Letters to the editor

Where have all the sexy movies gone? Plus: Songwriters should share credit; is "three strikes" on its way out?

Published May 12, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Movies in heat


Ray Sawhill is surprised that the "bad old Reagan/Bush" days produced more truly erotic films than the Clinton years. This surprise seems rooted in his implicit beliefs that a president embodies a nation's culture during his term, and that a straight-laced conservative culture cannot possibly understand and express eroticism as well as a liberal culture that is freer and more in touch with sexuality.

The apparent paradox can be resolved by recognizing that eroticism is not the same as sex. Eroticism walks the line between desire and its fulfillment. Conservative values tend to preserve and heighten this erotic tension, while liberal values tend to move quickly toward its resolution and relief. It therefore makes perfect sense that a conservative culture could produce films that capture and explore erotic themes more effectively than liberal cultures.

This is why a conservative culture produces "Dangerous Liaisons," while a liberal culture offers us "Showgirls."

-- Matthew Estabrook

Hey, Ray, have you checked out John McTiernan's recent remake of "The Thomas Crowne Affair?" That's what Hollywood is capable of when it caters to an adult audience instead of mall rats.

The lack of eroticism in American cinema should come as no shock, since the theater-going public in this country has repeatedly chosen guns over genitals, and the big studios have ignored adults in favor of 14-year-olds, who, frankly, don't have enough experience with their own bodies to know what eroticism is.

And don't dis those indies -- that may become the last refuge for the kinds of films you're looking for.

-- Patrick Solomon

Sawhill's attempt to penetrate the female psyche ("My theory is that most women tend to enjoy imagining themselves as the star who reveals herself to the camera") is as pitiful an explanation of a woman's cinematic pleasures as I've ever heard. First of all, "MY theory?" This notion has already been posited by plenty of female film theorists, like Linda Williams and Tanya Modleski, only much more insightfully. They recognize that the objectifying ideology behind the woman's exhibitionist "delights" prevents the experience from being a bona fide pleasure.

The only reason a woman would ever take pleasure from imagining herself as an objectified star the male audience can possess with its revealing gaze is because she has been FORCED into that position. Mr. Sawhill, let me tell you what actually goes through a woman's mind when presented with the beautiful, naked female bodies on the screen: "Why aren't my abs that flat? Is my date fantasizing about having sex with her right now? Will he be disappointed later that I don't look like her?" I don't like it. It's time to put all of those tired, old-school "women really DO want to be objectified" notions to rest.

-- Jane McGonigal

The reeducation of
Lauryn Hill


Obviously, songwriting is a collaborative art. But when it comes down to the money (why does it always come down to the money?), there needn't be any impossible-to-resolve bickering over whose guitar riff was responsible for what percentage of sales. Instead, we have contracts. If a contributing artist wants a credit and a piece of the pie, he (or she) should negotiate that up front. If he doesn't have the bargaining power, but then his riff ends up becoming a pivotal part of a big hit, then the next time someone hires him he WILL have the bargaining power, and he'll get a better deal. And if he wants to make sure everyone knows how pivotal his riff was to that big hit, he can always sue somebody.

-- Robert Massing

If a riff or drumbeat is the basis on which the rest of the song was built, whoever came up with it should be credited as a co-writer. If the riff or drumbeat was added after the framework of the song was completed, it is part of the arrangement only. If the musicians suing Lauryn Hill can show that she built the songs on their work, they should receive credit and payment as co-writers.

-- James L. Desper Jr.

I'm surprised you didn't make reference to the Sarah McLachlan case up here in Canada. She was being sued by one of her former producers for songwriting credit on songs from her first album. The case dragged out for months with lawyers trying to pick a part and quantify the songwriting process. In the end, the judge ruled that it is impossible for him to break down and quantify the process.

The producer, Daryl Neudorf, may or may not have been an integral part to the process, but he erred by not protecting himself legally at the time. McLachlan registered the songs and retains credit.

-- Andrew Yates



Poletti makes some thought-provoking comments on the distinctive style and sophistication of the ILOVEYOU virus when compared with virus attacks by male hackers in the past. His references to themes of the dangerous temptation of love as depicted in history and art are also interesting. He may very well be right in his opinion that the offending hacker is female. However, we could do without his absurd art history "evidence," juvenile pop psychology and self-righteous denunciation of the deceptive, treacherous female mind. It thoroughly undermines his argument's credibility.

I hardly think "Basic Instinct" and "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" constitute proper evidence to convict the entire female gender of being "the masters of treachery, ruse and the attending heartbreak in the history of love," while simultaneously exonerating all men. Please.

I worry for both his knowledge of art history and his powers of deduction.

-- Eve Rasmussen

I assume that Poletti's article "ILOVEYOUTOO" was kidding. I think entirely too much has been made of the "lovebug" virus supposedly taking advantage of lovesick people. People receive e-mails all the time with titles like "I Love U," "U are my Best Friend," containing jokes or inspirational messages. This incident reveals a lot more about the state of the software being used than the mental state of the virus victims. Speculation about the emotional status of the victims based on such flabby evidence is just a parlor game.

-- Robert M. Sweeney

Rolling back three strikes



I have absolutely no sympathy for those whose third strike is a seemingly minor offense. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of those sentenced under that law have long showed their inability to handle freedom. Thus, if they abused it, they gotta lose it. These are the same scum who make people put bars on their windows and who hurt small business owners when they steal or rob from shops and stores. Society at some point has to say, "Enough!" and put these parasites away for good so that the hardworking and law-abiding citizen can live in peace. And, by the way, I'm a liberal democrat and I dare say that most of my liberal friends feel the same way I do.

-- Gary Garland

I've always believed the three-strikes law is simplistic, unjust and irresponsible. I admire the wisdom of American people in so many things except that they have too much faith in prisons. The Chinese people tried to use the same concept. They built more and more prisons only to find out that the more prisons they built, the more prisoners they got. Politicians and elected officials should not turn real social problems into political issues.

-- An Huynh

Three-strikes laws are an attempt to treat a complex issue with a blanket solution. They seem unconstitutional, at least when someone who is not a habitual and violent criminal ends up doing life for a petty crime. I think that fits into the category of "unusual" punishment. Such laws were meant to punish lifelong thugs and protect us from them. The net has been tossed too wide and is snagging a lot of small-fry -- expensive ones.

-- Peter D. Barry

Joel-Peter Witkin

My thanks to you and Cintra Wilson for giving an underappreciated artist his due. Since first exposure, Witkin has had a profound and visceral effect upon me like few other photographers.

However, I have to disagree with Wilson's assertion that an appreciation of Witkin is equivalent to an aesthetic form of adolescence. Yes, in my younger days, I too basked in the Tartarean gloom of Nine Inch Nails, Swans, Einsturzende Neubauten and the like. And yes, a fascination with Witkin was, if not a trump card, certainly a badge of honor in such climes. With age, I've mellowed and lightened up, and my love for Witkin has evolved appropriately; where I once found simple shock value in his images, I now find a most profound reminder of the division yet inevitable inseparability of spirit and flesh.

-- Kirk Easton

Although I agreed with a lot of what Cintra Wilson said in her article on Joel-Peter Witkin, I don't think she was quite fair to the guy when she questioned his sincerity. Yes, he says a lot of weird things, some of which are profoundly dumb. However, having known several artists of a similar stripe I can testify that, as outlandishly ridiculous as some of their statements appear to be, they do, in fact, believe them 100 percent. Not everybody has the critical self-distance of an R. Crumb or the ironic posture of a Marilyn Manson, but they do what they do from a sense of conviction and should be critiqued on the merits of their work, not on their apparent lack of conventional rationality.

-- E. Steven Fried

By Salon Staff

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