all emotional.  But that's a lot of what I look for in film.  The Falls isn't perfect by any means, but it went places that many American films, including gay films, don't.