In the opening moments of the new film, “A Bigger Splash” Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and her lover, Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), are lounging naked by the pool at their Italian villa. Their comfort is desirable, infectious. Their sensuality is palpable. Watching them, you just want to strip off your clothes and dive through the screen to join them. But then Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne’s former lover, arrives with his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson) and the couple confides to one another that they can’t be naked anymore.
That doesn’t stop their guests from disrobing. The boisterous Harry skinny-dips to cool off or show off—probably both—and Penelope uses her nudity to coax a potential suitor in one key scene. Most notably, however, when an argument develops between Harry and Paul, the scene showcases a full-frontal Fiennes who spends the whole sequence completely naked.
The male nudity here is not erotic, but something more essential. It reveals, exposes, and expresses the truth of who Harry is, what he is saying and why he is naked while saying it: he simply ha...
Many actors only want to appear naked on screen if the exposure serves the story or character without being exploitive. Explicit and extensive nudity allows characters to express their true identities through physical and emotional nakedness.
But too often, full-frontal male nudity is used as a did-you-see-that? discussion point. When Richard Gere bared it all in “American Gigolo” or “Breathless,” it sent tongue wagging. Harvey Keitel was alternately sinister in “Bad Lieutenant” or seductive in “The Piano” when he exposed himself on screen. Michael Fassbender’s casual full frontal in “Shame” seemed calculated to titillate, but it said little about his sex-addicted character. Mark Wahlberg teased his character Dirk Diggler’s elephantine cock throughout “Boogie Nights,” providing the money shot only in the film’s final frame.
Stripteases can also be revealing, Pierre Perrier’s lap dance in “American Translation” left absolutely nothing to the imagination about what was in his lap. That said, male nudity can be excessive. Karl Glusman’s showed perhaps too much when his throbbing-in-3D penis climaxed in Gasper Nöe’s erotic drama, “Love.” Viewers may have wanted him to put his clothes back on.
Gratuitous nudity can serve a purpose, though, and even generate laughs. Stephen Dorff’s full-frontal scene in “Shadowboxer,” was amusing, not for his impressive display, but for his line, “Eddie, what’d I tell you about talking when I’m fucking, huh?”
Despite all these actors’ exposures, extensive and full-frontal male nudity in cinema still seems to be a bit of a taboo, which is why it can be refreshing to see actors letting it all hang out when they do. Here are a dozen films that extensively capture the naked truth of the male form.
1. “Women in Love”
Alan Bates and Oliver Reed’s nude wrestling scene in Ken Russell’s romantic classic still impresses with its total lack of inhibition. Reed is bored, so Bates suggests they do some Japanese style wrestling. They strip naked to “do it properly” (locking the doors for privacy, of course). Watching these two lusty men, lit by a nearby fire grab and tussle with one another is highly erotic, especially as the men get sweatier and more violent, hitting and smacking each other harder and harder until they break apart. A heavy-breathing Reed asks, “Was it too much for you?” Bates responds that it wasn’t; their physical closeness completes their mental and spiritual closeness. They are implicitly true to one another, freer, and more open.
Warhol Superstar (and former Athletic Model Guild model) Joe Dallesandro appeared naked so often in so many Warhol/Morrissey films, it’s hard to choose just one sequence. But his nude modeling scene in “Flesh” (the truest of all possible titles), which featured the actor posing like a discus thrower, a runner, and more, may be the ne plus ultra of his nude scenes. Dallesandro appears so un-self-consciously naked that his irresistibility comes through. He is a figuratively blank canvas for co-stars and audience members to project their fantasies and desires upon. “Body worship,” Joe is told by the man asking him to pose, “is the whole thing behind all art, all music, all sex and all love. If you cut it out, you deprive yourself of one great chunk of life…. It’s in the makeup of the human animal...it becomes sex.” Dallesandro’s body was worshipped by fans for decades.
3. and 4. “Eastern Promises” and “Bronson”
When is naked man most powerful? Viggo Mortensen’s Nikolai in his fight scene in a sauna in David Cronenberg’s thriller, “Eastern Promises,” has the actor displaying his tattooed and buff body in the buff, as well as his brute strength kicking and killing. But even as the naked and badly wounded Nikolai crawls over a victim’s body, he still can break an arm or bloody an eye in what was literally, an eye-popping sequence.
Likewise, Tom Hardy’s literally balls-out performance as a vicious gangster, Charles Bronson, acts like cock of the walk parading around in the altogether in prison. Putting his “body paint” on before tackling a group of guards who come to take him from his cell, he is fearlessly nude even as his character instills fear in others.
Lars von Trier’s ecstatic, erotic diptych features many incredible nude scenes, particularly one featuring the title character Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) bookended by two well-endowed African brothers. But a key scene has Joe shaking down and breaking down a man (Jean-Marc Barr) who owes money to her employer. By exposing the debtor gentleman’s penis—the “reliable truth detector” every man is equipped with she acknoweldges—Joe recounts a catalog of sexual deviations to determine what literally excites him. While Joe elicits his cruel truth through the use of his body, she “apologizes” by sucking the man off; she feels pity for him, a fellow outcast, because she forced him to confront his shameful, repressed desires. “Nymphomaniac” raises honest, uncomfortable questions about sexuality, what von Trier’s characters claim is the most powerful force for humans.
6. “Klown Forever”
Forthcoming this summer is this naughty sequel to 2010’s “Klown” in which Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam, have their friendship tested. One of the wilder sequences in this outrageous Danish comedy features Frank conspiring to have Casper spend a heavily negotiated 30 seconds fucking Frank’s blindfolded wife as payback for an indiscretion Frank had. (What that was should not be revealed). Casper arrives with a visibly raging hard-on in a scene that plays out as the undressed men have further negotiations about whether or not Casper should wear a condom. “Klown Forever” also has no shame when it comes to Frank participating in several scenes with his pants down, from an episode involving a dog, to being caught with his penis entangled in a Navajo dreamcatcher, to another awkward morning-after encounter where Frank isn’t wearing any pants. The embarrassment nudity here shows that there are no depths too low for the actors, who generate laughs by their lack of comfort and clothes.
This hilarious nude wrestling scene has the shouty, hairy, overweight producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) sitting on the face of TV reporter Borat (Sasha Baron Cohen) during a knock-down, drag-out fight. (The tussling is sparked when Borat catches Azamat masturbating to a magazine featuring his dream girl Pamela Anderson). The flesh parade, which includes amusing long black bars to cover the men’s genitalia, is quite funny, most notably when their fighting continues in the hotel’s hallways, and elevator—where the men are respectfully silent and controlled as guests run away or try to pretend not to notice. The scene culminates with the guys wrestling angrily in the middle of a conference room as onlookers shout “What the fuck?” If “Borat” is ultimately, an elaborately staged prank, the film earns its laughs by showing how people react uncomfortably to such in-your-face nudity. Audiences howled at the men’s graphic, naked antics, just as observers in the film react in shock. But a key point of this sequence is to show how real people’s reactions are. But what is particularly funny is how Borat and Azamat are more caught up in their own emotions, than they are about the fact that they are naked in public.
8. “Search Party”
Opening Friday, it’s a wacky comedy about Nardo (Thomas Middleditch) who is about to get married. While stoned with his buddies, he talks about how his fiancé will help him evolve from his “old self” to his truer “new self.” However, the wedding ceremony is disrupted, and when Nardo tries to reconnect with his jilted bride, he ends up naked and afraid in the Mexican desert. In one of the film’s many comedic set pieces, Nardo has a scary confrontation with a local and flees, having been striped of some skin-tight gold tights he found. Spotting a truck that might lead him to safety, he flies through the air—naked as a jaybird—and in slow motion, no less. Unfortunately, the vehicle he lands in is transporting cocaine, and Nardo gets covered head to toe (and every part and crevice in between) in drugs. When tries to reason with he Mexican drivers, he talks a blue streak about Dave and Busters and jacuzzis among other silly things. The drug runners can’t believe what he is saying (given his awkward situation), much less understand why he is naked while saying it. Nardo’s humiliation doesn’t end after he is tied up—still nude—by a Mexican drug lord (JB Smoove). He has several additional scenes of streaking, spending most of his screen time in the raw. “Search Party” uses this extensive male nudity to emphasize not just Middleditch’s bare ass, balls, and more, but also his anxious groom’s vulnerability.
9. “Stranger by the Lake”
Alain Guiraudie’s highly sensual, highly sexual film, set almost entirely in a gay cruising area, is all about voyeurism. The men, including director Guiraudie in peek-a-boo cameo (perhaps to show he won’t ask his actors to do anything he wouldn’t do himself), are often sans clothes on the beach for extended periods of time. Guiraudie shoots the men who appear au natural in a naturalistic way that leaves little room for them to be discrete, and a lot of room for them to be desired. As various guys couple up in the nearby woods, a heady game of attraction develops between a handsome young man, and a murderer he observes. “Stranger by the Lake” puts viewers in the position of the characters, who watch, ogle, and lust after the hot French gay men. One may even work up enough of a sweat that a dip in the lake is required.
10. "A Room with a View"
11. “Jamón Jamón”
Before he became well known in America. Javier Bardem did a handful of “beefcake” roles, none more memorable than in “Jamón, Jamón.” In the film’s most famous scene, Bardem and co-star Tomás Martin (aka Tomás Penco) bullfight in the nude. (Does it really matter why?) They have some fun until the overseer unexpectedly shows up, prompting the guys to run to Silvia’s (Penélope Cruz) house for cover and to cover up. Bardem admitted in an interview he and I did years ago that to prepare for this scene, a makeup woman on set covered his entire body—balls and all, he explained—in BenGay to keep his bare body warm. However, she vastly overcompensated, and the actor had to get an injection at a nearby hospital to reduce his escalating temperature!
Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan’s a big blue man with a big penis, one that is visible throughout this adaptation of the graphic novel. It’s refreshing that a blockbuster superhero film would feature extensive nudity, even if the penis is computer-generated, animated, and larger than life. But still, let’s not kick a gift hung-like-a-horse in the mouth, or the crotch. Dr. Manhattan’s exposure is a reflection of who he has become, and it signifies the comfort he has in his own skin, and with his new appearance.