Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sexy Film Scenes—I Know Where I'm Going!

The scene I'm posting (and the movie it's taken from) is a favorite of both mine and of Paula Jane's; after seeing it again the other day, it prompted a discussion of the sexiest film scenes we know, especially those which don't show sex explicitly (and while you may disagree, I think that's a disqualifier anyway). She thought it would make a good topic, and I agreed—obviously, because here we are—and hopefully she'll have some things to impart, as well. I'm gonna choose my top ten, and post em in no particular order over the next few weeks, beginning with the scene in question, from I Know Where I'm Going!.

The Film was a production of The Archers, a legendary British film unit led by director/screenwriters Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and consisting of a remarkable group of actors and crewman who collaborated to make some of cinema's best and most criminally under-seen masterpieces, among them The Life and Times Of Colonel Blimp(1943), The Red Shoes(1948), Black Narcissus(1947), A Matter of Life and Death(1946), and numbers of others, including of course, I Know Where I'm Going!, in 1945.

Similarly, the films stars are actors not much celebrated these days, but far superior to legions who are. Pamela Brown plays Catriona MacLaine Potts as though she was both a person and an element. Seeing her in the film for the first time, climbing a grassy hill with the easy grace and earthiness of a Celtic Goddess—clutching a brace of rabbits in one hand, a rifle in the other, and leading a yammering pack of hounds—she could've been Danu, in the flesh. When she enters the house a few frames later--rather, bursts into it, free and large and passionate as any man or god—she rather takes one's breath away (watch the stunned reaction of Wendy Hiller—mirroring the audience). She and Michael Powell were beginning a life-long love affair, and it's easy to see how he fell under her spell; and although her role is a supporting one, it is vital. The strength and authenticity of her character, as well as her odd, disquieting beauty, reflect the place, its people, and the way of life they hold to.

Roger Livesey is a key actor—perhaps the key actor, considering the vehicles he starred in—in the annals of Archer films. His performance as the title character, Clive Candy, in The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp demonstrated his astonishing range, conveying deep humanity to a character only seen as caricature to that point. It is a performance for the ages, one I encourage you to see immediately. A Welshman of lumbering appearance, and soulful aspect, there is a bit of Prufrock about him, ostensibly; deeper investigation reveals an actor whose gentle masculinity is more genuine (to me) than a dozen Clark Gables stacked together. In this film he plays Torquil MacNeil, the Laird of Kiloran. He is a naval officer on leave, and has leased his property to a rich London industrialist. He has done so from necessity, because he cannot afford to maintain it. If he leases it for 2 years, he reckons he can live on it for 6.

Wendy Hiller plays Joan Webster, the singularly determined young woman (she knows where she is going) engaged to be married to the industrialist. Hiller was George Bernard Shaw's favorite actress, and she is among my favorites, too. Brilliant in everything, she acted primarily on the stage, and is probably best known for being the original, and most compelling, Eliza Doolittle (on both stage and screen) in Shaw's Pygmallion, as well as the idealistic heroine of Shaw's Major Barbara. (Additionally, Anne of Green Gables fans undoubtedly remember her as the difficult and invalid Mrs. Harris, from Anne of Avonlea.) Not conventionally beautiful, with perpetually surprised eyebrows, insolent lips, broadset eyes, and little visible softness, she bore the more credible and genuine attributes of talent, intelligence, and luminescence to great effect.

In the film, Hiller’s Webster is in a hurry to join her fiancĂ© in Kiloran, where they are to be married. It is a small island in the Irish Sea, off Scotland’s western coast, and it is often inaccessible, because of the fierce seas surrounding it. When she arrives at the little hamlet where the ferry to Kiloran is located, it is during one of these periods of high winds and dangerous waters, and she is compelled to wait for days at Mrs. Potts’ house, in the company of Livesey’s MacNeil, who is waiting to cross over, too. He is immediately and unabashedly drawn to her—as she is to him, although she fights it for all she’s worth. The scene that follows is a depiction of a typical Celtic Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee), in particular a Clan Campbell celebration of an elder’s 60th wedding anniversary. The people are vivid, and unaffected in a way that is unfamiliar to Joan, but nearly as magnetic to her as MacNeil is. They watch the action from outside, she on a ladder, to get a better view, he directly beneath her. When the pipers—her pipers, hired for her wedding, stranded on the mainland just as she is—play My Nut Brown Maiden, MacNeil quotes a verse:

Ho ro my nut-brown maiden,
Hee ree my nut-brown maiden,
Ho ro ro maiden,
You're the maiden for me.

The pay-off is his delivery of the last line—the audacity of it, as he looks directly at her, with sudden, smoldering, unapologetic intensity. Cheeks blazing, her alarm and excitement are palpable.

Enjoy it (and watch the damn movie, if you haven’t seen it):


  1. o, and the ocean in this movie! Its own character too, no?

    Perhaps an obvious symbol, here, of eros, desire... but still...

    How you describe Catriona (a person and an element) is how I see all of this film. There aren't characters in it so much as there are... natures. Forces. Simpler, but not simplistic. And not reduced to, but... distilled? Concentrated? To—pure will, pure desire? No, but that's not quite it...

    I dunno...

    I think of contemporary romantic movies... how I dislike so many of them. The dramatic ones for (what always seems to me as) the arbitrary 'complexities' of its players. With a lot of them I see (too nakedly) the writer at work, designing psychologies. So much carefully written 'depth' flattens out when the characters are all neuroses and no body, no soul. (Remember that movie with Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz? Ugh, I hated that guy. So much self-induldgent TRIPE!)

    And I've little patience for the funny ones either, for similar reasons. Don't get me started on that female romcom archetype of hot weirdo. Humor and intelligence, translated (processed, like Velveeta™) by Hollywood = 'Quirky'. *shudder* If that word appears anywhere in the promotional material, trust that it's full of obnoxious, self-absorbed flakes.

    Suddenly reminded of Modern Romance, how funny you thought it was, and how it made me want to throw things at the screen...

    'Eh... getting off topic, sorry.

    Do you think that scene in Lost in Translation, when Bill touches Scarlett's foot, is sexy? Erotic? It isn't, is it? It's more... intimate, yeah? Which seems, intuitively, the same, but they really aren't, are they? So then, what's intimate and what's erotic? You think (I can make the argument that) intimacy and eroticism are (emotionally) polar opposites?

    (I digress. Three ayem is a brain sickness.)

  2. Ugh. I can't write. Sorry for the mess. I need to get back in the habit of writing full sentences. Also, all those parantheticals look like brain hiccups. Reading over it makes my head hurt.

    I think I'm gonna start drafting my comments before I post them...

  3. Yes, the ocean was very consciously a character in this film...I read an interview with Wendy Hiller, and in it she talked about just that—as well as the long, waving grass, the busy sky, the waterfall beside the phone booth—everything in motion, it seemed, all of the time, rolling, in synch with the Irish Sea.
    I like your notion about distilled desire; from our point of view, populated with abundances of random sensory perceptions, it would certainly seem so. From Catriona'a perspective, though, and Torquil's, it is simply a matter of feeling, and responding, with no distilling or purifying necessary, their perceptions being relatively essential, with little or nothing of the impersonal or the superfluous to filter out (no barnacles to scrape off). Their feeling, loves and hates, appetites and aversions, are animated from a quiet place difficult for an urban dweller, whose damaged senses twitch and tremble out of sequence with the the wind and grass and water, to reach.
    I think you're right about the Bill and Scarlet scene—it was intimate, but not erotic, in my memeory, but I don't believe the intimacy necessarily prevented it from being so. There are other factors, up to and including the parties involved and their combined natures—considering, too, that eroticism may be equal in fact but not perception—swiping a piece of chicken off someone's plate would be gluttonous behavior for some, for others an intimate act charged with erotic intent. An intimate act more in line with the latter, to me, would be another of Bill's scenes, but as another character. Several scenes between Herman and Rosemary in Rushmore—the scene on her porch, where he, tongue-tied and love-struck, chews on a carrot, and she recommends a walk, and another a quiet moment during the intermission of Max's play, when she casually picks lint off his shirt, and clutches his arm, while he contentedly stares into space—better represent this kind of charged, true-to-character erotic intimacy. And because these scenes are so true to their character's natures and very real passions, they are more erotic to me than any number of Shannon Tweed soft-focus epics.
    (if 3 ayem—the soul's midnight, Ray Bradbury said—is brain-sickness,what can we say of 5?)...