Food for Cinema Thought: Bad Boys

Today in my film history class we watched Cecil B. DeMille’s 1915 drama The Cheat, a film I had seen before and appreciated on many levels. My professor asked what it was about Sessue Hayakawa that made women in the audience (at the time of the film’s release) swoon over him. The universal response was that Hayakawa’s appeal lay in both his exoticism and his eroticism, which awakened in American women a desire for the “savage” touch of a man from a different culture, not unlike the allure of Valentino in the 1920s. (I also noted the prettiness of Hayakawa’s facial features, but no one else in class seemed to see that.) But the real question is: What is the appeal of the “bad boy” in film? What makes the bad guy as attractive as the good guy, if not more so?

I spent a good deal of my last post discussing how much I enjoyed Tom Hardy’s performance in Warrior. He really is a very good actor so I don’t think I was getting too fangirl-y with my praise, but a lot of why I enjoyed him in the film had to do with his physique. I must confess I was as mesmerized by his muscularity as by his delivery of lines. There is something so basic, so completely primal and pleasurable about watching a film and gazing upon a person in terms of sexuality. Take, for example, the great scene in The Social Network wherein Armie Hammer (in his dual role as the Winklevoss twins) takes part in a rowing competition to the strains of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Yes, that sequence is an example of great editing, but it also provides the audience with eye candy in the form of Hammer exerting himself in the race. All that huffing and puffing produces a visceral reaction in the viewer (or at least in this viewer); the visuals of the combined Winklevi athleticism work in time with the music to create a hypnotic effect. The twins are not the heroes of the story, much in the way that Tommy is not the “good brother” in Warrior, but in both cases you enjoy watching them for purely sensual reasons. Or at least I did, lustful heterosexual girl that I am. You can’t be merely analytical all the time.

So while Warrior is not the greatest film ever made, I admit that part of my enjoyment was in the spark and thrill of seeing the beauty of the male body. I mean, it’s not in every movie that you’re going to see Tom Hardy lying in a bathtub with his feet on the wall in preparation for knocking his MMA opponent into unconsciousness.

I guess I didn’t fully answer my own question… but I certainly got a kick out of writing this post.


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