“Doesn’t everyone hang out —
literally — with their friends topless and have a controversial fashion photographer take snaps and then years later have the photos posted on their fan website?”
— From an Oct. 4 Hollywood Reporter story about Lady Gaga posing topless with (fully clothed) fashionista Donatella Versace
There’s been nudity in cinema at least since moving picture pioneer Eadweard Muybridge showed naked human figures in his mid-1880s primitive motion studies. So it’s not like it’s anything new.
But lately, performing in the buff — or partially clothed — has become so ubiquitous that it is losing its shock value.
Singer Rihanna seems to be perpetually scantily clad. Last year she shocked a farmer in Northern Ireland by cavorting topless through his field during a video shoot.
For Lady Gaga, there’s no such thing as a “wardrobe malfunction” — particularly when there’s no wardrobe involved, as in her recent nude photo in Vanity Fair, where she posed as an artist’s model for Tony Bennett.
Vanity Fair — which, I realize doesn’t fall into the video/motion picture category — is increasingly using celebrity nudity and provocatively posed models in advertisements to sell magazines.
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith bares all in a bleak, Salma Hayek-directed music video about the perils of human trafficking. I’m not offended by artful nudity, and it’s effective in this video in that it conveys a sense of vulnerability, but when she starts writhing around in sexually suggestive ways, you start to wonder if the point is titillation and not education.
Kristen Stewart’s risqué role in the new movie “On the Road” includes scenes in which she is bare-chested and others where she is nude.
Writing about the film, Huff Post Entertainment Canada blogger Michael Hogan notes: “The toplessness itself is an extremely courageous choice for someone as famous as Stewart.”
Since when did going topless exemplify courage?
In these days of celebrities flashing more and more skin, wearing a turtleneck would be a braver thing to do. Or, at least, it would be nonconformist.
Ramping it up
Increasingly, it seems that performers are pushing the boundaries.
Even celebrity websites like StarPulse point out that “There’s a thin line between classy and trashy.”
In an article on that site in June 2009, Erin Demchak wrote, “Hollywood royalty used to use body doubles for filming sex scenes in their films; the thought of them baring it all was almost a joke. But as sex and nudity have taken a more artsy approach on screen, celebrities are jumping at the chance to take their careers to a more risqué level.”
For Nicole Kidman, that meant urinating on actor Zac Efron during a scene in “The Paperboy” — ostensibly to combat a jellyfish sting his character receives.
According to the website DailyActor, Kidman explained to The New York Times why she was willing to pee on camera.
“I wanted something raw, and I wanted to work with a director who was going to access something different in me,” Kidman said.
I fail to see why an Academy Award winning actress has to resort to a role where she has to urinate on cue.
And it’s not just women, of course. Many men have had risqué and raunchy parts and have acted in the buff.
Most recently, Leonardo DiCaprio has said he plans to go “the full Monty” in Martin Scorsese’s new film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Actor Shia LaBeouf goes full-frontal along with actress Deena Thomsen in a music video for the Icelandic band Sigur Rós.
Now, I’m not a prude, but part of me yearns for a more innocent time at the movies — a time when the camera would cut away before the sex started, instead of zooming in; a time when catching a glimpse of Donald Sutherland’s derrière in “Animal House” could make you blush.
Nudity has its place in film and in other forms of art, but these days it’s de rigueur. And frankly, that’s a shame. Not every film made for adults needs explicit sex scenes or gratuitous nudity.
Recently, Shia LaBeouf revealed that he sent sex tapes of him and his girlfriend to well-known avant-garde director Lars von Trier as a means of lobbying for a part in von Trier’s new film “Nymphomaniac.” (How tiresome — everyone, it seems, has sex tapes these days.)
And not only that, but LaBeouf said he’d be willing to have real sex on camera instead of simulating it.
In speaking of von Trier to The Hollywood Reporter last month, LaBeouf said, “He’s a genius. He’s a visionary. We have maybe, what, 10 of those on the planet? I’ll do anything he tells me. I came here ready to do anything.”
You have to wonder — are stars simply willing to sacrifice everything in a sincere desire to improve their craft? Are they so desperate for a role that they are willing to sell themselves at any price? Or is everyone so stimulated by multimedia and social media these days that it takes a lot to shock us and grab our attention now?
But you have to ask yourself, what’s the next level? What happens when explicit sex scenes are no longer enough?
It seems the line between mainstream film and pornography is becoming blurred.
And that makes me long for the kinder, gentler days, when private parts were private, intrigue and imagination were encouraged, and dignity was still considered a thing of value.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at