Friday, July 10, 2009

THE KINGS OF CINEMATIC SCHLONG


WARNING! This post contains language and imagery centering on a functional part of the human body that much of the population sees every day which has, throughout the history of art, been the subject of much sculpted and painted representation as well as salacious speculation and curiosity. This curiosity seems due more to its implied status as a forbidden object unsuitable for display in such an artistic manner than its inherent status as the focus of licentious sexual evil. But if the subject offendeth thee, get over it or don't read the post. It won't hurt my feelings. But if you do sally forth, just keep it in your pants long enough to read the piece and then, God bless America, do whatever it is that you as a consenting adult, will do.

“I know the reason that it was cut out was that it just wasn’t right. If anything, it’s a beautiful, gentle moment and a f**king large c**k with huge balls, is just f**king jarring.” —Colin Farrell on why his nude scene was cut out of Alexander

“It looks like an egg in a nest. This girl once said to me, ‘Who are you going to satisfy with that little thing?’ I said, ‘Me!’” —Johnny Knoxville


Coming in at #5 on Salon's list of the "Top 10 Moments in Male Frontal Nudity," it's Ewan McGregor, perhaps more single-penis-per-exposed-foot-of-film than any other in cinema history, in Peter (I said Peter) Greenaway's The Pillow Book. This one's for my dear wife...

One finds inspiration where one finds it, by God, and in celebration/commemoration/anticipation of today’s release of Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest satirical sociopolitical firecracker, the thankfully two-syllable entitled Bruno, debate which has been stirring for a couple of months now, ever since the movie was screened at festivals and Cohen began in earnest his unique guerrilla marketing campaign, over whether the movie is a devastating dressing-down of American hypocrisy in which even those sympathetic to its point of view are indicted, or a wrongheaded and depressing reinforcement of the very fears and prejudices it seeks to debunk. Partisans on both sides of the fence seem to agree that the movie is undeniably hilarious—the difference seems to be whether those laughs stick in the throat or whether they can inspire honest introspection in even the choir to which Cohen’s message is being preached. (David Edelstein, in his rave, observed that “Underlying all these gags—the funny, the crude, the funny and crude—is a hard truth: Flagrant gay behavior drives a lot of heteros insane. To be honest, I’m uncomfortable watching two guys with tongues down each other’s throats, too, but at least I know the problem is mine, not theirs.”) It’ll be interesting to see how the movie goes down on those who weren’t bothered by The Hangover’s it-is-what-it-is fag fear.

And by way of celebration of the copious full-frontal male nudity on display in Bruno (unlike the rassling scene in Borat, we can apparently expect a closer-to-NC-17 unpixellated variety this time around), Salon yesterday published a provocative list entitled ”The Dong Show: Top 10 Moments in Male Frontal Nudity,” celebrating, as Salon would have it, Ewan MacGregor, Vincent Gallo and the rest of the upstanding (sorry) men who put the penis in pop culture. Writers Sarah Hepola and Thomas Rogers approach the list with good humor, of course, but their undertaking has a core of seriousness behind it and a question that is worth asking:

“(I)n popular culture, and movies in particular, there's been a rather conspicuous double standard. Sure, boobs and vaginas are great, but where, egalitarians might ask, are all the penises? Male nudity is so verboten in film that even one that centers on its exposure -- The Full Monty -- didn't have the (excuse us) balls to live up to its name. Mr. Skin, an online database of movie nude scenes, doesn't feature male nudity at all. We joke all the time about the mighty John Thomas, but rarely does it get any real screen time. As film scholar Laura Mulvey argued in her famous essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,’ it probably has something to do with men's discomfort seeing other men's bodies on a movie screen -- a discomfort that BrĂ¼no, Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up to the penis-y Borat aims to exploit. Cohen's floppy member practically gets its own billing.”



Eric Idle asks another important question (okay, two): Isn’t it awfully nice to have a penis?/Isn’t it frightfully good to have a dong?

It’s hard to argue with any of the pole position rankings on Hepola and Rogers’ list, particularly #9, #7, #5, #2 and, of course, #1-- they’re all major signposts of the Phallus in Modern Cinema, all right. And it’s good to see they made room to mention Bart Simpson’s hilarious did-I-just-see-that full-frontal from The Simpsons Movie, a tiny little bit that changed the life of at least one person who saw it (Ralph Wiggum: “I like men now!”). I would nit-pick, and then only slightly, with not so much the inclusion but the significance of screenwriter-star Jason Segel’s self-humiliation in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (#4). Many a review and advance nugget of hype was built around the appearance of Segel’s schlong, and audiences were led to believe they’d be getting a Peter Greenaway-esque unflinching look at the actor’s shortcomings (Thank you, Mr. Niven!) as part of the agonizing break-up scene he does fully nude in that movie. Heaven knows, the unrated DVD may paint a different picture, but as seen in the theater, the glimpses we’re afforded of the Jason Junk are cut helter-skelter in between medium close-ups of Segel’s bare upper body, and consequently we’re given not much more than a second or two to register the shocking visage, as if the editor and director were too sheepish to let us gaze too long—it’s like having somebody’s hands come up over your face to protect you from the near-subliminal flashes of pee-pee they want full credit and notoriety for having given you in the first place. (Was the impish Tyler Durden the film editor on FSM?) Hey, I paid good money to see a Hollywood actor break that double standard at his own expense (knowing that he’d be credited as daring and brave for doing it, of course), and I must say, I felt a little gypped.

Even with Segal at #4, I think you’ll find Salon’s list a lot of fun, inspirational in the way these things usually are in that they get you to thinking about the penises—er, titles that were left off in the zeal to whittle it down to a mere 10 willies. It really is interesting to think that we are so insecure as a society (and as a society of filmmakers and filmgoers) that the only way we can be afforded a look at what makes Richard Gere so attractive to Lauren Hutton and Valerie Kaprisky, in American Gigolo and Jim McBride’s Breathless remake, respectively, is by shadow of Venetian blinds or long shot in a shower. And was it not just slightly disingenuous of Robert Altman to trumpet his balancing of the full-frontal nudity score in Short Cuts by comparing Julianne Moore’s luscious, unself-conscious pubic nudity with, um, Huey Lewis whipping it out and taking a piss off of a fishing boat… into water in which there floats, by the way, the body of a brutally murdered naked woman? (I continue to revere
Altman for every film of his but that one, and this reason is only one of many for my discontent.) It is these opportunities, to fill in the blanks with your own memories and observations, which make lists like this fun and worthwhile, even when their focus is on cinematically verboten body parts. Here’s to directors figuring out that there’s as much an audience for male nudity as for female, and that the double standard so prevalent now has a lot more to do with the hang-ups of the people who finance, make, distribute, and let’s not forget rate, the movies we see than with the supposed fears of an audience whose ranks might be driven to a violent frenzy if occasionally confronted by the image of a member on screen that they see down their shorts every day.

Here’s my alphabetical assignment of six scintillating sin-stances of the schlong in cinema that Salon overlooked:


ANGELS AND INSECTS (1994) Phillip Haas’ deliberate and creepy costume drama, an adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s novel described often as a cross between Merchant Ivory and Tennessee Williams, features one scene in which fair-haired (and one suspects possibly damaged by in-breeding) Edgar Alabaster (played by Douglas Henshall, seen above) is caught in flagrate dilicto with cousin Eugenia (played by Patsy Kensit). When I saw the movie years ago, I was caught up in the drama and tension of the scene, but also by something else—as Henshall flies out from under the covers to stand before the person who has walked in on him and his lover, it’s hard to miss the fact that the actor is sporting a very convincing hard-on. This is the kind of method acting the British are very rarely given credit for, and it makes me think that day’s shooting was not the usual grueling endurance test that actors so often portray when describing shooting scenes like this. “Gives the average flaccid penis scene the old what-for!” - The Sunday Times

EQUUS (1977) Speaking of flaccid penises, I always wondered, since Peter Firth (and Sidney Lumet) were so open in portraying protagonist Alan Strang's fierce and consuming equine sexual passion, what with Firth’s prodigious hose on display like in no other mainstream movie I’d ever seen before (or perhaps since), why they apparently avoided the whole boner issue. Was such possible tumescence the difference between an arty “R” rating and a more forbidding “X” in the eyes of Jack Valenti and the M.P.A.A.? Perhaps. And perhaps another explanation might be that Peter Firth, fine talent that he is, is just not the Method devotee that Douglas Henshall is. Given that Strang ultimately chooses a strapping stallion over Jenny Agutter’s Jill Mason (Agutter being incomparably lovely at this stage of her career), before gouging said stallion's eyes out, of course, I suppose flaccidity was all for the good. Firth also has the distinction of being, until the rise of Ewan MacGregor, the most well-hung mainstream actor to ever expose himself in a major motion picture. (For a better look, click here for Gay Skindex’s post entitled “PETER FIRTH FULL-FRONTAL NUDE IN EQUUS-- LARGE PENIS!”)


THE GROOVE TUBE (1975) Many movie-goers of my certain age got their very first glimpse of the male organ projected onto a 30-foot screen (or bigger, if you saw it, as I did, at a drive-in) during the opening sequence of Ken Shapiro’s intermittently gasp-inducing comedy sketch film, which is presented here uncut:



But the movie ends, as it began, with another groundbreaking presentation of testicular trafficking, one that sneaks up on you in a way much different than a hippie hanging all out in the woods and running into the nightstick-wielding Man. The setting is an ostensible public service announcement for avoiding the pitfalls and agonies of venereal disease, hosted by a strange looking puppet with a two-dimensional cartoon body and a head that looks like a giant peanut turned on its side with two pasted-on eyes added at the last minute. The puppet is seen in medium long shot at the beginning of the spot, which is for the most part earnest in its information. But that information becomes increasingly graphic as the camera pushes in to reveal that our harmless puppet host… is actually a pair of hairy balls stuck through a cardboard backdrop and decorated to distract. Until such distraction becomes impossible, of course, over the giggles induced from the absurdity of being lectured on the subjects of promiscuity and disease by two fuzzy, goose-pimply clackers with fake eyes attached to each nut.


IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (1976) This one really belongs in the “detached penis” division of our little enterprise, but since this was the very first “pornographic” film I ever saw, it deserves mention. That I eventually emerged from seeing this movie when I was only 17, still having a several-years-long journey toward my own loss of virginity, with relatively little fear of the opposite sex is a fact that still boggles my mind. I was in no way ready (how could I be?) for the level of psychological acuity and despair to which director Nagisa Oshima submits his actors, and of course his audience, with this suffocating, compelling tale of sexual hunger and psychosis. Drew McWeeney’s specific take on the movie will resonate with any male who has undergone a certain medical procedure, but the movie goes far beyond empathy with pain into a kind of character study that might have been impossible to achieve without the director’s and actor’s commitment to the reality of what they were trying to grasp and throttle to some sort of truth. It’s a landmark movie in many ways, and not just for its power to make its climactic castration believable viscerally, but also as a condition of pacifying the extreme dementia of the female character’s sexual desire.


MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (1979) Graham Chapman, as the titular not-so-much-a-savior Brian, gets to air out all of his concerns as he confronts the DeMille-esque crowd gathered outside his door while he basks in the glow of making love to his terrorist girlfriend. Despite the artfully placed hand here, Chapman in the film was not so modest, though it was apparent he had a long way to go to match fellow thespian Firth’s contribution to the penile pantheon.


LISZTOMANIA (1976) My friend Paul Matwychuk has a terrific take on this lunatic Ken Russell offering, which I offer you in the sincere hope that you will see this certifiable movie one day and enjoy it as much as Paul and I do. The movie is shot through with phallic imagery—no ivory column in this picture is just an ivory column, and often the wall decorations fart a lovely, inebriating mist through lampshades that turn out to be cheeks. But that’s off the subject, innit? Even the one-sheet and subsequent advertising for newspapers featured Liszt redefining what it is to swash one’s buckle by putting front and center an arm holding a rapier what don’t exactly look like an arm holding a rapier. And toward this end, the scene that defined the movie for those of us who were obsessed by it years before actually having seen the film (I bought the record album of Rick Wakeman-ized Wagner and Liszt compositions and absorbed them thoroughly)— does not disappoint. It is the one featuring that gigantic, veiny, seven-foot-long pole which Roger Daltrey sports in the film’s central fantasy sequence—a satanically vaudevillian fantasia built around sexual excess and (here we go again) fear of castration. After being sucked past the XXXXXXL panties of a slightly reptilian courtesan and into her suddenly cavernous vagina, Daltrey sprouts the Big One, whereupon garter-clad dancers high-step on his enormous shaft and lead him toward a guillotine apparently made just for the slicing of a salami as spectacular as his. One imagines, while watching Lisztomania, that Ken Russell was born to make this film, and seeing it again now just makes me miss his indefatigably balls-out (sorry) spirit even more.

EXTRA CREDIT:


FLESH GORDON (1974) The advertising for this porno take-off on the Flash Gordon serials trafficked in some of the same salacious imagery as did Lisztomania, but none of it was particularly outrageous or memorable. The movie, cut down from a hard-core version and turned into a sizeable soft-core hit, doesn’t feature much male nudity, at least that I can recall. It’s phallic highlight instead comes in the special effects design of the spaceship that takes Flesh, Dale Ardor and Dr. Flexi Jerkoff to the planet Porno where they clash with the evil forces of Emperor Wang the Perverted. (Look, I never it was a good movie.) It does also feature slightly phallic Harryhausen-esque set design (again, no mushroom-shaped building is just a mushroom-shaped building) and a monster (“Well, I never! Up yours, Gordon!”) that is easily the highlight of this otherwise limp effort. (For the last time, I'm sorry.)



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All right, what have I forgotten?

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19 comments:

Flickhead said...

Dennis, are things all right at home?

Bob Westal said...

Okay, so that will be a good for a few extra therapy sessions.

Seriously, however, "The Groove Tube" was the first R-rated movie I ever saw when I was 10 or 11. I think I was sort of relieved to find that giant talking genitalia wasn't a regular occurrence after that.

Spoiler alert (if you really know nothing of the film's ending and really want to be...surprised): I actually saw some of "In the Realm of the Senses" at the New Beverly. I knew something of the ending (well, the part of the true incident the film was purportedly based on which had the woman in question walking around town with her beloved trophy).

Given my world famoud gorephobia you can probably guess where this is going. Let's face it, I had come...I mean arrived...for the art-house real sex (and it's still the only film I've ever seen with genuinely good actors of both genders having real honest to God sex -- though, by Jehovah, I keep looking!) However, as the choking stuff was happening -- and I really don't dig the idea of being choked (no orgasm is worth that) -- I started contemplating just how graphic the final, er, separation might become.

I left roughly half way through and waited in the car for my friend to finish the film. When I asked how real it looked, he said "pretty real." I learned later, through accounts like the one written by the more appropriately named than ever McWeeney's, just how real most viewers find it. And I've never regretted my decision to walk out...nor my decision to see it.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ray, why is it that I only seem to want Dodger Dogs for dinner these days? :)

Bob: Thanks for the story. I imagine there are quite a few like it from people who knew about the sex but maybe a little less about where the film was headed. I don't regret having seen it when I did, even though I was far too immature-- and at 17, I'm talking physically immature too. I hit a growth spurt just after I left for college and grew something like five inches in the span of my freshman year, when I saw ITROTS, and graduation. There's no way I looked old enough to see an X-rated movie when I confidently plunked the price of admission at the box office. Of course I rejected the movie totally, and it wasn't till much later that I could appreciate its intent.

But truthfully, I was probably more traumatized by Equus. A horse over Jenny Agutter? Jeez, I just don't think so...

Bob Westal said...

That would have to be some kind of horse.

le0pard13 said...

A very interesting and thoughtful post, Dennis. And I do recall seeing In the Realm of the Senses (at the Nuart) years after it's release when I was older. So, no mental trauma ;-). But I made sure I saw Flesh Gordon as soon as it came out because, well... it had nudity and I was 19. Go figure. I was mildly surprised you didn't mention Caligula in this post.

Thanks, Dennis.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Two reasons for the exclusion, le0pard13-- a) I have never actually put myself through Caligula, and b) it was already on Salon's list at #3. So since they already took that bullet...

And thanks for the comment. I've been curious as to how this post would be received. I've always been fascinated by that double standard, as if we as a society are almost afraid to look at the thingie. In Europe I'm sure it's not such a big deal, but in an American film whenever a weener shows up on screen, it is still kinda shocking, not so much for what it is as that we so rarely see them in this context. Maybe Colin Ferrell is
right!

And I just thought of another great moment in phallic film: Alex being checked into prison in Clockwork Orange, his meat and vegs cleverly covered by the box containing his personal items. You figure it's gonna stay that way, and then the admitting sergeant yanks the box away, and Kubrick immortalizes McDowell's member in the most deadpan way.

Scott said...

Disney Dong: Charles Martin Smith streaking across the tundra in "Never Cry Wolf."

Transparent Tadger: Kevin Bacon's computer-assisted performance in "Hollow Man."

Thom McGregor said...

Just thank you, Dennis. Thank you. Add Ewan in "Velvet Goldmine" for the rarely seen jumping-up-and-down male full frontal.And, Flickhead, things are fine at home!
Love,Wifey

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Now this is my kind of movie post, Dennis! Not mentioned yet:

Viggo Mortensen offered up his family jewels for viewing in two films, The Indian Runner (1991) and more recently in Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007) which even landed him a much deserved Oscar nomination.

John Malkovich went full-frontal in The Sheltering Sky (1990).

Jeremy Irons also showed it all a few years later in Damage (1992)

Cillian Murphy can be seen fully nude in 28 days Later (2002)

Louis Garrel and Michael Pitt are both fully nude in The Dreamers (2003)

And last but not least, Alain Delon and his dong can be seen in Shock Treatment (1973).

How do I know all this? Because I like all of these actors a hell of a lot! There nude scenes endure them to me.

p.s. Full disclosure - Ewan McGregor can also been seen pantless in Trainspotting (1996) and Young Adam (2003). That man enjoys taking his cloths off. And for good reason I might add!

le0pard13 said...

IIRC, didn't Kevin Bacon flash some in the shower scene (occurring in the background) in the Unrated Wild Things DVD?

le0pard13 said...

Oh and Jack Nicholson's directorial debut in the movie Drive, He Said has some pretty out there scenes. I know because I was one of the few who saw at a theater in '71. Come to think about, I don't know how they let this high schooler (at the time) in for that one?!? I believe this movie has the notoriety of being the only JN-directed film to not be released to either VHS or DVD.

Rick Olson said...

Mein Gott! Vat a big ... post you have!

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

I think I read that Rogen or one of that gang has promised full-frontal male penis in every movie from now on, in the interests of gender parity.

The Mysterious Ad)ri.an B(e;ta[m.a.x. said...

In modern times, Dave Foley's in Postal is without equal (I'm not evaluating the actual member, but just the balls of the lengthy and frank screen time). I shudder to point anyone to a Uwe Boll movie, but if anyone is obsessed with this particular topic, that film is required viewing for the new trail it blazes in this arena. (Although the film is generally unwatchable and I couldn't make it through it.)

Also, it seems you are all a bunch of lame cinephiles that I have to remind you of two you can see in Catherine Breillat's Romance-- one small, one big; one in action, one not quite up to it yet. (Rocco Siffredi is one of them.)

There is also penis to be seen in Leos Carax's Pola X, but I don't remember it being a particularly landmark scene. (I think it was Guillaume Depardieu, and if I rack my brain, I can probably come up with several Gerard Depardieu movies).

Frank Langella flopping around in the Showtime version of Lolita.

There are just so many, this exercise is silly.

Allen Ginsberg in Ciao Manhattan.

Idioterne by Lars von Trier has plenty.

There's also superstar John Vernon's golden penis (literally, painted golden) and peeing in the masterpiece that is Sweet Movie. (I believe it's an insert shot, so it may not be his.) There are several others in that film.

(Wasn't Adam Goldberg naked in 2 Days in Paris?)

Salo has its share, but that just seems unpleasant to mention.

That's just the tip of the iceberg off the top of my head. I chastise all involved for lack of thorough investigation of the subject and recommend their film studies credentials get revoked asap.

The Mysterious Ad)ri.an B(e;ta[m.a.x. said...

I left out Oliver Reed and Alan Bates' dual male naked wrestling love match in Ken Russell's ironically titled "Women in Love".

The lesson is that if you are a lemming who only watches mainstream American cinema, this subject holds some fascination, whereas if you are not a lame-o and seek out quality art cinema, then you have seen scads of the fellows.

Mainstream cinema fantaics = losers.
Art cinema fanatics = winners.

Robert Fiore said...

I saw Bruno today and had a great time, enjoyed it more than Borat, really. What they need to do on the DVD is to have a pop-up feature identifying who is in on the gag and who isn't. The portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the gay conversion office is the kind of detail you can't make up.

Interesting note on audience reaction: If you look on the customer ratings of the movie in Box Office Mojo it gets a C+ with an interesting grade curve: 140 As and 95 Fs. This I think indicates the discomfort level of an audience who were expecting a simple gross out based on Borat. I've read that box office receipts went down something over 30% between Friday and Saturday.

Patrick said...

The only one I can think of that nobody's mentioned yet is Kyle Maclachlan's in Blue Velvet. That one was a surprise to me, as David Lynch had carefully framed Isabella Rossellini while keeping little Kyle out of the lengthy shot, and then when he had to go running back to the closet to hide, whoops! there it was.

Anonymous said...

My college girlfriend and I saw "Groove Tube" at a theater in the 70s.
She loved the penis with the face drawn on it so much that she demanded I let her draw one on mine.
I first said hell no, but being a college boy who really liked having sex with this beautiful girl, I caved in after about 30 seconds.
And the rest is history.

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