Thursday, October 21, 2010

Good vs. bad nudity

TCM is showing Ecstasy overnight tonight at 4:00 AM ET. The plot of the movie involves Hedy Lamarr as a bored wife who starts an affair with the engineer for a road-building crew that she meets. What's probably better-known about the movie, though, is the scene in which she meets that man. Lamarr decides to go for a swim and gets on her horse to go for a ride to the nearest lake. She disrobes and leaves her clothes on her horse, going skinny-dipping. While she's swimming, the horse walks off. Hollywood would have gone this far, but this movie was made in Germany, so they do something that even Hollywood wouldn't have done in 1933: the show the result, which is that Lamarr is quite naked. As if you've never seen female breasts before. I think Ecstasy is a pedestrian movie, but it gets rave reviews from the critics, probably in part because it's foreign, and in part because it does things Hollywood couldn't -- those breasts again.

Contrast this with the recently-announced death of Bob Guccione. Guccione is best-known for having started the Penthouse, the downscale competitor to Playboy, but he also had an interesting encounter with serious film with his involvement in Caligula. With a name like Gore Vidal in the credits, and "serious" acting names in the cast like John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, and Helen Mirren, this doesn't seem your father's dirty porn movie. (Point of disclosure: I haven't actually seen Caligula.) And yet, reading all the reviews, it seems as though people have a problem with it simply because of Bob Guccione's involvement.

Contrast this with the restored version of Spartacus, with the bathhouse scene that everybody seems to praise for its homosexual overtones. It's no more transgressive than straight-up porn; it's just transgressive in the right way.

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