Though the oldest recorded erotic film that we know of is A Victorian Lady in Her Boudoir from 1896, the lady in question finishes the peep show while still in a nightgown that reaches above her ankles. For the time this was pretty groundbreaking, since it gave the viewer the fantasy of peeking on an unsuspecting woman. But as film evolved, so did nudity on the silver screen.
In the movie business there’s nudes and then there’s nudes. When I say this I mean that the nudity depends on context and portrayal. While the seventies and eighties were decades of free-for-all in terms of female nudity appearing on film, we’re now moving into an era of equal opportunity where any gender might be found naked on the screen. Despite nudes usually showing up during a scene full of sexual context, they can be made expecting different reactions from viewers: comedic (like what you’d expect from Judd Apatow), romantic (as in the token sex scene that may or may not have anything to do with the overall plot), or dramatic (as in historic films where actors portray a moment of horror, such as Schindler’s List). Then there’s another kind, where a character, particularly a woman, shows a change in her self-perception, or how others perceive her, through nudity.
What makes this situation problematic is the fact that most films that include some form of female nakedness have been directed by men. It’s harder to quantify whether the scene was created for artistic purposes and interpretation, or if it was simply a form of objectification. While it’s likely that some of the following movies used nudity to shock or get more people in the theater, they unexpectedly also sent a message through moments that can be reinterpreted through a feminist perspective.
At the time of its release there were plenty of giggles and whispers from teenagers about one particular scene where Rose, played by Kate Winslet, disrobes so she can be drawn by Jack, the young artist who has caught her attention with stories of being free from the constraints of society. This scene can be considered gratuitous; however, there is a certain symbolism when we compare it to an earlier moment when the character’s mother ties her daughter’s corset almost to the point of asphyxiation. Like most women of her time, Rose is choking beneath all she’s supposed to be. Since we as viewers see this moment is her choice versus someone else’s, we understand that this is when she takes control of her destiny.
Basic Instinct (1992)
This is one of the most iconic moments in film, to the point where people know about the scene, may have even seen it, and still admit to never having watched the rest of the movie. Sharon Stone has talked about how she was tricked by the director during the filming. She’s spoken about how the filmmaker told her she needed to remove her underwear even though her genital area would not appear in the final cut. It wasn’t until later on, during the release that she realized how much of her had actually been exposed. The film also received plenty of backlash from the LGBTQ community, since both Stone’s character, who is bisexual, as well as gay characters were placed in antagonistic situations. Still, there is something about this troublesome scene that remains in people’s minds. Perhaps it’s the idea of a woman in a vulnerable place using her sexuality as a way of turning the tables on the men questioning her.
Crying Game (1993)
When it first came out, this movie shocked audiences everywhere when what could’ve been a token love scene became something else. There are plenty of themes presented in this film about a member of the IRA getting involved with the girlfriend of a British soldier abducted by the rebel army. But it’s during this moment of nudity when audiences realize, at the same time as the protagonist, that the object of his desire is a transgendered woman. Stephen Rea’s character reacts how society expects him to. However, the story reaches a point where his feelings for Dil, played by Jaye Davidson, help him evolve into a better man. To this day, transgendered characters are few and far between. Regardless of how open we believe our current society to be, the public reaction created by this scene would probably be quite similar had it been released this year. That’s why Neil Jordan’s choice to write and include it is still quite amazing.
Calendar Girls (2003)
This movie created waves of conversation about what could be considered sexy in terms of nudity. If we take into consideration how Julie Delphy was criticized for being topless in her forties in Before Midnight (2013), the fact that Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, and the other actresses who bared it all, did it in their fifties and sixties was something revolutionary. This film showed that women’s bodies are beautiful and sexy, no matter the age. It was also a statement about being comfortable in one’s own skin, and that sensuality is how you present yourself to the world. This movie is a statement towards body positive attitudes that are rarely seen today. It’s also proof that, regardless of what other films or TV shows say, sexuality does not come with an expiration date. Sensuality is part of our humanity, and we should embrace it.
There are plenty of film scenes that include some sort of nudity. Some might even be unnecessary. At times it could be inferred rather than shown. And yet the ones mentioned here caused a stir in our culture. They made people talk and discuss whether it was appropriate or not. They forced issues to be talked about and confronted rather than being ignored.
Do you agree with this list? What nude scene would you add?
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