Nude Scenes: Prime Cut

When I was a little kid, my friends and I used to dig holes in the backyard, imagining, and half believing, that if we went down far enough, we would come out in China.  Well, that’s not right exactly, but it is true that if you go down far enough when you’re making a movie, you reach a place where it’s almost entertaining.

Young Girls Are Naked In This Movie.

Or so it was in 1972, apparently, when talented director Michael Ritchie (The Bad News Bears) and talented screenwriter Robert Dillon (Ruby Cairo) teamed up with the great Lee Marvin and the likewise great Gene Hackman to make this piece of unbelievably exploitative trash–which is sort of fun to watch.

Here’s the plot.  It’s Sissy Spacek‘s first film so she’s, like, 22-years-old and fabulously beautiful.  She’s naked in it.  She says things like, “I never been with no man before…”  Then people shoot each other.

Now, if you stopped reading and went out and bought a copy of the DVD between reading the word “naked” and the word “in,” this is the picture for you.  Other than that, the idea is that good guy Chicago gangster Marvin goes after bad guy Kansas gangster Hackman–who drugs young girls and sells and rents them at cattle-style shows, where they lie around penned up and did I mention naked in a bunch of hay.  I’m not making this up.  Anyway, the idea is that heartland America is just as corrupt and violent as urban America–though who says so and why the Chicago gangsters are such nice guys are never explained.  It’s all absurd and smarmy really beyond telling…  but, as with the proverbial car wreck, it’s pretty hard to look away.

On a side note…  allow me to speak with that searing honesty that has made me a byword for searing honesty among the searingly honest.  I love a good nude scene as much as the next guy.  I re-ran the slave girl portions of Spartacus:  Blood and Sand until the scenes wore down to pixels–and scientifically, that can’t even happen.  But the older and more decrepit I get, the more I painfully and reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is virtually no such thing as a necessary nude scene or sex scene on screen.  Almost every single one of them is extraneous, dishonest and exploitative.  I know, I know what you’re thinking:  Shut up, Klavan!  Why spoil a good thing?  But really, it is kind of awful that, if you’re a young girl with talent, you have to take your shirt off to make a living…

I’m just saying.  I’ll still probably be first in line to buy a ticket but…  I’m just saying.

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  • Maeryk

    On the sex scene bit, I think in American films, at least, they usually are exploitative. This is more due to our moral culture (or lack thereof) where seeing a boob is considered “out there” and pornographic. We are so repressed, culturally, that body parts cause an immediate reaction, and the wrong type of reaction, typically. To find necessary, and well done, nude scenes, you almost have to move into French or Italian movies, of which there are several that get it right.

    We spend too long shooting nude scenes like we are aspiring porn directors, and focusing on the fact that, typically, boobs means A) she’s about to have sex, or B) she’s about to be the slasher’s next victim.

    Other cultures manage to have people wear their skin and not make it have horribly sexual overtones.

  • K

    In those days, due to a SCOTUS ruling, explicit nudity or hot sex had to be accompanied by “significant social commentary” to keep from getting busted. Which puts a number of such films head and shoulder’s over today’s trash.

  • EAJ

    “But the older and more decrepit I get, the more I painfully and reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is virtually no such thing as a necessary nude scene or sex scene on screen.”

    I dare say Mr. Klavan that you have grown wiser and I don’t think such wisdom comes with age as much as it comes with revelation and regeneration.

  • njredneck

    Generally true, both on nudity and over-the top cursing. One notable exception- Eastern Promises. Nudity was absolutely necessary in the bath house scene, although of course there was zero sexual overtones to it.

  • mk

    I must be getting old; I’m beginning to get embarrassed for the actors.
    It can be a grievous aesthetic mistake. Let’s stipulate that Nicole Kidman is one of the rare people who looks at least as good out of her clothes as in them, I really disliked seeing her naked for the love scene in “Cold Mountain.” Throughout the whole picture you had come to sympathize with her character’s deep reserve, and her love’s. Watching the naked love scene between her and Jude Law made me feel like I was personally violating Ada Monroe and Inman. I haven’t forgiven Minghella for that choice; shutting the door on their night together was the right one.

  • TheArseMan

    Ditto to everything already posted. And let us not forget that the nude scenes are often only included to guarantee an R rating for films that don’t have enough cursing or bloodshed to get it otherwise. (I’m still of two minds about the one in The Lives of Others.)