You can blame digital effects for many strange and terrible things. Thanks to CGI, great Hollywood trades like production design, makeup, and old-school practical visual effects have begun to slowly fade away, with smiling teams of faceless engineers doing the same work for cheaper, Gooback-style. Thanks to CGI, 2-D feature animation has entered a period of eternal decline. Thanks to CGI, every freaking movie and a lot of freaking TV shows are shot in front of greenscreens. Thanks to CGI, Jar Jar Binks exists, and Green Lantern exists, and in the fourth Die Hard movie John McClane fought a freaking fighter jet, because why not?
But if you ask me, the single greatest crime of the Digital Effects Era is more subtle, and yet also more profound. I’m talking about fake movie nudity, which first made headlines last year with Jessica Alba’s shower scene in Machete. Last night, omnipresent film beauty Olivia Wilde swung by Jimmy Kimmel Live! to chat about Cowboys & Aliens, but the conversation took a tangent when she started discussing her other upcoming release, The Change-Up. The movie features a shot of the actress nude, but Wilde explained that the offending bits were all added in post-production. “I wasn’t actually naked, but now I appear naked. They CGI’d me naked.” Apparently, the scene as filmed featured a shot of Wilde’s “pasties” — adhesives that actors use to cover up their private bits during nude scenes. The studio cheerily opted to paint in nipples, which is coincidentally exactly how my fifth-grade friends made X-Men comics more emotionally compelling. Wilde even got to pick her own nipples! Watch:
Now, it’s impossible to simplify the subject of nudity in Hollywood. This is the town that cluck-clucked when Halle Berry flashed her breasts in Swordfish, and then gave her an Oscar the same year for going full-nude in Monster’s Ball. Nudity was a bit more common in commercial Hollywood releases in the ’70s and ’80s, and you could argue that the terrible rise of the PG-13 blockbuster is to blame. (Remember: In a PG-13 movie, you can kill dozens of people, but absolutely not show any nude bodies, unless maybe they’re on the autopsy table.) But that’s a simplistic reading. The Internet didn’t exist in the ’80s, and you surely can’t blame performers for not wanting private pictures floating around online for the rest of eternity. Not everyone is Paz de la Huerta.
Still, the invention of CGI nudity feels like an unhealthy middle ground: All the titillation with none of the intimacy, the emotion, or yeeesh, the sheer reality of actual nakedness. You could argue that digitally enhanced nudity is no different from using body doubles, but I think that’s wrong. There is some subconscious synapse in your brain that knows the difference between actual breathing humanity and synthetic android digi-life. That’s why we all groan a little bit when a modern action movie inevitably features the scene where a main character is thrown halfway across a room — which never looks real, because there’s the split-second where the actor becomes a CGI rag-doll. (In Green Lantern, that split-second was usually about a minute long.)
PopWatchers, are you disturbed by the slow rise of digital nudity? Doesn’t this put us one step closer to the dystopian time period when pornographic films will feature the almost-real likenesses of Old Hollywood stars engaged in X-rated activities? Or is a nipple just a nipple, no matter if it was born in a computer?
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