American filmmakers have finally gotten over their fear of the penis. This once unpopular organ is now being showcased in one blockbuster after another, frequently in comedies such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but also in superhero sagas, most notably in Watchmen.
The latter exposure caused moviechopshop.com's Shep Ramsey to pen "In Defense of Dr. Manhattan's Penis: Why American Audiences Need to Grow the @$#% Up." Within his astute essay, Ramsey argues, "Now, I'm not going to deny that there is certainly a good deal of full-frontal shots of the film's walking A-bomb character, Dr. Manhattan, played in the film by Billy Crudup.
But I'd like to think that if you're paying any attention to the film at all and aren't a rabid homophobe or a common household douche bag, then you aren't likely to be distracted by it and sent into a tantrum."
The American Prospect's Phoebe Connelly agrees: "We're comfortable with objectified male bodies when they are a joke, but not when it's merely a part of a character -- the way female nudity, particularly in action films, so often is. So yes to the blue penis. Let's hope it makes people pause to consider why it's discomfiting to have male nudity displayed, not for laughs, and not part of some art house epic, but just as a side-bit character trait that no one seems to remark on."
All of which brings us the next breaking of a taboo. The culprit: The Hangover.
This raucous comedy about a bachelor party gone awry is expected now to at least earn $200 million after opening to spectacularly positive reviews. What does this mean? Well, that after its theatrical run and DVD sales and rentals, this amiable fare will have exposed tens of millions of unsuspecting popcorn munching cinemagoers to a urinating penis. Lots of American films have shown urination in the past decade, but none that I can recall with an exposed penis attached.
I'm not sure if this is one giant step for mankind or not, but one should not be surprised that the comedy in which this has occurred has been directed by Todd Phillips.
Phillips has in the past directed Road Trip (2000), a hilarious road film that included the pleasures of straight-male anal penetration by a female nurse, and the pulled-from-circulation documentary Frat House (1998) in which pledges had to scream, "I'm a penis-craving, ****-sucking ******."
When I first interviewed Phillips in the mid 90s, he and his then-partner Andrew Gurland had co-founded the highly successful and consistently outrageous New York Underground Film Festival. Some of the features the boys screened back then included Clit-O-Matic: The Adventures of a White Trash Girl; Sweaty Naked Male Flesh; and Terror of Blood Gym.
When asked at that time if he could imagine his future, Phillips predicted, "The fantasy we always say is that while we get older, the girls stay the same age. Festival-wise, we'll still be part of it, but most of the responsibilities will be handed off, and it will take on a life of its own."
Well, the festival did survive for a while without their creators, and I have no idea the age of the women Phillips is dating, but he certainly never guessed he'd become a major force in Hollywood. He has in the years since also directed Old School with Vince Vaughn, Starsky & Hutch with Ben Stiller, and currently has 11 features in development according to imdb.com, including Psycho Funky Chimp.
The outsider has clearly become the insider, one who just received a standing ovation at the Dublin premiere of The Hangover. All of which makes you wonder, if Phillips and Gurland were starting their little Underground Festival today, what if anything could they come up with to shock the masses?
A slightly unrelated thought: After the recent murder in Washington, D.C., are the audiences still laughing the same way at the following dialogue from The Hangover?
Stu Price: Oh my God, I can't believe I gave away my grandmother's Holocaust ring to a complete stranger.
Alan Garner: I didn't even know they gave out rings during the Holocaust! - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently starring in Rosa von Praunheim's New York Memories, which is still in production. In the fall, he'll be teaching "The Arts in New York City" at City College. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, The Advocate, and dozens of other publications.