Monday, November 28, 2011

The Etc.--Why Nudity Can't Sell a Film, Christmas Songs, Debra Winger

A few years ago, Jessica Biel was in a movie called "Powder Blue," where she played an exotic dancer. My first thought was, "This film is going to make a jillion dollars. What guy wouldn't want to behold Jessica Biel's naked body on a giant screen?"

I learned recently that the film went right to DVD, which is when I realized something: The days when nudity was a film's calling card are long gone.

The Internet plays a huge role, of course, but not in the way you think. The running joke is that the Internet is only good for porn and stock quotes--"porn quotes" to quote George Costanza--but the speed in which those images are acquired is breathtaking. Suffice to say, when news of the movie's release came out, photos of Biel "in character" were everywhere. If something is committed to film these days, everybody sees it.

OK, let's say some production assistant refused to play the role of ribald Santa, or Egotastic's minions couldn't get behind enemy lines. There's still no way "Powder Blue" makes money. Everyone would wait until some kind soul posted the sweet clips online and not waste their time on plot, secondary characters, and all that filler.

In this environment, I don't think we're ever going to see a director or screenwriter like Adrian Lyne or Joe Ezterhaus succeed by going the steamy and sexy route. Movies like "Basic Instinct" and "Striptease," where the calling card is an actress willing to expose herself, won't work. Movies featuring nudity have to actually, you know, entertain us in some way. Just relying on pert body parts will no longer do the trick.

With that said, I'm fascinated by what "Shame" does. As for "Powder Blue," not so much. Over the course of 95 minutes, I'd rather see Carey Mulligan act fully clothed than watch Jessica Biel dance naked.

*OK, so the annual Christmas song bombardment has started, which actually erodes my yuletide spirit. Honestly, just play the following songs intermittently: "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" (Leon Redbone and Dr. John), "Merry Christmas, Darling" (The Carpenters), "Christmas Wrapping" (The Waitresses), "Another Auld Lang Syne" (Dan Fogelberg), "Backdoor Santa" (Clarence Carter). Seriously, I have to hear some warmed-over, synth-happy tune from Gloria Estefan or Amy Grant, I'm swerving my car into a telephone pole.

*Is there a rule that NFL studio shows have to at least five analysts, with at least one of them unable to speak in coherent sentences?

*When I'm in New York, I always get a hop in my step when someone asks me for directions. I guess my all-Yankees wardrobe helps me blend in.

*I don't think I want to live in a world where a network executive favors "Whitney" over "Community."

*Can someone tell me why Philadelphia's CW17 played two Debra Winger movies back-to-back on a recent Sunday? Is she Pat or Geno's granddaughter? Was she in "Rocky"? Not that I'm complaining; Winger was such a natural talent. And "An Officer and a Gentleman" is a wonderful movie. Way to go, Paula!

*Recommended reading: Jacob Lambert on the death of the classic comedy. R. Kurt Osenlund on movie theater etiquette. Brian Hiatt's terrific interview with Eddie Murphy for "Rolling Stone."

Oh, and here's an essay I wrote for "The Christian Science Monitor."

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