Sex sells on the big screen – but only if it’s for less than 20 seconds, apparently.
Girls producer Judd Apatow has revealed he refused to allow the show’s creator Lena Dunham to film some raunchy scenes on the basis that viewers can only handle limited exposure.
“Five seconds yes, 20 seconds no,” Apatow says.
History shows there’s a fine line between tantalising an audience and turning it off. Whether Lars von Trier manages to carry that off in his latest film Nymphomanic, opening this week, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, here are 10 memorable cinematic sex scenes that stretch Apatow’s rule of thumb.
No, not the nipple-raising naked portrait scene, but the one that follows down in steerage. Leonardo DiCaprio takes Kate Winslet to “the stars” – the back seat of a vintage car – in this cheesy display of love. There’s about 30 seconds of actual lovemaking, though it’s all tastefully filmed above the chest. Apart from THAT sweaty hand against the window, it’s pretty tame.
EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)
When fourgasms aren’t quite enough, American director Stanley Kubrick brings you dozens of naked women. The audience plays the ultimate voyeur in this eerie orgy scene inside a country mansion. The scene is nearly two minutes long, and its masquerade theme and clockwork organ music create freaky cultish undertones as Tom Cruise surveys a quasi-religious sexual ritual of entangled bodies, girl-on-girl action and straight-out sex. Cruise may be the star, but he’s overshadowed here.
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)
It’s raw, borderline-violent, and involves a tent. There isn’t even a kiss when Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters Ennis and Jack embark on their elicit forbidden homosexual encounter one night in Wyoming. There is a lot of fumbling with jeans, followed by 32 seconds of fully clothed thrusting. Director Ang Lee manages to instil some sensuality into an otherwise businesslike scene.
THE PIANO (1993)
There are a few fleshy moments in Jane Campion’s romantic drama about mute pianist Ada (Holly Hunter) in 19th-century New Zealand. The erotic tryst between Ada and local man Baines (Harvey Keitel) ensures much more than just ivory is on display. There’s a full frontal of Keitel when Ada turns from the keyboard to find his manhood staring her in the face, and another minute-long everything-on-display sex scene.
The love scene between Keira Knightley and James McAvoy is all about innuendo. McAvoy has Knightley up against a book case, leaving the audience’s imagination to feed off a touch on the inner thigh and a stifled groan. Based on Ian McEwan’s novel, this moment is highly erotic in what isn’t shown.
Diane Lane gets her cougar on with Olivier Martinez in this romantic thriller. The movie is full of kinky action between the pair, but none as raunchy as their fast-and-furious tryst in a restaurant bathroom cubicle. Twenty seconds of doggy style in an apartment foyer makes for another notable scene. Lane was nominated for an Oscar – proof that quality screen sex can attract critical cred.
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)
Yes! Yes! Yes! No one can forget the scene in which Sally (Meg Ryan) makes a spectacle of herself in a restaurant full of strangers to prove to Harry (Billy Crystal) that a woman can fake it till she makes it. It’s just over a minute of moaning, groaning and yelping, but it’s also innocent.
LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972)
This may not be your bread and, er, butter sex scene, but it involves at least one of those substances. In this Franco-Italian erotic drama, Marlon Brando uses a rather conveniently placed slab of butter as an alternative to lubricant, much to the dismay of co-star Maria Schneider. Director Bernardo Bertolucci gives us two minutes of sordid thrusting from an aerial perspective. By which time, like Schneider, we’ve well and truly had enough.
BETTY BLUE (1886)
Arguable no one does sex scenes like the French, and this intimate epic delivers. Betty (Beatrice Dalle) and Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) choose a simple bed for their traditional missionary-style encounter, but the intensity is anything but. This naked, sweat-drenched scene lasts 1 min 45 secs and crescendoes to one of the most realistic on-screen female orgasms to date.
9 SONGS (2004)
In one of the most sexually explicit mainstream films ever, British director Michael Winterbottom set out to portray a relationship through scenes of real sex. Margo Stilley and Kieran O’Brien took on the challenge in scenes featuring unsimulated activity and even a foot job. In Australia the Office of Film and Literature Classification gave 9 Songs an X rating, but later downgraded it to R.