What follows is a type of confession. By that, I'm not saying that this is the sort of thing in which I admit that Ben Affleck is actually pretty good in Surviving Christmas. No, this is the sort of thing in which I admit that I'm not a very good person and don't particularly care.
There were two events that led me to post this. One was the brief mention of "real nudity"--the sort of nudity mentioned by Bill in which you see a featured actress' parts, and not a nameless, often faceless, stripper's. Real nudity is the sort of thing that intimately involves you in the life of a famous actress--irrevocable and invasive, it has very little to do with sex and quite a lot to do with the destruction of privacy. Also, it's awesome in every way and a few I'll never be able to articulate.
The other event is Bryant Frazer's piece on Fantasia--a leisurely and fair dissection of one of my favorite films. "Of course," you might think, "the Pastoral Symphony section is too goofy for words." What can I say? "If it accomplishes nothing else, it does seem pretty fucking 'pastoral?'" Anyhow, my band-aid having been fully removed, it's time to go for broke and tell my little story.
So I'm having a conversation about the greatest films of this era with a girl--a friend--who has just turned 21. My assignment, and hers as well, is to pick the major Academy Award categories (Picture, Director, Screenplay, and the four Acting categories), but for her lifetime instead of any particular year. I add on a pick for Foreign Film, not because pretentiousness gives me little cerebral erections, but because she came up with one first. And I try to avoid repeating films wherever possible. So here are my choices (I don't entirely remember hers, but they are non-terrible and non-interesting):
Best Picture 1989-Now: Pulp Fiction
Best Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Best Director: Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves
Best Supporting Actor: Samuel Jackson, Pulp Fiction
Best Supporting Actress: Lara Belmont, The War Zone
Best Foreign Film: Hero (I actually prefer Hable con ella, but she's already an Almodovar fan, and they're so close in my mind, I went with something I didn't think she had seen.)
So my list, if you know me, isn't particularly surprising. I feel no responsibility to mention less common films just to seem worldly, so I find the lack of anything idiosyncratic strangely idiosyncratic. My friend told me her list, listened to mine, and nothing of any particular value was discussed. Then I started thinking about my list.
It's not particularly interesting except for the fact that both of my best actresses play sexual victims. Lara Belmont is raped by her dad and sets her own breast on fire in front of her brother and still somehow comes out in better shape than my best actress, who basically allows her disabled husband to talk her into getting fucked to death by strangers. I mean, Daniel Day-Lewis is pretty great in There Will Be Blood, but he doesn't have to take a bowling pin in the butt. No doubt Day-Lewis, the consummate professional, would set his nuts on fire if the role depended on it--one thinks about the tears jerked from a hypothetical filming of My Left Ball--but the fact is that the sexual degradation of dudes isn't interesting. Not from a plot perspective, and not from a "real nudity" perspective.
Naked tits have value, even in this Google and external hard drive culture. Readily available, not to mention the most infantile valuable object ever conceived, a previously unavailable naked boob is very possibly one of the last true currencies. This isn't the sort of thing I'd write on resumes, and it isn't exactly uncommon, but I know if it's possible to see a famous girl's boobs. Which famous girl? Pretty much all of them. Is this a creepy sexual thing? Well, it's creepy, but it's not sexual.
I don't want to fuck Zooey Deschanel. I mean, sure I'd marry her, but that's not the point right now. First of all, putting aside all issues of taste and decency (and feminism), wanting to fuck her would be impolite; I don't know her. Also, she's a vegan and it's difficult (though not impossible) to make fun of someone cooler than you while you're fucking them. So to recap, if you walked up to me with a faceless picture of Zooey Deschanel's vagina, I'd decline on the grounds that I have better reasons to hate myself. But.
If you told me that there was in existence a completely authentic picture of Zooey Deschanel's face and naked boobs, I would fetishize that picture in the completely insane (and mostly asexual) way that people fetishize new photos of the Titanic under water. I mean, it's HER face and HER boobs.
You can never undo that.
Human interaction has come a long way. People can look, hopefully, at another person's picture on a dating site, and instead of thinking, "Is the possibility of having sex with this person worth getting stabbed in the throat with the smallest and least impressive member of a terrifying collection of mail-order ceramic pastel unicorns?" they think, "Well, at least he claims to love his mom." There's something kind of great about the optimism with which we face relationships these days. But it's total bullshit--more people than ever before know that most every aspect of polite society is the overcorrection we publicize to make up for how damaged and deranged we are all the time.
So I'll come right out and say it. When the film theory types talk about the voyeurism inherent in female screen nudity, they're on the wrong track. A voyeur has a goal, a point of view. That's not what happens when a girl is naked on screen. It's not about looking; it's about showing. Female nudity, real nudity, is truth--not the manufactured, italicized truth that shaky-cam and other verite techniques claim to be, and certainly not a documentary either. No, real nudity is better--more and less pure, it's theater and fiction and the girl you always wanted to see naked and a real person whose nudity can never be revoked. If you're the kind of person who'd rather see guys naked, then I apologize, but there simply isn't an analogue. A dick can be theater and fiction and desire, but no one ever thinks that to show your dick is to give away a piece of yourself. I hesitate to say that boobs--either literal boobs on display or literal boobs slightly hidden or metaphorical boobs commenting on the female experience or metaphorical boobs commenting on the nature of being an actress (metaboobs?)--are necessary aspects of any quality female performance, but my hesitation is based on shame and not analysis.
When it comes to my choice of best actresses, I'm more than willing to call myself a misogynistic pervert and call it a day. But the fact is that women will never play Day-Lewis' part in There Will Be Blood or Jackson's part in Pulp Fiction. Oh sure, the scales will balance and all that jazz, but there have been only a handful of men asked to carry a movie like Day-Lewis carries There Will Be Blood. To expect a role like that for a woman is simply childish.
But if our expectations of real nudity and film as a whole are a distilled and amplified concoction of theater, fiction, desire, and truth, maybe those women are the best actresses after all. How do you compete with a man who methodically rapes the country and beats a man to death? If you've seen Breaking the Waves, perhaps the analogy isn't far off.