Art Porn

SBS has been good to me over the years.

I'm sure I'm not the only guy in Australia who as a young upstart used to turn the station over to SBS whenever their parents left the room, only to be constantly amazed at the frequency in which you would chance upon a pair of tits. I used to think it was the law in Europe that every film they made had to have at least four naked women in it, and unfortunately, often also one naked man. Sometimes old.

And so was my introduction into the world of arthouse foreign films. Boobs. The two were inexorably linked in my mind from a young age, and the arthouse film rarely let me down. In the video store where I once worked, films were only put in the ‘arthouse' if they were filled with lots of naked cavorting, at least one naked romp of some description – or if they were modern movies filmed pretentiously in black & white.

It was reassuring to know that hiring one of these films would be most likely rewarding, and even better to be able to pretend that you were really watching them because they were ‘art'. At this time I was at university studying film stuff and my cinematic vocabulary had engorged to repulsively pretentious proportions. so watching this kind of film with a friend would thus often result in such dialogue as:

“Why I find Francøis Le Blanc's oeuvre to be the very definition of European auteurism. Don't you concur that the didactic sensibilities of his mise-en-scène implies the subjugate discourse of post-modern cinema is actually irrelevant when compared to the juxtaposition of the --- Phroaw!!!! Check out her titties!!! And the muff too!!”

Years later, and not much has changed. The only difference is that no longer working in the video store, I am subjected to closer scrutiny when hiring from this section. Meaning I can't just hire it out to myself when the other staff are vacuuming. Recently I returned to my old stomping ground and after carefully selecting my films, was greeted at the counter with a smug smile and a raised eyebrow by a very attractive young thing that was working there (regrettably I had left before she started).

This reaction was no doubt a direct result of the cover of We Don't Live Here Anymore , the Australian DVD release of which was quite different than everywhere else in the world. In America the posters and cover art are just the faces of the cast – it looks like a Woody Allen-ish analysis on relationships, which is kind of what it is. Here in Oz they have replaced that image with the bottom half of Naomi Watts. Just the bottom half of her. Completely naked except for a strategically placed fig leaf. I tried to give the video store chick a smile back that said “this looks like an intellectually stimulating arthouse film” but she wasn't buying it. “Have fun”, she said coyly as she handed my DVDs to me around the sense-o-matic. Of course it probably didn't help that my other pick was Ass-to-Face Action Volume 4: Assapalooza.

I know what you're asking yourself? How do I know that the disembodied naked lower half of a woman on the cover of We Don't Live Here Anymore was actually Naomi Watts? Well because it's from a memorable scene in the movie. In fact it's the only scene I remember from the movie. But before you go rushing into your Blockbusters (or clicking on your on-line DVD rental store) to check this out, be warned, this is as saucy as it gets. I was letdown by the rule of the arthouse. No saucy romps, no naked cavorting, just one medium level sex scene that's too damn ‘artfully shot' to actually reveal anything.

My mistake, of course, was that this was an American arthouse film. Unlike Europe, where flashing one's tits is automatically met with critical acclaim, in the US once an actress becomes a ‘star' the chance of her putting in a booby shot goes from:

91% if starring in a direct-to-video teen film

(a percentage which jumps to 93.5% if that film is set on a beach or a summer camp, all the way up to a staggering 99.99% if that film is a direct-to-video teen slasher flick set on a beach or a summer camp.),

…well below the:

70% if playing a young vixen that spices up the life of a much older male in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

…all the way down to:

4.3% chance when doing an arty-farty film as a break from her usual damsel-in-distress/love interest blockbuster film roles, most likely just to try and score an Oscar.

4.3%!!! Land of the free, my arse. Just look at Angelina Jolie for further proof. Early in her career it's a boob-a-palooza, but as soon as she got notoriety and started adopting black children they went into hiding.

Sure, occasionally an American actress will take the European route, and give us a flash in what will inevitably be described as a “brave move”, (see Kathy Bates in About Schmidt or when Gwyneth flashed her Paltrows in Shakespeare in Love ) - but its not like anyone really wanted to see them anyway.

While the movies may stay as conservative as ever, television is picking up the slack. HBO, the land of all good American TV, is also the new home of tits-on-the-tele. Nearly every show in their stable, from Carnivale to The Sopranos , seem to have taken on the European sensibility of beefing up their artistic credibility by showing some titty every now and again. It is a curious, but most welcome, phenomenon.

I no longer routinely flick to SBS in hope of catching an eyeful, and sadly, I wager the next generation of young Uncle Cliff's out there do not either. The proliferation of the Internet has made gratuitous female nudity too accessible, a statement I never thought I would ever utter in my life. The thrill of the hunt has gone, and with it dies the possibility that little Jimmy will flick over to the foreign-movie channel looking for a bit of tit, but instead finding only Gerard Depardieu's naked arse. So maybe it's not that bad a thing after all.