Saturday, March 04, 2006

Altman's Nudes

Okay, so maybe that title is a misnomer. Using Sir Kenneth Clark's distinction between the naked and the nude, I find few, if any, proper nudes in Altman's filmography. What follows is a brief study of the way Robert Altman uses nudity. This post is intended as a comment starter. Warning: Not Safe For Work. You can click on the smaller pictures to enlarge. Afterwards, for more Altman, go to The House Next Door for links and updates on the Altman Blog-a-thon.

The sexiest shot in Altman. I prefer it to Marilyn's "Isn't it delicious" air-blast in The Seven Year Itch.

Here begins the theme of nakedness and humiliation.

Here is a painterly triptych. I can almost smell the dirty woolen socks in this brothel.

The One-Armed Piccolo Player.

Altman likes to repeat these stray glimpses of his leading men. Keith Carradine plops his fanny down in front of the television.

Yeesh. I don't know which feels more painful and degrading to watch, this or Julie Andrews in S.O.B.

This scene brings to mind Faye Dunaway's very calculated nudity in Chinatown.

A Hollywood Mud Monster.

There are always layers in Altman to undercut any titillation. Altman made an anti-western. He also makes anti-nude scenes. Can we derive pleasure watching him watching her pretending to be dead for her mother, who's watching?

Awfully sporting of Huey Lewis. What was it rock groupie Pamela Des Barres said about him?

Nude ... and dead.

Pretty as a picture. The sisters share a giggle afterwards at husband Modine's awkwardness.

The audience pretends not to notice Julianne's flaming bush the way the characters pretended not to notice that hurricane in The Gingerbread Man.

The only idea in Preta-a-Porter's pretty empty head.

Kenneth Branagh wakes up next to a Nude, then remembers he is late to his acting exercise.

There are few shots I wish I could post but couldn't find, so this is far from comprehensive. Maybe I can add them later when I have more time.

In Brewster McCloud, avenging angel Sally Kellerman is nude in a fountain. Also, Bud Cort's surprisingly defined torso seen while doing chin-ups reminded me of the buff Buster Keaton whenever we see him shirtless.

I think I remember a bevy of topless party girls living across the way from Marlowe and his cat in The Long Goodbye.

Haven't seen Dr. T and the Women, but given the subject matter I'd be shocked if there wasn't nudity.

Did Vincent Van Gogh paint nude models in his little brown studio?

I've seen fewer than half of Altman's movies, but I think it's a safe bet that Shelley Duvall is naked in there somewhere.

Please let me know of any glaring omissions.

A few tentative thoughts: When it comes to nudity, Altman is an equal opportunity employer, at least by normal Hollywood standards. Be they female or male, young or old, pretty or plain, he doesn't shy from filming. I discovered that many of these shots don't work as stills. Especially 'Hot Lips' getting off the chopper. There's a reason they call them moving pictures. Also, I find that the attitude behind a few of these shots disturbs and makes me uncomfortable. Somewhere I once heard Martin Scorsese say that he didn't shoot nude scenes. It seemed like he took some pride in this. That struck me as odd, somehow, and perhaps not good. Why is he so comfortable with violence, but not with nudity? Robert Altman on the other hand has used nudity many times, but there is always something willfull and contrarian about it. So what's going on with Altman and nudity? Any patterns? Any thoughts?


Brian said...

A simple answer comes from, if I recall correctly, the interview Altman gives as an extra on the Images DVD (or was it something I read somewhere else in the preparation for this Blog-a-Thon weekend?) Anyway, Altman says he puts sex and nudity in his films specifically to draw the R rating, as he feels (with a few exceptions) his style is best appreciated by adult audiences. Of course, Scorsese's films are usually rated R too but, as you note, for violence. I guess Altman's universe simply has more room for gratuitous nudity than gratuitous violence, so its become something of a trademark.

Ju-osh said...

M. Scorcese's films' lack of nudity (and his curious pride in this) is most likely -- and I'm clearly guessing here -- due to his Catholic upbringing and its lifelong, lingering aftershocks. Violence is quite common to those taught in the tenents of Christianity, particularly when it comes to penance and punishment (both staple themes in the works of Scorsese and uber-Christian Mel Gibson), while sexuality, apart from its sticky place in procreation, is most commonly associated with sin. And guess what? Here's where Scorsese finally bears bosoms, breasts and thing-a-mabobs! For proof (or dirty internet pervs), check out The Last Temptation of Christ for hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Mary Magdalene's magnificenct mammaries and/or the Woodstock-ian naked, unwashed masses self-flagellating themselves while John the Baptist muddies them in the name of Our Father.
(In all seriousness, The Last Temptation of Christ is easily my favorite Scorsese flick, so much so that when I read the line above about his not shooting nudity, I immediately felt a to-the-batpoles sense of urgencey to right this glaring wrong. I meant no disrespect to the film, filmmaker, or faith.)

Edward Copeland said...

I do remember Altman commenting on showing Cynthia Stevenson naked in The Player but not Greta Scacchi was him being mischievous: He wanted the audience not to see nude the woman they really wanted to see nude.

weepingsam said...

I've seen fewer than half of Altman's movies, but I think it's a safe bet that Shelley Duvall is naked in there somewhere.

That would be THIEVES LIKE US.

This subject comes up now and then, often to accuse Altman of misogyny - but what I find interesting is that you really can't come up with a pattern. Sometimes it's titillating - sometimes humiliating - sometimes liberating - sometimes defiant - sometimes casual... If there's a pattern, that's probably it - trying to cover every possibility...

Edward Copeland said...

What's also notable is that the nudity is rarely in the context of actual sex scenes, as in "The Player," where Tim Robbins' and Greta Scacchi's lovemaking is shot entirely from above the chest to their heads and is countered by Robbins' inability to confess to his crime.

Wagstaff said...

In that love scene in THE PLAYER, wasn't Altman trying to beat Alfred Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS for the the longest running close-up kissing scene? Kind of like he tackled TOUCH OF EVIL in the opening shot.