Sex for family viewing

The Jewish people generally have such a talent and a liking for sex, and yet, from the desert to the Pale, have had to follow so many rules and regulations about when and how they could have it. So it was inevitable that, when they finally got to create their own secular empire, they might get a bit carried away.

In his great book, An Empire Of Their Own: How The Jews Invented Hollywood, Neal Gabler traces the rise of the men from Eastern European immigrant families who wove a new reality from their dreams. Main Street USA and the cowboy were just two Hollywood icons, remodelled from something rather less appealing, by men eager to reward the country that had given them a chance not just to survive, but to thrive.

But it was in the realm of romance - that slow-motion, high-investment Rohypnol - that they truly dazzled. In 1922, the studios hired the Republican politician and Presbyterian elder, Will H Hayes, as a censor after too many risqué flicks and off-screen scandals had tarnished the Hollywood sign. Movies moved from starring underdressed slave girls in biblical silents to fast-moving, motor-mouthed married couples who slept in separate beds and, when daring to use one of these for spousal smooching, kept one foot on the floor.

If, in private, the casting-couch and the Reno divorce - just a short, private plane-ride away - continued to cater to the whims of the big men of the studios, for public consumption "repression was the mother of the metaphor," as the poet John Cooper Clarke once said.

They were immigrants who wove a new reality

From the mid-1920s to the end of the Second World War, a matchless selection of Jewish screenwriters and directors served up to Jewish studio heads the kind of casually dazzling dialogue which these days only features in re-runs of Frasier, film having long ago returned to the kiss-kiss-bang-bang mire of its speechless origins.

The dazzling repartee of Hollywood's Golden Age took place because people couldn't have sex on-screen; the banter was a hothouse hybrid of foreplay and swordplay.

When, in the 1960s, the old Jewish studio system crumbled and the new generation of film-makers ushered in an era which decreed that "actress" would once again be interchangeable with "stripper", the writing was on the wall for the verbal pyrotechnics that the Jews used to fill in for sex. And it was writing of the most basic and joyless kind.

Serious films about sex always make me laugh, and Shame - in which beautiful Michael Fassbender and beautiful Carey Mulligan have loads of sex with other beautiful people and it's all meant to be horrid - is no exception. Being told by the film industry - of which the sexual exploits of the toilers therein is legend - that lots of sex with different people is bad for you is like being told by a male doctor not to drink, or by a female doctor not to have an elective Caesarean. Hypocrite, heal thyself.

Today's Jewish writers and directors have generally given explicit cinema sex a body swerve. When they do engage with it - as Darren Aronofsky did, directing three Jewish stars (Natalie Portman, Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis) in his unintentionally hilarious examination of the perils of sexual repression and too-tight-tutus - Black Swan - the results can be embarrassing.

Save your blushes and the price of the popcorn, because the smartest, most Jewish dialogue can be heard on American TV imports these days. To misquote Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond, the Jews are still smart - it's the movies that got stupid.

    Last updated: 3:25pm, January 12 2012