Monday, February 28, 2005

We were artists once and young

But what I think is, boy, if we'd had digital cameras and really cheap good video equipment back then....

Margaret_6 I didn't need to get to know the cast of Charlie's abortive porno film in order to meet girls who would take their clothes off for a camera. Most of my friends back then were theater and dance majors. They were not shy about their bodies. All of the girls who were ambitious to be professional actresses some day had come to terms with the near certainty that sooner or later they would have to do a nude scene. Many of them, and some of the guys as well, picked up extra cash practicing getting naked in public by posing for drawing and photography classes in the art department.

People taking off their clothes for fun, profit, and the greater glory of art was a regular feature of my college days.

If there'd been a magazine at our school like this one now publishing at Boston University, Boink, or like H-Bomb the slightly more off-beat one published across the river at Harvard, there would have been plenty of students I knew who would have posed for it.

Somewhere out there there are articles or web posts in which someone gone all Tom Wolfey or Mona Charynish decries how these magazines are further proof that this generation of college students is corrupt and debauched and it's Hollywood's fault. Or liberals' fault. Something must be done! Coturnix has dealt neatly with one old fogey's variation on this theme. It's amazing to me that people who were in college in the 1960s and 70s and 80s can be shocked at the idea that teenagers and college students are cutting up sexually in 2005. In ten more years people who were in college in the 90s will be shocked at what teenagers are doing in 2015.

Outrage and a convenient memory are useful in helping one not mind so much not being young anymore, not to mention in helping to disguise a voyeuristic tittilation. And of course jealousy, voyeurism, and prurience disguised as moral indignation are useful politically.

Students nowadays may be wilder and less inhibited than we were. They may be a whole lot more strait-laced in their way. I wouldn't know.

The students who are publishing and appearing in Boink and H-Bomb and Squirm at Vassar and the University of Chicago's Vita Excolatur aren't any more representative of their generation than my friends and I were of ours.

All I can think is that a collection of types has reappeared, as types tend to do, and the main difference between them and us is they have PhotoShop.

Alicia_1 One of my friends who modeled was nearly blind without her glasses. She didn't like contacts. On days when she posed for a life drawing class she left her glasses in the dressing room and the teacher would lead her to the spot where she would stand or sit or lie for that session. One day she was led out, handed her robe to the teacher, and took a seat on a stool, assuming a somewhat awkward but athletic pose that showed off her leg muscles and, incidentally, more of the area between her legs than she was used to revealing. At the end of the session the teacher brought her her robe and, considerately, her glasses. When she put them on, the robe first, then her glasses, and looked out at the students who'd been drawing her she discovered to her horror that her brother was in the class.

So, many of the actresses in the department were practiced at appearing nude before an audience. But they were never asked to do it in a play. There were and are college theatre departments that put on shows that require nudity but our department wasn't that edgy.

My friend Charlie---who else?----set out to direct a play that would have had the lead actress naked onstage for almost an hour. It was a pretty dumb one act about a guy who kidnaps a woman, ties her to a chair, cuts off her clothes, and then spends the rest of the play telling her his life story. Once again Charlie managed to get girls to agree to get naked for one of his productions. He'd sounded out three actresses about playing the kidnapper's victim and all three had agreed without much persuasion.

The department chair put the kibosh on that though. She said that the audience at our school wasn't sophisticated enough to handle nudity. She said that they wouldn't pay any attention to the play itself, they'd be staring at the naked girl in the chair. She said the only way Charlie stood a chance of pulling it off was if he cast a particular one of the three actresses. The reason for casting her was that she was flat-chested and so guys in the audience wouldn't get lost staring at her tits. But, she said, Charlie didn't want to cast her because she wasn't a very good actress. That being the case, she said, Charlie couldn't have the talent he needed without the tits that would cause everybody not to notice the talent and if he cast the tits he needed to keep people focused she was such a bad actress the audience would wind up staring at her tits the whole time anyway out of boredom. So for his own good she refused to give him the department's blessing to do the play.

I have to point out that the constant repetition of the word tits up there represents the actual speech of the department chair. And the cruelty in the remarks is also true to the department chair. She was a cruel woman. She was also jealous of all the young women who came through her department and actively and consciously set out to ruin their romances when she saw a chance to do so. She was even jealous of her own daughter and spent an entire summer competing with her daughter for the attention of a boy. She had two affairs with students while I was there. One of them was gay, and I have no idea how that worked. The other was something of a sadist himself. He was playing the lead in the play she was directing and seemed to delight in making her grovel and crawl for him in front of the whole cast.

My friend, the extremely nearsighted nude model, went on to study acting in New York before she gave up the idea of becoming a professional actress. While she was in grad school she had simultaneous affairs with three lovers, two of whom were men. But she never appeared naked on stage, although she continued to model.

Her only nude scene as an actress was in a movie I made.

It was a purely gratuitous nude scene in a story about corrupt politicians. There was no good plot reason for her to get naked, but there was an excuse. She was playing the girlfriend of a politician's top aide and she was stealing campaign secrets from him and giving them to the opposing candidate. There was a scene where she crawls out of his bed in the middle of the night to rifle his briefcase. We talked it over and decided together that she would be naked. Of course she would be naked. The two characters would have been making love earlier in the night, right? She wouldn't have had sex and then put on her nightgown, right? She'd sleep in the nude, right?


Margaret_2d I was very considerate and sensitive when it came time to shoot the scene. I made sure that very few people were on the set that day. Just me, acting as my own camera man, the guy who was handling the lighting and the make-up, and the actor playing her boyfriend. Three guys. I thought that might make her uncomfortable, even though she said she was cool, so I asked another friend, a girl who was in the movie but not in that scene, to come that day and just sort of act as chaperone.

When we shot the scene, I tried to be as economical with shots and set ups and retakes as I could be. It still took us a few hours to shoot it. My friend was naked the whole time. She didn't bother with a robe. In between takes she just sat on the edge of the bed and chatted with whichever of us wasn't busy at the moment, very cool about it, and after a short while none of us noticed she was nude.

None of us guys, anyway.

My other friend, the girl who was supposed to help my first friend feel comfortable, was so freaked out by the sight of Alicia naked that after 15 minutes she fled from the bedroom and spent the rest of the day hiding in the kitchen of the apartment where we were filming. At one point I went to check on her and she was crying.

But here's the weird part. A few days later we filmed that girl's big scene. Cathy was playing the wife of the main character, the crooked politician. She was not an aspiring professional actress, by the way, although she'd been in plays in high school. She was acting in the movie as a favor to me. The scene took place late at night at their house. The politician sneaks into the house after a midnight meeting with the businessman who is paying him off. He finds his wife waiting up for him. The wife of course is in her nightgown. It's three in the morning after all. My cast pretty much provided their own costumes so the nightgown Cathy was going to wear was one of her own. I let her pick it out. My only input was when she asked me which of her nightgowns she should bring. She didn't describe them in detail, just told me the colors and if they were long or short. I told her to go with a long one. She was playing a mom. Moms in my experience wore long nightgowns. The color we settled on was sea green.

I probably should have asked about the material.

The nightgown was light and filmy and it clung. She had a lot for it to cling to. The nightgown's color was such a pale shade of sea green that whatever there was dark underneath it showed right through. She did not wear any underwear. What was dark underneath was her.

But at least it was long.

So she walks out of the bathroom where she'd changed, pretty much as naked as if she was naked---she hadn't brought a robe---and very coolly goes to work. I hadn't thought to clear the set that day. Why would I? I was filming a scene with a mom in a long nightgown. How wholesome and unsexy was that? So she had an audience of 6 or 7 people, most of them guys. There were only two women on my crew that day, and there weren't any other women characters in the scene. But you'd never know from looking at her that she noticed or minded. She breezed through the day's shoot in her essentially see-through nightie without a blush. This girl who just a few days ago had been so embarrassed by the sight of another girl naked that she had broken down into tears was standing before us like a Venus and didn't care. We could look all we want, it was all in a day's work, as far as she was concerned.

Cathy_9 I was careful to frame all my shots so that her nipples and pubic hair weren't too much on display. Nipples and pubic hair were not intrinsic to the scene, after all. They distracted from the emotional drama. But I was far more worried about what the camera was taking in than she was. And when we were done she came up to me in private and asked, only a bit shyly, if I wanted her to do a nude scene.

I am not making this up. She was willing, she said. She was actually eager to try.

Remember, she wasn't an actress, she had never been an artist's model. She was a music major planning to teach grade school.

But having the camera on her did something to her. Made her curious about herself. Or made her proud. Or made her feel so much unlike herself that she was free to do whatever the spirit moved her to do.

I told her that she didn't have to do a nude scene.

I'm not making that up either. A beautiful girl offered to let me see her naked and I turned her down.

But I couldn't think of any way to work it into the story. Gratuitous nudity in a necessary scene I could justify. A gratuitous scene for the sake of gratuitous nudity offended me as a storyteller.

I also had visions of my friend discovering she had overestimated her own bravery too late and falling apart when she was already naked and in front of the camera.

Next movie, I said.

I was never sure if, had there'd been a next movie, she really would have gone through with it.

But I transfered to Boston University and switched from wanting to make movies and direct plays to wanting to write books, a stupid decision I long ago came to regret. For one thing, writers have very little professional opportunities to ask pretty young women to get naked.

Which is not to say that I ceased to see pretty young women naked. It's just that it ceased to be part of a day's work.

It became a purely recreational experience.

Which is how it was when I did see that friend naked, finally.

Cathy went on to be the music teacher she'd set out to be, by the way. And she became a real mom. I don't know what kinds of nightgowns she wears as a real mom.

I hope some see-through ones sometimes.

Before that day and after that day, my friend was an averagely modest person. As far as I know, and I'm pretty sure I know all there is to know, before and after that day whenever she took her clothes off for someone it was only for a lover. But that day in front of a camera and an audience she was suddenly Brigitte Bardot.

Cameras change people. I had another friend, girl I knew from high school, another averagerly modest person who you would never think, no matter how long you knew her, here's a girl who once posed for photographs of the most gynecologically explicit sort. But she did. One day a guy with a camera persuaded her he was shooting a photo spread for Playboy, Girls of the Florida Coast or something.

She agreed to pose for a few tastefully done topless shots.

Once he had his camera on her though she was easily persuaded to get completely naked. And after he had shot a few roles of relatively tame cheesecake, she was persuaded to be a little less tame, and then a little less, and then a little wild, and then a little more wild, and then...

This is the plot of sex, lies and videotape, isn't it?

The pictures of course never showed up in Playboy.

They were published in Screw or some rag like that, I forget which. Three years after she'd posed for them. When she'd pretty much come to think they were nothing but a slightly embarrassing memory. When she was on the brink of graduating from college and starting her search for a job.

Cameras change people.

Which is why there is reality TV.

Another girl I knew back at my first college became a stripper in Las Vegas. She had dropped out of school and run away to California. California made her unhappy but she didn't have the money to get back home. She could only afford bus fair to Vegas.

After she'd been a stipper in Vegas for a while she was flush enough to move to Florida. Where she became a weather girl on a local TV station.

After that she went back to stripping.

Then back into TV.

Then she got married, quit her job, and all her old friends lost track of her.

We were in a play together once before she quit school. She and the director took our leading lady home from the cast party and seduced her together.

The play was part of a one act play festival. I was cast in two shows that played on the same nights. To get all my make up off from the first play so that I could put all new make up on for the second, between shows I would go upstairs in the theater building to a faculty bathroom that had a shower.

Couple weeks after the festival she confided to me that she'd followed me upstairs and spied on me. "I considered surprising you by getting into the shower with you," she said.

I was aghast!

"Well why the hell didn't you?"

"You're such a nice guy," she said, "I didn't want you to think I was a slut."

The director of our play and the leading lady were nice too, but I guess she didn't care if they thought she was a slut.

Shortly after that she left school, heading for California and her destiny as a stripper/meteorologist.

I wouldn't have thought she was a slut.

The drawings here are vintage. They're mine. I wasn't a very good portrait artist when I was 20. And it's hard to draw when your hand is trembling. But the girls were kind and they said they liked them.


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