ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The movie "Lust, Caution" won a best director award for Ang Lee at the Venice Film Festival a few weeks ago. The Chinese World War II drama opens today in this country with an NC-17 rating.
The director decided not to edit the film down to get an R or to challenge the rating. And that has set movie critic Bob Mondello to thinking.
Mr. BOB MONDELLO (Movie Critic): I've had nudity on my mind a lot lately. Now, now, settle down - it's part of the job. Movie nudity has a long history in Hollywood, going back to the silent era, so it's hardly shocking at this point. But there's been a lot of it lately.
And a lot of different kinds. Male and female, partial and full, frontal and backal. There's tasteful, meadow-frolicking nudity in "Lady Chatterly," Beatles-inspired skinny-dipping nudity in "Across the Universe," extensive sex-related nudity in "Lust, Caution" and fleeting, nonsexual nudity in "Into the Wild," and Natalie Portman nudity, too.
She says it was actually a body double who was naked, battered and dirty in the Spanish Inquisition movie "Goya's Ghost." But it's clearly her, naked, discreetly posed and carefully lit in "Hotel Chevalier," a 13-minute online prequel to Wes Anderson's new comedy, "The Darjeeling Limited."
(Soundbite of movie "Hotel Chevalier")
Ms. NATALIE PORTMAN (Actress): (As Character) I never hurt you on purpose?
Mr. JASON SCHWARTZMAN (Actor): (As Jack) I don't care. You want to see my view of Paris?
Ms. PORTMAN: (As Character) Okay.
Mr. MONDELLO: Radio is perhaps not the ideal medium for demonstrating these scenes' charms. Director Wes Anderson says he wants people to download "Hotel Chevalier" before they watch "Darjeeling Limited" in theaters, and Portman's being in it so - completely certainly makes that likelier.
Back in the 1960s, when foreign films were the rage, half the reason college kids were willing to put up with subtitles in French movies was that the femme fatale were so frequently deshabille, something not true of American starlets of that era, say, Sandra Dee or Annette Funicello.
(Soundbite of movie "Pajama Party")
Ms. ANNETTE FUNICELLO (Actress): (As Connie) This is a pajama party?
Mr. MONDELLO: In Beach Blanket movies, nobody wore much. But private parts stayed private. Maybe it's the fitness craze, and people showering together in gyms, but you just don't attract crowds to movie theaters these days with mere nakedness. Last year's film, "Shortbus," boasted not just nudity, but remarkably limber folks engaged in actual onscreen sex and hardly raised an eyebrow. With the new war drama, "In The Valley of Elah," reviews have barely noted that Frances Fisher plays a topless barmaid, though it's fun to watch Tommy Lee Jones struggling to keep his eyes on her eyes.
In "Knocked Up," Katherine Heigl has a hospital birth scene - faked presumably - where audiences see a baby's head emerging and there's been no media fuss. Full frontal male nudity would likely cause more of a stir, but it's rarer -the only full-frontal example I can recall this summer was a streaking scene featuring Bart Simpson, and he's a cartoon.
Backsides, on the other hand, are the butt of jokes everywhere - in the British farce "Death at a Funeral," in the Don Cheadle movie "Talk to Me," and centrally in "Knocked Up," where the sight of Seth Rogen's hairy derriere is all the wake-up call Katherine Heigl needs to know that their one-night stand was a mistake.
(Soundbite of movie "Knocked Up")
Ms. KATHERINE HEIGL (Actress): (As Alison Scott) Hi.
Mr. SETH ROGEN (Actor): (As Ben Stone) I'm naked.
Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) Yeah.
Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) Did we have sex?
Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) Yes.
Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) Nice.
Mr. MONDELLO: Naked women on screen are generally sexy, naked men generally funny, except when the nakedness is about vulnerability. The latest James Bond, strapped nude to a chair during an interrogation in "Casino Royale," or Viggo Mortensen in a steam bath in the new Russian mob thriller "Eastern Promises." Mortensen's so clearly defenseless, having briefly let his guard down, that when a pair of knife-wielding assassins come in, you can hardly expect him to worry about keeping his towel up. People are talking about the scene, but because it's intense, not because it's nude.
All of which suggests that Americans are less uptight than they once were about bodies, though still pretty prudish about sex. Ang Lee's movie title says it all: Lust requires caution. Nudity? Not so much.
I'm Bob Mondello.
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