Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cinematic male nudity should be sexy, not just funny...

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS FULL FRONTAL MALE NUDITY.

The French know how to depict male nudity on the big screen; Americans, for the most part, do not (or cannot.)

The 2004 French film 'Grande école,' about a young man who struggles with his sexuality, wasn't one of the greatest films ever made. But it, like many features aimed toward a gay male audience, showed a generous and sexy amount of male nudity (including the above locker room shower scene). Hence, it's North American DVD release (it failed to win even a limited theatrical run over here in 2004, not surprising because the male nudity in it was the only thing I'd describe as exceptional:)

The French aren't the only ones willing to depict frankly and without apology the male nude in an erotic light. Many filmmakers from most Western countries have been willing to show a little skin, both male and female. Take 'Y tu mamá también' by straight Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón.

Sadly, the closer we get to mainstream American fare, the less we've seen of the naked male body. There's no denying that every inch of womanhood has been on display in some of the greatest American films over the years. We've gotten a little puritan in recent years due to the rising strength of the evangelical right in America, thus onscreen nudity has slowly become more rare. When it does appear, it's still usually female only. If we're lucky, we get one quick male butt shot surrounded by more generous amounts of female nudity.

All the talk this weekend about the new Judd Apatow film, 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall', and in particular, the graphic male nudity on display by star Jason Segel, got me thinking. It's interesting that a mainstream comedy in America is only willing to depict male nudity through the narrow prism of the heterosexual male point of view. Male nudity is supposed to get us laughing, they figure. It's a way to humiliate the straight guy, it's most definitely not meant to arouse the audience. Jason Segel isn't terrible looking, but from the pics I've seen online, he'd hardly qualify as hunk material, his body is average. No, this is nudity meant to make you giggle, and Segel himself agrees: "I think naked men are hilarious," Segel told reporters earlier this month. "It's so different than female nudity. One of the great things about female nudity is the comfort of knowing that men have all sorts of different preferences; big breasts, small breasts, fat women, skinny women. There's not that many women out there who just love small penises."

Check out this article, written by two women nonetheless, who complain about Segel's nudity and talk about needing to fast-forward through any depiction of male skin on the screen. They don't want to even sit through Viggo Mortensen's infamous nude fight scene in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. Man, these girls need to lighten up (or rent some hot French films asap...lol.)

Another memorable example of male-nudity-only-for-laughs on the screen was 'Borat', not exactly the kind of male nudity any gay man or straight woman needed to see. In this film, we couldn't miss Sasha Baron Cohen (pictured on the right) wrestle in the nude with co-star Ken Davitian. While funny, it was anything but erotic.

I've long believed the absence of male nudity in American movies has allowed most straight guys to remain uncomfortably homophobic. By the same token, the abundance of female sensuality on the big screen, in my view, has allowed most straight women to be pretty comfortable with their bodies. Most people today don't flinch when we see a pair of naked breasts during an onscreen love scene. Show a penis during the same love scene, and I can guarantee you you're not watching an American movie.

Still I can't really complain. We used to hear howls of outrage and disgust from straight guys if a male butt or penis made its way into a mainstream flick. Seeing the naked male body as funny is certainly an improvement over seeing it as disgusting. If 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' helps move the ball forward, no pun intended, in terms of what a mainstream audience is willing to accept in North America, then we're better for it.

Heck, maybe we'll even see Daniel Radcliffe (seen below in a publicity shot for his stage performance in Equus) in his birthday suit on the big screen soon. If Uma Thurman can show her tits at age 18 in Dangerous Liaisons, surely Mr. Radcliffe can throw his fans some onscreen frontal soon. If he's willing to appear naked for ten minutes in front of London and New York theatre crowds, surely he'd be willing to do so in front of a film camera (assuming of course he can find a willing film director.)

For a brief history of male nudity on the screen, check out these two articles (also inspired by this weekend's Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

************UPDATE**************

For more perspective on this, check out this 2004 MSNBC article, 'Full-frontal nudity: Taboo for men' or this blog posting today by UbuntuCat entitled, 'Ode to Jason Segel’s Penis.'

4 comments:

Red Tory said...

A while back I posted the documentary called This Film is Not Yet Rated which discusses the self-imposed censorship of Hollywood movies by the MPAA. It kind of relates to what you're discussing here. Actually, as pointed out by one female filmmaker, not only is sex in the movies almost exclusively heterosexual, but it's also most often portrayed from a strictly male perspective. She discusses the rather interesting double-standard that applies when it comes to nudity. You should check it out. I think you'll find it quite interesting.

Bryan said...

I want everybody to look at the double standards here. it said that the film was produced by women with naked men. if it was vice-versa (produced by men with naked women) they would be complaining, crying sexism, and saying that it is degrading. in other words its ok for a woman to do something like this, but if a man does it hes wrong? he is a "pervert"?

Matt Guerin said...

Bryan, not sure what film you're talking about. But if male directors filming women naked makes them "perverts" then there are a lot of pervert directors out there. Female directors, by and large, have shied away from filming men nude, the examples are few and far between. Straight male directors do sometimes shoot men nude, but never exclusively and sometimes only just for humour (as per the point of my post.) It's gay male directors who shoot men in the nude much more than not in an erotic fashion. But of course, those films get relegated to the fringes, as depicting men as nude erotic objects can't be tolerated by the mainstream, which typically only focuses its erotic gaze in a sexist way.

Manish said...

Female nudity is a way for men to reaffirm their heterosexual masculinity. Similarly, by making male nudity funny and/or disgusting, it settles the hysterical fear of being homosexual. I think that for some men, the fear of gayness is overwhelming which is why so many comedies make gay jokes (love Entourage but it is severely homophobic for example) whereas female bisexuality is both accepted and encouraged (either in a male fantasy way or in a feminist way depending on how you look at it). Great article, by the way. I have seen Grande ecole and your assessment is spot on!