Thursday, May 05, 2005

Know Your Role

OK, I just got home from watching the brilliant "Sin City," the first movie that's gotten me into a theater in ages.

I can't say enough good things about this flick. Just brilliant. Go see it, if you love noir, if you love graphic novels, if you love movies. This is top notch.

There is one thing about it that bugs me, though. It's a pet peeve I have as a movie fan, and not unique to "Sin City," by any means.

In "Sin City," Jessica Alba plays a stripper. And she never takes her clothes off, not even while dancing. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a horndog who's at a movie to see a celebrity naked. That's what the Internet is for. And there is plenty of nudity in "Sin City."

But the thing is, if you're playing a stripper, or a hooker, in a movie... Take off your damn clothes!

Now, I know it's tough enough being a celebrity without figuring if you do a nude scene your tits will be all over the Net and the tabloids and God knows where else. But the thing is, don't take a role as a stripper if you're not willing to strip. Don't play a hooker if you're not willing to do the sex scene. It's part of the role.

Strippers, at least at the strip clubs I've been to, strip.

Now, I've never been with a hooker, but from what I can tell from that HBO special, they have sex from time to time. And that means they've got to remove at least some of their clothes.

But Hollywood has what I call the "Pretty Woman" rule. "Pretty Woman" is a movie about a hooker. And yet the only tits you see in the entire movie belong to Richard Gere. Now, if you look real close, I'm sure you can see some part of Julia Roberts if you try, but generally speaking, she remains mostly clothed throughout a movie in which she has at least three sex scenes.

The thing is, this doesn't bother me because she's not nude, it bothers me because it takes me out of the element of the movie, as a viewer. How many films have you seen with a strip club scene where the famous actress never wears less than her bikini? And have you said, "Wait a minute, that's not right"?

I've got nothing against actresses who don't want to do nudity. That's their right, and it's certainly not a necessary part of any actress's career. But if you don't want to do nudity, you shouldn't be playing a stripper. Because it's obvious when an actress won't do the nudity - and it breaks the wall of the scene.

So in "Sin City," after seeing several name actresses partly nude, when Jessica Alba's character hits the stripper pole in a bikini, I'm not thinking that's "Nancy," I'm thinking, well of course, that's Jessica Alba, she's not going to be nude. It distracts.

It's one thing to not want to do gratuitous nudity or sex, again, that's an actress's prerogative. But when playing the role of a woman whose job is to take off her clothes, that's not gratuitous. That's part of the role.

Of course, there's hypocrisy plenty out there. Halle Berry famously refused to do nudity, until she found a role, in "Swordfish," where she said she felt the nudity was necessary to the role. And if I've ever seen a completely gratuitous and unnecessary nude scene, it's the one in "Swordfish." On the other hand, Berry's far more extensive nudity in "Monster's Ball" was thoroughly appropriate, and I wouldn't have blinked twice if she'd claimed that was the "necessary" time to make her first nude appearance on screen.

I don't have to see celebrities naked. I'm old enough to buy porn if I want to see naked women in movies.

But it's the principle of it. Jody Foster played a rape victim in "The Accused," and was brilliant, of course. She also is partly nude during the (very unsexy) violent rape scene. That was part of the role. If she hadn't been willing to do nudity, she wouldn't have taken the film. And the film would have suffered if she hadn't had her clothes torn off, part of the violence of the rape. A necessary part for the emotional power the scene and the film required.

Conversely, there's a dreadful movie like "Showgirls." But you know what, the girls are strippers, and they take off their clothes. And the authentic look of the strip club in "Showgirls" is probably one of the only things that doesn't go wrong in that mess of a film.

And if you're wondering, I feel the same way about actors who play male prostitutes, etc. I may be far less interested in seeing them nude, but again, it's the principle of the thing. Don't take a role you won't play right.

I read there was some controversy about Natalie Portman in "Closer," which I haven't seen. She played a stripper, and apparently the director cut out some (or all) of her nudity, to protect the young actress. On one hand, I completely understand the decision. A young woman with a world of talent doesn't need to be a download-pinup girl. On the other hand, it seems like she took the role and filmed the scenes, so she must have been aware of what might happen. So in a way, the director risks detracting from his own film. Again, I haven't seen it, so I don't know if the lack of nudity is a distraction or not.

It's a question of appropriateness. I'm not endorsing gratuitous nudity.

No, I am. I'm all in favor of gratuitous nudity.

But I can understand an actress who doesn't want to do a gratuitous nude scene. I can respect that. That doesn't bother me, as a viewer, as a critic, as a fan.

What bothers me is when the nudity is appropriate, and then not done. It's a disservice to the film, and that puts the "I" in "team," if you ask me.

Look, Jessica Alba is terrific in "Sin City," don't get me wrong. Just about everyone is terrific in "Sin City." But in a movie that works its tail off to build an atmosphere that envelops the audience and the film, even the slightest moment of distraction is like a screaming neon sign.

And when a stripper does more than two turns around the pole without taking anything off, that gets you thinking. And when you're thinking, you're out of the atmosphere of the film. It's costly.

"Sin City," the official site
Mr. Skin, the reason actresses don't do nudity
"Pretty Woman," which started this rant
"Showgirls," both gratuitous and grotesque

Off topic, for those who wondered if I was OK after the other night's "Mental Breakdown," I'm fine now, and thanks for asking. Nice to know my audience is listening, and cares. Really.