tagReviews & EssaysExcuses for Nudity

Excuses for Nudity

byCal Y. Pygia©

In the past, painters and sculptors and photographers resorted to the pretense of depicting mythological themes in order to paint, sculpt, or photograph nude men, women, and children.

It was all right, grudgingly, perhaps, for such artists to show breasts, buttocks, and genitalia, regardless of sex and age, if it was related to stories of gods and heroes. Otherwise, the portrayals of such subjects, whether in oils, in stone, or upon film, was taboo and censored.

Since the appearance of Playboy and similar magazines, the climate has changed about as much as it is possible for it to have done, and, in magazines, on television screens, in books, on movie screens, on the Internet, and even on beaches and city streets, nudity, full or partial, male and female alike, is, in a word, rampant. There is no longer any need for pretense, except, perhaps, in television shows and movies, for the display of the bare essentials of the human anatomy.

Where such a need still exists or is perceived to exist, artists are as innovative as they've always been, albeit, quite frequently, their excuses for baring bodies is so thin as to be ludicrous, which only indicates that the excuses themselves are what they are--excuses--and suggests that the need for such excuses is itself absurd.

Nudity is so commonplace in film today that one Internet website, offering itself as a guide to nudity in the movies, lists nearly 5,000 films which contain nude scenes. To indicate the true magnitude of the nudity phenomenon, I have included just the titles on this website's list that begin with the letter "A," their release dates in parentheses. Since it's a long list, I have broken it into smaller segments.

Some of these films include The Abandoned (2007), About Adam (2001), About Last Night (1986), About Schmidt (2002), Above Suspicion (1995), Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), Across the Moon (1996), Across the Universe (2007), Action Jackson (1988), Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights (2002), Adaptation (2002), The Adjuster (1991), Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), The Advocate (1994), and Aeon Flux (2005).

The list continues with The Affair of the Necklace (2001), After Hours (1985), After the Sunset (2004), After the Wedding (2007), Afterglow (1997), Against All Odds (1984), The Agronomist (2004), The Air I Breathe (2008), Airborne (1993), AKA (2002), The Alan Smithee Film: Nurn Hollywood, Burn (1997), Alex in Wonderland (1970), Alexander (2004), Alexandra's Project (2003), Alfie (2004), Alien (1979), Alien Nation (1988), and Alien Resurrection (1997).

Still more such films, beginning with "A," include: All About My Mother (1999), All in Good Taste (1983), All or Nothing (2002), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), All the King's Men (2006), All the Pretty Horses (2000), All the Right Moves (1983), Almost Famous (2000), Almost Heroes (1998), Almost Peaceful (2004), Along Came Polly (2004), Alpha Dog (2007), Altered States (1980), Amadeus (1984), The Ambassador (1985), Amelie (2001), and American Beauty (1999).

There are more yet!: An American Carol (2008), American Gangster (2007), American Graffiti (1973), American History X (1998), American Perfekt (1997), American Pie (1999), American Pie 2 (2001), American Pie: Band Camp (2005), American Psycho (2000), An American Rhapsody (2001), American Teen (2008), American Wedding (2003), An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), America's Heart and Soul (2004), Amistad (1997), The Amityville Horror (2005), Among Giants (1999), and Amores Perros (2001).

The list continues with An American Werewolf in London (1981), Anatomy of Hell (2004), And God Created Woman (1957), And God Created Woman (1988), And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003), And Your Mother, Too (2001), The Andromeda Strain (1971), Angel Heart (1987), Angela's Ashes (1999), Angels & Insects (1996), Anger Management (2003), Angus (1995), The Animal (2001), Animal Factory (2000), Animal House (1978), The Anniversary Party (2001), Another Day in Paradise (1998), The Ant Bully (2006), Antonia's Line (1996), and Any Given Sunday (1999).

There are more, too: The Apartment Complex (1999), Apocalypse Now (1979), Apocalypto (2006), Apollo Cinema Presents. . . Academy Award Shorts 2005 (2005), Appaloosa (2008), Apprentice to Murder (1988), Apt Pupil (1998), Ararat (2002), Are We Done Yet? (2007), Aria (1987), The Aristocrats (2005), The Art of War (2000), Art School Confidential (2006), Artemisia (1998), The Aryan Couple (2004), As Good As It Gets (1997), and Ask the Dust (2006).

As infomercials are wont to say, wait! There are more: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), The Associate (1996), Asylum (2005), At First Sight (1999), At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991), Atlantic City (1981), Atonement (2007), Attack of the Sabertooth (2005), Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), Australia (2008), Auto Focus (2002), The Aviator (2004), AVPR: Alien Vs. Predator--Requiem (2007), Awake (2007), and An Awfully Big Adventure (1995).

Whew! That's quite a list. Think how long it would be were it to include all the letters of the alphabet!

For the ladies (and gays), the website troubles itself to identify those films in which the nudity involves only the male buttocks: Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), Airborne (1993), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), An American Carol (2008), Anger Management (2003), Animal Factory (2000), The Ant Bully (2006), Are We Done Yet? (2007), The Aristocrats (2005), and The Aviator (2004).

Unfortunately, this particular website does not identify who's nude in which film, although plenty of other sites do so.

Early films that included nudity or nude scenes sometimes pretended to be depict mythological, historical, or religious themes that themselves involved nudity.

Other early films that showed nude actors pretended to be documentaries that were chronicling the lives of nudists.

Johnny Weismuller traipsed about half-naked in the jungles, pretending to be Tarzan, lord of the apes. His breechclout often came close to revealing more than his naked flanks. Nude natives could appear on screen in early movies, just as they often made appearances in the photographs of National Geographic, sans clothing.

Since those early days of filmmaking, moviemakers have come a long way in depicting naked men, women, and, more controversially, even nude children, such as Brooke Shields (or her body double) (age 14) in The Blue Lagoon (1980) and Pretty Baby (at age 12) (1978), Jodie Foster (age 14) in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976), Jay North (age 15) in Maya (1966).

Additionally, boy actors appear in Lord of the Flies (1963), My Side of the Mountain (1969), My Father's Glory (1990), Walt Disney's G-rated Pollyanna (1960), and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938).

Pre-teen and teen actors are featured in several other movies, too, including Red Cherry (1995)(both boys and girls in sex-segregated and coed nude scenes), Superman (1878) (a boy), Tom and Lola (1994) (a boy and a girl), War of the Buttons (1994) (boys), and Hounddog (2007), which features Dakota Fanning as a rape victim but was never released to the general public.

Breasts and buttocks are commonly shown today, although the filming of the vagina and the penis, euphemistically referred to as "full-frontal nudity" or "the full Monty," remains relatively rare, particularly in regard to the female pudenda. However, the depiction on film of the male genitals is becoming increasingly popular in recent years and male genitals appear in a slew of recent films.

Among them are Angels and Insects (1996) (which features an actor with an erection) and in The Terminator (1984), The Crying Game (1992), Bully (2001, Quills (2000), Ghost Story (1981), Equus (1977), Transamerica (2005), Women in Love (1969), Velvet Goldmine (1998), What Alice Found (2003), Fear No Evil (1981), The Cement Garden (1993), Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), American Gigolo (1980), and Schindler's List (1993).

That's just the beginning, though, not the end. Penises and testicles are also displayed unashamedly in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007), Sex in the City (2008), John Adams (2008), Harold & Kumar (2004), Wild Things (1998), The Brown Bunny (2003), Shortbus (2006), Kinsey (2004), Sideways (2004), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), American History X (1998), Sciuscia (1946), and Braveheart (1995).

Male genitals are featured in The Deer Hunter (1978), Life of Brian (1979), Trainspotting (1996) (2008), Naked (1993), Boogie Nights (1997), Munich (2005), The Last King of Scotland (2006), Novecento (1976). The Player (1992), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Clerks II (2006), The Devils (1971), Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), and The Simpsons Movie (2007).

Additionally, cocks and balls star in Zach and Miri Make a Porno (2008), An American Werewolf in London (1981), A Room with a View (1985), Special Delivery (1978), 28 Days Later (2002), Maurice (1987), The Fisher King (1991), The Piano (1993), Shallow Grave (1995), Caddyshack (1980), Bad Boy Bubby (1993), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Lord of the Flies (1963), Superman (1978), and Supper Troopers (2001).

Producer Judd Apatow declared his intention of showing "a penis in every movie" he makes "from now on" because, he asserts, he is amused by "how psychotic" the modern "world is," considering it to be psychotic, apparently, for "anyone" to be "troubled by seeing any part of the human body."

It will be interesting to see whether he lives up to his ambition to become a cinematic psychiatrist to moviegoers the world over. Since 2007, when he made his comment, he has produced Knocked Up and Superbad (2007), Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Step Brothers, and Pineapple Express (2008). So far, he has lived up to his word, except for Pineapple Express, which features a finger rather than a phallus.

In addition to the excuses that I have identified already for movies' (and, indeed, television shows') increasing portrayals of nudity, these may be included:

As a result of aliens' only partially successful or unsuccessful attempt to take on a human appearance (Lifeforce)

Among Amazon tribes (The Perils of Gwendolyn in the Land of the Yik-Yak, Nude on the Moon)

To indicate one's animal nature (The Planet of the Apes)

Before, while or after bathing (Clash of the Titans, Shortcuts, Something's Gotta Give, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Witness)

While breastfeeding (Clash of the Titans) Among cavemen (Quest For Fire)

At a communal bath or bathhouse (The Bridges of Toko-Ri)

During fashion shows (Ready to Wear)

As part of a health or medical examination or procedure (Schindler's List, Steaming, Tom and Lola)

In one's hotel room (The Object of Beauty)

Around one's house (Betty Blue, Breeders, Pete & Tillie)

On a deserted island (Castaway, The Blue Lagoon, Lord of the Flies)

As a joke or in response to a joke (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

During a make-out session or sex at home, in a lover's lane, or elsewhere

While modeling (As Good As It Gets, Maze, Titanic)

Of natives (Tahiti, Tarzan and His Mate, Tarzan of the Apes, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, The Emerald Forest, Medicine Man)

By non-human creatures (Splash)

On a nude beach (Blame It On Rio, Calendar Girl, Little Nothings, Summer Lovers, The Thomas Crown Affair, Wet and Wild Summer)

At a nudist camp (Educating Julie, For Members Only, Maslin Beach, The Naked Peacock, A Shot in the Dark)

As part of a scientific experiment (Flesh For Frankenstein, The Invisible Woman)

While showering (individual, at home, or group, after physical education classes or sporting events at school) (Psycho, Carrie, Porky's, Personal Best, Wild Things, Red Cherry [coed showers], Starship Troopers [coed showers], and many others)

While skinny dipping (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Angela, The Last Picture Show, Maya, Nell, Norma Rae, Now and Then, Out of Order, The Reivers, Return of the Seacaucus 7, Romance with a Double Bass, A Room with a View, Shadrach, Sheena, Shirley Valentine, Splitting Heirs, Stealing Beauty, Swimming Pool, Twilight, Walkabout, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, Yentl, and many others)

While streaking (Never Cry Wolf)

During a striptease or burlesque show (Striptease) While sunbathing (Three Wishes)

As a teleportation or space-travel requirement (The Terminator, Superman)

As part of a theatrical performance (The Full Monty)

While wrestling (Saturn 3)

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