In this week's Ask The A.V. Club, contributor Noel Murray struts his stuff by answering all the questions. It's a nonstop Noelfest as he takes on your queries about pop culture and the media:
Give Me Smut And Nothing But
I was recently watching some of A Star Is Born on TV and was struck by a scene in which a "sexy" shot of Judy Garland consisted of a still photo of her fully clothed, baring perhaps three-fourths of her legs. That got me wondering: When did nudity become an accepted part of mainstream cinema? What are some of the first examples of nudity from respected actresses (and actors, I suppose, if you must) in legitimate films? Has there been a progression of explicitness, for example from rear shots to topless to full frontal?
Nudity was fairly rare in mainstream movies during the first 50 years of the medium, but it wasn't unheard of. Several silent films feature tasteful nude scenes, and there's a very famous nude swimming scene in the 1934 Tarzan picture Tarzan And His Mate. With stricter enforcement of The Hays Code in the mid-'30s, nudity was effectively knocked out of the Hollywood playbook for 30 years, though there were always stag films about, and exploitation roadshows with their standard program of hygiene demonstrations and nudist-camp exposés.
We have our foreign friends, drive-in mavens, and television to thank for the way the screen started opening up in the '60s. Arthouse cinemas started booking foreign films regularly in the '50s, and part of the appeal of those movies was their sophistication and sexual frankness. The undeniable artistic quality of films like Ingmar Bergman's Monika made it hard for the era's moral guardians to squelch them, and once the courts ruled that "nudity in itself is not obscene," filmmakers like Russ Meyer rushed in with a spate of "nudie cuties" that played the drive-in circuit.
Hollywood began dipping a toe into the pool in 1964 with Promises! Promises!, which featured a topless Jayne Mansfield, and by the dawn of the '70s—when the studios realized that to compete with television, they were going to have to offer more than Cinemascope, stereo, and 3D—nudity hadn't become just commonplace, but almost expected. Really, it's amazing how fast the standards changed across the board. After the implementation of the MPAA ratings system in 1968, nudity and profanity didn't exactly trickle in. Medium Cool in 1969 sported full frontal male and female nudity, and movies like The Last Detail in 1973 and the two French Connections in '71 and '75 rolled up the foul language.
A better question might be when and why nudity stopped being an accepted part of mainstream cinema. Probably because nude scenes can be taken out of context and splashed all over the Internet, actresses have become more reluctant to do them, to the point where the few actresses who display open sexuality onscreen are ogled at by critics as though they were, well, Jayne Mansfield. Even if they're just Maria Bello.
Do You Know It Isn't Thanksgiving Yet?
I recall hearing a sort of hard-rock version of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" starring Deftones singer Chino Moreno and a group called Far, whom I know nothing of. It's for some sort of -Aid album. And I have a friend who insists U2 did a version of it, too. Can you shed a little light on the history/versions of this song?
Your friend may be confused by the fact that Bono sings on the original, and is prominently featured in the video, along with bandmate Adam Clayton. Or maybe U2 performed it live, and it's been bootlegged somewhere. But officially? No U2 cover. If you want to hear Jive Bunny's version though, it's readily available. (Oh, and the Far version? It appeared on the 2003 charity album A Santa Cause: It's A Punk Rock Christmas.)
That's Weird. What IS Goofy?
This has been eluding me for years. In the late '80s, my aunt taped a program for me called The Roots Of Goofy. I assume it aired on The Disney Channel, but I've scoured Disney websites and collector sites, and there seems to be no record of this thing existing. Of course the tape is long gone, but I am desperate to get my hands on it again. It consisted of short vignettes of Goofy in various walks of life throughout history: on safari, as a housedad in the '50s, attempting to use exercise equipment, etc., and it featured such musical gems as "Hop On Your Pogo Stick." Has anyone ever heard of this thing? It was very formative in my youth, and I'm a little creeped-out that it seems to have vanished from history.
It sounds like what you saw was a clip show, cobbled together from old Goofy cartoons. The Disneyland TV series frequently would dig into the Disney cartoon catalog and cut together a new half-hour or hourlong special out of pre-existing material, linked by new narration. Most TV specials of that kind have vanished into the ether—oh, how I wish I could get my hands on the "history of sports broadcasting" special that HBO aired in the early '90s, and that I played to tatters—but if you're interested in the roots of The Roots Of Goofy, you can always pick up Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy, which contains all the cartoons the special-makers likely used. That was a limited-edition set, and it's been out of print for a while, but copies are floating around if you know where to look and you're willing to spend a little. The A.V. Club reviewed that set here.
Unfortunately, Noel can't answer every question we get. And neither can we. Here are a few "identify this show" questions that have baffled us recently. Anyone want to help out?
I'm hoping you guys can help me with a bit of pop culture that I have not been able to verify. Does anybody remember Gary Coleman singing a duet with a guy dressed like a Jheri-curled cowboy on national television? I believe I saw it live on Night Life With David Brenner sometime in the late '80s, early '90s. Thanks,
I remember seeing a terrifying TV movie when I was a little kid, back in the early '80s, but can't remember anything other than the premise. Maybe The A.V. Club could help. A family of five are on vacation, driving in a station wagon. When one of the two daughters falls asleep during the ride, her brother and sister tie her shoelaces together. As a result of this prank, the poor little girl can't escape from the burning (or exploding) car when they get into an accident a short time later, and she dies. This all happens at the beginning.
So the dead girl's ghost comes back to haunt/exact revenge on her prankster siblings. She kills her sister by shoving a plugged-in radio into her bath (which she never sees coming, because ghosts are invisible). That's about all I remember.
I happened to see a scary movie when I was little that scared the crap out of me for years. There were two teenagers, a boy and a girl, and they had an evil teacher who was possibly played by Vincent Schiavelli. At one point, the teacher's head was cut off and went rolling down streets, chasing the teens. The sight of the decapitated head rolling around haunted my thoughts for the longest time. It's possible that I saw a snippet of a movie or TV show and my imagination kind of invented the rest, though I was so scared by it that I suspect it was a real program. Any thoughts? I've always wondered what movie it was that I saw. If it helps, I probably saw this when I was around 6 or 7 years old, which was '85-'86.
Next week on Ask The A.V. Club: We'll see some different hands for a change, as someone besides Noel explores what happens when good screenplays become bad movies. Send your questions to email@example.com.