Full frontal actors. MALE NUDITY on screen
There were times when female nudity on the screen was embarrassing and outrageous, and films recording female nudes were considered indecent and confiscated. Such was the fate of the Czech film Extase from 1933, which was just paving the way when it comes to depicting female nudity and sexual intercourse, including the female orgasm. Those times, however, have long since passed, and today the sight of women’s breasts or waist no longer shocks or even surprises anyone. Actresses appearing naked, posing from the back with exposed buttocks or topless are the daily bread of the world of cinema. However, the situation is different with male nudity on the screen.
Actors without clothes appear much less often in front of the camera than their colleagues. There is no doubt that it is still a taboo subject. Male nudity below the waist is rare in the world of cinema, and its history is much more skimpy than that of female nudity. It is worth quoting here some spectacular precursor moments for male nudity in the cinema.
Rudolph Valentino was undoubtedly the first film lover, who did not have to undress in front of the camera at all – his seductive exoticism, tender words and imperious gaze were enough to drive many viewers to the brink of madness. As for the innocent beginnings of male nudity on screen, we should start with subtly unbuttoned shirts. The most memorable one is the shirt, or rather the lack thereof, by Clark Gable. With his role in It Happened One Night from 1934, the American lover made history not only thanks to the carrot munching scene. Also famous is the sequence in which Gable nonchalantly unbuttons his shirt in the company of his on-screen companion, Claudette Colbert. Reportedly, when an actor unbuttoned his shirt to reveal his bare, glowing torso, sales of men’s T-shirts in America dropped by 40%. When writing about male torsos, we must also mention William Holden. His lush dark chest hair was reportedly provocative enough that the actor was forced to shave his breasts before starring in a scene in the 1955 movie Picnic where Rosalind Russel rips his shirt open.
Today, men’s naked torsos are the order of the day. We are familiar with them not only in movies, but also on street billboards and posters. Men’s nudity below the waist, however, can still cause intimidation or consternation in viewers. As screenwriter Paul Rudnick once remarked, “Masculine gear is more visible and, as such, more severely judged. I think a man exposed to all his glory feels helpless and left to the judgment of the world.”
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The first commercial film, intended for a wider audience, in which the male genitalia was immortalized was shot in 1969, and it was Women in Love. The scene showing the male wrestling match between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates is important because it shows all male nudity in all its glory, and in a homoerotic context. The testosterone-filled fight between two well-built men becomes at least erotic, and the proximity of their bodies becomes not brutal but exciting, especially in the warm light of the fire from the nearby fireplace, which intensifies the impression of intimacy between the men.
Although this scene is over 50 years old, cinema popular in the face of male nudity still seems a bit prudish. However, there are scenes from contemporary cinema that expose male nudity in all its glory. I won’t mention Kevin Bacon in Wild Things or Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley in this text, whose actors actually showed their private parts, but they were such quick exposures that it was easy to miss with the blink of an eye. In the text, I focus mainly on conscious naked scenes, in which full frontal male nudity is shown, i.e. fully instrumented, which, due to its nature, has been particularly revered in the pages of naked history. Not only because these were bold scenes in which penises are clearly visible, but also because well-known and popular actors of the big screen exposed themselves in them. Here are a few of those.
The history of male nudity on the screen gained momentum after 1980, when the famous film American Gigolo by Paul Schrader had its premiere. The role of the titular gigolo, a man for escort, was played by Richard Gere himself. Taking on such a role, the actor must have been aware that he would have to show some flesh. As it turned out later, the actor fulfilled the task exemplary, and even beyond the program. The scene in which Gere lazily gets out of bed, goes to the window, and the light coming through the open blinds draws out of the darkness and highlights his genitals, was in its own way an immortal event in the world of cinema. Richard Gere was the first male screen star of such fame and recognition, who was not ashamed to show himself completely naked in front of the camera, freely exposing his private parts to the light of day.
After this film, Gere entered the public mind as a man who looks good in an Armani suit and without it. What’s more – the actor apparently came up with the initiative himself. As he admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “If I remember correctly, nudity was not in the script at all. It was a natural process for me to make a film.” It was not a momentary surge of courage – later Richard Gere could be seen naked in such films as The Honorary Consul, Breathless, Final Analysis, Mr. Jones or Red Corner.
The actor known not only from The Lord of the Rings is used to taking off his pants on many film sets. It is enough to mention the films Road or On the Road. However, it is worth considering the two nude scenes performed by the actor, which contrast with each other in an interesting way. One of them is a carefree idyllic picture from Captain Fantastic. This is the only such scene in the film, but how telling! In the movie by Matt Ross, Viggo Mortensen plays an eccentric father who raises his children away from civilization, in the current of anti-establishment ideas. They are expressed, among other things, in the freedom to expose one’s naked body. The camping scene shows the actor stripped head to toe liberatingly exposing himself to the public while holding only a cup of coffee. The incident is witnessed by a fully clothed elderly camper couple staring at his dick with an expression of consternation demanding an explanation from the man. The hero replies with sophistication, as if it were a trivial matter: “It’s just a penis. Every man has it. We are all animals on this planet after all.” In a funny way, the actor recalls shooting this scene in a conversation with Conan O’Brien. The man says it was a liberating experience because the campsite where the scene was set was full of campers – onlookers who stared in amazement at the image.
The next scene is not so optimistic and idyllic. Viggo Mortensen showed all he had to show in a brutal steam room fight scene from Eastern Promises. In a sequence lasting almost four minutes, the completely naked Nikolai, played by an American actor, is engaged in an unequal fight with two black-dressed thugs. It only seems comical by design – in fact, it’s a thrilling scene in which a fight is fought to the death, painful blows are dealt, and the actor’s naked tattooed body is quickly adorned with bloodstains. The fact that Mortensen had to appear naked in this scene must have caused him a lot of difficulty and awkwardness, especially considering the fact that the scene was shot over three days. In it we see the actor’s most sensitive places in probably all possible acrobatics – how he rolls and drags himself on the floor, how he dodges subsequent blows, attacks the attacker, spreads his legs, curls up in pain. His penis is several times close not only to the face of his tormentors, but also to the knives they use trying to kill him. There is no censorship here, no discretion. As the place of the skirmish was a bathhouse, it seemed obvious that the suddenly attacked Nikolai should be naked. As film director David Cronenberg recalls in an interview with Lincoln Center Film Comment, “The script said, ‘Two men come in with knives and there’s a fight.’ The question of whether Viggo is naked has not been addressed. Of course, the details of the choreography are not in the script. It’s a matter of many months of work with actors, set designers and stuntmen. If I had an actor who didn’t play it naked, he’d have to do it with a towel around his waist, which would be pretty stupid. Or I would have to execute this scene more restrained. But Viggo had no doubts. He said, “I have to do it naked.”
Harvey Keitel had no qualms about stripping on camera. Already in his early roles in Who’s That Knocking at My Door and The Men’s Club, you could see the actor from behind and without pants. However, in the context of his naked performances, two films that are extremely important in this respect should be mentioned – Bad Lieutenant and The Piano. Let’s start with the first one. The world in Bad Lieutenant is full of disgust, corruption, and the title character plays the main fiddle in it. In most cases, when we think of scenes of male nudity, they appear in the context of romantic close-ups, sexual acts. Not in this case. Here we see Harvey Keitel naked in all his misery, his naked, 53-year-old body, strong, but with the first signs of old age and exhaustion, in which time has begun to carve furrows. The hero in a drunken amok and Johnny Ace’s song Pledging My Love dances with his hands across his body, as if he wanted to take off in the air, but his body was too heavy. The hero stands in front of the camera with a flaccid penis emerging from a thicket of dark pubic hair and cries bitterly, even wailing with his eyes fixed helplessly on the nothingness in front of him. It is not nakedness born of excitement, lust, pride. It is nudity identified with helplessness, with indifference, with sadness. In that moment, Keitel is the embodiment of failure, and his baring nudity makes it even more so.
Another example is the nudity in The Piano. The film was made just a year after Bad Lieutenant. In this movie, there are several sex scenes between Keitel’s George Baines and the main character Ada McGrath, played by Holly Hunter. They are both naked then. However, the actor’s most intimate nude scene is still the one in which Harvey Keitel cleans the piano with his shirt. Just a trivial, repetitive activity that is performed by a man dressed as Adam without a fundamental reason. This scene forces us to confront our perception of the male body – the actor, who is no longer young, poses naked in a scene devoid of any sexual connotations. His casual nakedness needs no excuse.
Tom wasn’t as lucky as his colleagues. Although he had to undress in front of the camera more than once, most of his performances were devoid of sexual overtones. Productions in which the actor shone with naked buttocks include Band of Brothers and the TV series Tabu. There are also plenty of movies where you can get a close look at Hardy’s private parts. Colditz, Stuart: A Life Backwards, short Sergeant Slaughter, My Big Brother. In none of these movies did the actor appear in a sexual or romantic scene. In most cases, Hardy’s nudity is more dramatic than sexy. For example, in Colditz, an actor undresses in a shower scene while playing a prisoner of war in the German World War II Colditz camp. Or in a scene from tuart: A Life Backwards, Hardy stands naked, bloody, hysterical, screaming in a dilapidated house. Moreover, all these scenes involving the British actor are played in the company of men. Hardy’s most blunt performance, however, is that of Bronson.
Tom Hardy landed the role of the infamous Welsh prisoner after Jason Statham and Guy Pearce, the first actors considered by the director, refused to perform nude scenes. And there were a lot of them in the movie. And they were not easy – we are not dealing here with subtle, sensual nudity, but with brutal, unjustified nudity, committed by a criminal and “Britain’s most brutal prisoner”. The film is about Michael Peterson, who ends up behind bars for the post office heist. In prison, his alter ego comes to the fore – Bronson, who becomes a brutal and unbridled militant degenerate. Tom Hardy plays his character brilliantly, constantly parading around with his panties down. He is naked in scenes of brutal skirmishes with prison guards. The most memorable, however, is the scene, importantly centered around a real event, in which Bronson locks himself in a cell with a terrified librarian hostage. He strips naked, then takes out the Vaseline hidden under the pillow and begins to smear his naked, strong body. Aggressively and in a soldier’s tone, he orders the librarian to apply a greasy substance to places on his body that he himself does not reach. Later, the naked and brilliant Tom Hardy in the form of Bronson stands before the frightened librarian, proud and oiled, as if he wanted him to admire his flaccid penis adorned with sparse hair. Hardy’s genitals are so exposed in this scene that it’s impossible not to look at them clearly. The guards group up and burst into the cell, trying to subdue Bronson, but he’s so oiled up he’s impossible to tame. It’s an extremely exciting scene, and the main character’s nudity, which doesn’t make him feel embarrassed or intimidated, is particularly disorienting and leaves the viewer unsure of what to expect next.
It’s funny for me to write about Jason Segel in the context of his nudity, because, at least for me, he is inseparably associated with Marshall Eriksen from How I Met Your Mother, who for me is the epitome of a good and faithful husband. So seeing him naked is, at the very least, indecent and awkward for me. As Segel is primarily a comedic actor, his nude performances are usually devoid of sexual overtones or are embellished with awkwardness that becomes the source of jokes or humorous subtext. This was the case in Sex Tape or Knocked Up, but Segel’s most memorable nude scene took place on the set of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Peter, the actor’s character, is in the mood, so he greets his girlfriend eloquently and without clothes. However, she decides that this is the perfect time to end their relationship, much to Peter’s surprise. He becomes hysterical, crying and disbelieving, forgetting that his ex-girlfriend still sees his dick bouncing around.
It is also intriguing that the filmmakers could show Segel’s nudity in a symbolic way, showing him only from the waist up. It would still be funny and suggestive, but they decided that the camera would capture his private parts. Interestingly, Segel, who collaborated on the script for the film, claims that this scene was inspired by a real event. The actor told Vulture: “I wanted this to be the most humiliating breakup ever. As I was writing it, I thought to myself, ‘The problem with romantic comedies is that you know what’s going to happen. The poster guy will end up with the poster girl. But what if something happens at the beginning of the movie that you can’t believe? A scene from this movie proves that male nudity in movies doesn’t have to be solely used as a stimulus or to illustrate a scene of lust or passion. Nudity can also be a source of awkwardness. Segel’s carnality is something exceptionally friendly, evoking pleasant associations, sincere and unceremonious – the boy just wanted to wave his newly washed penis to greet his girlfriend. Unfortunately, it took a very awkward turn, and the hero was going through the shock of painful parting with a towel lowered to his ankles, which at that moment lost any meaning to him.
Ewan McGregor is not and has never been an easily embarrassed actor. He is known for his penchant for exhibitionism. Nudity is just another tool in his acting arsenal – he can undress in any scene, regardless of the context. We admire him naked in films such as Pillow Book, Trainspotting, Night Watch, Rogue Trader, Nora, Young Adam, Incendiary, Ghost Writer, Perfect Sense, Fargo or T2 Trainspotting. The collection is impressive. And I’m not talking about an innocent wink at the viewer or a momentary innocent unveiling of the buttocks – in most of the above examples, McGregor shamelessly exposes his member. This is a full range of scenes in which an actor can appear naked – from liberating scenes of homoerotic love to sensual sex with women. And the actor has probably shared bed scenes with everyone – from Tilda Swinton to Jim Carrey. McGregor’s record includes performances in which the nudity is extremely romantic, casual, gratuitous or revolutionary. However, there is one such image, which is a kind of culmination of the British actor’s naked performances. And this is a scene from the movie Velvet Goldmine.
Ewan McGregor plays the character of American proto-punk musician Curt Wild in Velvet Goldmine, who is a hybrid of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed with a touch of Mick Jagger. Iggy Pop’s inspiration in particular is revealed in the scene where McGregor and The Rats give a spectacular concert. During the guitar solo, the hero first unbuttons his latex pants, touches himself significantly in the crotch, and a moment later starts jumping around the stage so that the pants fall to the height of his ankles. Regardless of the state of things, he unceremoniously sticks his buttocks in the direction of the delighted audience. He plays with his penis, sticks out his crotch as if he wanted to show off it in particular – he points at it with his hands so that this view will not escape anyone’s attention. In Velvet Goldmine we have a chance to admire McGregor playing with his penis like a carefree child who is just discovering his carnality and likes the fact that the penis can spin in all directions of the world.
Starring in a film like Shame, in which Michael Fassbender phenomenally bit into the character of a sex addict who has no control over his sex life, the actor must have been aware that he would not escape nudity scenes. In the film, we observe the actor in many ambiguous scenes – during penetration, during sex with women, during fellatio with a man, in numerous masturbation scenes. In all of them, the actor appears naked and we are fully aware of it. However, there are only two brief episodes where Fassbender’s penis is exposed in its full glory. Interestingly, however, none of them are related to the sex scene.
I am writing here about two short scenes from the very beginning of the film. Brandon, the main character of Shame, is walking around the apartment. He’s naked because he just got out of bed. The camera, however, is placed at the height of his thighs, in a narrow frame, which seems to be specially planted to capture Fassbender’s member. As if the close-up of his penis was extremely important to the tone of the whole scene. Later, we observe a completely casual situation as the hero urinates, and the camera looks on unceremoniously. It is interesting that the filmmakers, as well as Michael Fassbender himself, have allowed so many nude scenes, most of which have sexual overtones, yet the male genitals only appear twice, in quick succession, in distinctly repetitive twin scenes depicting a situation extremely prosaic, absolutely not sexual. In an interview with the film’s director for The Hollywood Reporter, film director Steve McQueen talks about the nude scenes: “They’re actors. They use their bodies to work, just like dancers. This is their profession. If I had made this film in 1951 instead of 2011, Michael Fassbender’s character would have been wearing pajamas, but now a lot of people don’t wear pajamas, so he walks around the apartment naked, drinks a glass of water, goes to the bathroom to take a shower. Nothing shocking about that, is there? Fassbender himself also talks about his nudity in Shame in an interview for Vulture: “It just surprises me: women in movies parade around naked all the time, but a guy always has to wear pants. I remember my mum always complaining about it, saying, “Nonsense, it’s always the women who have to be naked” … so I made it for you, mum!