Friday, August 24, 2007

On the shadowy periphery of society lives a secret organization of mutants – despised, deformed and loathed, they live in fear of a nation that holds

On the shadowy periphery of society lives a secret organization of mutants – despised, deformed and loathed, they live in fear of a nation that holds them in contempt. They are comic book fans.


YBOR CITY, TAMPA, FLA. Mr. Finn saw the name somewhere and thought it was “fun to say.” He heard it was a hard-partying part of Tampa, and so a Hold Steady tradition was born: three separate Hold Steady songs pay tribute to Ybor City’s alleged decadence. (“Ybor City is trés speedy but they throw such killer parties/Killer parties almost killed me.”) When the band finally played Tampa, some fans traveled down from New York, eager to see if the real Ybor City would be as wild as the one in the lyrics. For one night, anyway, it was.


Bree is dead. She also never lived, as we all know, and we were supposedly airheads for believing, just as those who believed in Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer must also be airheads, if much manlier ones.

Fans of “Lonelygirl15,” the Web series that concluded on Aug. 3 with a 12-episode marathon finale, were invested in her far-fetched plights, and her sweetness, and now those who love fiction in all its forms can bury her, as we have buried Sherlock Holmes, Tess, the wife of the guy in “A Farewell to Arms,” and Romeo.

Sorry for being sentimental. You shouldn’t be cynical about the dead too soon after they’re gone. And it’s my belief that you should never be cynical about “LonelyGirl15″: the first full-fledged online-video series moved fast, and worked well, and it was the beginning of something.

But the project will continue: “The Creators” (as they call themselves) are working on an LG spinoff based in London called KateModern.


Back in the Screens business for real on Monday, with a few video-related tales from Thailand and China.


p.s. This comment comes from the LG15 forum. I thought it was poignant.

by JustAnotherLonleyGirl,

I still don’t know how I feel, other than really, really sad.
Is it pathetic that I was truly attached to this series and these characters?
I mean, I thought for a long time that in the end, Bree would die. She would sacrifice herself for the others. But the problem is that this wasn’t the end.
I don’t understand how I can go on watching this show the way I have. The Season 1 Recap really set the record straight for me: All along, everything we’ve put into this show, every string of hope we’ve held onto…. it’s all been about Bree.
I know there are those of you that say you didn’t like her. That you watched it for the others. But, how could you watch for the others and be on their side, when all along they were driven by one thing: Bree. Saving her.
I’ve been around a long time on these forums. Maybe I don’t have the most posts on the forums, but I post when I have something to say. Maybe I’ve never received any direct acknowledgement from the Creators or the characters. I’m not in anyone’s top 8, nor have I been thanked in a video for my solutions for a puzzle. But I’ve been there for every puzzle, trying to figure it out. I’ve analyzed and ripped apart every video, trying to find hints and themes. I’ve racked my brain out over the meaning of water, immortality, purity, feet, hair, and more for hours on end. I’ve sat in front of the computer and joked with my fellow fans. I’ve fought with people and been thoroughly annoyed by people on here. I’ve complained with people about boredom or disappointment. I’ve even shared my feelings with some of you regarding my family or friends. When I didn’t know if my cousin was dead or alive, this is where I sat, and this is the screen at which I stared.
And now I truly feel like I’ve lost someone important to me. I know it’s just a show. I know it isn’t real, and I can see Jess again in Greek on Monday. But I can’t see Bree again. Never. I feel like Bree never truly opened up to us. Like I’ve spent the past year trying to understand her, and gain her trust so we could feel what she felt, and understand what she thought. I feel like she contained all these secrets in her heart that are now lost forever. I feel like I’ll never truly understand.
I suppose that’s partly how the Creators wanted it. Perhaps because Jonas and Daniel will never be able to truly understand. Perhaps this “key to everything” is meant to suffice for our lack of understanding. But I doubt it will.
She didn’t even know that she had the option of being trait negative. Why couldn’t they bust that door open? Why couldn’t they use the same knife Daniel stabbed the shadow with to threaten Lucy until she gave some answers? WHY COULDN’T BREE LIVE? I just feel like she should have been able to live. I don’t see how there can be a season 2 now.
And of course, I’ll keep watching. I kept watching through everything before. CiW was more compelling than LG15 in the beginning, but I kept watching without her. When Bree and Daniel were just on the run and homeless, everyone was bored and a lot of fans were lost, but I kept watching. When I was strongly opposed to Jonas entering the series, and he did, I kept watching. When I fell in love with the OpAphid ARG, and became truly attached to the people involved with it, and then it was lost over something seemingly meaningless, I kept watching. And that was really the worst blow of them all, thus far. But this? The death of Bree? I mean, the Bree I truly loved was lost months ago. After her dad died, we never saw her, truly, again. But there were short glimpses, here and there. And there was hope. There was faith.
Now it’s gone. She’s really, really done. I’m still in denial. I still think there will be a big twist, and she’ll be alive. But even I know that this is really the end of the lonelygirl15. After an entire year of laughing and talking to these characters as if they were real, of connecting to a community of fans of all ages, of seeing the community change and fans come and go while I remained, all driven towards the rescue of Bree, she is gone. It’s like we failed. It’s like we were going to fail all along but we blindly hoped to win.
I’ve been a faithful lonelycracker for a year now, and I’m suffering from withdrawal symptoms worse than any crackpot I’ve ever known.

Love always,
Loretta AKA JALG


It must have seemed like a good thing months ago when Josh Kilmer-Purcell received a blurb for his memoir, "I Am Not Myself These Days," from James Frey, author of "A Million Little Pieces."

Now, of course, that does not seem like such an endorsement. Two weeks after the book — Mr. Kilmer-Purcell's account of living by day as an art director, by night as a drag queen named Aqua — first arrived in bookstores bearing Mr. Frey's blurb of praise ("a wonderful book, a ridiculous book, a sad and beautiful book, a book I'll read again, a book I highly recommend"), a second printing omitted the recommendation.

"As the controversy came first came to light, and as we were receiving a many great endorsements and early reviews and praise, we decided then, several weeks ago, that we would substitute the quote as we went back to press," Carrie Kania, a Harper Perennial publisher, wrote in an e-mail message.

The new front cover features a rave from Simon Doonan, an author and the creative director of Barneys New York, while on the back Mr. Frey's blurb has been replaced with a quote from Booklist.

But Mr. Kilmer-Purcell has kept Mr. Frey's endorsement on his Web site ( and said in an e-mail message that the author "has been a true and stalwart friend of mine."

Although Mr. Frey's blurbs may not be good for business, some other writers are similarly reticent to dissociate themselves from him.

Nic Kelman, whose 2003 novel "Girls" was endorsed in blurbs from both Mr. Frey and JT Leroy, the fictional author recently revealed as a fraud, said he had no regrets about their endorsements, even after recent revelations of their dishonesty.

He defended both in an e-mail message, pointing out that JT Leroy was merely "a highly developed pen name" and that Mr. Frey had been "crucified now for what are, quite frankly, a handful of inaccuracies nonessential to the character and spirit of the book."

In a telephone interview, Mr. Kelman added that an author's work was paramount.

"At this point, I still feel honored to have my work praised by writers who have that kind of talent," he said.


here's a reason that any talk of sex in film comes back around to certain titles again and again. Getting two (or more) attractive actors to mash their faces together and huff and puff for the camera is relatively easy. Shooting a memorable sex scene is hard. Nerve and IFC News sat through a lot of movie sex to make this list — we suffered through it somehow.

But even after all that ranking, weighing and debating, we'd be hard pressed to define exactly what it is that makes a sex scene great — in true Justice Potter Stewart fashion, we just know it when we see it, whether it shocks us, titillates us, turns us on, breaks our hearts or confounds our expectations.

The oldest film on this list is from 1896; the newest is from last year. You'll notice we decided to leave certain standards in the field off. And as always, these lists are a launching point for you to tell us what you think. Are we wrong? Are we right? Did we neglect the sexiest sex scene ever? Tell us in Feedback.

We'll be launching ten movies a day, counting down to #1 on Friday.

The 50 Greatest Sex Scenes in Cinema

50. Ken Park (2002)
Oh, Larry Clark, what oversexed minors are you discovering/exploiting this time? Ken Park's most well-known scene is the boy-on-girl-on-boy oral-sex fest toward the film's finale, and it's kind of disturbing and kind of fun. These kids are young, which makes you feel a wee bit lecherous about sitting in a theater and getting turned on amongst a couple hundred strangers who are doing the same. But what can you do? The fact that the scene concludes with a tickle fight that wouldn't be out of place in a PG movie about summer camp (were the participants not totally naked) doesn't help. But then, making us feel just a little weird about ourselves is what Clark has always been good at. — Will Doig Watch the scene.

49. Laurel Canyon (2002)
This film's much-ballyhooed threesome isn't as pitch-perfect as Kate Beckinsale and Christian Bale's opening sex scene, all awkward and tender and on the verge of a possibly ill-conceived marriage. Bale's character is going down on Beckinsale's, following her highly specific verbal instructions in what we can assume to be a foreshadowing of their lopsided wedded dynamic. It's great when a sex scene can actually say something about the characters' inner lives and not just steam up the passenger window of a Model-T in cruise ship cargo hold. Beckinsale finally orders her fiancé to "fuck me," only to be interrupted by an answering machine from her future mother-in-law. In the end, she orgasms and then asks Bale if he came too, to which he sighs and responds, "I'm okay." — Will Doig Watch the scene.

48. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2007)
It's easy to forget the inherent sexuality of the Beauty and the Beast metaphor in these Disney-fied times — that the contrast between glamorous and grotesque generates palpable erotic friction. Fortunately, screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and director Steven Shainberg (the team behind 2002's SM love story Secretary) tease out the fairy tale in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, a whimsical biopic that renders the photographer's muse a fictional, hirsute Lothario named Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.) who introduces Arbus to a world of photogenic imperfection. Compared to James Spader's dominant persona in Secretary, Lionel brings less insecurity to the table, blindfolding Arbus (Nicole Kidman) while confidently drawing her in to his sexual universe. As opposed to to the confused, frenzied fucking between Arbus and her husband in the film, the Lionel/Diane sex scenes possess a surprising tenderness despite the kinky power exchange. Hottest of all is the scene where Arbus shaves off Lionel's fur — there is something tender yet carnal, loving yet bestial about the entire exchange — to say nothing of the powerful contradictions in Arbus' photographic oeuvre. — Jessica Gold Haralson Watch the scene.

47. The Dreamers (2003)
Maybe it's because we live in an age where blood in the midst of intercourse can be dangerous, but of all the sundry sex acts in The Dreamers, the blood-on-the-face scene is the most memorable. (Some would argue it's the scene where the three young stars literally bathe in a bathtub filled with menstrual blood, and they'd have a solid argument — we say that's a close second). Bertolluci is no stranger to envelope pushing, and though we found this Boomer-made movie about the wonders of 1968 to be a tad preachy, you've got to give him credit for letting young, naïve American Matthew break a hymen on screen. When Matthew (Michael Pitt) then reaches up and smears the virginal blood on his partner Isabelle (Eva Green)'s face — and then her brother does the same — a sex scene that we'll never forget (for better or worse) was born. — Will Doig Watch the scene.

46. Sex Lies and Videotape (1987)
"I've never really been that much into sex," Ann (Andie McDowell) tells her therapist at the start of Sex Lies and Videotape. Repressed and unhappily married, Ann changes her tune when she meets her husband's reclusive friend Graham (James Spader), who considers himself impotent. Graham's only sexual gratification comes from videotaping women while he questions them about their sex lives; his video collection horrifies Ann and hopelessly intrigues her. After a series of confrontations that leave them both emotionally naked, Ann turns on Graham's video camera and approaches him from behind. Boldly, she guides him to a couch and kisses him. Graham looks alarmed for a moment, then succumbs, then does something truly surprising: turns off the camera. — Gwynne Watkins

45. Breaking The Waves (1996)
Dir: Lars von Trier

"Have me now." Child-like, sweet-faced and perhaps a bit touched in the head, Scottish highlander Bess MacNeill (Emily Watson, in her Oscar-nominated screen debut) has just married oil-rig worker Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgård), much to the dismay of her repressed 70s-era Calvinist community. But where lies repression hides a longing for deep dickin', as Jan smirkingly discovers when his new bride leads him away from the reception, then slides off her panties from under a virginal white dress: "What do I do?" Jan's first lesson in marital duties is missionary against a restroom wall, maybe not-so-romantically perched next to the paper towel dispenser, as he then zips and leaves. In Bess' face, however, those two minutes were nothing less than a religious epiphany, her eyes sometimes locking with ours to intensify how intimately we're experiencing both her first fuck and her first of many spiritual falls from innocence. Somewhere behind a camera, Danish auteur Lars von Trier puckishly smiles at one of his more poignant provocations. —Aaron Hillis

44. Poison (1991)
Dir: Todd Haynes

Lying awake in a prison cell next to the object of his growing sexual obsession, John Broom (Scott Renderer) tentatively runs his hand over the sleeping Jack Bolton's (James Lyons) chest. Caught between fear and desire, Broom's hand tests Bolton's boundaries, tremblingly grazing his body until he receives a startling jolt of reciprocation. Shot in low light and lingering close-ups, this tender and complex evocation of homosexual lust caused a furor when Christian right group the American Family Association attacked the NEA for contributing to the film's completion, mainly due to the scene just described, another of rape, and the 15 frames of an erect penis. Thankfully the film survived intact, and it remains a striking homage to Jean Genet's "Un Chant d'Amour," the great French writer's only film, a more poetic vision of male sexuality in prison. —R. Emmet Sweeney

43. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
Dir: Pedro Almodóvar

After Antonio Banderas gets smacked around on a dope deal gone bad, his kidnap victim/love interest Victoria Abril soothes his hurt with the most erotic example of Stockholm Syndrome in film history. Won over by his "troubled childhood turned me into a lovable psychotic" routine, she kisses away his bruises until the pair carefully tumble into the sack. His wounds are still fresh; Abril goes hands free, wriggling underneath him until Banderas valiantly utters, "The only thing the bastards left alone was my cock." A point they go on to prove for three solid minutes: up, down, and helpfully reflected in the skylight mirror. —R.E.S.

42. High Art (1998)
Dir: Lisa Cholodenko

After an hour of build-up between gay artsy burnout Lucy (Ally Sheedy) and straight editorial striver Syd (Radha Mitchell), including a couple of druggy kisses, their trip together to upstate New York is clearly tryst-oriented. In addition to kicking off a jag of lesbian chic in 1998 that is still going fairly strong today, Lisa Chodolenko's "High Art," rather than open itself up to titillation, plays its pivotal sex scene for low-key authenticity. Retiring to bed after a night of talking until what looks from the blue light coating the room to be close to dawn, Lucy and Syd lay themselves down with a ritualistic air that continues through the slow and uncertain but tender scene that follows. Syd's self-consciousness is touching and raw, while Lucy is patient and methodical; there are questions, tears, coaxing, confession and not much actual sex. In other words, something almost sexier than sex: intimacy. —Michelle Orange

41. High Fidelity (2000)
Dir: Stephen Frears

"We used to listen to him having sex upstairs," mutters a cowering John Cusack, huddled beneath the covers, as he conjures up an imagined scene of his ex Laura (Iben Hjejle) and their ponytailed, world music-loving former neighbor Ian (Tim Robbins) engaging in hilariously flailing, extremely moist lovemaking. Ian pulls aside fantasy Laura's lacy black underthings to reveal a heart tattoo inscribed with his name, and the two gasp and groan through different positions to a soundtrack of Barry White in what seems to be a red satin-lined boudoir. It's silly and amazingly unsexy, and yet it tortures Cusack's Rob to sleeplessness, and it's impossible not to sympathize at least a little — the scene is an exaggerated and cartoonish vision of the better, hotter sex we've all at times suspected others are managing to have, particularly when those others include someone you used to date. —Alison Willmore

40. The Lover (1992)
As a teenager having an affair with an older Chinese man, French actress Jane March is nothing short of luscious in this 1992 Jean-Jacques Annaud film.

The fact that she is unknown to American audiences, while our tabloids overflow with waifs like Kirsten Dunst and Kate Beckinsale, should make the Weinsteins ashamed of themselves. Based on Marguerite Duras' erotic autobiography, The Lover is ultimately a bit of a cold narrative, exploring the sexual and racial mores of 1929 Indochina but never saying much. But the film is worth it for the heated scenes in which March, playing a role called only The Young Girl, breaks taboos with her world-weary lover (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Annaud shoots the sex in extreme close-up: the plump, wet lips barely parted, a zoom on the soft, quivering belly, nipples and ass and probing fingers. It's highbrow spank material, frankly, but who doesn't enjoy a little softcore porn? — Sarah Hepola Watch the scene.

39. The Piano (1993)
Erotic blackmail gets a bad rap in reality, but it's hotter than Hades in fiction. That is, at least, what we take away from this mid-19th-century fable about eccentric mute Scotswoman Ada (Holly Hunter) increasingly succumbing to her neighbor George's (Harvey Keitel) sexual demands in exchange for her beloved piano's return. While this scenario might make the Andrea Dworkins of the world tut-tut in dismay, the deliciously wrong power games between Ada and George are unquestionably hot — even more so in contrast to Ada's nominally repressed, Victorianesque persona. AdaÕs nudity becomes a metaphor for her gradual sexual awakening in a time of prim propriety, rendering this film more meaningful than similar fare on, say, The Spice Channel. A sex scene that's both hot and non-gratuitous? Rare, yes — but The Piano serves it up. — Jessica Gold Haralson Watch the scene.

38. Shortbus (2006)
Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) is a sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, and is painfully aware of the irony. When she snaps during a therapy session with a very understanding couple, her clients suggest that she visit "Shortbus," an underground performance space, salon and sex club. When Sofia walks through the door, she encounters the best orgy scene to appear on film after 1979. Piled on the floor, dangling from swings and squirming against the walls are dozens of bodies, of all genders and descriptions, screwing and licking in every possible combination. Sofia's eyes focus on one dark-haired, tattooed beauty in the foreground, who has a shuddering, very real orgasm as her boyfriend fucks her from behind. One second later, she looks at Sofia with a devasting combination of empathy and post-coital bliss. We never learn the girl's name, but we see her again in the final scene, where she helps solve Sofia's orgasm deficiency (as well as the New York City blackout). — Gwynne Watkins Watch the scene.

37. Shaft (1971)
Gordon Parks's classic action film wasted no time in establishing the sexual agency of its lead character: no sooner had Isaac Hayes warbled "he's a sex machine with all the chicks" in the opening credits, did we see the lead character in bed, generating a fingernail-baring orgasm from his latest conquest. It was a first impression worthy of the character's iconic status. — Michael Martin Watch the scene.

36. Boogie Nights (1997)
As befits a film about the adult film industry, most of the sex scenes in Boogie Nights are casual, unshocking — a zip of the trousers in the supply closet, two naked bodies grinding in the corner of the frame. But the one scene actually filmed for a porno, in which Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) makes his big debut, is downright touching. As a newcomer facing the ultimate screen test, Adams is nervous and boyish and eager to please. He wants to make this sexy. His partner in the scene is veteran Amber Waves, played with a brilliant mix of maternal feeling and self-destruction by Julianne Moore. She coaches him through his first time, and the scene is that much more exciting for its primness — no nudity, no sweaty body parts, all we see are facial expressions, and the flicker of tape as the reel runs out. A boy has become a man. And that man will be named Dirk Diggler. — Sarah Hepola Watch the scene.

35. Network (1976)
Dir: Sidney Lumet

Work-obsessed TV exec Diana Christensen (Best Actress Oscar winner Faye Dunaway) begins an affair with aging news-division prez Max Schumacher (William Holden), who learns that all she wants out of life "is a 30 share and a 20 rating." En route to their weekend romp in the Hamptons, Diana gets excitable over her scheduling problems for "The Mao Tse-Tung Hour" while simultaneously making out with Max. Her manic, non-stop rant outlasts their softly lit dinner, a swoony beach run back to their room and their passionate disrobing, kissing, and rolling around on the bed. On top, Diana breathily brags about getting press if the government sues her station, making her climax quicker than a 15-year-old boy. Not missing a post-coital beat, Diana launches into a soap opera pitch: "'The Dykes,' the heartrending saga about a woman hopelessly in love with her husband's mistress. What do you think?" Having never said a word and already half-asleep, Max lazily opens his eyes as if he's long been thinking: I'm as horny as hell, and I'm not going to listen to this anymore! —Aaron Hillis

34. The End of the Affair (1999)
Dir: Neil Jordan

Ralph Fiennes puts his clammy appeal to its best use in Neil Jordan's 1999 hot-to-the-touch take on Graham Greene's novel. As spurned lover Maurice Bendrix, he seethes and broods over recollections of his finished affair with the married Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore), including a sequence in which the two, all but pushed together by her oblivious spouse, hurry back to her house to consummate their rapidly escalating relationship. They clutch at each other on the stairs and fall into furtive, urgent lovemaking that reaches its climax just as Sarah's husband comes home. "What if he heard?" Bendrix whispers of Sarah's unblushing orgasmic cry. Not a woman to be caught short of a quip, she replies "He wouldn't recognize the sound." —Alison Willmore

33. The Last Seduction (1994)
Dir: John Dahl

A woman after my own heart, Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino, possibly at her hotness apex here in 1994), can patter with the best, and never lets common sense get in the way of her raging libido. Zeroing in on a doofy local named Mike (Peter Berg) upon blowing into small-town upstate New York with scads of stolen money, Bridget sizes him up right there under the bar. Retiring to the more roomy, romantic locale of the alley out back, there ensues a scene of ghetto debauchery that — even while clinging to a chain-link fence with her legs hooked around Berg's bare bum — the slinky Fiorentino pulls off as just another night on the femme fatale clock. —Michelle Orange

32. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Dir: Spike Jonze

A randy John Malkovich greets Maxine (Catherine Keener) at his apartment door with an urbane "Shall we to the boudoir?" But alas, such sweet nothings are nothing to Maxine, who is withholding her body until her wild-haired admirer, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), slips down a portal into Malkovich's brainpan. The dead time is passed with awkward couch sitting and a dry " you enjoy being an actor?" The answer is moot, as Lotte slides in, and Maxine mounts. The supreme example of fantasizing about another while screwing your boring beau, it's also a hilarious and celebratory depiction of a lesbian awakening. Maxine impulsively shouts, "I love you, Lotte!" and Lotte reciprocates with a booming declaration of her own, inside Malkovich's prominent brow. Oblivious to the blooming romance, John asks "Did you call me Lotte?", but ends up preferring climax to interrogation, while Lotte is dropped onto the side of the New Jersey turnpike. —R. Emmet Sweeney

31. Storytelling (2001)
Dir: Todd Solondz

If nothing else, Todd Solondz's "Storytelling" made me proud to be a Canadian. Seeing it in theatres in 2001, Canadian viewers were aware of the fact that the highly publicized sex scene between a bread-white creative writing student named Vi (Selma Blair) and her black power professor (Robert Wisdom) would not be marred by the red box that covered most of the action in the U.S. release. In fact, the scene is actually dirtier with the box. Vi ends up at the home of her stridently anti-white professor, and tells herself "Don't be racist" after finding a stash of white girl porn in his bathroom. What follows is a hideously funny/awful scene between Blair and Wisdom, where the professor forces his "spoiled, suburban white girl with a Benetton rainbow complex" to say "Fuck me, nigger," while he rams her from behind. About as erotic as a soggy sneaker, the scene nevertheless effectively exploits its perverse combination of deep discomfort, porny parallels, Selma Blair highly compromised, laughable subversion, and — with the red box — the guiding hypocrisy of the Hollywood ratings system. —M.O.

0. Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
In seventh grade, my friend would sometimes greet me with reports on his instant-messenger sexcapades: "Check it out, dude! I was having cyber with this girl, and look — I printed it out!"

But nothing in those gruesome transcripts could match one of the funniest indie "sex scenes" in recent memory, which occurs over instant messenger and can be summed up in pure typography: ))<===>((. No, we won't explain it — it's far too grotesque and hilarious for print. Rent Me and You and Everyone We Know, and you'll never look at nested parentheses the same way again. — Peter Smith

29. 9 Songs (2004)
When the average actor gets in front of a giant camera crew, heat lamps, and a director's scrutiny, sex is probably the last thing on his or her mind — or so we're told. This hardly seems to be the case with 9 Songs, the lyrical Michael Winterbottom flick about a climatologist who heats things up with an exchange student. The catch is that the film contains zero faux fucking — it's all natural, and the scene where Lisa goes down on Matt is far better than the blowjob stunt in The Brown Bunny. The critics can argue for days — is 9 Songs cinema or porn? — but we'll stay out of that one. The tingle-inducing realization that Matt's climax and Lisa's voracious enthusiasm are real is reward enough. — Jessica Gold Haralson

28. Henry and June (1990)
The first film released with an NC-17 rating, Henry and June seems as quaint as a fan dance today, but anticipation ages well. Adapted from the diaries of the infamously erotic Anais Nin (Maria de Medeiros), it's the story of a love triangle between Nin, the similiarly single-minded author Henry Miller (Fred Ward) and his wife June (Uma Thurman). Most memorable is Nin's hot pursuit of June — down a foggy street, into a hug that turns into a clinch, then into a passionate kiss on the dancefloor of a lesbian bar, then into bed. The action is conveyed mostly with eyes and fully clothed limbs, and it's a timeless portrait of longing fulfilled. — Michael Martin

27. Boys Don't Cry (1999)
Normally we don't go for sex scenes where all you see is some woman's face oohing and ahhing in alleged amorous rapture — it just seems like MPAA-inspired self-censorship. But this one's different, and it's to Chloe Sevigny's credit that she can make getting eaten out look exactly as good as it feels simply by staring at the sky and contorting her cheekbones. Knowing that it's Hilary Swank down there (done up very, very convincingly as a man) just makes it all the more erotic — and sublimely confusing. — Will Doig

26. Out of Sight (1998)
Steven Soderbergh's crime caper is a smart take on the simultaneous desire to pin someone down and lock them up. The slow burn begins in the first scene, when Federal Marshall Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) and incorrigible bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney) find themselves stuffed in the trunk of a getaway car together. The extreme close-ups intensify everything, from Lopez's heavy breathing to the sound of Clooney's finger nervously tapping on her thigh. This is back before Jennifer became J. Lo and Clooney was touted as the Sexiest Man Alive, but the attraction between the two is palpable. Later on, after several coy run-ins, Jack and Karen put their firearms aside to banter over drinks in a Detroit bar. Snow falls silently outside, Jack sips a glass of neat bourbon, and the film darts back and forth between their conversation and the night's inevitable seduction scene. Motor City, the missionary position and those plastic claw hair clips from the '90s have rarely looked so slick and sultry. — Kate Worteck

25. Female Trouble (1974)
Dir: John Waters

In "Pink Flamingos," drag queen extraordinaire Divine had sex with her son, so when John Waters prepped his follow-up, 1974's "Female Trouble," he knew he'd have to come up with something really disturbing to top himself. And thus Divine does the impossible: she has sex with herself, as both halves of a typically Watersian tryst: female teen runaway Dawn Davenport and male sleazebag Earl Peterson. Earl picks up Dawn on the side of the road and forces her to have sex on a soiled mattress in a dump. Somewhere between the start of the sexual assault and the start of her pregnancy, Dawn begins to enjoy it. You can just imagine the delight Divine must have taken in informing anyone who told him to go fuck himself that he'd already tried that so they'd have to come up with something better. —Matt Singer

24. The Cooler (2003)
Dir: Wayne Kramer

Bad luck magnet Bernie (William H. Macy) dusts off a Sinatra LP to set the mood. "Luck Be a Lady" slinks out of the speakers until Bernie shuts the dresser drawer too hard, scratching up Frank's velvety pipes. This doesn't faze Natalie (Maria Bello) one bit, because she's the beautiful cocktail waitress who's going to turn nervous Bernie's life around. And what better way to start than with a striptease! She shifts her hips, drops her shorts, and shakes the dice tattoo on her right ass cheek. Bernie's the winner. The scene works by highlighting the nervous fumbling and resultant humor that arises with first-time lovers. Bernie has trouble undoing her singlet, but after he succeeds, he climaxes in the blink of an eye. Natalie offers him forgiveness with ineffable grace, whispering those magical words, "You've got a great cock." That's what I call love. —R. Emmet Sweeney

23. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Dir: Ang Lee

Sleeping bag sex is awkward in the best of times, so having your first homosexual experience in a two-man tent is really stacking the deck. But the thing that makes "Brokeback Mountain"'s key sex scene so effective is its utter lack of planning. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) wind up huddled together for warmth — the gold standard of come-ons — and when Jack makes an awkward pass an angry, heated struggle ensues that morphs into some rough and urgent sex. Shot in almost complete darkness and lasting under a minute (!), the scene manages to subvert the tittering expectations of the viewing public and also offer a credibly awkward and confused rendering of how such a scenario might play out. Almost entirely dependent on sound, Ledger and Gyllenhaal make more of a couple of gasps and growls (along with a jangling belt buckle and twin zipper zips) than many sex scenes can do with mood music and the fully monty. —Michelle Orange

22. The Wayward Cloud (2005)
Dir: Tsai Ming-liang

The very first shot of Tsai Ming-liang's avant-musical pornocopia is a wide-lensed still of a sickly lit hallway; there's no music, no dialogue, and only two women passing each other over the span of a couple minutes. Yes, adventurous cinephiles often get gushy for this slow-burning Taiwanese talent, but his film's second shot could titillate and/or scandalize just about everyone: A nubile nurse (played by real-life Japanese sex starlet Sumomo Yozakura) lies spread-eagle on a white bed, naked from the waist down. It's a gorgeous but ridiculous image, as the only vibrant color is emanating from between her legs: a juicy, half-carved watermelon. Hsiao-Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), last seen selling watches on the streets in Tsai's pseudo-prequel "What Time Is It There?", would seem to have become Taipei's love doctor. He crawls toward the nurse's fruit, his tongue lapping at her seed, his prodding fingers getting stickier, the room filling with squishy noises — wait, is there or isn't there a melon? After she comes, Hsiao-Kang sticks a vagina-sized chunk of drippy pulp in her mouth, a bright-pink money shot to the safest sex known to man... or horticulture. —Aaron Hillis

21. The Kiss (1896)
Dir: William Heise

The listing in the Edison films catalog reads "They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss and kiss and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time." Boy, do they ever. When May Irwin and John Rice reenacted an 18-second kiss (and kiss and kiss and kiss) from the end of the play "The Widow Jones" in early 1896, it hit the early film world with the force of a bomb. The popularity of the serial smooches (to say nothing of the ensuing scandal) ensured that the development of movies would forever be linked with the development of people getting it on in the movies. In some ways, these are the most important 50 feet of film ever printed. —M.S.

0. Bound (1996)
In this early effort by the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix, V for Vendetta), two women fall in love and connive to steal $2 million from the mafia.

Jennifer Tilly plays Violet, a femme fatale in pencil skirts and red lips — a Vargas painting come to life. Gina Gershon's ex-con, Corky, is more masculine: smooth, defined triceps and delts, lips thick with snarl. The two meet when Violet accompanies her mobster boyfriend to an apartment building where Corky is working as contractor. Early in the film Violet places Corky's hand on her breast and then between her legs, saying, "I'm trying to seduce you," but Violet's boyfriend comes home before she can complete her conquest. The film's best-known scene was shot in a single take: the women lie on a mattress in Corky's unfinished apartment, the camera lingering on their lips and breasts, hovering behind and above the couple as Violet uses her hand to bring Corky to orgasm. Portrayals of lesbian lovemaking often fail to emphasize hands, an oversight corrected by the film's "sex consultant," Susie Bright. -- Sarah Harrison Watch the scene.

19. Sex and Lucia (2002)
A babbling, whimsical love story about a Madrid waitress and her ill-destined novelist lover, a magical, ethereal quality permeates the film — the fate of its characters is ineffably linked to the moon and the tides — and features heavily in its sex scenes. The film cuts to the chase: it opens with Lucia (Paz Vega) and Lorenzo naked in the moonlit ocean, intertwined. Even if the rest of Sex and Lucia doesn't make much sense, you won't care — you'll be too busy watching Lorenzo and the intensely erotic Lucia, or Lorenzo and other-woman Elena (Najwa Nimri). -- Jessica Gold Haralson

18. Unfaithful (2002)
Spelling out the overt sex appeal of an Olivier Martinez/Diane Lane cinematic tryst isn't difficult, particularly when notoriously erotic director Adrian Lyne is behind said coupling. Yet Unfaithful's sex appeal doesn't lie in Olivier's chiseled abs or Diane's cougar street cred. The film continuously raises the stakes between Diane Lane's philandering character and her devil-may-care foreign paramour; the sex gets hotter as it gets more likely that Lane will be caught en flagrante delicto by her suburban colleagues. This is most evident in the scene where Lane is lunching with married girlfriends, and Martinez slips in to screw Lane silly in an open bathroom stall. "I have friends out there," Lane whispers, to Martinez' chagrin — he's having none of her qualms, pushing her upright against the creaky wooden door. When Lane re-emerges flushed and giddy after their bathroom quickie, her girlfriend tells her, "You have a button undone." It's a sly wink to the audience. If Unfaithful is wrong, you won't want to be right. -- Jessica Gold Haralson Watch the scene.

17. Body Heat (1982)
Ned (William Hurt) is getting restless in his small Florida town — until he becomes infatuated with gorgeous, unavailable Matty (Kathleen Turner). Their flirtations are witty and charged, yet Matty rejects his every advance, finally throwing him out of her house and locking the door. As she stands in the doorway, challenging him, Ned tries every locked doorknob, then grabs a chair from the porch and smashes it through a bay window. This time, Matty is too excited to reject him; as she whispers encouragement, he pulls up her bright red skirt, removes her panties and makes love to her on the carpet, right in front of the broken window. Soon, their obsession will twist into something much darker — but at this moment, it's steamier than a Florida heat wave. — Gwynne Watkins Watch the scene.

16. Coming Home (1978)
The story of a conservative military wife (Jane Fonda) attracted to a paraplegic Vietnam veteran (Jon Voight), Coming Home broke ground for political — and sexual — frankness in cinema. Voight's character, though paralyzed, gives Fonda's character her first orgasm through oral sex, a moment ecstastically enacted in close-up by Fonda. "I thought, maybe this is a way to redefine sexuality, sensuality; and make it less about genitalia and thrusting and be about what women know really matter, which is when the man is really sensitive to what we need," said Fonda in 2005. "For the day, it was a hot scene, wasn't it?" Fonda and Voight both won Oscars; their fearlessness during this now-iconic scene illustrates why. — Michael Martin Watch the scene.

15. Get Carter (1971)
Dir: Mike Hodges

Phone sex is rarely played for anything more than laughs on film — it's hard to make something so based on solitude and the thrill of the moment look less silly when presented for all to see. But when Michael Caine's titular gangster dials up his London-based mistress (a lingerie-clad Britt Ekland) in Mike Hodges' nihilistic 1971 crime drama, the two generate plenty of long-distance heat and nary a giggle. Maybe it's that Caine seems remains so unruffled as he gets Ekland all worked up with a gravelly monologue. Maybe it's that we know from the get-go that Ekland's the property of his boss, played by Terence Rigby, who interrupts the conversation by barging in at the end, prompting Ekland to breathlessly inform him that she's "just doing her exercises." Or maybe it's that Caine does his end of the talking by way of the only phone in the house in which he's rented a room — in the parlour, with his landlady sitting a few feet away in a rocking chair, turned away but obviously listening in. —Alison Willmore

14. Team America: World Police (2004)
Dir: Trey Parker

Even with the cuts Trey Parker and Matt Stone had to make in order to secure an R-rating (the unrated DVD restores the sorely missed puppet defecation money shot), the infamous marionette sex scene in "Team America: World Police" is easily one of the most graphic in movie history. The sequence serves two purposes in the film: to mock the fact that these puppets can do all kinds of stuff the MPAA would never let humans do onscreen; and to pad the film with material so obviously and childishly filthy (like, oh, I don't know, puppets pooping on each other, for example), that the aforementioned censors would be so focused on removing it that they wouldn't notice the other, more subversive material slipping right under their noses. Despite all their positions and thrusting and mouth-to-ass action and such, the puppets still don't have any genitals to speak of — no doubt Parker and Stone's ultimate commentary on the pathetic state of the Hollywood sex scene. —Matt Singer

13. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

In between tequila shots on the beach, Luisa (Maribel Verdú) critiques Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch's (Diego Luna) lackluster skill in the bedroom. (The culprit? Too much jacking off.) Intending to set them right as a favor to their future fucks, she induces them back to their cabin with a knee-bendingly erotic dance by the jukebox, Cuaron's camera tracking her as if hypnotized. Back inside, the two teens throw off her dress and plant sloppy kisses. Ever the teacher, Luisa calms them, and then goes down on them, her head sliding just out of frame. Julio and Tenoch's faces turn to rictuses of pleasure, so much so that they turn to each other, and kiss. There's no intent to prove that they're gay, just that they love each other, and that a good blowjob dissolves all arbitrary prejudices. —R. Emmet Sweeney

12. The Night Porter (1974)
Dir: Liliana Cavani

Vienna, 1957. Said night porter (Dick Bogarde) and a married hotel guest (Charlotte Rampling) are damned (see them also in: "The Damned") to repeat their past after locking eyes for the first time in years. You see, he's an ex-Nazi torturer and she's a concentration camp inmate who survived by becoming his sex slave; the lovebirds have reunited. Apparently, the couple that steps in glass together, stays together, as the two are soon compulsively playing out roles in a depraved S&M romance/codependency that reaches its most memorably primal state near the end of the film. Finally too dangerous to leave Bogarde's apartment (war criminals trying to kill them and all), the two have both become victims of isolation and hunger. In bed, Rampling eyes their last jar of strawberry marmalade on the nightstand, grabs it, and gobbles by the handful. Bogarde restrains her arm, the glass falls and breaks, and Rampling dives for the food like a wildebeast. She eats teasingly, they grapple, he cuts her face with the broken jar, they lick each other clean, and then she rides him while manhandling her. Can't you see why they're made for each other? Jawohl. —Aaron Hillis

11. Ecstasy (1933)
Dir: Gustav Machatý

Child bride Eva is married off to an older man who turns out to be uninterested in her physical charms — a fell blow indeed, when the charms in question are those of Hedwig Kiesler, just a few years shy of being rechristened Hedy Lamarr and finding her place as one of Hollywood's great beauties. Fortunately, an impulsive skinny dip in the lake one day has her meeting cute with virile laborer Adam (Aribert Mog), who she later can't get off her mind. Having paced away half the night, she eventually goes off to find him, and the two come together for what is likely the first sex scene in non-pornographic film — his head slides out of the screen, and the camera closes in on Lamarr's face as it trembles in the passions of the film's title (an expression that director Gustav Machatý apparently provoked by poking Lamarr in the ass with a safety pin). All this, in 1933! "Ecstasy" was considered such a transgressive commodity that when the film was first imported to the U.S., customs agents burned it. —A.W.

0. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Madeline Kahn is saving herself for her wedding day — much to the chagrin of her hard-up fiancé

— when Frankenstein abducts her, spirits her away to the forest and tries to force himself upon her, only to find that she's all too willing. "No!" she cries. "I'm not that kind of girl!" Until he exposes himself and she let's slip the "woof" that says everything. Mel Brooks makes up for the fact that you don't get to see any of the action with more one-liners crammed between foreplay and post-coital cigarette than one would think possible. Kahn, as always, knocks weird and sexual off each other like a squash pro. "Seven always has been my lucky number," she says as Frankenstein moves in for another round. "You're incorrigible, aren't you? My little zipperneck." And when she breaks into song — "Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!" — in her warbling soprano just as the monster enters her, you can see why people like our parents say the old black-and-whites were sexier. — Will Doig

9. The Big Easy (1987)
True chemistry is underrated, or at least difficult to find, in cinematic pairings. In this story of an uptight district attorney investigating — and falling for — a morally ambiguous cop, Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid have no shortage. Their sex scene is one of the most natural and steamy ever filmed, with its awkward stop-and-start pacing and penchant for dialogue over heavy breathing, illuminates and elevates the idea of the chase. Barkin and Quaid are either even better actors than they're given credit for, or they had a lot of fun off set.

8. Secretary (2002)
The elicit sexual relationship between obsessive-compulsive attorney Edward (James Spader) and his shy young secretary, Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is a feast of mind games, humiliation, bondage and beatings. But both of them seem afraid to actually touch one another — until Secretary's revealing climax, where all the tension they've built up is finally released. Lee has just abandoned her wedding to another man and undergone a strenuous test to prove her devotion to Edward. Edward, satisfied that she loves him, carries her exhausted body to a hidden room in his law office, where he removes her wedding dress, bathes her in a cast-iron tub, and makes love to her on a grass-covered (yes, grass-covered) bed. It's the first time we see the tenderness beneath Edward's controlling manners, the first time Lee is comfortable exposing her scarred, naked body, and the first time we realize that these two crazy kids are actually gonna make it. — Gwynne Watkins

7. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
"Love in a Laundromat" should have been an Aerosmith song, if only because of this scene. At a time when gay rights was a bizarre fringe issue, Daniel Day-Lewis played a mod British punk with a Vanilla Ice hairdo who screws his Pakistani business partner in the office of their new wash-and-fold. Except that to say that they simply "screw" doesn't do it justice — it's nearly impossible to make filmic lovemaking genuinely romantic and holy-mother-of-God hot, but there it is. I don't know what's sexier: the shirt-removal-with-necktie-in-place disrobing, or the drinking of Champagne from one another's mouths (and if you think this sounds a little gross, I'm begging you: Try. This. At. Home.) After more than two decades this scene still holds up better than most gay sex scenes that are made today, which tend toward lewdly squirm-worthy or boringly safe for mass consumption. God, I love the '80s. — Will Doig

6. Betty Blue (1985)
One of the nakedest, craziest movies in a category that has never lacked for nude infirmity, the French romantic drama Betty Blue presents one of cinema's most combustible couples: the novelist Zorg and his doomed paramour Betty. Beatrice Dalle and Jean-Hugues Anglade spend most of this movie nude (in Dalle's case, nude and/or going berserk), and the opening scene, depicting a good minute of Dalle's shrieking, shoulder-gnawing orgasm beneath Zorg, is a fitting intro. Dalle struts, pouts, giggles and freaks as if the idea of the volatile siren were invented for her; despite the emotional pyrotechnics and downer ending, the film's unabashed sensuality and passionate advocacy of passion make it a turn-on for the ages. — Michael Martin

5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
Dir: Philip Kaufman

Though it's less overtly sexual than the famous scene involving mirrors and a bowler hat between free lovin' Sabina (Lena Olin) and physician Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis), there's a strong argument to be made for the superior, complex sensuality of the encounter shared by Sabina and Tomas' timid wife Tereza (Juliette Binoche). Fascinated and wounded by the idea of her husband's lover, Tereza is drawn to Sabina as image and then as woman. Their meeting is a gorgeously conceived and shot sequence in which the photographer Tereza takes some nude photos of Sabina, Binoche's eyes welling with a mix of emotions that defy description, before Sabina takes the camera herself. In almost complete silence, the women negotiate each other as women, then as subjects, and objects, the camera a sort of stand-in for the absent Tomas. The sequence of Olin tugging down the failingly reluctant (and topless) Binoche's underwear for her own nude photo session is a marvel of direction, tone and performance. —Michelle Orange

4. Risky Business (1983)
Dir: Paul Brickman

If you've never seen "Risky Business" and all you know about it is the oft-clipped bit where Tom Cruise dances in his briefs to the sounds of Bob Seger, you're in for a shock. This movie is as explicit and downright sexy as any in Hollywood history; no scene more so than the first encounter between Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay's Lana, a classic Hollywood prostitute (i.e. she's gorgeous, aroused, in no way afflicted by STDs). The sex is intentionally dreamlike: Cruise's Joel calls Lana and passes out on the couch while waiting for her to arrive. He awakes to find her slinking into his living room. Before you can say "Hey, she forgot her underwear!" the two are going at it in front of a pair of glass doors that open ever so suggestively in time with their lovemaking. As legend has it, Cruise and De Mornay were in the midst of becoming a real life couple during shooting, and the chemistry comes across big time. It's a shockingly hot moment, especially for a guy wearing tighty whiteys. —Matt Singer

3. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Dir: David Lynch

Highly unscientific research polls were conducted amongst friends, colleagues and strangers to clarify which sapphic showdown is "the greatest" from David Lynch's noir-subverting, latter-day masterpiece. For some, it's the tender first time between Hollywood amnesia victim Laura Elena Harring and the fresh-off-the-plane actress helping to solve her mystery (Naomi Watts), as they share a bed after a traumatic afternoon. Harring slips off her new blonde wig, then her robe, and just the lingering stillness of her twin peaks feels like a tease. Half-under the sheets, a kiss on the forehead goodnight becomes a pause of knowing lust, lez-be-friends soon tonguing and grabbing at each other for dear life. Watts is wide-eyed: "Have you ever done this before?" "I don't know," replies an honest Harring, "have you?"

Definitely hot, but points lost for the digital blurring out of Harring's genitals, even if to appease censors. The film's real blood-racer is such a left-field eruption of pure, palpable sex that it's as potent as the first time: Watts, her life now a dingy-bathrobed failure, makes a depressing cup of coffee (certainly not Lynch's new blend!). She strolls to the sofa, revealing a topless Harring — what the fuck? In the reverse shot, Watts has on only denim cut-offs, her coffee mug now a cocktail. "You drive me wild," purrs Harring, before telling her straddling partner that they "shouldn't do this anymore." Watts stares her down and fingers her inland empire violently until Harring pushes her away. But what does it all mean, Mr. Lynch? —Aaron Hillis

2. A History of Violence (2005)
Dir: David Cronenberg

By the time humble, happy marrieds Tom (Viggo Mortensen) and Edie (Maria Bello) have violent sex on the stairs of their house, we've already seen them do it once. Earlier in the film, they'd acted out a few teenage fantasies while Edie wore a cheerleader outfit. Even though the scene contains what director David Cronenberg's been told is the first onscreen instance of 69 in an American film, the exchange is sweet and innocent, almost virginal. When they hook up again, the couple's veneer of wholesome Americana has been shattered and Edie's learned that Tom is really a mobster-in-hiding named Joey. She slaps him and he grabs her and the two begin to fight on the stairs (a locale loaded with symbolic meaning for a couple in transition). Very quickly, the wrestling turns to brutal, combative sex. In his DVD commentary, Cronenberg notes, "It was a physically difficult scene to shoot and an emotionally very difficult scene to shoot. We wanted to suggest that she's attracted and repelled by Joey, and she's still looking for the Tom that's in this creature." It's a credit to Cronenberg's direction and his actors' talents that all of that comes across in their impassioned faces and moans of ecstasy and screams of pain. It's a sex scene that's erotic and disturbing and it actually tells us something about the characters in it. In other words, it is perfect. —MS

1. Don't Look Now (1973)
Dir: Nicolas Roeg

The love scene in "Don't Look Now" was a late addition, conceived of when director Nicolas Roeg decided that something was needed to balance out all of the fighting between the couple played by Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Allan Scott's screenplay. And so he added what turned out to be the most tender, most emotionally complex, and yes, hottest sex scene on celluloid. Not the first thing you'd expect from a horror film, or, for that matter, from Sutherland, but the scene, which represents a kind of détente in a marriage strained by the recent loss of a child, is justifiably famous — a portrait of a couple both intimately familiar with and in the process of rediscovering each other.

Christie and Sutherland start out in the bathroom — she's in the bath, teasing him about encroaching love handles as he dawdles around in the buff. Later, lounging on the bed, they exchange kisses that lead to poignant, unplanned lovemaking, the scene intercut with shots of the two dressing for dinner afterward. In an interview with the Guardian, Sutherland suggested that the editing relieved any confrontational sense of scopophilia: "The audience never ended up being a voyeur, they watched a cinematic collage and were reminded of themselves." But more than that, it all serves as a compelling rebuke of that old Hollywood standard for love scenes: the clinch that leads to the fade to black. "Don't Look Now" is a reminder that everything that's commonly omitted in movies and represented by a quick cut or a flash of darkness is just as much a part of the story, and of life, as the conversations and confrontations that follow. —Alison Willmore

The 50 Greatest Sex Scenes in Cinema





OVER the years, we have videotaped many precious moments: the birthday parties, the out-of-tune recorder concerts, the school plays (“Is that him? No, look behind the moving cactus”), the baseball all-star game (lovely except for the voiceover of my shouting “Over here! Look over here!”).

We started with a camcorder that uses Hi8 analog videotape, which looks like a thick cassette tape, and we never upgraded. So we had lots of tapes lying around that we intended to one day do something with.

With our oldest son’s bar mitzvah rapidly approaching, I decided that the time had come. A slide show seems to be de rigueur at bar mitzvahs. Although they are usually done with still photos, we decided to look through videos as well.

Step 1: finding them. I thought they were in one closet, but they had been moved when we painted. After a panicked hunt through the house, I discovered them buried deep in a storage area in a torn shopping bag.

The collection turned out to be 16 Hi8 tapes, none dated. They were dusty and looked very discouraging. I transferred them to another bag and put them aside.

Ideally, someone would take them, edit them into a glossy, ready-for-TV show of our happy life. Realistically, I simply wanted to put them on DVDs so we could more easily watch and edit them.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this:

Buy a DVD recorder and do it yourself.

Transfer the footage to your computer and burn it to DVDs.

Use a transfer service.

I considered buying a DVD recorder. One popular option is the Sony DVDirect VRD-MC3, which costs $200 to $250 and can burn analog recordings to DVDs.

If you are willing to sit through the entire recording process, you can stop, fast forward or change tapes, thereby editing the video and creating chapters on the DVD’s menu with thumbnail images. Otherwise, you just drop it in and let it roll.

The machine has won raves from many reviewers; one called it “shockingly simple.” Consumer Reports, for example, said in its June magazine that Sony’s burner was easy to use and that DVDs made at the highest quality setting were “as good as the original analog recording.”

So, that was one option. It sounded simple, but I was not sure I wanted to add yet another machine to our house. And I was a little wary, picturing myself covered in videotape as the burner tossed DVDs around like Frisbees — not because of any malfunction on its part, of course, but because of my technological impatience.

Another option is to move videos directly from tapes to your computer. It is easy to do if you have digital tape, known as mini DV, but analog tape is a different story.

There are devices that can convert the video output from your camcorder or VCR to a digital signal for your computer to record. Some run about $50 and are available through Pinnacle (, ADS ( or Hauppauge (

You plug your camcorder or VCR into the device’s video and audio jacks and connect the device to your computer via U.S.B. port. There are also internal devices that can be installed in your computer.

I have not used any of these, and reading a blog about them showed mixed experiences.

Although you have more control over editing than when transferring directly to DVD, this approach is more labor intensive and the videos can quickly fill up a hard drive, said Paul Eng of

Keith Shaw, the Cool Tools columnist at Network World magazine, added that “the trend is to take the PC out of the equation.”

“Although it takes about the same amount of time as using the box,” he said, “it adds complexity.”

Using a burner like Sony’s or a converter linked to a computer, “my biggest complaint is the amount of time it takes,” Mr. Shaw said. “You have to do it in real time. For example, I have a three-hour wedding video I want to transfer, so I have block out three hours. I can push the button and walk away, but what if something goes wrong? That’s the biggest hurdle.”

I had assumed that DVDs would last longer than tapes, but surprisingly, the jury is still out. It depends on the quality of the DVD, whether it is a burned or pressed DVD, and how the tapes and DVDs are stored. A good piece of advice is to save your tapes even after you get them transferred to DVD.

Digitizing the tapes is important, however, because it will make it easy to edit the videos and to transfer them to the next medium, Mr. Shaw said.

For people like me, who long for simplicity, there is nothing easier than taking the tapes to my local camera store. So that is what I did with four of them.

The store, Home Fair Camera in Larchmont, N.Y., charged $24.99 for each two-hour tape and had them ready in DVD cases after a few days. I had asked for a rush, for which the store did not charge extra. Some of the tapes were 10 years old, but even after being transferred they still looked very good.

“I’ve seen tapes from the early 1980s where the sound is muffled and the picture quality is not that great,” said John Lamagna, owner of Home Fair Camera. “You definitely see a difference in quality from the 1980s and 1990s.

“I’m still transferring 8-millimeter movie films,” he said. “I can’t believe how much of that is out there.”

I sent four others by mail to an online service, the Photo Archival Company (, which charges $12.95 for each two-hour tape and offers one free transfer if you send in a dozen.

You can also contact your local Ritz Camera store, Walgreens or CVS. I called a Ritz Camera in Manhattan, which, for $29.99, will transfer two hours of video to DVD. Anything after that is $19.99 a DVD.

Among the least expensive methods was an online service,, that will transfer a two-hour Hi8 tape to DVD for $7.95.

The prices are for simply plopping the entire tape onto DVD. Most also offer editing for a higher price.

The DVDs that came back from Photo Archival also looked great, although they were in paper envelopes rather than hard plastic cases. The company had offered classier covers, for a higher price. Actually only three of the four tapes I sent the company came back as DVDs, because one was blank — so no charge there.

The cost is obviously higher when handing the tapes over to a local store, but some people hesitate to put their prized videos in the mail.

Charles Laughlin, a partner at the Photo Archival, said a couple had recently driven from Tallahassee, Fla., to his office hundreds of miles away, in Duluth, Ga., to deliver four tapes.

“They were a retired couple whose home had been destroyed in a hurricane in 1995. Every video, every photo had been destroyed,” Mr. Laughlin said. “A member of their family had recently passed away, and in the legacy was a videotape of their wedding in 1950. They did not want to put it in the mail.”

Mr. Eng of said he would also be hesitant to give his only copy of tapes to a local store.

“They could mangle it or drop it by a magnet, or you may not want people to look at your home movies,” he said. He also sees the value of editing: “I may not need 10 minutes of me shooting the ground.”

For me, letting a professional transfer the video was probably the best option. In the end, I would go with one of the online services because they are less expensive and just as good as the local options.

When the DVDs arrived in the mail, my sons had just come home from camp. I told them I had something to show them. Expecting a new movie, they were surprised, and then entranced.

For a good hour they watched themselves as babies and toddlers. Tonight’s entertainment? Disc 2, “The Kindergarten Years."

When two researchers published a study a few years ago concluding that arts classes do not improve students’ overall academic performance, the backlash was bitter.

Some scholars argued that the 2000 study’s authors, Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland of Project Zero — an arts-education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — had failed to mention some beneficial effects of arts classes that their research had revealed. Others cited findings that reached the opposite conclusion, indicating that students who take high-quality art classes indeed do better in other courses. Some even accused the authors of devaluing arts education and the arts in general.

But Ms. Winner, Ms. Hetland and two other collaborators are pushing back. In a new book due out this month, they argue forcefully for the benefits of art education, while still defending their 2000 thesis.

In their view art education should be championed for its own sake, not because of a wishful sentiment that classes in painting, dance and music improve pupils’ math and reading skills and standardized test scores.

“We feel we need to change the conversation about the arts in this country,” said Ms. Winner, a professor of psychology at Boston College and a senior research associate at Project Zero. “These instrumental arguments are going to doom the arts to failure, because any superintendent is going to say, ‘If the only reason I’m having art is to improve math, let’s just have more math.’ “

“Do we want to therefore say, ‘No singing,’ because singing didn’t lead to spatial improvement?” Ms. Winner added. “You get yourself in a bind there. The arts need to be valued for their own intrinsic reasons. Let’s figure out what the arts really do teach.”

In their new study Ms. Winner, Ms. Hetland and their co-authors, Shirley Veenema and Kimberly Sheridan, focused on the benefits accrued through classes in painting, drawing, sculpture and the other visual arts. The results are to be published in their book, “Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education” (Teachers College Press).

They observed students taught by five visual arts teachers in two high schools in Massachussetts: three at the Boston Arts Academy, a public urban high school, and two at the Walnut Hill School for the arts, an independent secondary school in Natick. At both schools, all students specialize in an art form but are enrolled in a regular academic curriculum.

The authors videotaped a two- to three-hour class of each teacher once a month for one academic year. They then zeroed in on what they deemed to be crucial segments of teaching and learning, showed those clips to the teacher after each class and interviewed them about their intentions.

“Why did you do that, what was your goal, what kind of learning were you trying to effect?,” Ms. Winner said, citing some of the questions.

After transcribing all the interviews, the authors spent a year developing a method for coding the tapes and transcripts according to the thinking, or “mind habits,” of the teachers as they sought to convey concepts and strategies to the students.

The researchers found that the visual arts classes did have broad indirect benefits, even if they were not directly related to quantifiable performance in other subjects. “Students who study the arts seriously are taught to see better, to envision, to persist, to be playful and learn from mistakes, to make critical judgments and justify such judgments,” the authors conclude.

In a design class taught by Mickey Telemaque at the Boston Arts Academy mentioned in the book, for example, students are encouraged to look through a viewfinder with one eye, so that they lose their depth perception and see the world as if it were a two-dimensional picture with flat lines, shapes and colors. Ultimately, the exercise not only demystifies the challenge of drawing but also enables students to grasp alternative ways of seeing.

Yet some educators assert that improved critical thinking redounds to measurable academic achievement too. A study by James S. Catterall, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that students who had more involvement in the arts in school and after school scored better on standardized tests.

He contends that the executive summary of Ms. Winner’s 2000 study did not reflect the full results of her research, which he said showed many positive benefits from arts classes. But Ms. Winner said the three statistically significant benefits that she found were unrelated to grades or test results: making music in the classroom improved visual skills in children; listening to 10 to 15 minutes of classical music improved the same type of skills in college students (although the effects lasted only 10 to 15 minutes); and classroom drama improved some verbal skills.

“When kids take a lot of art, they don’t improve in their core subject areas,” she said in an interview. “We simply found no evidence of that.”

When students who take art also generally do well in school, Ms. Winner and her co- researchers say, this may be because academically strong schools tend to have strong arts programs, or because families who value academic achievement also value achievement in the arts.

“You cannot conclude that because they’re taking art, they’re doing well in school,” Ms. Winner said. “There’s just no way to conclude anything about causality.”

In campaigning for keeping arts education, some educators say, advocates need to form more realistic arguments.

“Not everything has a practical utility, but maybe it’s experientially valuable,” said Elliot Eisner, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University. “Learning through the arts promotes the idea that there is more than one solution to a problem, or more than one answer to a question.”

Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation, which finances arts education, said that the arts can promote experiences of empathy and tolerance. “There is no substitute for listening to jazz, seeing ‘Death of a Salesman’ performed, reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ seeing the Vietnam War Memorial,” he said. “Those powerful experiences only come about through the arts.”

Still, such reasoning may not be sufficient to keep arts education alive in public schools. “That’s not the kind of argument that gets a lot of traction in a high-stakes testing environment,” said Douglas J. Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas, Austin.

In a time when President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy emphasizes test results, the arts do not easily lend themselves to quantifiable measurements.

Art classes are often the first thing to be jettisoned from a crowded curriculum. As a result, Ms. Winner said, it is understandable that some arts advocates hew to the academic argument to keep the arts in the curriculum. “The arts are totally threatened in our schools,” she said. “Arts advocates don’t even think about whether they’re accurate — they latch onto these claims.”

“I am an arts advocate,” she added. “I just want to make plausible arguments for the arts.”
Responding to an outcry that included a passionate Internet campaign and a satiric rap video, city officials yesterday backed off proposed new rules that could have forced tourists taking snapshots in Times Square and filmmakers capturing that only-in-New-York street scene to obtain permits and $1 million in liability insurance.

In announcing the move, officials at the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting said they would redraft the rules, intended to apply to commercial film and photography productions, to address complaints that they could be too broadly applied. They will then release the revised rules for public comment.

“It appears that the mayor’s office on film has come to their senses,” said Eileen Clancy, a member of a group formed to protest the rules. “Clearly, they did not anticipate the way in which the rules were likely to affect so many different groups of people.”

Katherine Oliver, the film office commissioner, said in a statement, “We appreciate the feedback and collaboration of the production community in the city and look forward to revising our proposal.” The proposed rules would have required any group of two or more people using a camera in a public location for more than half an hour, and any group of five or more people using a tripod for more than 10 minutes, to get a permit and insurance. Press photographers and students would not be affected, officials said.

Officials at the mayor’s film office originally agreed to write the rules as part of a settlement in April of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Rakesh Sharma, a documentary filmmaker who was detained by the police in 2005 after using a hand-held video camera in Midtown. Told that he was required to have a permit to film on city property, Mr. Sharma later pursued one and discovered that there were no written guidelines on how permits were granted, according to the lawsuit.

City officials at first staunchly defended the draft regulations when they were released for comment in May, saying that they were intended to set standards for professionals and that there were few if any instances in which casual photographers or filmmakers would be affected.

But criticism mounted over the months, with opponents arguing that all manner of unobtrusive visual recording would be unfairly, and even unconstitutionally, restricted.

“If I joined a small group of bird-watchers, I would only be able to photograph a bird for less than 10 minutes under the proposed regulation changes,” D. Bruce Yolton, a photographer who studies and chronicles red-tailed hawks on his blog,, wrote to the film office. “Due to the random nature of birding photography, the bird would be gone before a permit could be issued.”

One group of opponents, a comedy troupe called Olde English, created a hip-hop video that its members submitted as public comment to the film office and sent to the civil liberties union, which posted it on its Web site.

“Proposin’ new rules to try to get rid of me/A million in insurance just to cover liabilities!/From Little Italy all the way to Harlem/Bloomberg’s jealous ’cause our movies won’t star him,” the group raps in the video, shot in several outdoor locations that would require a permit under the proposed rules.

David Segal, a member of the group, said they had been making videos together since they were students at Bard College and were now doing so professionally, on a “very low budget.”

“And that only came after making hundreds of videos with no budget,” he said. “We know that ourselves, we wouldn’t be able to do it had we not been able to film before these rules started getting talked about.”

The city’s withdrawal represents a victory for a hastily formed advocacy group called Picture New York, which gathered more than 31,000 signatures for an online petition protesting the rules.

“We have everyone from actually extraordinarily famous fine-art photographers and filmmakers signing the petition to one man who identified himself as a garbageman and a band photographer,” Ms. Clancy, a member of the group and a video analyst who monitors police conduct, said at a news conference yesterday.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the civil liberties union, also praised the decision, saying that the effort was helped by the “huge group of New Yorkers” who are able to move quickly and creatively “to push back when the city clamps down and represses free speech.”

She also sounded a note of caution, saying that her organization would keep pressure on the city to make sure “that photographers and filmmakers can take pictures without a permit and without $1 million of insurance as long as they’re not interfering with anybody else going about their business.”


THE first Ingmar Bergman movie I ever saw was “The Magician,” at the Fifth Avenue Cinema in the spring of 1960, when I was 17. The only way I could watch the film this week after the Swedish director’s death was on a remaindered DVD I bought in Paris. Like many of his films, “The Magician” hasn’t been widely available here for ages.

Nearly all the obituaries I’ve read take for granted Mr. Bergman’s stature as one of the uncontestable major figures in cinema — for his serious themes (the loss of religious faith and the waning of relationships), for his expert direction of actors (many of whom, like Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, he introduced and made famous) and for the hard severity of his images. If you Google “Ingmar Bergman” and “great,” you get almost six million hits.

Sometimes, though, the best indication of an artist’s continuing vitality is simply what of his work remains visible and is still talked about. The hard fact is, Mr. Bergman isn’t being taught in film courses or debated by film buffs with the same intensity as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard. His works are seen less often in retrospectives and on DVD than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson — two master filmmakers widely scorned as boring and pretentious during Mr. Bergman’s heyday.

What Mr. Bergman had that those two masters lacked was the power to entertain — which often meant a reluctance to challenge conventional film-going habits, as Dreyer did when constructing his peculiar form of movie space and Bresson did when constructing his peculiar form of movie acting.

The same qualities that made Mr. Bergman’s films go down more easily than theirs — his fluid storytelling and deftness in handling actresses, comparable to the skills of a Hollywood professional like George Cukor — also make them feel less important today, because they have fewer secrets to impart. What we see is what we get, and what we hear, however well written or dramatic, are things we’re likely to have heard elsewhere.

So where did the outsized reputation of Mr. Bergman come from? At least part of his initial appeal in the ’50s seems tied to the sexiness of his actresses and the more relaxed attitudes about nudity in Sweden; discovering the handsome look of a Bergman film also clearly meant encountering the beauty of Maj-Britt Nilsson and Harriet Andersson. And for younger cinephiles like myself, watching Mr. Bergman’s films at the same time I was first encountering directors like Mr. Godard and Alain Resnais, it was tempting to regard him as a kindred spirit, the vanguard of a Swedish New Wave.

It was a seductive error, but an error nevertheless. The stylistic departures I saw in Mr. Bergman’s ’50s and ’60s features — the silent-movie pastiche in “Sawdust and Tinsel,” the punitive use of magic against a doctor-villain in “The Magician,” the aggressive avant-garde prologue of “Persona” — were actually more functions of his skill and experience as a theater director than a desire or capacity to change the language of cinema in order to say something new. If the French New Wave addressed a new contemporary world, Mr. Bergman’s talent was mainly devoted to preserving and perpetuating an old one.

Curiously, theater is what claimed most of Mr. Bergman’s genius, but cinema is what claimed most of his reputation. He was drawn again and again to the 19th-century theater of Chekhov, Strindberg and Ibsen — these were his real roots — and based on the testimony of friends who saw some of his stage productions when they traveled to Brooklyn, there’s good reason to believe a comprehensive account of his prodigious theater work, his métier, is long overdue.

We remember the late Michelangelo Antonioni for his mysteriously vacant pockets of time, Andrei Tarkovsky for his elaborately choreographed long takes and Orson Welles for his canted angles and staccato editing. And we remember all three for their deep, multifaceted investments in the modern world — the same world Mr. Bergman seemed perpetually in retreat from.

Mr. Bergman simply used film (and later, video) to translate shadow-plays staged in his mind — relatively private psychodramas about his own relationships with his cast members, and metaphysical speculations that at best condensed the thoughts of a few philosophers rather than expanded them. Riddled with wounds inflicted by Mr. Bergman’s strict Lutheran upbringing and diverse spiritual doubts, these films are at times too self-absorbed to say much about the larger world, limiting the relevance that his champions often claim for them.

Above all, his movies aren’t so much filmic expressions as expressions on film. One of the most striking aspects of the use of digital video in “Saraband,” his last feature, is his seeming contempt for the medium apart from its usefulness as a simple recording device.

Yet what Mr. Bergman was interested in recording was pretty much the same tormented and tortured neurotic resentments, the same spite and even the same cruelty that can be traced back to his work of a half-century ago. Like John Ford, one of Mr. Bergman’s favorite directors — whose taste for silhouettes moving across horizons he shared — he would endlessly reshuffle his reliable troupe of players, his favorite sores and obsessions, like shards of glass in a kaleidoscope.

It’s strange to realize that his bitter and pinched emotions, once they were combined with excellent cinematography and superb acting, could become chic — and revered as emblems of higher purposes in cinema. But these emotions remain ugly ones, no matter how stylishly they might be served up.

Even stranger to me was the way he always resonated with New York audiences. The antiseptic, upscale look of Mr. Bergman’s interiors and his mainly blond, blue-eyed cast members became a brand to be adopted and emulated. (His artfully presented traumas became so respectable they could help to sell espresso in the lobby of the Fifth Avenue Cinema.) Mr. Bergman, famously, not only helped fuel the art-house aspirations of Woody Allen but Mr. Allen’s class aspirations as well — the dual yearnings ultimately becoming so intertwined that they seemed identical.

Despite all the compulsive superlatives offered up this week, Mr. Bergman’s star has faded, maybe because we’ve all grown up a little, as filmgoers and as socially aware adults. It doesn’t diminish his masterful use of extended close-ups or his distinctively theatrical, seemingly homemade cinema to suggest that movies can offer something more complex and challenging. And while Mr. Bergman’s films may have lost much of their pertinence, they will always remain landmarks in the history of taste.

THEY came, they saw, they conquered and were conquered in turn — willingly, deliriously, gratefully. With dazed smiles, sweat-stained Superman T-shirts, pink hair, deathly pallor, yards of tattoos, rolls of fat and an occasional pair of detachable devil horns, troops of comic-book fans, collectible professionals and enthusiasts, science-fiction nerds and circling Hollywood sharks descended on the San Diego Convention Center last weekend for the 38th annual Comic-Con International. Happily adrift and at times gaga from sensory overload, I did too.

A great big tent for all things geek, Comic-Con, the largest comic-book convention and pop-cultural shebang in North America, is where bulging superheroes mingle freely with growling pirates, wispy faeries and human-size Uglydolls. It’s where I met three intrepid souls, including a grandmother and granddaughter dressed in silvery outfits and shimmering green paint. “I’m the queen,” announced one of these aliens from another planet (actually San Diego). “Of what?” someone asked. “Of Mars!” But of course she is, at least in her own head as well as at Comic-Con, where people can give physical form to the passions that the rest of the year remain safely hidden from the cruel world. This is where you let your freak flag fly without getting beaten up by the playground bullies.

Like a lot of children, I grew up reading “Peanuts,” though most of my early comic-book encounters were more outré. Beginning in the late 1960s my family was in the downtown New York bookstore business, which meant that it was also in the underground-comics business. Although expressly forbidden to read underground comics (or “comix”), I knew the name R. Crumb long before I ever heard of Marvel. Although I now appreciate Mr. Crumb’s adoration of generously proportioned women, at the time I found his work, well, too icky, instead preferring the good-natured antics of Gilbert Shelton’s “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers,” in particular that rascally, badly behaved feline known as Fat Freddy’s cat.

I never became a comic book geek; then, as now, I got my fix from watching movies. Still, prompted by one of my best friends in high school I attended a couple of conventions in the 1970s, which I mostly remember for their grubby carpeting, pasty boys and late-night screenings of old cartoons. I wasn’t interested in superheroes, but I was entranced by the work of Frank Frazetta, the fantasy artist whose paintings of muscular, scantily clad heroes like Tarzan and Conan adorned the covers of 1960s pulp paperbacks. I bought a Frazetta pin that showed a nearly naked woman whose strong, boldly drawn body I admired. She seemed at once hot and cool, powerful and autonomous, a perfect emblem of what my quavering high school self longed to be.

I thought a lot about that high school girl while I wandered around Comic-Con, which, despite the crushing crowds (more than 120,000 attendees) and the hard-sell commercialism, I found unexpectedly moving. Like many early adopters who get in on a movement or trend before the rest of us and taunt us for being so pathetically behind the curve, some longtime Comic-Con attendees complain that the convention isn’t what it used to be. It’s too Hollywood, too family friendly, too mobbed, all of which may be true, I suppose. I wouldn’t know. This was my first Comic-Con, and I had a blast. There is, I found, something soul satisfying about attending a panel titled “Gumby!”

Part of the pleasure was being in a room with other people who had shared their childhood with Gumby, the green stop-motion clay character created by Art Clokey. I’d always found this green creature irresistible and confusingly discomfiting. A man in the audience called Gumby’s universe surreal, which was exactly the word I would have used if I’d known it when I was 7. Bob Burden, who writes the new “Gumby” comic book, explained that Mr. Clokey had been put up for adoption as a child by his mother, only to be taken in by a kind millionaire. Mr. Clokey had a wonderful childhood, which is why his famous creation couldn’t go over to the dark side. “Gumby,” explained Mr. Burden, “has to stay a positive person.”

THEY came, they saw, they conquered and were conquered in turn — willingly, deliriously, gratefully. With dazed smiles, sweat-stained Superman T-shirts, pink hair, deathly pallor, yards of tattoos, rolls of fat and an occasional pair of detachable devil horns, troops of comic-book fans, collectible professionals and enthusiasts, science-fiction nerds and circling Hollywood sharks descended on the San Diego Convention Center last weekend for the 38th annual Comic-Con International. Happily adrift and at times gaga from sensory overload, I did too.

A great big tent for all things geek, Comic-Con, the largest comic-book convention and pop-cultural shebang in North America, is where bulging superheroes mingle freely with growling pirates, wispy faeries and human-size Uglydolls. It’s where I met three intrepid souls, including a grandmother and granddaughter dressed in silvery outfits and shimmering green paint. “I’m the queen,” announced one of these aliens from another planet (actually San Diego). “Of what?” someone asked. “Of Mars!” But of course she is, at least in her own head as well as at Comic-Con, where people can give physical form to the passions that the rest of the year remain safely hidden from the cruel world. This is where you let your freak flag fly without getting beaten up by the playground bullies.

Like a lot of children, I grew up reading “Peanuts,” though most of my early comic-book encounters were more outré. Beginning in the late 1960s my family was in the downtown New York bookstore business, which meant that it was also in the underground-comics business. Although expressly forbidden to read underground comics (or “comix”), I knew the name R. Crumb long before I ever heard of Marvel. Although I now appreciate Mr. Crumb’s adoration of generously proportioned women, at the time I found his work, well, too icky, instead preferring the good-natured antics of Gilbert Shelton’s “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers,” in particular that rascally, badly behaved feline known as Fat Freddy’s cat.

I never became a comic book geek; then, as now, I got my fix from watching movies. Still, prompted by one of my best friends in high school I attended a couple of conventions in the 1970s, which I mostly remember for their grubby carpeting, pasty boys and late-night screenings of old cartoons. I wasn’t interested in superheroes, but I was entranced by the work of Frank Frazetta, the fantasy artist whose paintings of muscular, scantily clad heroes like Tarzan and Conan adorned the covers of 1960s pulp paperbacks. I bought a Frazetta pin that showed a nearly naked woman whose strong, boldly drawn body I admired. She seemed at once hot and cool, powerful and autonomous, a perfect emblem of what my quavering high school self longed to be.

I thought a lot about that high school girl while I wandered around Comic-Con, which, despite the crushing crowds (more than 120,000 attendees) and the hard-sell commercialism, I found unexpectedly moving. Like many early adopters who get in on a movement or trend before the rest of us and taunt us for being so pathetically behind the curve, some longtime Comic-Con attendees complain that the convention isn’t what it used to be. It’s too Hollywood, too family friendly, too mobbed, all of which may be true, I suppose. I wouldn’t know. This was my first Comic-Con, and I had a blast. There is, I found, something soul satisfying about attending a panel titled “Gumby!”

Part of the pleasure was being in a room with other people who had shared their childhood with Gumby, the green stop-motion clay character created by Art Clokey. I’d always found this green creature irresistible and confusingly discomfiting. A man in the audience called Gumby’s universe surreal, which was exactly the word I would have used if I’d known it when I was 7. Bob Burden, who writes the new “Gumby” comic book, explained that Mr. Clokey had been put up for adoption as a child by his mother, only to be taken in by a kind millionaire. Mr. Clokey had a wonderful childhood, which is why his famous creation couldn’t go over to the dark side. “Gumby,” explained Mr. Burden, “has to stay a positive person.”


The housing market is shaky, the dollar keeps weakening against the euro, the price of oil continues to rise and stock prices are volatile. Do Americans have reason to be gloomy about the economic outlook? For the second year in a row, the Op-Ed page has asked four writers from around the country to provide quarterly snapshots of their local economies. Here are their second dispatches.

Christian Northeast

Fiddling for Dollars by Lee Smith

When Loggers Become Bloggers by Jonathan Raban

Montana's Terror Economy Deirdre McNamer

The Dispirit of ’67 by Thomas Lynch


WHEN we bought our mountain cabin here two decades ago, Todd was almost a ghost town. Only the General Store (established 1914) had stayed open since Todd’s heyday back in the early 1900s.

But this summer evening, I find a traffic jam when I head into town (population only 50, but 900-plus in the area) to hear some old-time music at the store’s Friday jam, and check out the dance at the old Mercantile building.

I have to park way up Big Hill Road and walk back down along the New River. I have to elbow my way into the Mercantile, where the wooden dance floor is jammed with people of all ages, spiky-haired teenagers mixed in with tourists and old guys in overalls, everybody dancing up a storm to the music of Cecil Gurganus and his Laurel Creek String Band, spotlighting a 14-year-old fiddler, Meade Richter.

Who are all these people? What happened to turn this town around?

The citizens stepped up and took charge, that’s what. In this, they were guided by the charismatic Becky Anderson, who started HandMade in America, a fiercely regional nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing and establishing a sustainable economy around the culture of western North Carolina — an innovative “creative economy” emphasizing heritage and cultural tourism.

Since the mid-1990s, HandMade has been helping communities learn how to sell themselves without selling out. Its Small Towns Program is based on encouraging self-help, providing technical advice, fund-raising and strengthening bonds among the area’s towns.

I attended the group’s annual Small Towns Cluster meeting on May 22 in Asheville, where leaders from 13 local places gathered to share their triumphs and woes in an atmosphere something like a cross between a family reunion and a religious revival.

“We learn from other communities,” says Beth Morrison, the representative from Todd. “We don’t really feel like we’re in competition. We’re scattered, and we’re not doing the same thing. We’re doing a lot of music at Todd, for instance, while West Jefferson is doing art” — like barn quilts and murals.

Each town has a particular strength. Crossnore prides itself on its weaving industry, children’s home and new medical center. Marshall is putting 28 art studio spaces into an old high school. Andrews revels in its Scottish-American heritage, playing host to the Appalachian Highland Games. Hayesville built a “Jackrabbit Trail” for mountain biking and hiking — “It’s amazing what a 12-pack of beer and a chain saw will do,” said its delegate, Rob Tiger.

“Todd would not be here today if we had not relied upon HandMade for guidance,” says Emilie Enzmann, who owns the Mercantile as well as the Todd Mahal Bakery.

Other recent Todd enterprises include New River Adventures (kayak, canoe, bike and tube rentals in the old depot building); a farmers’ market; several new nursery and landscaping businesses; and Community Supported Agriculture programs like Stacy Martin’s Yellow Wolf Farm (check out the holistic dog biscuits).

I’ve signed up for a trout-fishing lesson at RiverGirl with Kelly McCoy, who sold literally everything she owned in order to go into business a year ago. I find her down at the depot along with her potbellied pig, Petunia, three or four little yapping dogs and a crippled baby goat named Jackson.

We get the rods (Kelly made them) and I try casting for the first time.

“Throw it out at 10 o’clock, pull it back at 2,” Kelly instructs in her Alabama drawl — and hey! the yellow tippet lands flat out on the grass exactly as it’s supposed to.

With a fisheries science degree from Mississippi State, Kelly used to do species identification with a group in Florida. “We’d talk about life, we’d talk about everything,” she recalls. “We always talked about what we’d put in our shop, if we had our own shop ... and now I’m doing it. I’m really doing it. And they’re all living vicariously through me. I wake up every day and think I’m in paradise.”

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THE town of Forks, Wash., on the rain-drenched western side of the Olympic Peninsula, is a four-hour trip by road and ferry from Seattle. Billing itself as the “Logging Capital of the World,” it was a big-eating, hard-drinking town — one of many in the state that kept Seattle supplied with the timber on which the city’s early wealth was based.

Seattle’s sawmills and shipyards grew fat on logs trucked east from Forks, and when William Boeing built his first planes, their delicate frames were fashioned by yacht builders out of Peninsula spruce. The twin successes of Seattle and Forks went hand in hand, until the city and the town went through a bitter divorce.

When I first drove through Forks in 1990, plaintive yard signs read, “This Family Lives on Timber Dollars”; bumper stickers asked, “Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?” and offered recipes for how best to roast or fry the northern spotted owl.

The owl’s listing as a threatened species and the subsequent restrictions on logging on federal lands were widely seen on the Peninsula as the heartless work of condo-dwelling zealots in Seattle. The city that Forks had helped make rich appeared intent on beggaring Forks with a doctrinaire belief in the inviolable sanctity of the forest understory. To environmentalists, the forest was ecologically essential, irreplaceable, beyond price; Forks clung ever more stubbornly to the notion that it was a “renewable resource,” to be priced in board-feet, cut down and replanted.

Forks slumped. Suddenly there was hardly a logging truck to be seen on Route 101, and the town’s once-busy main street became a battered colonnade of crumbling facades and closed businesses. This street is still all that most Seattle tourists, en route to the rain forest or resorts on the coast, ever see of Forks, as they brake for its lone stoplight. I’ve been asking Seattleites to name the first word that comes to mind when I mention Forks: answers include “forlorn,” “Godforsaken” and “ugly.”

Yet turn off the main street, past the small high school, home of the aptly named Forks Spartans, and you find yourself in a pleasant grid of spacious bungalows, fresh paint, trim lawns and palpable neighborliness — exactly the kind of intimate, self-contained rural community (with a huge village store named Forks Outfitters) for which jaded urbanites profess nostalgia. Since the near-collapse of the timber industry in the town, increased tourism and the nearby jail have taken up much slack in the local economy.

But Forks would dearly like to acquire a modest share of Seattle’s genius for spinning money in cyberspace. After the extreme rancor of the divorce proceedings, here are potential grounds for amicable reconciliation.

The high school, thanks to a Gates Foundation grant, is the first rural “high-tech high” in the nation. Forks has broadband, houses that cost a quarter of those in Seattle and, right on its doorstep, the recreational opportunities that Seattleites so prize — fly-fishing for salmon and steelhead, the razor-edged mountains of the Olympic National Park, old-growth temperate rain forest (what little is left after generations of clear-cutting), mile after mile of wild and barely visited Pacific beaches. The Business Incubation Center on Spartan Avenue has vacant offices available for peppercorn rents.

It’d be nice to report that nature-hungry telecommuters and Internet starter-uppers are homing in on Forks as the new, green, wired place to be, but so far there’ve been few takers. Maybe it’s the rain (around 120 inches a year) or the deceptive stoplight view of the main street. The enduring suspicion of some rural hinterlanders is that the Northwest’s precious environment, of mountains, forest, ocean, is merely an urban weekend amenity, to be saved from the local yokels by crusading Seattleites who recoil from the prospect of actually living in it.

As for the spotted owl, chief emblem of the rift between city and countryside, its numbers go on shrinking because — in an ironic parallel — it’s getting robbed of its traditional terrain and livelihood by the barred owl, its burlier, more aggressive eastern cousin.

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BACK in the 1980s, my husband and I decided to drive from Missoula to Ann Arbor, Mich., crossing the Montana-Alberta border at Whitlash so we could travel in a foreign country for a while. The road was gravel and empty of other cars. All around us, tawny August prairie stretched to the Earth’s curve.

At the border, it took us quite a while to get into Canada because we couldn’t find the border agent, or any other human for that matter. There was just the one-room station and, in the distance, the sound of shots. We honked the horn and waited. Eventually, a guy with a pistol appeared from behind a low hill and announced himself as the border man and said he’d been doing target practice to keep himself busy. He looked wistful as he waved us through.

Back then, if we had seen a man on horseback riding along the border, standing in his stirrups to look around, we would have assumed that he was a rancher looking for straying livestock. Today, we’d have to consider the possibility that he was an operative for Operation Noble Mustang, in which wild horses from Bureau of Land Management holdings in the West are trained by prison inmates for use by border patrolmen on the lookout for smugglers and terrorists trying to enter the United States from Canada.

The Department of Homeland Security now flies Blackhawk helicopters and other aircraft along the Montana-Canada border, out where it leaves the mountains and runs 460 miles from the Continental Divide to North Dakota. Agents in sport utility vehicles with night vision goggles zoom across the grasslands, and there are plans in the works for unmanned drones to monitor ground movements from the air. Most important to the residents of the little towns south of the border, scores of new border patrolmen — 60 in 2004 alone — have been brought in to live in northern Montana since the Sept. 11 attacks.

That has been nothing but good news for a region that is desperate for wage-earners and house buyers and taxpayers. Protracted drought, a precipitous decline in the number of producing family farms and consequent out-migration have sucked a lot of the life out of towns that used to have busy restaurants, dress shops, car and farm-implement dealerships and full schools. The “Waning West,” some historians call these dryland, sparsely populated areas. Quiet, is what they feel like. Shuttered and quiet.

There have been efforts to combat the effects of the decline with organized tourist draws like the Montana Dinosaur Trail (15 museums, interpretive centers and field stations that focus on the discoveries of dinosaur remains in central and eastern Montana) and the Craft Heritage Trails of North Central Montana, which celebrates handicrafts like quilting. But it’s difficult to lure potential spenders to places where you have to imagine invisible presences and bygone days to feel you are somewhere of interest. And, in any case, they don’t stay.

At Shelby (population 3,000 or so), Interstate 15 intersects with Highway 2 and there is a sign that says, “All roads lead to Shelby, crossroads of Western America.” The town itself, if not a hub of some universe, seems relatively awake and humming along.

Shelby, it has to be said, has never been a retiring little burg. It’s the place, after all, that lured Jack Dempsey to defend his heavyweight championship title against Tommy Gibbons on July 4, 1923. It’s a long and fascinating story, but the only sign of it now is a plaque near the Pizza Hut where the 40,000-seat arena once stood.

Part of the reason Shelby is livelier than some of its neighbors today is a 500-inmate private prison that was built on the edge of town in 1999 that brought prison staff and new money. In 2003, the town bought a group of industrial buildings to the north, right on the border, betting that the specter of terrorism would make the purchase pay off. A year later, contractors began renovating them to accommodate up to 40 new Customs and Border Protection employees. Shelby got $6.5 million over 20 years to lease the buildings, and new families contributing to the local economy.

It’s a new, strange story. In a part of the country that was built on the most extravagant homesteaders’ and oil-drillers’ hopes for the future, economic health in this new century rides largely on the continued threat of threat itself.

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THE men I have coffee with most mornings in town are all in what we never call the last trimester of our lives. We’re winding down, golfing more, worried that what’s ahead won’t be as good as what’s gone before. We are retiring or retirees. Our memories are more certain than our prospects. Some things, we say, are changing. Some things never do.

Forty years ago, we were driving up Woodward Avenue in our souped-up Dodges, Chevys and Fords, ogling braless girls and hot rods at suburban drive-ins, lip-syncing Motown and protest songs, rooting for the Tigers, who were winning that year. We were white and male, native-born Americans — the big three when it came to playing the odds. We could be anything, like Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. The future seemed full of possibilities. We were freshly minted, or newly wed, or just beginning our careers or, like me, in the first year of college — trying to decide what to do with life and time.

The covers of Life and Time that first week of August ’67 featured the God-awful riots in Detroit. There was a distant, ugly war, a siege mentality in the White House and troubling signs in the economy. The body count half a world away, the failed leadership, the terrible inequities of life on the planet seemed incidental to our youth and promise. Though ’67 was a summer of discontent, we were, in retrospect, still banking on what our parents had banked on: other big threes — truth, justice and the American way, and, in Michigan anyway, “Generous” Motors, Chrysler and Ford.

Now, years since, we all — the teachers and engineers, lawyers and politicos, bankers and test drivers, insurance agent and real estate agent, the pastor, the ad man and undertaker — draw pensions or pay packets from an economy that trickled down from Henry Ford’s assembly line and the boom it brought to the Motor City, its leafy suburbs and upstate vacation towns on Michigan’s great and inland lakes. Everything hereabouts came from cars and the people who came here decades ago to make them.

That industry, like many of us, has passed its prime. “Going back in history,” says David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research, in Ann Arbor, “these companies have been ... the Rock of Gibraltar. That’s not true anymore. The Rock of Gibraltar has turned into a sandbar.”

A friend from the old days who, like thousands hereabouts, took early retirement from Ford, laments, “I’m not ready to be a greeter at Wal-Mart’s, but I’m too old to go back to school.” With his buyout money, he and his son are starting a landscape company. “I’m learning Spanish, to talk to our crews,” he says. “How’s that for globalization?”

Michigan languishes in what one crowd calls a “one-state recession,” which they attribute to union greed and taxes, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the current governor, and what the other crowd insists is a “one-industry recession,” which they lay to executive greed and globalization, pigheadedness on energy and environmental policy and the former governor. As in that August of 1967, when George W. Romney was governor and a favorite for the Republican nomination, our local midsummer woes seem like harbingers of the nation’s. By month’s end he’d let slip the truth about “brainwashing” with regard to his former support for the war. By April of the next year he was out of the race, Lyndon Johnson was a lame duck, and the murderous cycle of riots, assassinations and lost causes was about to bring Richard Nixon to power.

Forty years on and we’re still in an ugly distant war. Detroit remains among the most segregated cities in America. The white, male, native-born Americans of our generation — Bill Clinton and Al Gore, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — for all their promise, have been disappointing. Another Governor Romney is running for president. We have our lame duck, our lost cause and the Tigers winning again this year. Some things change, we say. Some things never do. Whether history repeats itself remains to be seen. At coffee most mornings, alas, we do.

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Short films featuring R. Kelly on the Independent Film Channel’s Web site.

Seeing these words blinking at the bottom of the postage-stamp-size screen during a download of jerky video defines the annoying experience of entertainment on a computer monitor.

However, the potential of new streaming video services — fast, full screen and in sharp resolution — is unleashing a torrent of movies and television shows, much of it aimed at narrowly defined audiences that can’t find niche programming even on cable systems with 500 or more channels.

The Independent Film Channel is streaming 22 short films called “Trapped in the Closet” by the R&B recording artist R. Kelly. The Jewish Television Network, a nonprofit television production and distribution company, is streaming music videos by Jewish performers, cooking shows and Israeli news programs. The network is also planning to stream religious services during the High Holy Days in September, the sort of broadcast that would be hard to find on mainstream television.

“There is extreme interest in streaming because it simplifies the process of getting video to the consumer,” said Ross Rubin, the director of industry analysis for the NPD Group, a market analysis company.

Streaming video, unlike downloads, never resides on a viewer’s computer. It usually cannot be replayed as a downloaded file can be, which is another reason that content creators like it.

The growing use and popularity of streaming among consumers are closely tied to the increasing popularity of broadband Internet connections in homes. The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimated that 47 percent of American households have broadband connections that make streaming possible because it transmits data faster.

“The greater adoption of broadband in the United States is really raising the ante for all kinds of content from premium Hollywood offerings to pet videos,” said Mr. Rubin, who noted that NBC and ABC have begun streaming their prime-time programming to online viewers.

This year, the DVD rental company Netflix began to take advantage of click-and-view streaming of full-length films and television episodes with a subscription service. “Push a tab ‘Watch Now’ and more than 3,000 television episodes and movies come up in 30 seconds or less,” said Steve Swasey, a Netflix spokesman. “There’s no downloading.”

Streaming high-quality video to computers and television screens is the “first step to getting what people want to see on any screen they want, from laptops to cellphones to wide-screen televisions,” Mr. Swasey said. “Netflix’s goal is to get movies delivered instantly to all those different screens.”

Companies like ReelTime, Joost, Limelight Networks and Brightcove are staking their futures on streaming video.

“We’re point, click and watch — instantly,” said Barry Henthorn, the chief executive and co-founder of ReelTime. “We never stop and never buffer.”

ReelTime, based in Seattle, digitally distributes thousands of movies and television shows to customers who either rent titles for 99 cents each or subscribe to the service for $4.99 a month to $19.99 for six months.

While ReelTime content can easily be watched on desktop and notebook computers, Mr. Henthorn urges customers to connect the computer to the television’s larger screen for viewing because, he said, “the quality is that good.”

Mr. Henthorn said ReelTime’s streaming technology depends on a peer-to-peer network. Some of the content comes straight from ReelTime, but to speed the delivery other portions of it are pulled from subscribers’ computers that have previously downloaded the content. The more users who download the ReelTime player and view its content, the faster and better content streams to and from all users.

“Right now all kinds of things are being shoved, rather inefficiently, over the Internet,” Mr. Henthorn said. “Once people can watch full-screen video anytime anywhere, the tolerance for four-inch screens will go away.”

Streaming has been a boon to media companies catering to a narrowly defined audience.

FEARnet, for example, has a passion for the horror genre. It began streaming video last Halloween as the “the first multiplatform horror network,” with programming that can be viewed online, on demand and on mobile devices, said its president, Diane Robina. The service, free to registered users, whom they call “victims,” makes its money from banner advertisements that appear on the Web site. The site uses advanced streaming technologies to deliver full-length horror films like “The Hunger,” a 1983 tale of elegant vampires.

FEARnet, a joint venture of Comcast, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Lionsgate, also produces and streams original content. The site is showing a film called “Devil’s Trade,” about teenagers and a cursed tree in New Jersey. It was originally a six-episode series, shot digitally for the Internet.

The Jewish Television Network had produced programming like “The Jewish Americans,” a six-hour documentary that is scheduled to air on Public Broadcasting Service stations in January. Jay Sanderson, the company’s chief executive, said he had never considered online distribution of its programming because of the low quality of the video. That changed this year when he saw the improvement.

“We waited until we got to a point where the technology would not hurt our content,” Mr. Sanderson said. He said much of his network’s existing programming involves 30-minute pieces.

But for the Internet, he said he is cutting them into three- to five-minute segments. “We’re going to do some really long programs in the fall,” he said.


SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 5 — For the last 14 months, high-tech insiders have been eating up the work of an anonymous blogger who assumed the persona of Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive and one of the world’s most famous businessmen.

The mysterious writer has used his blog, the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, to lampoon Mr. Jobs and his reputation as a difficult and egotistical leader, as well as to skewer other high-tech companies, tech journalists, venture capitalists, open-source software fanatics and Silicon Valley’s overall aura of excess.

The acerbic postings of “Fake Steve,” as he is known, have attracted a plugged-in readership — both the real Mr. Jobs and Bill Gates have acknowledged reading the blog ( At the same time, Fake Steve has evaded the best efforts of Silicon Valley’s gossips to discover his real identity.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes magazine who lives near Boston, has been quietly enjoying the attention.

“I’m stunned that it’s taken this long,” said Mr. Lyons, 46, when a reporter interrupted his vacation in Maine on Sunday to ask him about Fake Steve. “I have not been that good at keeping it a secret. I’ve been sort of waiting for this call for months.”

Mr. Lyons writes and edits technology articles for Forbes and is the author of two works of fiction, most recently a 1998 novel, “Dog Days.” In October, Da Capo Press will publish his satirical novel written in the voice of the Fake Steve character, “Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, a Parody.”

Unlike the off-the-cuff ramblings on his blog, “Options” is a well-plotted satire that imagines Apple’s chief executive grappling with his real-life stock option backdating troubles and getting help, and bad advice, from friends like Larry Ellison, Bono and Al Gore.

The book, in part, led to Mr. Lyons’s unmasking. Last year, his agent showed the manuscript to several book publishers and told them the anonymous author was a published novelist and writer for a major business magazine. The New York Times found Mr. Lyons by looking for writers who fit those two criteria, and then by comparing the writing of “Fake Steve” to a blog Mr. Lyons writes in his own name, called Floating Point (

Mr. Lyons said he invented the Fake Steve character last year, when a small group of chief executives turned bloggers attracted some media attention. He noticed that they rarely spoke candidly. “I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if a C.E.O. kept a blog that really told you what he thought? That was the gist of it.”

Mr. Lyons says he recalled trying out the voices of several chief executives before settling on the colorful Apple co-founder. He twice tried to relinquish the blog, but started again after being deluged by fans e-mailing to ask why Fake Steve had disappeared.

Though many speculators have guessed Fake Steve was an Apple insider, Mr. Lyons says he has never interviewed Mr. Jobs nor written a story about the company. “I have zero sources inside Apple,” he said. “I had to go out and get books and biographies to learn about a lot of the back story.”

Mr. Lyons said writing as Fake Steve became addictive. He developed a unique lexicon and catalog of insults for the character. Bill Gates is Beastmaster, and Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, is Squirrel Boy.

Last month, when a reader asked Fake Steve about Apple’s succession plan, he replied: “My plan at this time is to live forever and to remain in charge here, though perhaps with fewer restrictions on my power. The truth is, I am not human — I am a man-god, son of Zeus, born to mortal woman but fathered by the ruler of the gods, lord of thunder.”

Mr. Lyons receives around 50 e-mail messages a day through the blog, many with ideas for posts, and says the site had 700,000 visitors last month. Recently someone claiming to be Mr. Jobs’s daughter, Lisa, wrote to tell him, “You don’t sound at all like my father, but your blog is hilarious.”

The guessing game around his identity was intense, with speculation centering on a variety of plugged-in journalists, former Apple employees and even Mr. Jobs himself.

Over the last year, Forbes’s publisher, Richard Karlgaard, even got into the act, speculating about Fake Steve’s identity on several times. At one point he wrote: “The guessing game has begun. Who is writing it? Send me your guesses. I’ll gladly buy the most expensive iPod for the first to identify Fake Steve Jobs.”

Mr. Lyons said he felt bad and later revealed himself to his bosses and colleagues.

Mr. Karlgaard said he had a good laugh and holds no grudges. “I think it is the most brilliant caricature of an important part of American culture that I’ve seen,” he said. “We’re really proud that he’s one of ours.”

Forbes had planned to move the Secret Diary to in September, although it may now accelerate the move.

The Fake Steve saga calls to mind the guessing game behind “Primary Colors,” the political roman à clef written in 1992 by Joe Klein, then a Newsweek writer. Newsweek reacted differently, however, firing Mr. Klein when he allowed other writers at the magazine to speculate on the book’s author without tipping them off.

Mr. Lyons clearly used the Fake Steve persona to further some of his own interests and positions. For example, articles in other business publications and their journalists were a frequent target of criticism from Fake Steve, while Forbes got off comparatively easy.

Fake Steve also had it in for the devout fans of the open-source operating system Linux, calling them “freetards.” Mr. Lyons has written several articles for Forbes in which he has been critical of the cultlike aura around the free software movement and its founder, Richard Stallman.

He said that he never intended his blog to be mean-spirited and that he is a fan and customer of Apple. “If I really thought the Apple guys were going to find this guy and kill him, I wouldn’t want to do it. I was kind of hoping it would be puckish and fun. I think the guys in the Valley like the fact that it makes them into fictional characters. It’s a comic strip.”

Asked whether he was worried that he would be called to account for some of Fake Steve’s stinging, personal posts, Mr. Lyons chuckled and said, “Yes.”

As for Mr. Jobs himself — the real one — he did not seem all that interested when told the identity of his online doppelganger. He said in an instant message conversation that he had no interest in reading Mr. Lyons’s novel.


believes that the Industrial Revolution — the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 — occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. The change was one in which people gradually developed the strange new behaviors required to make a modern economy work. The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history, Dr. Clark argues.

a “real challenge” to the prevailing school of thought that it is institutions that shape economic history.

an economist who studies cultural evolution at the Santa Fe Institute, said Dr. Clark’s work was “great historical sociology and, unlike the sociology of the past, is informed by modern economic theory.”

Given that the English economy operated under Malthusian constraints, might it not have responded in some way to the forces of natural selection that Darwin had divined would flourish in such conditions? Dr. Clark started to wonder whether natural selection had indeed changed the nature of the population in some way and, if so, whether this might be the missing explanation for the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution, the first escape from the Malthusian trap, occurred when the efficiency of production at last accelerated, growing fast enough to outpace population growth and allow average incomes to rise.

Dr. Clark’s first thought was that the population might have evolved greater resistance to disease. The idea came from Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which argues that Europeans were able to conquer other nations in part because of their greater immunity to disease.

Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. “The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages,” he concluded.

As the progeny of the rich pervaded all levels of society, Dr. Clark considered, the behaviors that made for wealth could have spread with them. He has documented that several aspects of what might now be called middle-class values changed significantly from the days of hunter gatherer societies to 1800. Work hours increased, literacy and numeracy rose, and the level of interpersonal violence dropped.

If the Industrial Revolution was caused by changes in people’s behavior, then populations that have not had time to adapt to the Malthusian constraints of agrarian economies will not be able to achieve the same production efficiencies, his thesis implies.

and many are skeptical of the most novel part, his suggestion that evolutionary change is a factor to be considered in history.

Historians used to accept changes in people’s behavior as an explanation for economic events, like Max Weber’s thesis linking the rise of capitalism with Protestantism. But most have now swung to the economists’ view that all people are alike and will respond in the same way to the same incentives. Hence they seek to explain events like the Industrial Revolution in terms of changes in institutions, not people.

Most historians have assumed that evolutionary change is too gradual to have affected human populations in the historical period. But geneticists, with information from the human genome now at their disposal, have begun to detect ever more recent instances of human evolutionary change like the spread of lactose tolerance in cattle-raising people of northern Europe just 5,000 years ago.



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