I recently watched a documentary on the film Deep Throat and was thoroughly blown away by the long lines outside the theaters in the 70's to see a porn film. Reporters were interviewing various celebs who were at the LA premier, and among them was Mr. Ed McMahon! Can you even conceive of this sort of thing happening today? People must have been pretty accepting of nudity in movies.
Then, last week my wife and I watched a truly awful film called Hot Dog… the Movie (1984). There’s a scene where a couple check into a hotel room, and the desk attendant is completely butt naked for no particular reason (she had just gotten out of a hot tub, and evidently didn’t want to trouble herself by wrapping up in a towel). The very definition of gratuitous nudity.
And lastly, yesterday, a few friends and I watched the Mathew Modine-Phoebe Cates movie, Private School (1983). None of us had seen it before and were pretty amazed at the amount of gratuitous nudity in the picture. There’s a shower scene, a topless chick on a horse, and a girl gets champagne on her outfit and naturally must immediately strip to get out of those uncomfortable wet clothes.
This started a conversation about how movies from the very late 1960’s till around 1984 contained unprecedented levels of gratuitous nudity - not an original observation by any stretch, so I won’t bore you with stating the obvious. But my question is what caused it to stop?
Sure, it hasn’t stopped completely. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry and there’s tons of cheap-o late night Cinemax (aka Skin-a-max) soft core snores to go around. I’m talking about movies that are at the theater and do well at the box office (both low budget and mainstream); I’m talking about cinematically omnipresent gratuitous nudity. Why’d it go bye-bye?
And don't tell me it didn't. Where's the gratuitous female nudity in comedies like Superbad, 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Stepbrothers, There's Something About Mary, etc. These are the type of films that would've definitely had nudity aplenty a decade or so earlier. Even horror movies, once a fertile ground for gratuitous nudity, now are generally PG-13, with less skin than Doc Hollywood.
Here’s my theory of what happened (correct me if you have a better one):
A huge segment of the population in the late 1960’s was under the age of 25. They were the ones dictating the success or fail at the box office, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that most 18-25 year olds would rather see Foxy Brown than Ivanhoe. Plus, it didn’t hurt that many restrictions were lifted on what the studios were putting out.
So, basically a bunch of horny Baby Boomers steered movie producers toward gratuitous nudity and explicit sexual content for over a decade…. and then they got older. The Boomers’ libidos settled down, Reagan got elected, there was a war on pornography, and they dumped their bongwater down the drain for the last time.
This is not a good climate for irresponsible sexual hijinx in movies – no, you should be watching Turner and Hooch or maybe Top Gun. It wasn’t long before guys like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich were setting the tone, and that was all she wrote. Bye-bye Foxy Brown, hello Mrs. Doubtfire.
Feel free to punch holes in my theory. However, you need not mention that the biggest movie of the 1990's (Titanic) had a topless scene. I am well aware. Anomalies do occur.
Also, perhaps you see a comback on the horizon. Movies like My Bloody Valentine (2009) certainly lend credence to that thought. Inquiring minds want to know.