(This guest article I wrote is reprinted with permission from Liz Langley’s “Lust Never Sleeps,” an excellent but NSFW blog on all things erotic. Highly recommended.)
The films you saw at the early stages of your romantic life can have an enormous impact on your perceptions of love, the opposite sex, and life in general. Further, because most people tend to see movies on the big screen only once — those thoughts and impressions and visual memories work their way deeper into our subconscious than something we can see on-demand any old time via the cable box or the internets.
Thanks to a local art-house cinema in my youth, my fantasy love life was longer and much richer than my actual love life for quite some little while, but I used that time learning from the Masters of Romance, from Rudolph Valentino to Errol Flynn. The main thing I learned from them is that their pick-up lines don’t work as well if you’re not as rich or good-looking — or living in the 1940s.
Sexually-charged scenes always made an impact on me and the first I can recall was in Zefferelli’s 1968 Romeo & Juliet when the sun rose and the lovers gently bickered about the nightingale and the lark. It wasn’t just the nudity, I had seen that before — there was a beauty and a tender emotional connection, between the lovers and between them and us — that a movie hadn’t given me before. To this day, I get dreamy-eyed just thinking about this film.
Around that time I snuck into a showing of Fellini’s Satyricon and received a mind-blowing vicarious thrill of teen love and decadent lust that fueled a powerful fire indeed, one that drove me to accelerate my indoctrination into the forbidden worlds of adult pleasures. I happened to catch The Rocky Horror Picture Show on its earliest “cult” runs and recall vividly how Frank N. Furter — particularly in the scene where he disguises himself and seduces both Brad <and Janet — took my notions of “normal” and traditional sexual roles and blew them as sky-high as that spaceship mansion of theirs (it’s the sheer curtain that really does it for me).
Blue balls from unsatisfied lust has nothing on the pain of a pure and broken heart, and as I transitioned away from the raw thrills of sexually-charged films, I found (no doubt due in part to the early influence of Romeo & Juliet) that sad films often produced the most romantic feelings, as tragedy often reminds you of the importance of appreciating what you have when you have it. Films such as The Elephant Man and Requiem for a Dream, The Very Long Engagement or In America have all those elements — but most to be honest, most romances are trumped by the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s Up; that such a charming, effective and utterly perfect portrait of love and loss and everything that is important about life should be the preamble of a children’s “wacky misadventure” type movie makes it all the more amazing.
It still must be said that if you made a movie of my love life it could only be a comedy. The romantic bits of Monty Python’s Life of Brian come to mind: I’m not the Messiah, I’m a very naughty boy!
One type of movie I can’t recommend if you’re serious about making Valentine’s Day something special is the so-called “Romantic Comedy.” There are a few good ones, certainly — but as a whole, the genre is pretty swamped with Lifetime-esque cliche and unsatisfying junk. I suggest – as always – that you dig up movies with genuine emotion as much as wits or tits. A shared laugh is an often-overlooked but insanely powerful bonding agent. For all the yuks and sight gags, Airplane! is actually a really sweet love story. Young Frankenstein has nothing but love at its heart when you think about it. Still, my favourite commedia di amore is a classic in the “war between the sexes” genre – combining sagacity and sexuality, mischief and misdirection, exotic locations and erotic elocution; songs and words and deeds in praise of a love based on genuine friendship – 1993’s Much Ado About Nothing. Indeed, it was the theme of my wedding.
So give up that Ghost DVD and pass the porn on to your bachelor buddy – for true love, the play is the thing.
I'll see your Much Ado About Nothing, and raise you a Harold and Maude.