Cinematic nudity has always been a mainly female phenomenon. Heck, naked women bits are all over the place -- we see it on screen, television, billboards -- you name it. If you're a man who likes womanly skin, or happen to be someone who saw Knocked Up, you know about Mr. Skin. The entire website is dedicated to noting female nudity in film -- down to the type of skin displayed, the length of the nudity and part of film that it is shown in. Since its mention in the Judd Apatow comedy alone, the visitor count jumped 35%. But what about the male bits?
They're just not there. It's as if all boys are just treasure-trailing Ken dolls. In an article a few years ago, pop culture expert Mark Kingwell rationalizes: "Guys don't like to see penises in film, because they are either too small (in travel mode) and therefore not worth all the fuss, or too big (in action mode) and so threatening to self-esteem." Ah, the fragile male ego! Although male genitalia has been pretty scarce, it's increasingly finding its way on the big screen, and luckily for us, it's not just the Bad Lieutenant, Harvey Keitel variety.
While researching this Seven, I hit the video stores to see some of the more infamous examples of male nudity on film. At the top of the list is Ewan I Don't Mind Showing My Bits MacGregor's The Pillow Book. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it anywhere. I even tried Blockbuster, where the man behind the desk said: "The movie where Ewan MacGregor gets naked? No, we don't have it." In honor of the actor's most infamous de-robing, which I can't find to rent, you won't see the Trainspotting star on this list. And for that matter -- I could make another list with equally shocking or notable male nudity, but instead, I give you these seven. They span time, rationale, situations and levels of gratuitousness. Enjoy!
I had to start this list with the film that not only marks the first time I saw male genitalia on the big screen, but the shocking show of Ren McCormack's naughty bits. The murder mystery trucks along like any would, throwing a million twists between Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell and Denise Richardson. The big scene is 100% gratuitous, and in no way furthers the plot. Dillon follows a trail of muddy footprints, opens the shower door and exposes Bacon's bare butt. It looks like any other scene with a carefully-placed towel, and then there he is, in all his full-frontal Bacon glory. As if that wasn't enough, the dialogue soon slides on to pun: "to large accounts and no loose ends." Indeed.
The Brown Bunny
Perhaps the most infamous penis to ever hit the screen was Vincent Gallo's in his self-indulgent, dysfunctional love story, The Brown Bunny. After viewing a number of scenes where Gallo's Bud Clay either hits on women or drives (usually in the rain), the infamous scene finally strikes. Some say it was completely gratuitous, and some, even Roger Ebert himself (who had a famous battle with the director over the film) says it is not. Either way, it's definitely the product of Gallo's self-indulgence, which has led to many a penile offer on his website -- from offering up his sperm, to offering up stints of sex.
Of course, any story about the Marquis de Sade would include some sort of nudity -- his name did produce the term sadism, after all. However, while one might think that the story would lie on a sea of gratuitousness, the shots of Geoffrey Rush as de Sade are used to show him at his most desperate -- when even his clothing was taken from him. Where he was seen as a powerful and lascivious man in his threads, the removal of his last bits of clothing seemed to break him, making for one of the most telling and expressive uses of nudity on either spectrum.
And then come John Cameron Mitchell's real sex shindig, Shortbus. It's the one American film that displays pretty much every type of physicality in sex without being labeled pornography (at least by many). It helps that it comes from the man who already made a big name for himself with Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The wild orgy scene even has Mitchell himself taking part -- if you want more details, that wonder-search that is Google can lead you to a clip of it -- big, small, black white and everything in-between. While you might love, hate or feel indifferent about the film, you have to give the director props for practicing what he preached.
Peter Sarsgaard has done it all -- sold SAARS Guards, collected Desert Storm trading cards, married Maggie Gyllenhaal and even let his bits hang out to seduce Liam Neeson in Kinsey. It was another film where nudity was inevitable. You really can't demystify stigmas surrounding sex while not feeling comfortable enough to display the organs that make it possible. As for the scene between Sarsgaard and Neeson -- it allowed the audience to believe that Kinsey could make the jump into exploring his interests in men. You really couldn't expect him to dive in if Clyde Martin was wearing flannel pajamas and a robe.
Perhaps the most gratuitous and cringe-worthy nudity in recent memory is the moment M.C. Gainey runs out of his house after Miles, 100% buck naked, chunky and flinging about. What's funny about this scene is how many people seem to have blocked it from their memories. I mentioned that I was going to include Sideways on the list to a few friends, and each said: "There's no penis in Sideways," having successfully blocked the memory from their fragile minds. Yet there the scene stands -- over-the-top and worthy of a few laughs, but also begging for the question: "Why did he have to run out nekkid?"
I'm cheating a bit by including a French film, but it is particularly notable since it included Michael Pitt. Only a few years before the film, he had been a regular on Dawson's Creek. Straight after his by-the-book thriller Murder by Numbers, Pitt starred in Bernardo Bertolucci's film about a young man who gets caught up with a set of dysfunctional, incestual twins (one of which is Eva Green) during Paris' student revolts in 1968. While it can be hard to get past the troubling love between the brother and sister, it does a lot for normalizing nudity.
As Pitt has said: "There's this double standard with nudity. You can show a woman's full anatomy, but it's threatening and uncomfortable with guys. Gay, straight, bi or whatever, these particular people who run the country are afraid to see the beauty in things that aren't necessarily what they think is right or whatever."