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On nudity and sex and Shame


Above: Photo (censored) taken during the filming of "Shame" in New York.

When it comes to sex and nudity in the movies, at some point the fiction gives way to a recording of the actors getting naked. Steven Soderbergh reportedly said on one of his commentary tracks that, especially when famous actors are involved, "the minute they take their clothes off, it becomes a documentary." I thought of this when I read Richard Brody's post at his New Yorker blog, The Front Row, about Michael Fassbender and co-stars' ballyhooed sex and nudity in Steve McQueen's "Shame." (Apparently nobody remembers that Fassbender was also naked in McQueen's "Hunger" -- although he was getting thrown around the prison at the time.)

In a piece called "Behind, Before, Above, Between, Below," Brody writes:

McQueen's film has lots of it--huffing and puffing, pumping backsides and writhing limbs and grimacing faces--and it's got bodies: Fassbender's, full frontal but fleetingly, in shadow, at a distance, or, most grotesquely, seen from behind and below, urinating; Carey Mulligan's, naked but in side view; and a few other women, in a variety of stages of undress. I have never had any particular interest in seeing any of these actors' genitals, but I find McQueen's coy respectfulness cinematically offensive. If he's going to show his performers undressed, the lighting should be the same as it is on their faces, and the angles in which he shows them should be as plain as those which he uses for their faces. Instead, he uses their bodies as a sort of chit of authenticity and frankness. Whether the story itself is authentic and frank, we can talk about when the movie is released, but there's an intrinsic oddity to the notion of actors showing it all.

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