The Internet is abuzz with film fans (and men who like to think they saw Jessica Alba naked) debating whether CGI nude scenes are bad for movies after the Daily Mail reported that Jessica Alba didn’t actually go nude for her shower scene in Machete. Instead, as shown here, she filmed it wearing white undergarments, which were digitally deleted in post-production. (UPDATE: Alba’s publicist has released the following statement to EW: “Jessica has been steadfast in her resolve not to appear nude in films from the beginning of her career. The decision to digitally remove the underwear from the shower scene in Machete was one she and Robert Rodriguez made together, which would serve his vision for the film, as well as honor her personal convictions regarding nudity. She is very proud of the film and stands by the creative decisions she and Robert made about this scene.”) There are a couple interesting discussions here:
• Over on /Film, the debate is whether CGI nude scenes can end up detracting from performances when nudity is not merely being used to sell some tickets (as is arguably the case with Machete). As Germain Lussier theorizes, “The real case against CGI is when it takes away nudity where it’s appropriate for the subject matter. If an actress like Kate Winslet can just ask James Cameron to make her nude through CGI in Titanic, are we as an audience really experiencing the newly found openness and sexual deviance those characters are experiencing? No, we’re not, and it will come across in the actors’ portrayals. There’s a huge different between acting naked and just being naked. It’s very much like the new technology where CGI can make actors any weight or body shape they need to be. That’s all fine and well, but what about performance and really getting into a role?” I understand what Lussier is trying to say, but I do think it’s easier for an actress to imagine what it’s like to lay or stand naked in front of a man for the first time (when she’s probably only wearing a bra and panties in front of a film crew) than for, say, Adrien Brody and Christian Bale to go through an entire movie pretending they’re malnourished. (Though, of course, one could argue that a drastic weight loss is actually dangerous to an actor’s health, so who are we to say they should go Method?) I think it’s more about the effect it has on the audience if they find out about the CGI, regardless of whether it was a gratuitous shot or key to the plot: If it was gratuitous, then the filmmakers purposely duped us (not cool); if it was actually necessary, the filmmakers did what they needed to, but you still might feel foolish for being as invested in that scene as you were. It’s like finding out that someone used a body double — it was fine if you didn’t know, but once you do, a little wall goes up between you and the character, if only for that second when you see the movie again.
• Should an actress lose out on a role because she doesn’t want to show the side of her breast, especially now that CGI can come to her rescue? If an actress doesn’t want to do nudity, there are four options: Cut the scene; do the scene but have the character wear her bra for 99 percent of her life like Carrie Bradshaw did on Sex and the City; do the scene but use CGI or a body double; or replace the actress. What do you think is the right call? Does it depend project to project, actress to actress? You have to wonder how directors will negotiate with actresses now. Is it better business to pay an actress a seven-figure bonus to go topless, or to tell her you’ll use CGI? What I find even more fascinating is an anti-nudity actress that allows herself to be shown naked with the use of CGI. As the Daily Mail pointed out, Alba told the UK’s Scarlet magazine in its March 2010 issue that she would never do a nude scene. “I can act sexy and wear sexy clothes, but I can’t go naked,” she said. “I think I was always uncomfortable about the way my body developed, and I remember my grandmother would freak out and throw a towel over me if she saw me wearing just a bra and panties. I came from a very Catholic family so it wasn’t seen as a good thing to flaunt yourself like that. I can handle being sexy with clothes on but not with them off.” She and her family are okay with her appearing nude on-screen because she didn’t actually show her private parts, they were just so realistically rendered that we all assumed she did? (Per the statement, the answer is yes.)