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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

MENTAL MONTAGE: Dirty Pictures

It seems like every other month, scandalous pictures surface from a popular actress's past. Pictures of her "in the buff." Likewise, insinuating videos are occassionally exhumed. These are typically "art" films, B-movies, or soft-core pornographic films, in which young, naive ingenues appear, baring more than their souls, hoping to work their way to the top. Cameron Diaz has been haunted by such a history, when some years ago footage of a film that she did while scantily clad emerged. Though not pornographic, the sexual nature of the B-film, which certainly seemed innocent at the time, was not the caliber of material she wanted to be associated with once she had "made it." The infamous Joan Crawford (above) was also rumored to have appeared in an early porno. After she signed with MGM, Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling had to hunt down and burn every copy of the said film to protect LB Mayer's new investment. 

Sometimes the emergence of controversial photos are purely accidental on the part of the victim. Certain actresses may not pay their way in flesh, but rather pay the price of fame by having their privacy later violated. Fairly recently, Jennifer Aniston had to sue a certain publication when a photographer took photos of her sunbathing topless in her own backyard. Not-so-Disney's Vanessa Hudgens equally suffered the humiliation of having a nude photo of herself-- which she sent to her boyfriend, Zac Efron-- being leaked to the internet, thus becoming the talk of Teenie-Bopper Tinsel Town.

In the modern age of the world wide web and celebrity sex tapes galore, these acts don't seem to be shocking. They are more... expected. Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart enjoy a little menage a trois, and no one really blinks an eye. In fact, the more unflattering the video, the more hysterical it is to the public. Why oh why, I ask, do these celebs feel compelled to put themselves on camera when they are already on television? How much screen time does one need?!  It's partly pathetic, partly embarrassing, but mostly ridiculous. Law suits are thrown down, tempers flare, and tears are shed at the humiliation of having one's most private moments revealed for all to see. Once the cat is out of the bag, most celebrities-- minus the occasional rock star who is downright proud at the sexual publicity-- will do almost anything to erase all evidence of their sordid past (or present) to get their glossy reputation back.


Our starlet of the month, Louise Brooks (above), went through a very similar situation. When she was a young dancer in New York City, earning money in gigs with George White's Scandals or Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies, Louise did some photography modeling as well. Sometimes, the shoots were "artistic," and thus Louise was seen posing with nothing but her gumption on. Nudity was still pretty taboo in all media outlets, and naked pictures were "dirty pictures"-- early examples of pornography, distributed on the down-low before there was a Playboy Magazine to produce them. But, nakedness was no longer completely unheard of, and the modern culture started to accept the human body, at least the female body, as art. Sexuality was finding its way into the mainstream during the bustling Jazz Age as something less than sin and more than fact. Therefore, nudity was slowly encroaching on cinema, allegedly beginning with Audrey Munson in Inspiration (below),  and continuing here and there in films like The Penalty, which allowed viewers a brief glimpse of a nude model.

Louise, embracing this rebellious and daring new world, let her inhibitions hit the floor with her stockings and appeared in the buff with pride for sessions with the likes of photographer John De Mirjian.  Described as a person nowhere near bashful, this choice did not effect or embarrass her, as she always indulged in her own sensuality without shame. In the pictures taken by De Mirjian, she was draped with a sheer scarf and nothing else.  She was but 19 years old at the time of the shoot and considered her actions necessary in order to advance her dancing career, where the sexiest girls made it to center stage. After some film success, Louise found herself in the limelight, and she felt no need to return to, what she simply considered, a lower rung on the ladder.  After the release of her first major film, The American Venus, her pictures began re-emerging, and everyone wanted a copy. Louise took action and filed an injunction suit against De Mirjian to stop the pictures' distribution. He was not pleased, because he was making a mint off them.

Louise's reasons were not based on vanity or shame, unlike many of the celebrities today. She simply realized that she had crossed a path in her career and was ready to close the book on her past. She also recognized that the pictures were not being revered as the artistic accomplishments she and De Mirjian had meant them to be, but as food for a gluttonous public, more eager to enjoy the debasement of a notorious figure than to indulge in the beauty of her form. She refused to be played for a fool or looked upon as a joke, so the printing of the photos came to a screeching halt.

Recently, Natalie Portman stated in an interview that she would no longer do nudity in films for pretty much the same reasons that Louise had. Lacking any prudish outlook on nudity in film and proud of her former work, Portman simply expressed that it is no longer possible to bare one's soul and one's skin without suffering repercussions: "I just don’t want to do something that will end up as a screen grab on a porn site." In America, it seems, the repressed puritans in all of us cannot abide nakedness as casually as our European brethren. We laugh, we blush, we squirm, we sweat, we... indulge, shall I say? It is still viewed as something that is "wrong." Perhaps, if the censorship code of 1934 hadn't been enforced, the public would be more receptive to nudity and less put off by it, but all of the progress cinema was making on societal standards came to a screeching halt at that time thanks to Will Hays and Joe Breen.

Venus De Milo - "Artistic" Nudity

As it is, we continue to enjoy the tabloid fodder, the perverted stars, and their naughty, naughty ways-- struggling to find a compromise between our strict sensibilities and our sexual desires.


  1. Interesting post honey. Very informative. I love learning new things! Hope you are doing well and are having a great Wednesday! Kori xoxo

  2. Very informative post. I can't help but wonder if some of the actresses today release pictures and tapes on purpose, though. It's not just about makind money, look at the stardom one gets even if it is "accidental"? Without their tapes, who would know about Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian without them?

  3. I'm still trying to figure out who Kim Kardashian is. Someday, I'll be motivated enough to do a Google search. :)

    Thanks for an interesting post!

  4. Kori: Hello, girl! I am well, but looking forward to the weekend! Hope your week flies by. Thanks!
    Amanda: So true. And believe me, I wish I lived in a world without Paris Hilton! Haha.
    Steve: Bahahaha! Trust me, it's not worth the typing energy. Stay blissfully ignorant, where it's safe ;)

    Thanks for reading guys!!!

  5. Wonderful post (as always)! Excellent points and I always love how informative you are!

  6. So fascinating! It seems crazy that the queenly Joan Crawford should have ever done a naughty film!