Friday, August 27, 2010

The Death of Subtlety in Books and Film

I’m a big fan of old black and white movies, particularly those starring Kathryn Hepburn. The other night I stayed up watching “Without Love,” a comedy with Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. I knew that they’d end up together in the end, but I wanted to SEE it! At 11:30 p.m., I started to regret staying up so late… then, at last, witty, rapid-fire dialogue about how they’d fallen for each other. The finale: they hug. Hug? Where’s the passionate kiss? Well, there’s the subtlety in these old films. “Philadelphia Story” with Hepburn and Cary Grant is the same way. There’s innuendo and some titillation but it’s up to the viewers to use their imaginations rather than have the directors include explicit love scenes.

As a writer, I faced a similar dilemma recently. My current protagonist, an 18-year-old psychic/medium starts seeing the ghost of a teen boy who’d been killed in a tragic car accident. She learns that she and this guy have shared numerous lifetimes together – including lives as adults who’ve had sexual relationships. While they don’t remember exact details of those lives, they know they’ve ‘done the deed,’ so to speak. They consider trying to have a sexual relationship as human and ghost. I deliberately wrote these scenes without being in-your-face explicit.

People knock Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight trilogy for its archaic, prudish treatment of the two main protagonists who wait to have sex. In the last movie, “Eclipse,” there’s a scene in Edward’s bedroom where they consider having sex. It’s sexier than many of the films I’ve seen with outright coitus and full nudity. “Cold Mountain” is another great example of showing an intensely passionate relationship between two people without looking between the sheets.

I believe we’ve lost subtlety in describing passion, suspense and horror. Books and films beat us over the head until we no longer feel the building emotion.

Do you agree or disagree? Would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. I love "Lost In Translation" for some similar reasons... There's a rich complexity of emotion and context, and there's really no easy way out. Either way, there's going to be heartbreak.

    So yeah, I agree that these days, moviemakers are beating us over the head to get our attention.

    At the same time, I tried watching "Watchmen" the other night. We made it through the first 47 minutes (of 137, I think?), and wow... it was a thriller that moved at a glacial pace. And with such graphic content, I was surprised to find that I was bored... there was death, blood, sex, violence... and I was dozing off.

    So maybe there's some other ingredient that has to be in place to keep me interested... I'd like to think I'm not in the 'low-brow' category (cue explosion), but maybe I'm not the best judge of that?

  2. I agree. It's about like nude versus lingerie. Suggestion often is more powerful that "nothing left to the imagination". Think of Bollywood romances--they have to work in the passion without even kissing scenes! That would be hard...

    I noticed you are from Durango! How cool is that? I grew up there and all my family lives there. I live in Flagstaff, AZ now. But yay for Dgo! I'm glad I found you! :o)

  3. Welcome, Jackee! I love your lingerie analogy. I couldn't agree more.