Intimacy onscreen has been an ever-evolving phenomenon. Starting out as a somewhat taboo aspect of narrative, intimate scenes were often avoided by swift cuts or cameras panning urgently away. But all this did was rob us of sentimental moments. There was even a time, and I think this is still the case for some people’s perspectives, when anything of an intimate nature was flippantly labelled as porn.
Though intimacy is not solely limited to sex scenes or scenes of nudity, this type of exposure can be a burden for some actors. Too often has an actor been shamed for being naked on screen, where distasteful remarks made about certain body parts and jokes circulating in the media question their ability to act and them stripping for the screen is used as the sole reason for being on camera.
Without question, the #MeToo movement had a lot to do with setting boundaries for intimacy onscreen, both for storylines and the actors. The role of the Intimacy Coordinator emerged as something essential to have on a film set to ensure the mental and physical health of the cast and crew. It’s interesting to think that when picturing a fight or dance sequence we assume professionals will be brought in to help with filming so the actors feel comfortable and can produce a realistic finish. And yet, when it comes to something like a sex scene, it took a long time for people to realise this needed professionals too. Because what is intimacy onscreen if not extremely precise choreography? It’s no different to a martial-arts fight on top of a building or a ballet dance sequence in an audition scene. Being something we experience regularly, it’s assumed that the actors can be left to their own devices when it comes to intimacy. The reality is the actors are not playing themselves; they’re playing a character and the way that character kisses or touches or has sex with someone will be wholly different to their personal experiences.
And just as intimacy has been changing since it first appeared on our screens, it continues to evolve under new social distancing rules of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some films and TV shows get around these rules by forming a bubble during a shoot and getting regular testing. While this works for those on a large budget, smaller productions have had to find new ways to keep intimacy alive whilst protecting their cast and crew. Techniques include adapting camera angles to make actors look like they are standing closer than they actually are or using an actor’s real-life partner to stand in (with wigs or costumes of course!) and film them from behind.
Though it’s astounding to think about how quickly and efficiently professionals have adapted to shoot during a pandemic, there is a threat that intimacy on screen will see a huge decline. For many directors, the novelty will soon wear off if shoot times get too long and costly, while audiences get tired of seeing the same lack of variation.
The TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People is what springs to mind when I think of onscreen intimacy. Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald’s framing made the two leads Connell and Marianne look like renaissance paintings, while Ita O’Brien’s flawless intimacy choreography brought a fragility and vulnerability to each sex scene. I felt in safe hands while watching because the actors had been in safe hands on set and this translated into the final product. There is a wonderful sense of truth and simplicity in seeing nakedness and sexual interaction onscreen in the way it serves the narrative.
At a time when many of us have been separated from loved ones, the need to be intimate grows even stronger. Now more than ever we want to see intimacy onscreen to remind us of the beauty of human interaction and the relationships that can form from such connections. Onscreen intimacy is an artform, an expression, an escapism which reflects back at us our own reality. It would be a shame to lose something that adds so much to a story’s arc. Intimacy on screen will continue to develop, and I hope it does, as it is an invaluable visual expression of human bonds and bodies.
Featured Image Source: Pexels