So sex doesn’t sell, after all?

So sex doesn’t sell, after all? (photo)

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When’s the last time you saw a big studio movie that had a sex scene? A real one — you know, one with something more graphic than what you’d fine in “Sex And The City”?

Off the top of my head, there’s “A History of Violence,” and then Keira Knightley seems pretty into getting naked, but I know for a fact no one saw “Domino” but me. But yeah, the whole idea that Americans are more down with violence than sex in their movies hardly seems worth repeating.

So what to make of a new study that analyzed 914 films released widely between 2001 and 2005 and concluded “sex and nudity do not, on the average, boost box office performance, earn critical acclaim or win major awards”? The study, which ran in the November issue of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, is titled “Sex Doesn’t Sell — Nor Impress.”

There’s an odd tone to the quotes run in Miller-McCune. Researcher Dean Keith Siminton suggests that “sex is cheap with respect to production costs. Female actors can be hired for less than male actors, and can be urged (i.e. coerced?) into displaying more sexual nudity/activity; and for various reasons, sex scenes may be less expensive to shoot. And yet, mainstream cinema still can’t get an additional buck out of the practice.”

I’m no research scientist, but I do know enough about the basic ideas behind causation and correlation to feel like this is kind of specious. Sex and casual nudity are exceedingly rare these days. A little Megan Fox cleavage to lighten things up? Sure — as in the good old advertising days, to sell a car you need a pretty girl — but not even “Jennifer’s Body” (which is all about sex) was going to go there.

On the arthouse side, there have definitely been sex-filled failures. But it’s possible that “9 Songs” flopped because no one wanted to watch a relation boiled down to just fucking and murky show-attendance, and that “Lust, Caution” flopped because no one had the energy for nearly three hours of WWII China sex and intrigue. Meanwhile, the “Sex and the City” movie was very popular indeed, “graphic nudity” and all. And it doesn’t get any more real than that title. So now what?

11232009_clashofthetitans.jpgIt’s true that the ’60s sexual revolution hung over into the ’70s and ’80s on screen with a lot of casual, incidental nudity brightening up PG movies for pre-pubescent boys everywhere (see “Logan’s Run,” “16 Candles,” hell, “Clash of the Titans”) and no one seemed to get too hung up about it. It’s equally true that, for whatever reason, that’s something most families wouldn’t put up with these days.

But it’s also true that much of the internet revolves around the promise of sexual content — think of blogs, with their after-the-jump teases about scandals and sex tapes, or the coy “lifestyle” stories on newspaper websites desperate for hits. And, of course, there’s the ever-enduring porn industry.

Maybe it’s really not true that “sex sells” — but wink-wink raunch totally does. What does that mean? It means that you can’t really draw conclusions from a climate where most movies involving sex scenes are inevitably up to something “serious,” and therefore commercially doomed from the start.

[Photo: “Sex and the City,” Warner Bros., 2008; “Clash of the Titans,” MGM, 1981]

Jackie That 70s Show

Jackie Oh!

15 That ’70s Show Quotes to Help You Unleash Your Inner Jackie

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Carsey-Werner Company

When life gets you down, just ask yourself: what would Jackie do? (But don’t ask her, because she doesn’t care about your stupid problems.) Before you catch That ’70s Show on IFC, take a look at some quotes that will help you be the best Jackie you can be.

15. She knows her strengths.

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14. She doesn’t let a little thing like emotions get in the way.

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13. She’s her own best friend.

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12. She has big plans for her future.

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11. She keeps her ego in check.

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10. She can really put things in perspective.

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9. She’s a lover…

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8. But she knows not to just throw her love around.

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7. She’s proud of her accomplishments.

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6. She knows her place in the world.

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5. She asks herself the hard questions.

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4. She takes care of herself.

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3. She’s deep.

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2. She’s a problem solver.

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1. And she’s always modest.

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Mumblecore mocks itself.

Mumblecore mocks itself. (photo)

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I guess one sign that you’ve really made it is when you can poke fun at yourself and it’s not just an inside joke for your friends. With “Birthday Suit,” a new three-minute short on “Funny or Die,” mumblecore figurehead/sometime colleague Joe Swanberg achieves the latter, if only barely — hanging at a 48% approval rating, “Birthday Suit” seems to be lost on some of the site’s audience.

In films like “Hannah Takes The Stairs” and “Alexander The Last,” Swanberg’s toyed with very plausible-looking sex scenes as a way of advancing narrative. The premise of “Birthday Suit” is that Swanberg is making his first movie with biggish-name stars (“Sex and the City”‘s Jason Lewis and Vinessa Shaw of “Two Lovers”), and the sex scenes are going to be green-screened, with the naughty bits reconstructed digitally. “If anybody for even a split second realizes that that’s a digital erection, then we’ve failed at our job,” Swanberg deadpans, appearing as himself alongside some of his mainstays (notably Kent Osborne as a dweeby CGI engineer providing stunt genitalia).

It’s a genial joke that works at multiple levels, mocking over-elaborate CGI technology that replicates things that don’t really need replication (a la Robert “Beowulf” Zemeckis), as well as actors congratulating themselves for “bravery” in doing nudity/sex scenes. But mostly it makes fun of Swanberg himself and the kind of movies he makes — ones that could be considered a little sex-obsessed. I look forward to the Andrew Bujalski follow-up, which I presume will be a “Waking Life”-style rotoscope of 100 minutes of coffee-shop chats.

[Photo: “Birthday Suit,” Funny or Die, 2009]

Megan Fox is no Brigitte Bardot.

Megan Fox is no Brigitte Bardot. (photo)

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Brigitte Bardot, screen goddess, national icon and late-life bigot, is nearing her 75th birthday. As the Guardian notes in an audio slideshow tribute, Charles de Gaulle once compared her importance as a French export to that of Renault cars.

Meanwhile, over at the Los Angeles Times, Chris Lee attempts to name her successor, a starlet on the path to becoming “a sex symbol of the highest order: a woman whose hotness has become emblematic of a specific era. Call Megan Fox the first bona fide sex symbol of the 21st century.” Somehow… it’s not quite the same.

For one thing, these days the idea of a “sex symbol” seems anachronistic. Fox might be obsessed with Marilyn Monroe, but she’s never going to date JFK or redefine blondness. Lee compares her to the late Farrah Fawcett, whose fame peaked with a poster, a kind of one-shot iconography that’s no longer an option. And Pamela Anderson, his other parallel, is a genial self-spoofer famous for understanding exactly how to market her outrageous measurements and for having one of the first major celebrity sex tapes.

How can Fox compete with all that? There are no boundaries left to shatter, whatever Fox’s debatable merits as a physical specimen/actress/celebrity/provider of quotable copy. A “sex symbol” has to represent something both concrete and boundary-shattering. Fox is basically just the prototypical pretty girl bending over to sell a car in an ad; it’s just that the cars are Transformers.

If anything, “Jennifer’s Body” writer Diablo Cody — annoying as I find her — is a better candidate for Lee’s designation. She’s a singular figure, parlaying a career as a stripper (something people used to want to keep quiet) into an eminently mainstream career, trading on her unique sexuality for the kind of publicity that’s proven near-impossible for anyone else in her field.

[Photo: Megan Fox in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Paramount Pictures, 2009]

Diablo Cody’s “Body” Language

Diablo Cody’s “Body” Language (photo)

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Nobody, not even Diablo Cody (née Brook Busey) herself, could have predicted that this former blogger with a short-lived stripping hobby (the basis for her 2006 memoir “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper”) would end up winning an Academy Award for her very first screenplay, 2007’s “Juno.” Known for her snappy dialogue and pop-cultural quips (i.e. “That ain’t no Etch-A-Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, Homeskillet.”), Cody has become one of the most recognizable screenwriters working today, in part because of her colorful past and spunky personality. Expanding into television, she’s already at work on a second season of Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” a dramedy series she developed with Steven Spielberg.

Opening this weekend is Cody’s second feature as screenwriter, “Jennifer’s Body.” What’s perhaps most surprising is that she’s getting more above-the-title attention than either the film’s director, Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”) or rising starlet Megan Fox. A sexed-up horror comedy set to an indie-meets-emo soundtrack, “Jennifer’s Body” stars Fox as the titular villainess, a cheer squad vamp who becomes possessed by demons and begins murdering boys. While attending the Toronto Film Festival for the world premiere of the film, Cody called me to discuss comic books, feeling old, craving privacy and some of the criticisms about her screenwriting.


Failure to Connect

Failure to Connect (photo)

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As the stars walked the red carpet for the Toronto premiere of “Jennifer’s Body,” there were fans screaming “Megan!” and “Adam!” and one, just off to the side, holding up a picture of screenwriter Diablo Cody affixed to a piece of cardboard and illuminated like a medieval manuscript. Even during this conclave of international cineastes, you’d have a hard time finding someone who could pick the average screenwriter out of a crowd, let alone find a picture of him or her to decorate. But with only a single produced script to her credit, Cody has managed to make herself the first brand-name screenwriter since Paddy Chayefsky, a celebrity in an industry whose disregard for the written word is practically axiomatic.

“Jennifer’s Body,” Cody’s Opus No. 2, is a horror movie — or, more precisely, a riff on one, since at no point does the film even attempt to tap the subconscious fears that make the genre tick. Megan Fox, lit and made up to suggest a cross between a brunette Barbie and a surgically modified porn star, plays Jennifer, a high school hottie who’s transformed into a bloodthirsty demon with a taste for nubile boyflesh. Amanda Seyfried, her nerd-girl status telegraphed by a pair of standard-issue hornrims, plays Needy (née Anita), Jennifer’s childhood best friend and eventual nemesis.


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