It’s a little early for me to get all old-fogeyish about the movies, but there’s at least one thing I think is largely missing from our cinema these days. It’s tough to name it exactly, because it can take many forms—in screenwriting, in performance, in set design, in direction, or in music…it can pop up anywhere as a singular element within a particular film, or it may be the overriding aesthetic of a picture in its entirety.
“It” has made sporadic comebacks in mood by way of the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair; Duplicity gave it a shot; Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven series tried it on for size in fits and starts, while Soderbergh’s comic thriller Out of Sight, I say, has it in spades. The Austin Powers series made a mint out of spoofing it, but that satire’s a little weaker for this newest generation of moviegoers, since its un-ironic form had long since vanished from the scene by the time they came of age in the multiplex.
What in the world are we talking about here? What is “it”?
I’ll call it: cosmopolitan sensuality.
Maybe the John Doe character from Se7en inadvertently offered an explanation for the absence of this quality best when he said that if you want people to pay attention in the modern era, “…you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer.” Cosmopolitan sensuality doesn’t bash you over the noggin so much as massage it. Really, though—who isn’t looking for an enticing psychic rub these days, what with all the forces of chaos in contemporary life rattling around inside the collective consciousness?
Here, as my representative example, is the absolute essence of cosmopolitan sensuality, captured in a single scene. Actress/singer/model Fran Jeffries—perhaps even better known for removing her clothes in Playboy than for appearing in them—dons a way-hot, black catsuit of sorts to perform “Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight),” one of Henry Mancini’s signature musical themes in Blake Edwards’ 1964 comedy classic The Pink Panther.
The girl. The setting. The music. The choreography. The willingness to stop a movie’s forward trajectory dead in its tracks simply to revel in the magnetism of a gorgeous gal and the lush pleasures of a song with sex on its mind (if not explicitly in its lyrics).
It’s Frantastic, baby!