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Throughout cinema history, there have been some iconic nude scenes that have transcended the bounds of the films in which they appeared. Our weekly column Anatomy of a Scene's Manatomy will take an in-depth look at these scenes, their history, their deeper meanings, and their legacy. This week, Philip Kaufman's Henry & June becomes the first NC-17 movie with a noticeable dearth of male nudity!

The disparity between male and female nudity in film is something we've discussed before in this column, but it was never more apparent than in the very first film to hit theaters bearing the newly created NC-17 rating, Philip Kaufman's Henry & June. When the MPAA introduced the ratings system in 1968, it had only four ratings: G, PG, R, and X. The PG-13 came along in 1984, and six years later, they officially replaced the X rating with NC-17. Originally meant to buck the stigma of the X rating, the NC-17 has come to be quite stigmatizing on its own as most major theater chains (AMC, Regal, Cinemark) refuse to show films carrying the rating.

At the start, however, the NC-17 seemed like a brilliant idea. It would allow more "adult content" to be shown on film without having to worry about the presence of children in the audience. However, it soon became apparent that the MPAA was branding films with this rating based most heavily on sexual content, while violence seemed to skate by virtually unnoticed. As time wore on, this imbalance became more and more apparent as films like Shame were slapped with the rating for having explicit—but not pornographic—sexual content, while myriad torture porn horror films went out with a the much less restrictive R-rating.

The hypocrisy of the MPAA knows no bounds, and could easily fill a dozen more paragraphs, but we're going to leave our discussion of them here and circle back to Henry & June. The first year of the NC-17 rating's existence saw three films carry the new rating into theaters, the others being Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover and Pedro Almodóvar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and both of them had male nudity galore. Henry & June being the first to open meant that it became the standard bearer for the rating, however, which is why it's such a problematic film in terms of its content. 

The film covers the tumultuous romantic triptych of author Henry Miller (Fred Ward), his sexually adventurous wife June (Uma Thurman), and French-Cuban writer Anaïs Nin (Pulp Fiction's Maria de Medeiros). Nin is taken in by the couple's freewheeling bohemian lifestyle that involves lots and lots of sex with lots and lots of women. Eventually she becomes disillusioned by this charade, realizing that their relationship isn't as stable or solid as they pretend it is, masking their disappointment with all of that sex. Nevertheless, she proves essential in helping Henry get his first novel "Tropic of Cancer" published. 

In the early 1960s, director Philip Kaufman and his wife traveled through Europe where they befriended Anaïs Nin, a relationship that would serve as the catalyst for Kaufman's adaptation of Nin's memoir "Henry & June." Following up his epic adaptation of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kaufman likely didn't set out to make the first NC-17 movie, but the circumstances of the time combined with the film's decidedly adult-oriented subject matter more or less created the perfect storm. 

93 minutes into the film's 143 minute running time, Henry and Anais get down to business, making love to Ravel's "Vocalise-étude en forme de Habanera," while her lover Hugo (Richard E. Grant) is none the wiser. For a film dripping with sex, it's odd that this is the only bit of male nudity in the film, occupying little more than a minute of screen time...

 

While I certainly can't speak for Fred Ward and his willingness—or lack thereof—to go full frontal on screen, it likely wouldn't have hurt the film's ratings prospects. This being his nude debut, he may have been a little gun shy or perhaps Kaufman wasn't concerned with gaining any sort of parity in the nudity, but either way, it seems like a gross oversight retrospectively. Had Henry & June gone the extra mile and included male nudity, it might have at least shown that adults can handle seeing both sets of genitalia on a big screen. However, by tucking Henry's dick between his legs—metaphorically and literally—it sent the message that the NC-17 rating was mostly going to be employed for graphic female nudity and sadly, 30 years later, almost nothing has changed. 

 

Catch up with our other editions of Anatomy of a Scene's Manatomy...

Two of History's Manliest Men Wrestle Naked in Women in Love

Ewan McGregor Has Got It, Flaunts It in Velvet Goldmine

A Pair of Stars are Born in Y Tu Mamá También

Harvey Keitel Goes Hog Wild in Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant

Viggo Mortensen is Naked From Every Imaginable Angle in Eastern Promises

There's No Shame is Michael Fassbender's Dick Game

Kevin Bacon Steals the Show Going Full Frontal in Wild Things

How We Met Jason Segel's Dick in Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Jack Reynor is Uniquely Vulnerable for a Man in Midsommar

Jaye Davidson Knows All There is to Know About The Crying Game

David Bowie Battles Rip Torn for Dick Supremacy in The Man Who Fell to Earth

Al Pacino Doesn't Get In All That Deep for William Friedkin's Cruising

John Cameron Mitchell's Ass Gives Hedwig and the Angry Inch the Perfect Ending

Ross Lynch Makes One Sexy Future Serial Killer in My Friend Dahmer

Rocketman Not-So-Boldly Goes Where Bohemian Rhapsody Refused

Color of Night Brings Us the Return of Bruno's Dick

Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu Get Serviced in Bertolucci's 1900

Future Oscar Winner Mark Rylance Gets Real and Really Nude in Intimacy

Louis Garrel Lets It All Hang Out in the French New Wave Biopic Godard Mon Amour

Bronson Makes Tom Hardy and His Uncut Cock a Star

 

***Non-nude images courtesy of IMDb