From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- Where full frontal nudity infrequently appears in commercial films (such as Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show, Last Tango in Paris) it is generally confined to women, probably on the theory that as regards primary sex organs, there is less to see. This subtle "male chauvinism" continues to prevent the appearance of the penis, the most threatening object known to the censors. If ever a fleeting glance of it is permitted, it is either limited to a child (it's smaller and not yet sexually operative) or to some activity not even indirectly related to its usual functions. -- Amos Vogel in Film as a Subversive Art
It is usually considered the most far-reaching form of nudity, with exception of a close-up of the genitals. In many cases, full frontal nudity is avoided in motion pictures by purposely placing objects to obscure an actor's or actress's genitals, or the shot is diffused by hazy lighting or focus. In one scene from A Shot in the Dark, actor Peter Sellers infiltrates a nudist colony but avoids full nudity by holding a guitar in front of his crotch. Unlike the nudists, he is intensely embarrassed. Such techniques not only make some actors more comfortable but usually aim to pass censorship or prevent the film from receiving an unfavorable rating, which may impede the film's commercial success. Thus, revealing shots may be cut during the editing; sometimes a more liberal version is released separately: e.g., as director's cut.
Few non-pornographic, mainstream American films show full frontal nudity in their theatrical versions, while more complete versions may be distributed in other countries, and/or on video tape or DVD (media which generally are more ready to distribute productions offending various taboos).
The first time an erect penis appeared in a non-pornographic film in Europe was in 1966, when Ingmar Bergman included a brief image of an erection in Persona, though the offending image was censored from all British prints of the film for over thirty years. The first depiction of a penis in a American mainstream theatre was in I Am Curious (Yellow).
In British cinema
The Board reluctantly sanctioned nudity as long as it did not stimulate "the frustrated sexuality of urbanised men". Care was taken to avoid glimpses of genitals, and pubic hair was shaved or airbrushed out. It wasn't until 1968, when Swedish actress Agnetha Ekmanner briefly dropped her drawers in Hugs and Kisses, that the British public was allowed a moment of pubic hair. In the same year Terence Stamp's penis appeared briefly in Pasolini's Theorem. By the end of the 1960s relatively explicit films like Blow Up, If... and Belle de Jour were being passed uncut. Joseph Strick's 1967 version of Joyce's Ulysses even uttered 'fuck' on screen for the first time.
In European cinema
Since the sixties, many films have featured various levels of nudity, however full frontal nudity (especially featuring male anatomy) is still rare in American cinema. Full nudity has gained much wider acceptance in European cinema, where the audience perceive non-pornographic nudity as comparably less controversial than excessively depictured violence. Nudity in a sexual, but non-pornographic, context has however in many European countries remained on the fringe of what is socially aceptable for public shows, although the limits have been pushed during the 20th century.
In American cinema
The instances of actors in mainstream American films showing male frontal nudity are very rare. Harvey Keitel has done it twice (The Piano and Bad Lieutenant) and Ewan McGregor at least four times. Bruce Willis in Color of Night, Kevin Bacon in 1998’s Wild Things and Geoffrey Rush in Quills are among the few others.
Mainstream films showing male frontal nudity
- Persona (1966)
- If... (1968)
- Paul Morrisey's Trash (1970)
- Quiet Days in Clichy (1970)
- In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
- Romance X (1999)
- Y tu Mama Tambien (2001)
- The Dreamers (2003)
- 9 Songs (2004)
- Many films by Catherine Breillat