… When the sounds of sex became audible for the first time without the cover of music, and when the kind of affective control offered by musical interlude was not deployed, a new kind of nakedness became available to films …
This is from Screening Sex by Linda Williams (2006):
… through the auspices of a friend’s mother I came, in 1961, to see my first foreign films at an art house in Berkeley, California.
The two films I saw were in blatant violation of the Hollywood Production Code. They not only displayed simulated genital sex in the form of the rhythmic grinding of hips but they showed it taking place on the ground, brutally. Both Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1959), which had won an Academy Award for best foreign film, and Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women (1960), for which Sophia Loren won an Oscar in 1961, portrayed gang rapes of young virgins.
… I might have wished for a gentler awakening to the visual knowledge of genital heterosexual sex through more romantic, or at least more conventionally erotic, scenes. But this is how it goes with carnal knowledge, which never arrives at the exact moment we are ready to learn about it, but always too early or too late. Nor do we know exactly from where this knowledge comes: does it arrive as an intrusion from the outside, like a seduction or a rape (in this case from foreign movies), or as a latent knowledge that seems to have always been present from the beginning? Is there ever a right moment to “get” sexual knowledge?
… I will argue that carnal knowledge came to American screens at the end of the Code in some of the same ways in which it comes to the child: in deferred, partial ways, never at the right time, and almost never as a clear revelation.
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… There are two primary registers of affective response to screened sexual acts (in both the revealed and screened-out senses I have been stressing). The one with the most impact and the one to which we film scholars always give precedence is the visual, by which I mean what we see and how we respond to these visual cues. The other register, which we too often ignore, is aural, which is harder to isolate given the ambient nature of sound, and which has no equivalent, for example, to a close-up; although certainly it makes a difference whether sounds are miked in ways that make them sound close or ways that make them sound far. Music, as we shall see in the following, is often the most prevalent accompaniment to sex acts in Hollywood films, as well as a way to cover over what might appear to some as the tasteless grunts and moans of sex. But before movies got to that point, they used the aural register of talk, talk, and more talk.
… As late as 1969, even the new Hollywood of the post-Code era seemed more comfortable talking about carnal knowledge than showing it. The two brief love affairs chronicled in Bob and Carol are verbally analyzed but pointedly not shown. As in Virgina Woolf, the only carnal knowledge evident are two new words added to the lexicon of sex talk — orgy and vagina. Verbal satire, whether savage as in Virginia Woolf, or gentle as in Bob and Carol, was the preferred way of addressing adult situations during the transition from the Code to the new ratings system.
… the conjunction of music and sex, as opposed to the presentation of sex acts with little or no music, is enormously important in the history of cinematic sexual representation. Just as kisses in the silent or sound film almost never occurred without soaring music, so it would prove extremely rare for post-Code Hollywood films to depict carnal knowledge without the added affect of music.
When the sounds of sex became audible for the first time without the cover of music, and when the kind of affective control offered by musical interlude was not deployed, a new kind of nakedness became available to films, even when the characters having sex remained clothed. It was this aural nakedness that proved so disturbing in my audiovision of the rapes of Bergman’s and De Sica’s films.