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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Male frontal nudity in the movies uncovers an old debate

Entertainment - USATODAY.com
USA TODAY
Male frontal nudity in the movies uncovers an old debate

Fri Nov 19, 6:25 AM ET
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By César G. Soriano and Jim Cheng, USA TODAY

Hollywood is fleshing out an old taboo: male frontal nudity.

Four current films feature actors in the full monty:

• In Kinsey (in theaters), a student played by Peter Sarsgaard seduces sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson). Says Sarsgaard, "We were just sitting around (during filming), and I said, 'I feel I've got to be naked for this.' " There was almost a Neeson nude scene, too. "Liam was perfectly willing, but for budgetary reasons, we cut it, unfortunately," says writer/director Bill Condon. "I know, it is a disappointment."

• In Sideways (in theaters), husky actor M.C. Gainey runs out of the house naked in angry pursuit of Paul Giamatti (news).

• In Alexander (opening Wednesday), Colin Farrell goes buff for a wedding-night sex scene in the Oliver Stone epic. Farrell also filmed a nude scene in his last film, A Home at the End of the World. But that scene was cut after producers thought it was too distracting.

•In Bad Education (opening today; review, 7E), Gael García Bernal doesn't bare all but comes close while preparing for a swim.

While penises are not yet as prevalent as female breasts, they are becoming more accepted.

"It's not about gender," says Moritz Borman, producer of Alexander. "In a mature movie, if some nudity would improve the scene, it wouldn't matter if it were Alexander or Alexandra. A filmmaker would have to consider it."

It's about time, some women say. "As a woman, I'm glad. I want to watch male bodies," says Linda Williams, a film-studies professor at the University of California-Berkeley. "There is a growing eroticism about the male body that hasn't quite existed before."

It may be a form of rebellion in this post-Janet Jackson (news) environment, says Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, a film and feminist studies professor at the University of Nebraska. As in the 1950s, "There's a tremendous amount of repression now. People are upset over seeing Saving Private Ryan. At the same time, you have a popular culture that is pushing boundaries to a degree that doesn't seem to match."

But any trend is just coincidence, says Jim McBride, who runs mr.skin.com, which chronicles nude scenes in film. McBride notes that full-frontal male nude scenes pop up every few years, and most are limited to art-house releases that are rated R or NC-17. Of the current films with male nudity, Bad Education is NC-17, the rest are R.

Foster disagrees and says the trend will continue as more women move into the upper echelons of the male-dominated film industry.

"This general attitude toward pushing things toward the edge is definitely popularizing new images we haven't seen before, taking a look at the human body and looking at men and women equally without objectifying anyone. It's more about artistic license than box office draw," Foster says.

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