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It's a studio cover-up

October 23, 2003|Lisa Rosen | Special to The Times

In college, I had a playwriting professor who hated the use of nudity in plays. He believed that the minute a person disrobes on stage, the audience no longer concentrates on the drama. Instead, they're thinking: "Oh my God, look at that, there's a real live naked person in front of me."

I flashed on the professor's opinion recently as I was watching a couple of new movies, where I experienced the opposite reaction. In racy sex scenes in both "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Out of Time," the women on screen kept their bras on. And rather than concentrating on the action, I found myself completely distracted by the no-nudity clause in front of me. I struggled to stay tuned into the drama, but ended up pondering questions along the lines of: Why would she leave her bra on? Why would he leave her bra on? Is this a new trend? Do men now prefer women to keep their bras on? Is it more comfortable? Is everyone having sex with their bras on and nobody told me?

These aren't the only culprits, of course. The bra scenes sneak up out of nowhere. Even a recent re-viewing of "Bridget Jones's Diary" revealed an unrevealing Renee Zellweger. Television shows like HBO's "Sex and the City" confuse me further. I watch as some of the women (Kim Cattrall mainly) bare all, while others (Sarah Jessica Parker) stay strapped in, and I start to think things like: This one has the clause in her contract, that one doesn't. I wonder if she's resentful about that? I guess she could have renegotiated it at some point. Wow, that's a nice bra, I wonder who made it? I spend entire steamy encounters thus disengaged.

It's not that I'm trying to make a case for increased nudity in films and television. I'm usually a big less-is-more fan. I also fully respect any actress' right to keep it all on. And I do understand the vagaries of the movie rating system. But if you're working around body parts, then why not use some imagination?

In the great scene between a fully-clothed Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid in "The Big Easy," the action memorably occurred just off-camera. George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez created heat in "Out of Sight" without resorting to either frontal nudity or strategic lingerie. After all, how many classic lovemaking scenes can you think of that include under-wires? At the very least, go for the old "sheet over the chest" number.

Instead, in "Under the Tuscan Sun," Diane Lane finds herself having wild, passionate, liberating sex with a gorgeous Italian man who tells her "I'm going to make love all over you." He then proceeds to do so without so much as glancing at her black lace bra. That's when I thought to myself: "Oh right, Disney."

But it's not just one studio. In MGM's "Out of Time," Sanaa Lathan is a femme fatale messing around with Denzel Washington, lucky lady. In one early scene they fall all over each other, he roughly rips her blouse open to reveal her fabulous foundation garment, and then he apparently loses interest in what lies beneath. A later scene of simulated stimulation has them up against a wall, yet still topped off.

Now, I could understand one desperately rushed I'm-so-full-of-passion-there's-no-time-to-take-your-clothes-off situation, but two? Please. Do we need to bring in a high school boy to show these guys the art of unhooking?

(Not that the male characters fare more realistically. Denzel Washington didn't drop a stitch in his scenes either; more's the pity. Unless -- is this another trend? -- do men now prefer to wear their boxers while having sex? I am so out of the loop.)The whole business led me to wonder whether something more nefarious was at play, not in the movies, but in the underwear. Perhaps La Perla or Victoria's Secret was behind this, just like De Beers was behind the use of diamond engagement rings in movies in the late 1930s as a way to increase demand. Yes, it's a sad day in movieland when you have to suspect product placement in a sex scene.

I find myself actually looking forward to "In the Cut," "The Human Stain" and "Something's Gotta Give" because the advance word is that that their respective stars, Meg Ryan, Nicole Kidman and Diane Keaton -- yes, that Diane Keaton -- will be baring all for on-screen love. It'll be a relief to be distracted by good old-fashioned naked people in front of me.

Because all of these bra scenes are trying to have their soft-core and wear it too. Ultimately, they satisfy neither the prurient nor the prude in the audience. They remind me of commercials for alcoholic beverages, where people smile and laugh as they look at their glasses, but don't actually drink anything. Leave it all on, take it all off, but please, make it believable.

Lisa Rosen can be contacted at

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