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With the release of 'Magic Mike', Time Out takes a look at the history of male nudity in film

Channing Tatum flashes the flesh in ‘Magic Mike’, a film about male strippers. But he’s not the first actor to bare all. Cath Clarke grapples with the five degrees of male nudity on screen.

Magic Mike Magic Mike

We all know how nudity works in the movies – the sheets peel back to give us an arty shot of a naked or semi-naked woman. Directors sometimes throw a bone to female viewers with a flash of a man’s buttock. Not too often, because when dudes get naked, people start talking. Channing Tatum bares his buns in ‘Magic Mike’ (see Film of the week, opposite), a new film about male strippers. It’s directed by Steven Soderbergh and is based on Tatum’s experiences working as a stripper at 18. He says it’s all in the name of feminism. Here’s a brief guide to the five stages of men getting naked in the movie – plus some milestones in male immodesty.

Baring all for art

Eastern Promises Eastern Promises

Serious actors will sometimes strip for their craft. Think of these guys as the method men. Take Viggo Mortensen. It took him all of eight seconds to decide to do the big fight scene in ‘Eastern Promises’ naked. His reasoning: that when two knife-wielding Chechen gangsters attack a man in a steam room, slipping into something more comfortable is the last thing on his mind (‘I couldn't feasibly keep the towel on’). Michael Fassbender’s role as a sex addict in last year’s ‘Shame’ demanded he spend a sizeable chunk of the film in the buff (and in every conceivable position). Mark Wahlberg’s porn star in ‘Boogie Nights’ is duly disqualified: that role required a 13-inch prosthetic stunt double.

History boys: In 1969 British viewers got their first real glimpse of the full male form on film: Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling in front of the fire in Ken Russell’s ‘Women in Love’ (the lighting was politely dimmed to keep the censors happy).

Tickling funny bones

Borat Borat

Some do it for kudos, others for kicks. ‘I'm gonna get a penis in every movie I do from now on.’ That was Judd Apatow, Hollywood’s king of comedy (and male nudity enthusiast) talking in 2007 about his efforts to demystify full-frontal. He added: ‘America fears the penis and that’s something I’m going to help them get over.’ True to his word, films from the Apatow stable have been flashing men’s naughty bits ever since – most spectacularly in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’. And it’s not just Apatow. From hairy, naked wrestlers in ‘Borat’ to ‘The Hangover’ films, Hollywood comedy is embracing the punchline potential of dudity (dude + nudity).

History boys: In 1979 Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ pressed taste and decency buttons with Graham Chapman’s fling-open-the-windows-in-the-nud scene.

Learn French

Romance Romance

Like their pongy cheeses and relaxed attitude to adultery, le sex is another way in which the French flaunt their superior sophistication (and fully explore the human condition). Too many films to mention here, but Catherine Breillat should get a special nod for bringing the first erect penis to mainstream cinema in ‘Romance’ (1999) – the first of her collaborations with Italian porn star Rocco Siffredi.

History boys: A Frenchman, Georges Méliès, filmed what is thought to be one of cinema’s earliest naughty films, ‘After the Ball’, in 1897 – but it features a nude woman. Male members are harder to come by in the archives.

Repeat offending

The Piano The Piano

Step up, serial nudists: Harvey Keitel and Ewan McGregor. These men seem to be on a mission to take down Hollywood’s pants-on policy. Keitel’s whimpering, cocaine-fuelled cri de coeur in ‘Bad Lieutenant’ is widely hailed as the finest moment in his naked repertoire – but take your pick from ‘Who’s That Knocking at My Door?’, ‘Holy Smoke’, ‘The Piano’ and others. But the actor is cagey on the subject: ‘If anyone wants to discuss nudity with me they can forget about it…’. Likewise, McGregor is no slouch in the stripping-off department (‘Trainspotting’, ‘The Pillow Book’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’, ‘Young Adam’…). He, at least, is more forthcoming: ‘It's all about life. We’re naked at the end of the day and we’re sometimes naked in the middle of the day – if we’re lucky.'

History boys: None to speak of. These guys are pioneers. Saying that, McGregor has retired his 18-rated assets. In an uncommon display of self-awareness for an actor, he pointed out that while he’s getting older, his co-star actresses stay young.

Do it for the girls

Magic Mike Magic Mike

Which brings us to ‘Magic Mike’. ‘We’re just trying to do our part to objectify men, for the first time in movies,’ said Channing Tatum recently, outing himself as a feminist. Hmm… really? Truth is, Hollywood abhors a vacuum, so why not men as sex objects (they’ve been at it for years in ‘True Blood’ with Joe Manganiello’s ripped abs). And the timing is magic: the film arrives in cinemas just as everyone’s making a beeline for women’s libidos (EL James’s erotic novel ‘50 Shades of Grey’ is now the fastest-selling paperback since records began). Interestingly, there’s no full-frontal in ‘Magic Mike’, just plenty of shots of Tatum’s well-toned buns, which have been getting audiences in the US whooping and shrieking. A feminist coup? No. The mother of all hen-night films? Yes, maybe.

History boys: ‘The Full Monty’ lads had nothing on this lot.


Users say

3 comments
Tom
Tom

Sorry Nell, you couldn't be more wrong. The double standard is in reverse. You cannot make an equal comparison between breasts, butts, and pubic hair shown by an actresses and the penis shown by an actor. It is not the same, period. An actress was complaining about how much more screen time was devoted to the nude female compared to men in mainstream movies. So, I made a bet with her (loser strips) that I could name many more films with male FULL FRONTAL NUDITY WITH EXPOSED GENITALS than she could name films with exposed females parts. She took the bet and went first. She rattled off about ten films before I interrupted her with "whoa, whoa, whoa those are some great movies with great nude scenes, but not a vulva in sight." I asked her to answer the challenge by listing movies with exposed genitals. She stammered and thought hard, but couldn't come up with a single movie. I took my turn and named almost twenty films before switching to HBO for a break in the action. And, I named a couple with fully erect penises. (I'm not a perv, but I am a published film critic.) She took off a shoe before I said, CUT (I've always wanted to say that) and told her we'd call it a draw with my 100 dicks to her 0 vulvas. I challenge Judd Apatow to put a vulva in each of his movies along with his promised penises. The MPAA would have a field day with him. There is a double standard that is not going to change anytime soon because it's just not acceptable to show a vulva, clitoris, or a vagina in a mainstream film, period.

bill
bill

you should be clear and say the french have no problem with male nudity even in most foreign films i don't much vigina/vulva. why dose everyone think it is progressive to show the penis but not the vigina?

Neil
Neil

The French have no hang ups about nudity. If men take a shower, there are no conveniently placed vases, or shadows or dodgy camera angles. Actors and directors are completely relaxed, as though they were fully dressed. We are getting to that level of maturity, while the US lags far behind (no pun intended). They still portray men, fresh from a bout of torrid love-making, getting out of bed with their boxers on! Or communal showers full of men wearing towels!