Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is naked the same as nude?

So I joked on Thursday about "dirty old men" being one of the intended demographics for Red Riding Hood. That may have been a somewhat subjective assessment of the film, and it may be closer to the truth than I'd like to admit. (Most good jokes are, aren't they?)

You see, I seem to have developed something of a fascination with Amanda Seyfried. There's just something unique about her. She's beautiful, there's no doubt about that -- but she's not cookie-cutter beautiful. Her big, round eyes set her apart, and there's something girl-next-doorish about her. I guess you'd describe it as an unconventional type of beauty, but that's not exactly it either, because unconventional beauty is not traditionally agreed upon by everyone -- and I think almost everyone can see the beauty in Ms. Seyfried. (Sigh-fred, not Say-freed, as I've learned just this past week.)

And so I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the promise of Ms. Sigh-fred appearing nude in Chloe was one of the reasons I prioritized watching it. Fortunately, since I am also a follower of the career of director Atom Egoyan and have seen most of his movies, that wasn't the only reason. But I try to be honest with you, my dear readers, and I know you won't hold it against me if I admit that I wanted to see what Ms. Sigh-fred's boobs look like. (She's 25 years old, or only 12 years younger than me, so it really doesn't make me that dirty.)

Only I didn't get to see them, or I didn't really. I never got what you would call a clear look at them.

And that made me ponder the difference between "appearing naked" and "nudity."

Seyfried is definitely naked, a couple times, in Chloe. But I wouldn't say she's ever actually "nude." And that's because there are lots of ways to film/photograph people being naked, without showing "the good parts." It's why celebrities appear "naked" on the front of countless respectable magazines, but never appear "nude."

In order to have actual nudity, you have to have show one of the following:

1) The right nipple;

2) The left nipple;

3) Public hair;

4) A penis (men only, ha ha).

And if it's male nudity, only the fourth one really counts -- male pubic hair is not real nudity.

This introduces a lot of paradoxes. It means you can spend an entire movie without a stitch of clothing on, and never once actually be "nude," depending on how cleverly you're shot. It also means that you can have all your clothes on, and still be "nude," if the action calls for one of your nipples poking out of your shirt (and only if you're a woman; male nipples, of course, are not nudity).

Another paradox is that showing your butt is no longer considered nudity. It was at one time. But possibly around the time Dennis Franz showed his butt on NYPD Blue (which was probably 20 years ago now), the derriere was officially no longer nudity. This is why when we saw Jennifer Aniston's butt in The Break-Up, no one really got all that excited about it. Yeah, there was talk about how Aniston was showing her butt, but it couldn't properly be characterized as a "nude scene" -- even though Aniston was naked in the scene, and she showed her butt. Nor could it be characterized as a risk on Aniston's part -- it was just keeping with her career-long attitudes toward showing her goods.

And so yeah, not much that you could characterize as actual nudity on Seyfried's part in Chloe. A lot of butt. A lot of back and legs. A lot of "side boob" -- another kind of one-time nudity that has since been de-classified as such. Even one shot from the front that's so brief and so obscured that it doesn't really qualify. You couldn't walk away from Chloe saying that Seyfried wasn't naked -- she most certainly was. But nude? Not really.

You do get nudity in Chloe, but it's all courtesy of Julianne Moore, who practically has a clause in her contract requiring nudity. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Moore has appeared nude in a third of her films, and at least half the films she appeared in that had an R rating. In fact, one of the most famous bottomless scenes in movie history is from Robert Altman's Short Cuts, when Moore has something like a five-minute argument on screen, all the time completely naked from the waist down.

And this brings up another interesting thing about nudity, something I am certainly not the first person to observe. Why is female pubic hair considered the Holy Grail of nudity? Again I am not the first to say this, but it's just hair. There shouldn't be anything inherently titillating about hair. Yet when a woman goes nude below the waist in a movie, it doubles or triples our notion of how daring she is, how much she's willing to expose herself. And of course it sends ratings boards into a tizzy. Just from a little hair.

In an era where a bikini can be shown on TV as long as there are teeny, tiny patches of fabric covering the nipples and the pubic hair, it makes me wonder if the societal opposition to nudity will one day fall entirely, just as the word "fuck" may one day be permitted to play on TV. I guess I have to say I doubt it. The political groups on both sides of the aisle who oppose indecency, for different reasons, may have less and less of a leg to stand on, but it'll be a long time before they allow themselves to be legless.

But here's the real thing about nudity -- it's not even really what we're looking for, per se, when we watch a movie that's meant to titillate us. One of the sexiest performances I can think of in a mainstream film is the performance submitted by Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive. As far as I recall, Watts is neither naked nor nude at any point during the film, though she's done both things since then. And she does have a famous scene of masturbation in Mulholland Drive, but that's not even what I'm talking about when I say her performance is sexy -- that scene has more to do with a weird kind of violence against herself. No, I'm thinking of the scene where she's on that audition, and she's involved in a kiss with one of the other auditioning actors -- who I think may also be one of the producers or something, creating a weird power dynamic during the kiss. I saw the movie only once, ten years ago, and frankly, did not like it very much. But that scene sticks with me because of how hot Watts made it, and probably always will.

So, Chloe. It had some of what made Mulholland Drive sexy, but it also ended up feeling fairly banal to me in many other respects. It's what I'd heard about Chloe, with one exception -- another blogger whose opinion I trust. Well, if you're reading this, sorry -- I just didn't see it. Mild thumbs down for me.

But it was fun to see Amanda Seyfried's side-boob. ;-)


Simon said...

Naomi Watts was nude a couple times in Mulholland Drive. Remember because I was trying to watch it on the computer at my mom's work, and she kept yelling that I was going to get her fired. Anyway, I think both times it's with Laura Herring, and it's only the top. So.

As always, interesting article there.

Vancetastic said...

You're totally right -- I just googled and found the images. It's strange I would have forgotten this, considering that I'd never heard of Naomi Watts before but instantly found her appealing. I guess I don't remember NOT seeing her nude in Mulholland Drive as much as I remember seeing her nude in something else later on, and thinking it was the first time.

Thanks for the compliment ...