Thursday, May 17, 2012

Keeping Abreast of Motherhood (T&A at the Movies)

So breasts have become a hot topic. This week’s Time Magazine has starred on its cover a svelte young mom, looking proudly into the camera as her three-year-old son suckles at her shapely breast. Obviously, this is an image that commands attention, especially from males older than three. Theoretically, the subject under discussion is new trends in parenting. But there’s no question that Time’s cover engenders other ideas. Call it nursery porn.

You may think I have a dirty mind, but hey! I spent most of a decade making exploitation movies for Roger Corman. It wasn’t so much that Roger was a prurient guy. Everyone who worked for Roger at New World Pictures or Concorde-New Horizons knew that sex sells. And by sex, Roger generally meant female nudity. He made it clear that actual intercourse was not terribly photogenic. So the emphasis was always on ecstatic writhing that showed off as much as possible of the female anatomy. Woman-on-top sex, with the female of the species climactically arching backward to display her well-endowed chest, was featured so often in our later films that I took to thinking of this as “the Concorde position.”

Even in scenes that had nothing to do with the bedroom, we were instructed to be on the alert for moments when women could lose their clothing. Future Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme remembers that, during pre-production for his directing debut in Caged Heat, Roger would scribble onto the script notes like “Breast nudity possible here?” The right answer, of course was, “Yes, Roger, I believe it is.”

When I was interviewing Corman veterans for my biography of Roger, one-time exec Laurette Hayden joked with me about how, in the New World movies we shot in the Philippines, the female lead is inevitably falling out of her clothing while running through the jungle: “I think the faster she runs, with the machete in her hand, the more quickly the clothes fall away.” Such movies always had shower scenes too – what’s a women-in-prison flick without a shower scene? – and I recall a topless kickboxing bout in TNT Jackson. In later eras, we got even more creative, especially when Jim (“Take ‘em out and let ‘em breathe!”) Wynorski was in charge. Typical of the Concorde era was Wynorski’s slasher extravaganza, Hard to Die, in which female employees of the Acme Lingerie Company have an after-hours party, try on the company’s product line, then get drenched by a malfunctioning sprinkler system for that wet-Tee-shirt look.

There was a time when mainstream Hollywood wouldn’t dream of mimicking the excesses of Corman-style T&A. As I wrote last year, America’s first glimpse of bare breasts in an MPAA-sanctioned studio movie came in Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker, which was making a serious point about Nazi atrocities and ghetto squalor. Eventually, of course, the whole industry became Cormanized. In Titanic, when Rose has Jack sketch her wearing nothing but the fabulous Heart of the Ocean necklace, I chuckled at the thought of how well Jim Cameron had learned his New World lesson. Ah yes, T&A on the high seas!

One thing’s for sure: breasts in movies have nothing to do with feeding babies. When my mother started a family, she declined to nurse, partly because she had no sophisticated role-models to pave the way. (As a social worker in the late 1930s, she associated breast-feeding with the downtrodden Okies she served.) Today breast-feeding may have acquired serious social cachet, but Hollywood has not caught up. On American movie screens, women’s breasts are still intended for big boys, not little ones.


  1. I guess there's a reason Joe Bob Briggs used to give out an award for "Breast Actress!" My favorite mammazine cover was one that snuck right by the American Public - there was a wonderful National Lampoon cover in the 80's that showed what appeared to be a woman wearing a skin tight business suit sitting behind a desk with a large cigar - but a closer examination of the photo would have revealed that the woman was completely nude - except for a layer of body paint pretending to be the suit. Fully exposed breasts on newsstands across the nation for a whole month - and no one seemed to catch on - certainly there was no outcry or recall.

    I have to admit I do enjoy the limited nudity (read: female, topless) of the 70's and 80's Corman movies. But then, I am that guy.

    And I really have to pass on my gratitude to you, Ms. Gray -

    Thanks for the Mammaries!

  2. In my first novel I am working on getting published I delve into the anatomy of a woman's body and especially large voluptuous breasts. My character creates a new age adult film company that stars a starlet from the old porn flicks of just having sex, and with the new company he brings back romance to our culture. A woman's breasts are something man will always enjoy, but I believe there is a time and place for exploiting this for just doing it to make money is lame and shallow, but that is the new American Way... Sell your soul for the Almighty Dollar, integrity is lost in our nation. My novel The Sugarcane Theory brings it back to the surface with a satirical vision of our current disasterous times.

  3. A New World Picture doesn't quite seem the same without some lovely lady losing her top. You come to expect it, I guess. The martial arts scenes in TNT JACKSON were pretty hilarious and Bell's nude "fight scene" was the highlight. FIRECRACKER did it much better, imo. Then in 1984, a terrible Chinese picture called NINJA THE FINAL DUEL went even further and had a fight scene with a fully nude Alice Tseng battling ninjas. The choreography was really good, though, but was unusual that they found an Asian actress to do that without the use of a double. I think that was that lady's only credit, too.

    I found the Time's cover mildly disturbing, personally.

  4. I think I'm relieved by your response to the Time cover, Brian! Thanks for the info on the naked female Ninja. Who knew?