ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"The Bed Sheet, or the Aesthetics of Deception" by Joachim Frank

1) SHOT I: Everything is allowed in an American TV movie, except that after the act, when the woman sits up in bed, she invariably must cover her breasts with the bed sheet.  When she leaves the bed, she wraps the bed sheet around her whole body and drags it all the way to the bathroom, without stumbling once.

2) The bed sheet protects her from the camera, not from the eyes of her lover, who acts as though he has seen it all.  Thus, as the camera enters, it charges the room: at once its presence is more important than the presence of her lover, to whom she would gladly bare her breasts again.

3) The bed sheet, intended as a device protecting her modesty, would be much more effective if it were used to wrap up the camera instead.  There, in the dark space created on the screen, the two lovers could relax for once, unseen by the audience, and enjoy all conceivable acts of love.

4) The camera is only seen by her, not by him.  In fact, in haunting its victims selectively, the camera resembles a ghost.  In another interpretation, what is seen by the camera is one of the woman's most haunting hallucinations.

5) The way the film is made is to create the illusion that an unperturbed piece of reality happens in front of the observer's eyes.  But as the woman wraps the bed sheet around her body, this illusion is permanently shattered.  Money back!


NOTE IN PASSING: To defend the camouflage employed in Shot I, the director might take refuge in pointing to the centuries-old practice of hiding genitals behind fig or vine leaves, and posing women with an arm placed in front of their breasts.  On paintings and statues, drapes of much more delicate material than bed sheets both hid and revealed the relevant parts of the body with precision.  Thus the camera of Hollywood was long anticipated by its predecessor, the eye of the artist constrained by mores and the dictate of the Church. How did we get there?  In the Middle Ages, it was only the man’s, not the woman’s sex that required hiding since the latter was incapable of visually betraying arousal.  The Renaissance celebrated the human body in its natural, unclad form.  But then, as we learn from the Wijngaards Institute of Catholic Research, “Pope Julius II (1503-1513), who had commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel saw to it that the private parts of naked figures were hidden under (painted) pieces of cloth.  A century later, (the aptly named) Pope Innocent X (1644-1655) started the so-called fig-leaf campaign. The exposed phalluses of Roman statues were chiseled off and covered with a fig leaf. This approach continued until far into the 19th century.”  Since movies were invented at the end of that century, the history of censorship started by the two distinguished pontiffs and their puritan followers is unbroken.

6) SHOT II: The face of the man is shown as he gazes at the woman's breasts.  In another version of this shot, he gazes at her fully nude frontal figure.  The ubiquitous camera -- which is free to hop close to a hand that lights a cigarette, to look down from a bird's perspective, to peer up a table leg, or through a key hole -- this all-powerful camera is suddenly unable to join the man, right where he sits, in his serious contemplation.  Instead it is now helplessly situated behind the woman, looking at him from her vantage point, almost as though seen through her eyes. But all the camera sees is the back of her chest and shoulders, and, off to the side, his face: it shows him looking at her, with an intensity suggesting that the view not available to the camera is precisely the most desirable one to behold at this moment.  But it is here where the camera position becomes divisive: the shot divides the audience into two, those who are happy where they are, looking from the woman's direction, and those who desire to escape and join the man instead.

7) SHOT III: The woman drops her clothes (or the bed sheet) and faces the camera, which in turn watches her from the vantage point of her lover.  But all the camera chooses to look at is her face.  Her face expresses anxious anticipation of the glance of her lover.  So we have the improbable constellation of three eyes (his two and the camera's single eye) positioned at the same place but looking in different directions; the man's eyes fixating what a man's eyes would choose to see, and the camera forcing itself away from these logical points of attention, onto her face.  At this moment her face shows an awareness of the gaze of the man, and, at the same time, a bewildered sense of power. In short, the camera sees what the man cannot see, ensnared as he is by his focus on everything but her face.  The man, in other words, sees precisely what the camera chooses to avoid.  The two glances cross each other in mid-air, like the light sabers in the fencing duel between Luke Skywalker and Dark Vader. 

8) The camera is usually being made to appear as though it was able to move on its own free will.  Used to the camera's ostensible independence, the observer must conclude that its avoidance of the female body is a deliberate act of inattention.  The observer, removed from the apparatus that controls the position and angle of the proxy eye, feels completely powerless. "The camera," in Susan Sontag's words, "is an absolute dictator." *)  But what happens to a dictator who has lost his followers?

FACIT: I call esthetics that violates the visual, narrative and psychological logics of a scene in the service of prudery Esthetics of Deception.  Used to the multitude of American TV movies that employ the bed sheet in an unnatural way and stifle the moves of the camera, I tremendously enjoy watching every exception, any movie that disobeys these rules.  It comes as a relief, as a recognition: yes, thank God, this is the same world that I inhabit!


*) Susan Sontag, A note on novels and films, in “Against Interpretation,” Dell Publishing Co., New York 1964.

Joachim Frank is a German-born scientist and writer living in New York City. He took writing classes with William Kennedy, Steven Millhauser, Eugene Garber, and Jayne Ann Philipps. He has published a number of short stories and prose poems in, among other magazines, Eclectica, Offcourse, Fiction Fix, Hamilton Stone Review, Conium Review, Bartleby Snopes, Red Ochre Lit, Black&White, theeels, Infiniti’s Kitchen, StepAway Magazine, Textobj, and Rivet Journal. His website with links to all publications is

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