Friday, January 1, 2010

The Naked and the Dead

Seeing females naked on the big screen is fairly commonplace. Males is a whole other story. Harvey Keitel, pictured here, appeared sans clothes in the controversial Bad Lieutenant from famed director Abel Ferrara, the man behind Driller Killer and other assorted films. Bad Lieutenant caused controversy for all sorts of reasons -- the scene with the teen girls, the drug use and so on. But it was the nudity that caused quite a few people to get upset.

The film didn't shy away from the controversy. As you can see from the art here, the nudity was not hidden away from unsuspecting viewers. This bit of poster and DVD art, however, is what most people are used to seeing. Gun? No problem. Penis? Big problem.

The nudity in this film is essential. It's all about character change. It's a moment that could have been done with Keitel in clothes but would not have worked nearly as well. The fact that the film was brazen about it upset people. Hell, I remember people being upset about the chainsaw chase scene in American Psycho, and the nudity in that wasn't even close to bit in Ferrara's film. . Yes, it is intense (any naked guy chasing you is intense), and if I recall, you do get to see a bit of penis, but it still isn't nearly as emotionally overbearing and yet it still caused problems. (Both films were actually fairly controversial in their own right, but only Ferrara's use of nudity gets mentioned in the controversies. The controversy in the Christian Bale film is relegated around violence.)

Male nudity is always going to make American viewers uncomfortable for one reason or another. "Heterosexual" men will claim they aren't gay, so that's why they can't watch it (though any man comfortable with his own sexuality should be able to see another man naked with zero issues). Women, on the other hand, think turn about is fair play, but they often admit to some squeamishness, too. Perhaps it is solely because it is seen so rarely. Maybe it's something else. I don't know. I do know that there should be more of it in the right context (or even not in the right context -- it's up the director to decide that). Male nudity is powerful when done properly. And besides, if you do it in a high enough profile movie it's like automatic publicity these days.

Ferrara, exploitation guru that he can be, wasn't doing it for that purpose. He was making a statement. He succeeded. The fact that the impact has lasted this long (and talk to anyone who saw the film and doesn't like it, and that nudity will usually be mentioned as one of the reasons) speaks volumes to his accomplishment.

Had it been Pamela Anderson and not Keitel, however, (and I shudder to think of that possibility), this blog post wouldn't even exist.

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