When I promised my producer that I would deliver an R-rated version
of my latest film, Where the Truth Lies, I signed the contract
confident that this wouldn’t be much of a problem. Even though
the script had several scenes that seemed sexually explicit, I also
realized that careful framing and editing could solve any obstacles.
Or so I thought.
The big problem that I encountered was that the Motion Picture Association
of America (MPAA) is very concerned about the depiction of thrusting.
A few thrusts would be allowed, but anything more might land the picture
in the dreaded NC-17 category. The challenge became how to choreograph
extended scenes of sexual activity without seeing the prolonged
thrusting associated with the act.
The obvious solution used by countless films is to frame the actors’
heads and shoulders as their lower bodies thrust. This efficient
method effectively frames out the offending area, allowing the viewer
to concentrate on the actors’ faces as they stare at each other
blissfully thinking about the nice feelings their unseen groins are
producing. Occasionally, the director will then cut to a wider shot,
but this is never more than a few thrusts, and it usually finds the
actors’ bodies covered by a sheet.
The problem with this solution was that it didn’t convey the
feeling that the sex scenes in the movie were supposed to express. One
of the lead characters in the film—a hugely popular entertainer,
played by Kevin Bacon—recounts his sexual exploits like he was
an actor in a porn film. I needed these scenes to feel lurid and unbridled.
The traditional ‘head and shoulders’ framing wouldn’t
work. I wanted the sex to feel raw and exposed.
I’m convinced that the best way to shoot a sex scene and make
it seem real is to use a master shot—an uninterrupted sequence
with no cuts. I wanted to see the bodies. The overwhelming challenge
was how to show two (and in this case even more)
people having sex without depicting the act of thrusting.
By its very nature, sex needs thrusting. More specifically,
one part of the body must be in some form of friction with another.
This isn’t a very romantic way of thinking about it, but then
again the MPAA isn’t a very romantic organization. Their job is
to count thrusts, and then decide—depending on the number—who
should see the film. Nice work if you can get it.
The two male leads are popular entertainers in the fifties. The idea
of tantric sex, or anything involving sexual activity in a semi-comatose
position, was not a possibility. As the deadline approached for filming
these scenes, I began to panic. I resorted to playing with dolls, trying
to figure out angles and configurations. Finally, in total defeat, I
approached my producer and confirmed his worst fears. It was impossible
to show a sexual act of longer than a minute (one scene involved two
pages of dialogue) without resorting to some form of thrusting.
And with this decision, we veered our film into NC-17 territory. To
this day, I sometimes wake up in a sweat, thinking of other ways the
scenes might have been filmed. Errant pieces of
furniture, masking piston-like body parts. Tasteful cut-aways to trains,
tunnels and collapsing chimney stacks. A lamp falling over at the beginning
of the scene, rendering the screen black. All of these solutions bordered
somewhere between the coy and the ridiculous.
The sex scenes in Where the Truth Lies are essential to the
dramatic and psychological construction of the film. They are playful,
transgressive and even traumatic. Like most sex scenes, they involve
issues of intimacy, love, power, desire, escape, anger, ambition and
a thousand other emotional configurations.
They are also, thankfully, completely uncompromised.