Daily Archives: September 9, 2016

The Mechanics of Love (1955)


*. A typical complaint about porn films is that they are too mechanical. The physical act of intercourse resembles nothing so much as the movement of a lubricated piston or simple plumbing operation. The figures can be arranged in different positions (there are even books on this), but in the end it’s pretty basic stuff. Imagination can only take you so far.
*. The Mechanics of Love isn’t porn because its purpose isn’t arousal. Our first shot of the “girl” lying naked in bed makes her look like a corpse, not a ripe fruit. The boy undressing to join her appears to be tired from a long day at work. Surely what follows will be mechanical.
*. And then the film changes language as a pillar rises and a pot is brought to boil. This is the second act in a love story with a three-part structure: beginning (disrobing), middle (coitus, leading up to orgasm), and end (relaxing). The middle part, the mechanics of sex, is written in symbols. Some of these (the pillar, the pot, a swing, a drill boring into a piece of wood) are obvious, while others are left mysterious (a drawer opens to reveal a roll of tape, a pair of scissors, and some pencils).
*. This finding of visual metaphors for sex would be sent up in later movies like Deep Throat, and taken to absurd lengths in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear where a scene of passionate coupling turns into a montage of flowers opening, the raising of an obelisk, missiles launching, a train entering a tunnel, a man being fired from a cannon, torpedoes being shot from a submarine, oil derricks pumping, and a basketball player throwing down a slam dunk while fireworks burst above him. But the association of the organic with the mechanical has always invited laughter, and indeed some have even seen it as the foundation of most jokes.
*. The Mechanics of Love announces itself as a “film poem” by Willard Maas and Ben Moore, not so much (I think) for its use of the spoken word — the lines delivered (mechanically) by the girl and the boy — as for the stream of images set to zither music that plays like a wind chime in a growing storm. It’s the oldest, most familiar story in the world (boy meets girl), and the only point seems to be to defamiliarize the mechanics of it by translating them into a different form.
*. It’s sometimes asked why porn actors aren’t charged with prostitution, since they’re clearly being paid for sex. The legalities of the debate aside, sex on film might not be sex just as a picture of a pipe isn’t a pipe. It’s a representation of a pipe. Laundry and a table of fruit isn’t sex, but it’s a representation of sex because it’s what we see or what we think of when we’re having sex, or because it’s a visual rhyme for the act.
*. A film is mechanical too. It’s a machine in the sense that William Carlos Williams referred to a poem as a machine made of words. And better yet, it’s made with machines, like cameras and editing boards.
*. So boy meets girl. They look tired and unenthusiastic. They both talk, but not so much to each other. They recite lines. They go through the motions. They are imagining being something else, being someone else, doing something else, doing someone else. After it’s over they lie in bed. He’s asleep, or pretending to be asleep. She’s perhaps wondering what it all meant.