This past weekend, I was talking to some friends about Women's Studies. One of them who, yes, was male asked, "Is there going to be any T&A in this movie?" (In case you were raised on an asteroid, T&A is an acronym for "tits and ass.")
It's not the first time I've been asked the question. Far from it. In fact as soon as I tell most males I'm making a film about killer feminists, the nudity question is usually the first one out of their mouths. How's that for thousands of years of evolution, ladies? The mere mention of "hot chicks with knives" sends us into a tizzy of ecstasy.
The issue of nudity in horror films is one that's been debated by fans and critics alike for years. The general consensus is that there's too much gratuitous nudity in horror. Even fans of the genre admit it's so. The problem is that for horror's target audience (18 to 35-year-old males), sometimes the fact that there's a bit of T&A is the only consolation for sitting through a particularly bad and not very scary movie. The attitude is often "Well, the effects were childish, the acting horrendous, and the story non-existent, but at least I got to see a few nice racks."
Again ladies: How far we've come.
Remember though, horror is more popular now than it ever has been. In past years, the selling point for these films were that they crossed the taboo lines set by "normal" social values. People went to see the things that they didn't see in everyday life, sex and death being the two biggest draws throughout history. Also, horror films were (and still are) targeted at teenagers, who while pretty much thinking about sex all the time, are dissuaded by just about everyone around them from doing it.
(And despite sexuality being a much larger part of mainstream American culture today than in the 1960s and 1970s, stats will support my saying that most American teenagers aren't engaging in actual sexual intercourse until the age of seventeen or beyond.)
Women's Studies deals with sexuality on a lot of different levels, from infidelity to the personal ethics of abortion to not so vague hints of lesbianism between various characters. In fact, I'd even go as far to say that sex is always just below the surface in the story. There's sex a plenty in Women's Studies, though how titillating it all may be will be up for debate. Among cast and crew the big nudity debate has revolved around the opening scene where three guys visit a strip club and get a little bit more than they bargained for.
First, a point I think is relevant: I'm making this film in America where the views on sex are much more conservative than in many other parts of the world. (Remember, we're a country founded by Puritans.) If this film was being made in Europe, where attitudes toward sex are far more liberal, there would be in all likelihood no discussion about nudity. However, many American audiences and actors aren't as comfortable with it.
Personally, I'm not prudish at all when it comes to sex and nudity on film. My philosophy towards it is that if graphic sexuality is necessary to the integrity of the scene and/or film, then it's imperative that it's there. On the flip side, where both sex and violence are concerned, in many cases I'm from the "less is more" school of thought. Sometimes, what you don't see is made sexier or more horrifying by the imagination.
The question then becomes one of when is nudity and sex is necessary and when it's simply gratuitous. In all likelihood, the answer is one dependant upon personal taste, but let's look at a few examples that illustrate different degrees anyway.
I could pick any number of films to show nudity being used gratuitously , but let's look at a scene from Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning since most Friday fans feel the entire movie is gratuitous. (I actually think there are a few admirable aspects to the film, though I'm very aware that I'm in the minority among horror fans.) In this scene, a woman is in a diner bathroom getting ready for a date. For no discernable reason, she turns to the mirror, exposes her breasts to herself and yells, "It's Showtime." While she has a fine pair of breasts, her exposing them does nothing to tell us anything deeper about her character. (At this point, we've already seen enough to tell us she's a self-centered airhead.) Nor does it move the story forward in any way. The breast flash is only there for pure titillation.
Here's one open for interpretation: In the film version of Cold Mountain, the two main characters, played by Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, have been pining for each other while Law has been off fighting in the Civil War. When they're finally reunited, director Anthony Minghella decided to give us a fairly long, explicit scene of the two making love. While I thought the sex scene was hot as hell, I also felt it was gratuitous and ill-conceived. I feel this way because throughout the film, Law and Kidman have spoken of of a deep, resounding love for each other and the emphasis on the sex seems to strip that love of some of it's power by reducing their desire to one more lustful than truly intimate. Secondly, what does Law's hand shoved up Kidman's pussy tell me about their relationship that I didn't know before?
I'm sorry, was that language a little too gratuitous?
Now, I don't think the explicit love scene between Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is gratuitous at all. It illustrates that these two people are thrilled by the prospect of danger and control. (He's an art stealing billionaire. She's the investigator hired to figure out who's stealing priceless works of art. Oh, and they just met.) Also, it's brief and shot in a manner that makes your mind do much of the sexual heavy lifting. (Russo stands in the foreground as her dress drops to the floor with Brosnan looking on in the background. Their sex on a staircase is shown from an overhead wide shot.) One could try to argue that the scene isn't needed to tell the story. However, I feel the scene is important to the character's relationship as the story unfolds. The fact that they've slept together is what complicates their motives later in the film. (He wants to steal more art. She's supposed to stop him.)
Have I dodged the question of whether or not there will be nudity in Women's Studies? I haven't meant to. However, I will say that since the film is dealing with sexual politics, I'm vary aware of the ways I will or will not use nudity. So, rather than answer, I'll leave you with a related question to ponder:
Does it truly matter whether or not there is nudity in Women's Studies?