Nudity in film
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"With typically playful perversity, Godard uses nudity to serve as ideological statement, surrealist and "obscene" in its unexpected transposition of Freud with brain and Marx with sex. These two names also denote the true parameters of Godard's universe and his determination to destroy illusionism by introducing lettering into the visuals."--Film as a Subversive Art (1974) by Amos Vogel on an image, featured in the film Joy of Learning, of a woman lying spread-eagled on the beach with a Sigmund Freud-arrow pointing to her head and a Karl Marx-arrow pointing to her genitals, at the beginning of the section "The Attack on Puritanism: Nudity".
Nudity in film is the appearance in motion pictures of people without clothing. A so-called nude scene is an individual scene of a film that features nudity when the rest of the film does not. Nude scenes can be controversial due to the fact that they go beyond culturally specific boundaries regarding appropriate modesty in clothing.
In many cultures, nudity in cinematic film is governed by a tiered system of censorship. Such systems are predominately aimed at limiting children's access to content that is deemed harmful to their development by the masses, the government, the industry, or a combination of these collectives.
Because nudity is a universal (someone with no clothing at all), culturally-specific (someone with one or more body parts exposed, but not completely unclothed), tonally specific (the context of the exposure of parts of the body), and individually-defined (someone with a certain exposed part may be considered nude to one person in a culture but not another), it is a volatile subject.
Moreover, the majority of contemporary societies are uncomfortable with nudity, usually to the point of making it illegal in public. This contrasts with several cultures of the ancient world, such as the Roman Empire, where public nudity was considered only a reflection of the person's social status, and the Gauls of ancient France, whose soldiers fought unclothed. More recently, in feudal Japan, nudity, particularly female nudity from the waist up, was considered normal. Over time, pressure from westerners, as in many other parts of the globe, caused the Japanese to cover up. It is assumed, in many cultures, that such culturally-specific beliefs concerning nudity are universal.
Several early films of the silent era and early sound era included nude scenes, presented in a historical or religious context. Cecil B. DeMille, whose later reputation was that of a family entertainment specialist, included several nude scenes in his early epics such as The Sign of the Cross (1932). Other filmmakers followed suit. Harry Lachman's Dante's Inferno featured many naked women suffering in the bowels of hell. The early Tarzan films with Johnny Weismuller featured at least partial nudity justified by the natural surroundings in which the characters lived. Nudity of natives was also portrayed in jungle epics.
In response to objections voiced by several groups – and at least partly due to the notorious 1933 Czech film Ecstasy, which featured a nude scene by Hedy Lamarr – scenes of nudity were forbidden in films from the major American studios from 1934 until the late 1960s under the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code. During this time, the only acceptable cinematic displays of nudity in the U.S. were in naturist quasi-documentary films and in foreign films. Other portrayals were in early pornographic films which, due to limited means of distribution, were not widely seen.
Exploitation and nudist films
Another notable exception to emerge in the 1930s were the low-budget, sensationalized exploitation films that traveled across the United States in "roadshow" fashion and played in independent theaters. Producers of such films skirted the production code to make lurid exposes on taboo subjects, such as drug parties, prostitution, venereal disease, etc., that sometimes included nudity presented as moralizing educational films that delivered a cautionary message. Using this framework as a pretense, brief nude scenes of women appeared in Maniac (1934), Sex Madness (1937), and skinny-dipping sequences in Marihuana (1936) and Child Bride (1938).
Nudist films are a genre of films associated with the 1950s and 1960s, although the genre has roots dating back to the 1930s with such titles as The Nude World (1933). Nudist films claim to depict the lifestyles of members of the nudism or naturist movement, but were largely a vehicle for the exhibition and commercial exploitation of female nudity within the context of public theatrical screenings.
Famous examples of nudist films are Garden of Eden (1954) directed by Max Nosseck. Other producers and directors active in the genre included David F. Friedman, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Barry Mahon. Filmmaker Doris Wishman was probably the most active producer/director in the genre, with seven nudist films to her credit between 1960 and 1964. Exploitation producer George Weiss released films such as Nudist Life (1961), by editing together vintage nudist camp footage. That same year in England, Harrison Marks released Naked as Nature Intended starring Pamela Green to box office success. (Marks soon went to make softcore pornographic and caning/spanking fetish films.)
Nudie-cuties and sexploitation
The 1959 film The Immoral Mr. Teas by Russ Meyer, in which the main character was overcome with fantasies of nude women, was the first non-naturist feature film to openly exhibit nudity and is, because of that, widely considered the first pornographic feature. For the next few years a wave of films known as "Nudies" or "Nudie-cuties" were produced for grindhouse theatres. Examples from this era include Doris Wishman's science fiction spoof Nude on the Moon (1963), the Hershell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman film The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961), and Ed Wood's horror-nudie, Orgy of the Dead with its bevy of topless dancers from beyond the grave.
By 1964, underground films with a harder edge such as Russ Meyer's Lorna, a rape-revenge story, and Joseph P. Mawra's misogynistic Olga's House of Shame and White Slaves of Chinatown marked the end of the nudie and the ascent of a mix of sex and violence known as "roughie" sexploitation. Prime examples include R. Lee Frost's The Defilers (1965), a study in abduction and sadism, The Sexploiters (1965), Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), The Agony of Love (1966), Michael Findlay's psycho-killer trilogy starting with The Touch of Her Flesh (1967), and Frost's Love Camp 7 (1968), which was the forerunner of the women in prison and Nazi exploitation subgenres.
Nudity in mainstream films
In 1963, Tommy Noonan persuaded Jayne Mansfield to become the first mainstream American actress to appear nude with a starring role in the film Promises! Promises!. Photographs of a naked Mansfield on the set were published in Playboy. In one notorious set of images, Mansfield stares at one of her breasts, as does her male secretary and a hair stylist, then grasps it in one hand and lifts it high. The sold-out issue resulted in an obscenity charge for Hugh Hefner, which was later dropped. Promises! Promises! was banned in Cleveland, but it enjoyed box office success elsewhere. As a result of the film's success, Mansfield landed on the Top 10 list of Box Office Attractions for that year. The autobiographical book, Jayne Mansfield's Wild, Wild World, she wrote together with Mickey Hargitay, was published right after Promises! Promises! and contains 32 pages of black-and-white photographs from the film printed on glossy paper.
The 1964 film The Pawnbroker was controversial for its breaches of the Motion Picture Production Code by depicting nude scenes in which actresses Linda Geiser and Thelma Oliver fully expose their breasts.
In 1966, the British-Italian film Blowup became the first mainstream English-language film to show a woman's pubic hair, although the particular shot was only a few seconds long. (Some sources, such as Playboy Magazine in their History of Sex in Cinema series, have stated that the pubic hair exposure was unintended). Vanessa Redgrave also appears topless in some prints of this film.
In autumn 1966 the Motion Picture Association of America unveiled a new Production Code. The new Code replaced specific rules, including those on nudity, with more general principles advising caution in matters like nudity and sexual intimacy. It also gave the MPAA the power to label certain films as "Suggested for Mature Audiences". Only a handful of Hollywood films dared to show a fleeting glimpse of partial nudity, usually a bare breast seen from a distance or in a dark setting. These include Ursula Andress in The Blue Max (1966), Anne Bancroft's body double in The Graduate, Angie Dickinson in Point Blank, Sharon Tate in Valley of the Dolls (all from 1967), and Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby (1968). Burt Lancaster was among the very first male actors to do a nude scene for The Swimmer (filmed 1966, released 1968). It was also a common practice, as in John Frankenheimer's Seconds (1966), to film racy alternate scenes with nudity and sexual content for the European release.
In November 1968, the MPAA abandoned the Production Code altogether and replaced it with the voluntary rating system. Nudity could then be legitimately included in a commercially distributed film. However, many movie theaters still refuse to show films with X or NC-17 ratings, which is frequently a barrier to commercial success. A few X-rated films, however, have been critical successes, including A Clockwork Orange (1971), Last Tango in Paris (1973), and Midnight Cowboy (1969), which won an Academy Award for Best Picture.
By 1969 nude scenes were becoming far more commonplace in mainstream films. By that time one could see such actors as Deborah Kerr, Elke Sommer, Julie Newmar, Faye Dunaway, Barbara Hershey, Sheree North, Ali MacGraw, Rita Moreno, Shirley Jones, Carroll Baker, and others performing sans wardrobe.
At present, genital nudity is still rare in U.S. cinema. Anything more than a very small amount of genital nudity, especially in a sexual context, often leads to an NC-17 (or X, in the past) rating. (One notable exception is Porky's (1982), a broad sex comedy with an R rating that featured several full-frontal nude scenes with multiple men and women, though never both together.) In the 2000s, most nude scenes lead only to an R rating from the MPAA, instead of NC-17. Many films that were once rated X have been "re-rated" R; the rating on Midnight Cowboy, for instance, was so changed in late 1970 (the year after its original release).
Few mainstream American films show male or female genitalia (in what is called by many full frontal nudity scene). While it is not entirely uncommon for women to appear in full frontal nude scenes, the female genitalia commonly remains obscured by pubic hair. In 2007 Judd Apatow announced "I'm gonna get a penis in every movie I do from now on. . . . It really makes me laugh in this day and age, with how psychotic our world is, that anyone is troubled by seeing any part of the human body." The cases where a penis appears fully or semi-erected in mainstream films are very limited, in part due to ratings pressure from the MPAA, which finds it more acceptable for a male's genitals to be depicted in a flaccid state. The film Angels and Insects (1996) was given an NC-17 rating specifically because an actor had an erection.
Male frontal nudity in a non-sexual context is seemingly becoming more acceptable in mainstream American cinema. The 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and the 2008 films Forgetting Sarah Marshall & Zack and Miri Make a Porno all featured male frontal nudity in the context of comedy.
More commonly, buttocks and female breasts are displayed in order to titillate, surprise, disgust, or otherwise amuse the viewer. These types of nude scenes generally lead to an R rating from the MPAA, although they may also earn a PG or PG-13 rating, if the nudity in question is not presented in an obviously sexualized context (e.g. a scene of the PG-rated Footloose, in which a minor character is seen from behind while taking a shower after having attended a physical education class). In the 2006 film, Snakes on a Plane, a woman was seen full nude in an airplane lavatory having sexual intercourse with a man, then getting bit on the nipple by a snake. The film received an R rating by the MPAA. In the film, Marie Antoinette, Kirsten Dunst is seen nude several times, in one scene she covered her breasts with her hands, then when she was putting on her shirt, her breasts and nipples are clearly visible through the shirt. The film received a PG-13 rating by the MPAA.
The tastefulness of nude scenes is hotly debated in the United States. In the 2000s, adding nudity to films may hurt a film's commercial potential. Some movie critics view gratuitous nudity (that which is not necessary for the plot) negatively. Various actors have refused to appear on film in the nude, citing either their personal morals or the risk to their reputations and careers. Since 2000s, many American films have included actresses in nude or partially nude roles. These include Kate Winslet in The Reader (2008), Amanda Seyfried/Julianne Moore in Chloe (2010), Anne Hathaway in Love & Other Drugs (2010) and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine (2010). Aspiring actresses who accepted nude roles include Eva Green in The Dreamers (2003), Emily Blunt in My Summer of Love (2004), Abbie Cornish in Somersault (2004), Noomi Rapace in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), Emily Browning in Sleeping Beauty (2011) and Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake (2011).
The approach to nude scenes in Europe is much more lenient than in the U.S. As early as the 1920s a topless Josephine Baker was filmed performing exotic dance routines for the French cinema. The 1922 Swedish/Danish silent film Witchcraft Through the Ages contained scenes of nudity, torture and perversion — an edited version was shown in the U.S. The 1956 German film, Liane, Jungle Goddess featured a topless female variant on the Tarzan legend. Other notable examples from Europe include Sophia Loren in Era Lui, Si Si (1952), François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Brigitte Bardot's casual nude scenes in the 1963 Jean-Luc Godard film Contempt, Jane Fonda in the French film The Game is Over (1966), Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour (1967), Vanessa Redgrave in 1968's Isadora, and Helen Mirren in the Australian film Age of Consent (1969).
Two Swedish films from 1967, I Am Curious (Yellow) and Inga were ground-breaking, and notorious, for showing explicit sex and nudity. Both were initially banned in the U.S. and received an X-rating when they were shown in 1968.
In England, the Ken Russell film Women in Love (1969) was especially controversial for showing frontal male nudity in a wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates. Glenda Jackson won the Academy Award for Best Actress in that film, the first performer to win for a role that included nude scenes.
Europeans generally accept depictions of nudity as something natural which is part of normal human life, so there are no taboos around it. Showing of full frontal nudity in movies even by major actors is common and it is not considered damaging to the actors' career. In recent years explicit sexual activity also occurs in movies which target the general moviegoing audience, albeit those usually labelled 'arthouse' product; for example, Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs and Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots.
In 1968, the Hays Code was replaced by the MPAA film rating system. Since then, nudity in various forms has become more common. A number of actresses have appeared nude or partially nude in films, and it has become increasingly common for actresses to appear topless onscreen. Notable actresses who have appeared topless include Jane Fonda (Coming Home, 1978), Julie Andrews (S.O.B., 1981), Kate Winslet (Titanic, 1997), Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love, 1998), Reese Witherspoon (Twilight, 1998), Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair, 1999), Katie Holmes (The Gift, 2000), and Halle Berry (Swordfish, 2001). In an interview in March 2007, Berry said that her toplessness in Swordfish was "gratuitous" to the movie, but that she needed to do so to get over her fear of nudity, and that it was the best thing she did for her career. Having overcome her inhibitions, she went on to a role in Monster's Ball, which required her to be nude in a sex scene featuring her and Billy Bob Thornton, and which won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Some actresses prefer not to expose their breasts and use a body double.
In 2007, writer/director Judd Apatow announced "I'm gonna get a penis or a vagina in every movie I do from now on. . . . It really makes me laugh in this day and age, with how psychotic our world is, that anyone is troubled by seeing any part of the human body." On October 11, 2010, the MPAA's Classification and Rating Administration announced that it would specifically note in the future which films contained "male nudity" in direct response to parental concerns about the content of the satire film Brüno.
Actors and actresses are typically informed of nude scenes well in advance, and nudity waivers require directors to state what will be shown and its presentation. This is generally stipulated in the nudity clause of a performer's contract. Actress Anne Hathaway said in an interview with National Public Radio, "The director submits a shot list, and you look over them for approval. And a lot of times, if an actor feels the shot demands a lot of them, they'll demand money for it.". In 2021, however, following on from multiple allegations that actors and actresses were forced to push past their comfort zones in the name of artistic integrity, the Time's Up campaign has advised many Hollywood stars to set boundaries in order to avoid past mistakes. It also advises celebrities to avoid using film doubles to make on-screen nudity more graphic, but rather focus on imparting the same effect on the audience through alternative methods. While this may seem over the top for some movie stars, with the likes of Winslet and Sebastian Stan still preparing to strip off in their latest films, the fact that leading actresses like Eva Green have spent nearly 30 minutes on-screen naked, while leading actors such as McGregor have managed to accrue nearly 20 minutes themselves, is perhaps alarming enough to movie-goers and audiences that graphic displays of nudity may have been overused.
The tastefulness of nude scenes is hotly debated in the United States. Adding nudity to films may potentially hurt a film's commercial potential.
- Pretexts for nudity in film
- Nudity in art
- Nudity in music videos
- Nudity in American television
- Sex in film
- List of mainstream films with unsimulated sex
- No-nudity clause