Artful Conception #24: Strategically Covered Nudity

Many of you will recall that Google stripped Retrospace of its advertising due to its use of "strategically covered nudity".  Well, now that the ads have been officially removed, I guess we're free to cover a topic that I've wanted to write about for some time.

You know the trope:  A completely nude character's "naughty bits" are blocked from view by a convenient prop or oddity of architecture.  The absurdity of the situation was perfectly spoofed in the first Austin Powers film where the actors are conveniently censored by various props.

While the Google advertising incident my have guaranteed this post come to life, the idea for it came after watching Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)...

In the scene, Susan Clark strips down to her skivvies under the watchful eye of the artificial intelligence.  But while the supercomputer gets to see her naughty parts, the viewer is confounded by a conveniently placed wine glass.

The problem is that it completely takes the viewer out of the picture.  The fact that a wine glass is perfectly stationed in front of Miss Clark is so obviously an act of censoring by the filmmakers, that the willing suspension of disbelief is momentarily shattered.

But it was only momentary, so I moved on.... until....

The very next movie I watched contained the same damn thing.  Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) contained an equally frustrating cover-up.  It's a Bob Hope film from the sixties, so it's not like I expected full frontal from the lovely Elke Sommer.  However, the strategically placed bubble bath suds bordered on the absurd.

(Note: I recently reviewed this film for Retrospace; check it out.)

This got me to thinking of amazingly common this trope is.  Think about Blue Lagoon, where Brooke Shields literally glued her hair to her breasts, or Splash where Daryl Hannah's hair always laid in just the right spot.

Goldfinger - the strategically placed pillow

Please note that I'm not complaining, so much as making an observation.  I completely understand that mermaid boobs would have given Splash an R rating, thus limiting its revenue.  However, I will point out that covering up naughty bits doesn't necessarily have to be done poorly.  The shower scene in Psycho, for instance, was deftly handled. There wasn't an obnoxious bar of soap in the foreground; rather, the scene was cut to where the viewer isn't really aware that censorship is going on.

Which brings up a reasonable question: If the scene can't be handled deftly, then is it better to not have the scene at all?  In other words, if you're going to have a damn wine glass covering all the "scenery", then perhaps this scene isn't necessary.  It's not just a tease for the male audience, it can become a distraction of the most overbearing variety.

Ever seen Woman Times Seven (1967)?  The scene with Shirley MacLaine reading poetry in the nude is simultaneously titillating and frustrating.  You know that nothing is going to be shown (it's a 1967 film after all), and yet the strategically placed book, hair and leg is enough to make you stand up and scream "Enough already! Either stand up and show us what you got or put some goddamn clothes on!"

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic - but you get my point.  And it gets worse: by the 1980's we'd created yet another problem far more predominant - Bushwacking!

Virginia Madsen in Gotham
At some point during the 1980s, it became okay to have topless scenery, but pubic hair was beyond forbidden - it was a no-no of the highest order. Subsequently, there was a flood of movies where the gal gets naked but the lower extremities are, by hook or by crook, obscured.

And, yes, I am aware of the sad irony that I am obscuring images myself.  Were I to remove the "frosted glass" from Madsen's bosom above, this poor blog, already maimed by Google, would be delivered a fatal blow.

Another frustrating example is in Casino Royale (1967) where Daliah Lavi is held captive by Woody Allen.  Are straps that huge really necessary?  For that matter, if you are restraining someone, wouldn't you focus on restraining the hands/arms and feet/legs?

In all honesty, I don't see why Daliah couldn't just slip out from underneath these preposterous straps.  But I forgive them, not because the movie was made in '67, but because it was campy.  Thus, there's no suspension of disbelieve disturbed - all is forgiven.

Jayne Mansfield in Promises! Promises!

But we could go on all day with examples... in fact I plan to. The examples of strategically covered nudity (SCN) aren't limited to film - paperback covers, album artwork, pulp magazines, comic books,... the list goes on and on.  Indeed, the tradition of covering naughty bits goes back to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and beyond.  For all I know, there's cave paintings with boobs obscured by conveniently placed stalactites. Point is, this is an Artful Conception with a long illustrious history, and I intend to explore it.

In part 2 (coming shortly) we'll check out the taxonomy of SCN found in film.  The soap bubble concealment, Godiva hair, etc.  Stay tuned.


  1. I understand your message, but it's also the art of the tease at work--if everything was in-your-face graphic all the time it'd get boring. Leaving at least something to the imagination is a powerful creative choice too. I agree though that overly clever cover-ups can sometimes get too coy and distracting. Anyway, this is such a perfect topic to investigate!.

  2. Benny Hill was great at ridiculing "Strategically Covered Nudity". One of his best bits involved people "nonchalantly" covering up with random household items.

    1. I like Terry Gilliam's "Full Frontal Nudity" cartoon on the Monty Python episode of same name. I was thinking about it watching 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

  3. "...I am obscuring images myself. Were I to remove the "frosted glass" from Madsen's bosom above, this poor blog, already maimed by Google, would be delivered a fatal blow" AND SO HOLLYWOOD CENSORSHIP WAS BORN

  4. The film Austin Powers made fun of this type of stuff from the 60s. I find it hilarious!

  5. Don't forget the credits covering up Jane Fonda in the opening strip-tease of "Barbarella".

    They did the same thing in "Avatar", when Neytiri's blue nipples (I assume she had them) were always covered by her hair or her necklace. CGI gives greater control over that sort of thing.

  6. I think the obnoxious & obvious strategic coverups were both poking fun at, and protesting against, the censorship rules. If you can't beat it, make fun of it. Make it look so ridiculous that eventually it goes away. And anyway, sometimes its more artistic to not show everything. It's like giving away the ending of a film.

  7. "a fatal blow" is unlikely, but there could be a compulsory entry page where people first have to click on a button that they know it has "adult content", which would be a pain and probably reduce potential advertisers. But Amazon should be OK, there are plenty of x rated products to be found on their site.

    1. "probably reduce potential advertisers"- there ARE no more advertisers because of this.

      "Amazon should be OK, there are plenty of x rated products to be found on their site."
      Unlike Google where 300+ people are doing new porn searches every SECOND.

  8. Is it just me, or are Daliah Lavi's feet approximately the same size as Fred Flintstone's? ... And as dirty as Fred's after a long drive/run in his car, too.