Time for one thing: A guide to fast-forwarding to the most sensuous moments on film

For the sleep-depraved and time-pressed, a guide to fast-forwarding to the most sensuous moments on film.

By the Salon staff

Published March 6, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

It was one of the biggest myths of parenting -- right up there with "we'll fit our new baby into our lifestyle." In exchange for forfeiting our right to ever be current on movies again, we would have all that stay-at-home time to catch up on videos after the kids were tucked in. But who has the time to rent a video, much less the stamina to watch one? Still, many of us, intent on keeping up appearances, continue to rent film after film instead of admitting that the only real reason to watch "The Postman Always Rings Twice" again is for the scene where Jack Nicholson grabs Jessica Lange, a frustrated and lustful housewife, throws her down on the flour-covered table where she's been making bread and kneads her creamy flesh before he devours her. For you lost souls, here's some help: Salon's guide to the most luscious, lip-biting, blanket-wringing celluloid moments.

Wings of Desire


It seems that these days everyone hates Wim Wenders, dismissing him as
sentimental or banal, but for me his films sum up everything that I wish
life was. The closing scene of "Wings of Desire" encapsulates the dream
of love at first sight -- the fallen angel Damiel and the trapeze
artist Marion approach each other in the ornate, smoky bar with smiles
both bemused and rapturous. Bruno Ganz and Solveig Dommartin glow with
gratitude for each other, but they also seem to have never doubted
they'd meet. Nick Cave wails melodramatically onstage, but there are no
histrionics in their encounter. Their expressions simply say, "It's
you. Finally."

The Hunger


Forget about the automatic eroticism guaranteed by vampiric lust. In "The
Hunger," Susan Sarandon's luminescent eyes alone qualify every one of her
on-screen scenes as a sensual feast. We already knew that Catharine
Deneuve was a sex symbol of incomparable elegance. But for most of us,
pre-"The Hunger," Sarandon signified little more than "Rocky Horror
Picture Show" soft-core. Teenage boys longed for her, but it was mere
adolescent fluff. The sight of Sarandon and Deneuve entangled with each
other in a sprawl of sleek limbs and endless curves changed all that -- and helped propel Sarandon into a new orbit as intelligent adult icon, exerting irresistible magnetic force on men and women alike.

The Big Easy


Cinematic sex rarely resembles anything that ever occurs between actual
human beings and their maddeningly fallible bodies. It's as if, blown up to
wide-screen format, our corporeal shortcomings somehow diminish -- zippers
never get stuck, joints never creak and everyone is always pantingly,
wantonly hot to trot. So when Ellen Barkin's uptight district attorney
blushingly wriggles away from Dennis Quaid's amorous embrace in "The Big
Easy," it's a landmark film moment -- an endearingly authentic depiction of
an embarrassing sexual system malfunction. "I'm no good at this," she
wails, and everyone who's ever had a moment of romantic insecurity can
relate. But what makes the scene truly classic is Quaid's response -- he's
not discouraged or even surprised. Instead, the good old boy gallantly
buries his head under her skirt and shows her the true meaning of Southern
comfort. Despite the presence of two absurdly beautiful actors at the
height of their allure, "The Big Easy" manages to capture the universally
sweet, soul-stirring magic of a first night with a new love, when shyness
yields at last to the thrill of discovery. And when you've seen every soft-focus billowy-curtains movie trick to make sex seem less like the awkward,
wonderful mess it is, you begin to realize that what applies in real life
goes on-screen as well -- a little foreplay, even the clumsy kind, goes a
long, long way.

Dirty Dancing


This strutfest is my shameful nemesis, this tumescent choreograph of
body-on-body vertical grind, in which I have exchanged places many times
over with the female lead whose on-screen character development extended the
pitiful length of her frizzy hair -- and all so I could do some physical
collision of my own with one glorious bad-boy man-god. Not that Patrick Swayze's own
thespian contribution ventured far beyond what seemed to be extensive
exploration of the muscled silhouette, with much emphasis on that
all-important sighting of the tanned and limber male body caught from
behind -- but, God, what a body. My remote control and I have had sex with
Patrick Swayze many times in the course of oft-repeated 90-minute-long

What, you wonder, causes this strange admixture of events to come
violently together in this movie-length space? Why does one chord begin a
chorus of discordant feeling, each note pulling another willingly or
otherwise, leaving you shaking your head in wonder at the depth of your own
stupidity but affected nonetheless, so you pick up the remote and play
that damned scene over and over again until you fall back, staring into
space, dissatisfied with all of your life through to this very point in

Most sensuous moment in film? Are there any? Or is it just the
accumulation of our own life experiences that we bring to the movie
moment, experiences that allow us to endure all those celluloid fingers parting moldy
curtains in our labyrinthian psyches? And so we end up gooey-eyed, staring
with longing at the screen, wishing with all our little hearts that perhaps if things had
gone a little differently earlier in own lives, there but for
so-and-such would have been me, with Him.

Out of Africa


Sure, I recall the extraordinary cinematography -- the sweeping vistas,
lush savannas and rippling muscles of exotic animals -- but what is seared
into my mind about "Out of Africa," an otherwise exhausting and overrated
epic, is one lingering, decadent moment.

In that scene, Meryl Streep, who plays writer Karen Blixen, and Robert
Redford, a British hunter and her illicit lover, bask in radiant sunshine
on the lawn of Streep's expansive African homestead. Streep is seated as
Redford stands her and slowly, lovingly shampoos her blond locks. Streep
leans back, her eyes half shut, her mouth creased in a soft, submissive
smile, and giggles -- surrendering to his touch and relishing in the simple
pleasure of being bathed. She is unabashedly, beautifully, happy.

It's subtle sexy gestures like bathing that too often get lost on film
(and in life) in favor of love scenes of the fucking-against-a-wall-in-the-rain variety. Just give me some water, some hands,
a dramatic backdrop and two luminous blonds and I'm transported. And
isn't that what the movies are about?

Truly, Madly, Deeply


When this small British film opened in the States in 1991, more than one
reviewer called it "the thinking person's 'Ghost.'" To that, I would add
"the feeling person's." Written and directed by Anthony Minghella before he
hit it big with "The English Patient," "Truly, Madly, Deeply" is the story
of a woman named Nina (Juliet Stevenson) who grieves so much for her dead
lover, a cellist named Jamie who expired suddenly and freakishly, that he
comes back to her, body and soul. And when I say she grieves for him, I
don't mean delicate Demi Moore teardrops, I mean great rivers of art-house
film agony. In the video stores, "Truly, Madly, Deeply" is classified as a
romantic comedy because after Jamie comes back, Nina starts to remember
all the things about him that used to annoy her when he was alive. But
before that happens, there's the beautiful, spine-tingling, strangely
romantic scene when he first appears to her. She's playing something
dirge-y on the piano and her house is a sad mess that seems at once stuffed
with memories and achingly empty. She starts to hear Jamie's cello in her
head and they play together as if he'd never gone. Then she feels his
presence -- he's standing behind her, gazing at her longingly. She rises,
sobbing, and buries her face into his chest and there's something about his
close-eyed, surrendering silence and the way he keeps hugging her and
stroking her hair that just gets me every time.

Of course, the fact that Jamie is played by Alan Rickman, the sexiest
semi-unknown actor around, might have something to do with it ...

The Piano


"There are things I'd like to do while you play," he tells her, and a deal is struck: Each time the willfully mute, disdainful Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) pays a visit to her piano, she'll win back a key from her illiterate, tattered, Maori-tattooed neighbor, George Baines (Harvey Keitel). Baines has shrewdly traded a soggy patch of his homestead to Ada's hapless husband (Sam Neill) for the piano, but it's not clear yet what Baines is up to. Is he simply a grubby lecher looking for a grope from the newly arrived Ada? Or has he caught something important, sensed some deep current running between himself and her?

The first clue appears in the scene of their first meeting, when Ada and her little daughter have weathered their first night in New Zealand under Ada's hoop skirt, surrounded by trunks, baskets of chickens, the crated piano and curlicued shells on the surf-pounded beach. Arriving with a motley crew of Maori Sherpas, Ada's new husband -- clearly expecting a helpmeet and aghast at his mail-order bride's tininess -- whispers to Baines, "How does she look to you?" "She looks ... tired," he responds, evenly but sympathetically.

But it's not until Ada has agreed to play for her piano's return that writer-director Jane Campion allows Baines to reveal the story's heart. Alone in his shack, Baines peeks through his filmy bed curtain and watches shadow- and dust-moted light filter across the barely uncrated piano, Ada's one beloved object -- something her husband understood so little that he was ready to leave it on the beach to weather away. Rising, Baines strips off his shirt and, now nude, wipes down the piano with his shirt. It's a small, arguably unthinking act, but from Baines, via Keitel, there is meaning to it, and the meaning is clear: It is tenderness and understanding and awe that move him. He knows her the way we all ache to be known.



"First, observe the whole bowl. Appreciate its gestalt, savor its
aromas." These words are intoned, in Juzo Itami's giddily intense 1987
movie "Tampopo," about a steaming bowl of noodle soup. We watch as an
elderly gourmand tries to teach a young turk how to eat. This isn't in
itself my most sensuous film moment, but it gives you a sense of the kind
of movie "Tampopo" is -- a blissfully comic "noodle western" that invites
you to dig deeply into all the things (food, sex, the quest for
idiosyncratic knowledge) that matter. My most sensuous film moment turned
out to be, upon rewatching "Tampopo" recently, a series of three or four
scenes that I'd mentally blended into one. These moments, which are
disconnected from "Tampopo's" main narrative -- the film is about a
40-something woman's quixotic quest to become an expert noodle chef -- feature a Japanese gangster (Koji Yakusho) and his sweetly daring
girlfriend (Fukumi Kuroda). The gangster and his cutie-pie moll devote
their lives to sensual pleasure, and Itami gives us a series of moments
-- they're among the best and most hilarious sex scenes ever filmed -- in
which these two fuck and feast at the same time. In one scene, they pass
a raw egg yolk back and forth from their mouths; in another, he turns a
bowl of tender live shrimp upside down on her belly and watches as she
squirms around in delight. Itami's deftly comic hand with these scenes
are the antidote to those garish food-as-porn scenes in films like "9 1/2 Weeks." Kicking back and watching "Tampopo," it's
impossible not to appreciate its gestalt, savor its aromas. You may even
want to go fuck and feast, yourself.

The English Patient


"Swoon, I'll catch you," Ralph Feinnes whispers through a window to Kristin
Scott Thomas as she stands in the hot sun of the glaring Iranian desert.
Around her, people are celebrating in a makeshift attempt at a
European Christmas. With the lowering of her eyelids, she agrees and shortly after they are
tangled in the sweaty embrace of, as he writes on a scrap of paper,
"Betrayal in Iran." As the Christmas party begins to sing "Silent Night," Kristin and Ralph
find each other in a darkened hallway in the stickiest, sweetest demonstration of an
illicit love affair ever seen on film. Unzipping the side of her white dress, Ralph slides his hand onto her bare skin and works some kind
of a magic. Kristin's eyes roll back in her head as she takes his thumb in
her mouth.

Later, as she sits in a crumpled but glorious heap, Kristin's husband dressed in a Santa Claus suit, finds her. "Darling," he says, "I heard the news that you fainted. Are you pregnant?"

"No, not pregnant," she sighs. He embraces her and nuzzles her head. Then suddenly, he smells something.
Panic shows in Kristin's wide, watery-blue eyes as she thinks he's
discovered the scent of Ralph on her. He sniffs again, then says, "marzipan. You smell of marzipan."

the Salon staff

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