Making A SceneThe Iconic Moments from Film & TV
It starts with a man and a woman having sex.
You need a strong opening to tell a story – whether film, book, play or TV show. Something to set the scene, offer a hook with which to draw the reader or viewer in.
And nothing tends to draw someone in more than a bit of sex.
Which is exactly what we have in the opening to the excellent Masters of Sex, the new TV drama centred upon the controversial and groundbreaking research into the orgasm and female sexuality in 1950s America.
It starts with a man and a woman having sex – introducing us and telling us, without telling us, about the world we are entering.
Through the grunts, the creaking bed and the red light bathing the room in which the copulating couple reside we are immediately being told that this is a scene awash with seediness. This is not a soft-focus, tender moment of love. This is sex as a pleasure of the flesh. Animalistic and base.
Taking that animalistic theme further, the position of the couple is that of the man on his knees behind the woman on all fours. The man grunts and thrusts as the woman below and to the front of him, shakes and moans. The inference is that of the domineering man, the subservient woman.
But all is not as it seems.
This is 1950s America and we are on the cusp of the sexual revolution and a challenge to old values.
The scene shifts, taking us into the wardrobe against the wall – another man, standing inside the wardrobe, peering out through a spy hole. This man is dressed in evening wear – respectable. He is holding a notepad and pen and is clumsily trying to write something within the restricted, dark space. As he loses balance and bumps against the inside of the wardrobe, the woman on the bed looks up, annoyed – a look that says, be careful, you’ll give the game away.
The man on the bed is not the dominant presence at all – he merely thinks he is. The woman, who we’ve been led to conclude is a prostitute, is offering cries of pleasure and words of encouragement, but ever more in a tone that suggests this is all an act. As the climax approaches her cries grow louder, her encouragement stronger – the man, lost in his own pleasure, oblivious and uncaring of the fact that his partner may well be ‘doing a Meg Ryan’.
We see again the man in the wardrobe, looking out. Is he being titillated by the scene before him, or is he an intrigued observer with a more clinical, dare one say, respectable motive? Possibly both?
Whatever his personal motives the wider implication seems clear. A world in which women can actually demonstrate some enjoyment from sex as much, if not more, than the man. A world which is ready to come, quite literally here, out of the closet.
Within minutes of the programme opening we have hit upon the heart of all that is to follow.
Masters of Sex is a show full of contrasts and contradictions. A man in a closet, restricted and in the dark (by his own conservatism?) peering into a world that is at once seedy and taboo and yet, at its core, the most natural of acts. A world in which, almost unthinkably, women can elicit pleasure, can demonstrate desires, every bit as much as the men. A direct challenge to the notion of lying back and thinking of England (or, in this cast, the good ole U.S. of A.).
Sex is not a topic of discussion, certainly not for research in the respectable, neo-puritan world of 1950s America – their post-war society adoptive of the ways perhaps of Victorian England. A world of staid values with an underlying current of sexual tension waiting to burst forth.
The scene is the classic set up – allowing us to find out in a matter of moments what kind of world we are entering and the ambiguities to follow. With its tone somewhere between lurid and Carry On style comedic we’re being told that we are looking at something still considered taboo whilst at the same time, perhaps, offering the notion that, you know what – it’s just 2 people having a bonk so stop being all coy about it and, well – enjoy the ride.