January 26, 2006

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The X List: The National Society of Film Critics’ Guide to the Movies That Turn Us On, edited by Jami Bernard (Da Capo Press, 2005)

B+

Giggles aside, sex is hard.

Sex isn’t just difficult to make really sexy. It’s surprisingly difficult to write about in a way that is sexy, smart or even just interesting. After all, what you find sexy and what I find sexy might be very different things. And the third person who writes about it for both of us might have no idea how to appeal to all.

The X List: The National Society of Film Critics’ Guide to the Movies That Turn Us On, edited by Jami Bernard (Da Capo Press, 2005), looks at sex in movies (Kinsey) and sexy movies (Last Tango in Paris). The critics chiming in include all the big boys: Peter Travers, Lisa Schwarzbaum, David Edelstein, Ty Burr and, of course, El Ebert. (Roger Ebert is perhaps the least likely commentator on sex given his grumpy TV personality. Unsurprisingly his article is a rosy memory of his own job with Russ Meyer that doesn’t have a whisper of sex to it.)

Naturally, what turns us on first often turns us on best. The discussions for The Long, Hot Summer and It Happened One Night are far more glowing than the harsher dissections of films from the 1990s and 2000s. The more sex makes it to the screen, it seems, the less sexy the movies have become. Schwarzbaum, a no-nonsense reviewer for Entertainment Weekly, turns into a giggling schoolgirl in her discussion of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Next to the raw erotic draw of the men in that movie, Eyes Wide Shut doesn’t just seem like pretentious crap; it seems like pretentious crap where even the sex is off-putting and un-erotic.

Amy Diaz

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