Nudity in films – The simple bare necessities

Jessica Stewart 22 March 2012

Jessica Stewart wonders why some people still get nervous at the thought of nudity in films

“I’m gonna get a penis or a vagina in every movie I do from now on”, Judd Apatow promised us in 2007. In Wanderlust, his new film which opened last week, we can see he’s stuck to his guns. There are hippies running around starkers all over the place.

Yet much of the hype of Apatow’s new release has centred on the supposed scenes involving a bare-breasted Jennifer Aniston. As rumoured, the scenes had been shot, the boobs had been committed to celluloid, and everybody was ready for the big show. Three days before the film’s US release, however, Aniston made a request for the shots to be removed from the final cut.

According to her, those intimate body parts are a sight only for boyfriend Justin Theroux. We’ll ignore the fact that we only need to go and rent The Break Up or The Good Girl to get a glimpse of them when Jennifer had fewer qualms about these sorts of things. This episode aside, it does seem as if more and more films recently have been braver with their use of nudity. In such films as A Dangerous Method, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and, of course, Shame, we’ve been faced with bare nipples, backsides and even Michael Fassbender’s sizeable package. Are we on the brink of an enormous cinematic change?

Many directors have, up until now, been afraid of using too much graphic nudity in their films. It invariably gains them an 18 rating from the BBFC in Britain and the equivalent in the US and, as such, reduces their box office ratings significantly – those ratings arguably being Hollywood’s major goal. In fact, a glance at the films just mentioned will show us that this frequent nudity is usually far removed from Hollywood. The film industries of this continent, particularly the Spanish, seem comparably comfortable with nude scenes. Hollywood, however, squeals with horror at the mere prospect of nipple-flashing. Anyone notice Fassbender’s omission from the Oscar nominations list? Yeah, so did I. Strange, that.

It was, of course, mainstream American audiences against which Apatow directed his comments on the subject of nudity. As he said, “America fears the penis, and that’s something I’m going to help them get over”. Despite his dedication to presenting the ‘wang’ in all its glory, however, America still fears the penis. In fact, it fears the penis, the boobs, the bottom, the pubic hair: everything. Just think about all the sex scenes you’ve seen where the actress keeps her bra on. In this day and age, shouldn’t we be well over the stigma of the naked body by now? They are bodies. We have them. Some films, much like Shame, simply need nudity to present their material accurately and artistically. It’s not something that should have us cowering in the corner.

The problem is, it’s a vicious circle. If the commercial film industry continues to frighten its filmmakers out of using nude scenes, then audiences will remain uncomfortable with the odd exceptions when they come along. Perhaps we all need to be a bit more like Apatow. Our naked bodies can be funny, but they can also be relevant, poignant, and beautiful when treated in the right way by filmmakers and actors alike. I’m not suggesting a stream of films objectifying the naked female body here. I’m simply saying that some films simply need a bit of nudity to succeed artistically. Film-makers and actors should be encouraged to make such creative decisions, rather than be forced into obscurity and onto the Oscars’ blacklist as a result. Carry on, Apatow.

Jessica Stewart