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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

QOTD: Which films have actually been enhanced by explicit sex and/or nudity?

On the Road Kristen Stewart

Today’s question comes from reader Tony, who writes:

Are there movies where explicit sex and/or nudity enhance the story? ‘Cause I usually feel those scenes are more for the audience than the movie.

So:

Which films have actually been enhanced by explicit sex and/or nudity?

Nothing comes immediately to my mind. You?

(The image above is from On the Road, which the ratings tell me contains strong sex, but I can’t recall, perhaps because it was so dull. It certainly added nothing to the story. It’ll be back in U.S. theaters, for some bizarre reason, on March 22, if you want to check it out for yourself.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Gospodin Dangling-Participle

    I would argue that _Body Heat_ simply does not work with a Kathleen Turner character who demurely draws a sheet across herself. It’s brazen or nothing.

  • ProperDave

    Films like ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘The Notorious Bettie Page’ would have looked a bit odd without them.

    It’ll be interesting to see how Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan’s ‘The Look of Love’ – the biopic of British porn baron Paul Raymond – approaches this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtdYdT17Vuk

  • Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life. Considering the aspects of life the film mocks, examines, finds redeemable, the nudity and sex tends to be appropriate. Even the bit where a man is executed by Sexy Mob.

  • LaSargenta

    Recent: Shame. It wouldn’t have made any sense otherwise. (And, I might add the explicitness of the human body in Hunger, another McQueen/Fassbender movie…but that wasn’t about sex.)

    Older: Keitel’s full frontal in The Piano. In the context of the film, it was a shocking juxtaposition with the layers of clothing all the other english settlers wore.

  • RogerBW

    I think as a general rule the film has to be about the sex or nudity; otherwise it’s too likely to feel as though it’s there for shock value or titillation.

  • Danielm80

    A number of films come to mind. Sometimes the nudity reveals plot information. Sometimes it tells us more about the characters. Sometimes it adds a layer of irony to the scene. Aside from Shame, I would include these movies:

    The Crying Game

    About Schmidt

    River’s Edge: A beautiful young girl lies dead on the grass, completely naked, for most of the movie, and no one makes an effort to move her body or cover her up. It’s remarkably sad.

    Sherlock: “A Scandal in Belgravia”: Irene Adler’s nudity, and the other characters’ reactions, tell us so much about Irene, Sherlock, and Dr. Watson.

    The recent remake of Mildred Pierce: I don’t want to spoil the ending too much, but Mildred’s daughter reveals some shocking information about her sex life, and she does it sitting naked in her bedroom, in front of her mother, making the scene even more cruel and devastating.

    The Wings of the Dove: Helena Bonham Carter remains fully clothed throughout almost the entire movie, over the course of a long, romantic relationship, and then, as the relationship is ending, she appears fully naked, making the scene even sadder and more ironic.

  • it’s recent enough that I don’t want to spoil it (you can watch it on Crackle/Hulu), but I’d say Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture.

  • I get nothing about this question that indicates that, myself.

  • Mscott

    I think that the nude sketch scene in Titanic enhances the character and the movie as it shows beyond a shadow of a doubt just how unusual and “modern” Rose is. Post WWII and Roaring 20’s nobody blinks at a woman doing this but in 1912?

  • Bluejay

    I second The Piano.

  • I don’t know that anything about that counts as ‘explicit’.

  • Brian Baier

    About Schmidt was the first thing that came to mind for me, as well.

  • ProperDave

    Michael Radford’s ‘1984’. The two 1950s dramatisations, made by the BBC and Hollywood (and well worth watching on YouTube, incidentally), were by necessity prudish, examining whether Winston and Julia’s love could survive Big Brother’s regime. The 1984 version, in common with Orwell’s novel, concerns itself more with the need for physical release, which makes the ‘sexcrime’ scenes eminently appropriate.

    (This year’s BBC radio adaptation starring Christopher Eccleston was similarly earthy, with Winston, somewhat jarringly, calling Julia a ‘dirty cow’ at one point. Not a phrase that Orwell ever used!)

  • althea

    You’re right about Mildred Pierce, definitely. I had already been impressed with the use of sex, considering the only comparison was the original feature film, but that daughter scene – you put it perfectly, cruel and devastating. Shocking for the nudity, no. Sex, no. But the daughter’s cruelty hits you hard, right in the face.

  • Schindler’s List. The forced nudity, along with the head-shaving, represents one final assault before genocide.

  • No one mentioned In the Realm of the Senses yet? Sex is the key driving force between Sada and Kichizo, and mounting obsession to find out what sexually excites them the most. In that context, the unsimulated sex and nudity adds to the plot, rather than titillation for the audience.

    Whereas Nagisa Oshima’s next film, Empire of Passion, is all about repressed desire and guilt. Within that context, Oshima actually leaves most of the sexual activity obscured or suggested at. Same for the nudity.

  • gorghast

    Lust, Caution

  • Char

    Without a doubt, Eastern Promises. That fight scene? Incredible.

  • I’ll second Shame.

  • A couple just came to mind.

    A Clockwork Orange – The sex scenes show us just how nutso these guys are.

    Requiem for a Dream – the infamous drug-addled scene with Jennifer Connelly.
    A History of Violence – I just watched this the other day. I’d say the anger sex they have on the stairs gives us a glimpse of “Joey” and what’s to come.

  • Phaedrus

    The Life of Brian – when Brian stretches and yawns at the window, unaware there is a huge crown watching.

  • trooper6

    Salmonberries!
    The Watchmen?

  • absolutely. unsexiest nude scene ever, but absolutely defining. Says more about the character than a million words and all the tattoos.

  • LaSargenta

    Salmonberries!!

  • Shortbus. It definitely wouldn’t have been the same movie otherwise.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    That’s a good one – you could put a lot of Cronenberg in there too, particularly Videodrome, Crash and A Dangerous Method. All of them use sex as a way of getting into character’s psychologies, and through that into the world around them.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Nicole Holofcener’s Lovely & Amazing – when Emily Mortimer strips naked and asks her partner to say what he thinks of her body, it works as a great thematic fulcrum for the film and it just wouldn’t hit as hard if you couldn’t see her naked. That’s how Holofcener takes the scene from being about one character who’s insensitive to being about a whole society that judges women on their looks, including you in the audience.

  • Guest

    “The Dreamers” – Lots of nudity/sex as part of the storyline. Plus we got to see actress Eva Green’s vagina up close (definitely a “whoa!” moment in terms of explicitness).

  • david

    Bound, Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon… so hot. Take that scene out of the movie and it feels watered down.

  • Trooper6

    I’m so happy I’m not the only one to remember that movie!

  • LaSargenta

    I loved that movie. Even tried to like k.d. lang’s music ’cause of that movie. Loved Bagdad Cafe and Rosalie Goes Shopping, too. Haven’t seen Adlon’s other films. I ought to seek them out. Someone recommended Funf Letzte Tage to me. Never did see it.

  • Guest

    The Wings of the Dove (1997)- that last sex scene is key to the entire thing imo.

  • InkAshlings

    The Wings of the Dove (1997)- the end sex scene is very explicit but is key to the point of James’ entire book, and indeed, the film adaptation.

  • InkAshlings

    Yes to both The Crying Game and The Wings of the Dove spring to mind.

  • chris

    The cooler — william h macy going down on maria bello was one of the rawest and most erotic moments committed to celluloid, the movie just wouldn’t be the same without it, and as a man I just gotta say once for the cheap seats — Hot

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