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What Can I Do with a Male Nude? (1985)


Main image of What Can I Do with a Male Nude? (1985)
16mm, colour, 24 mins
DirectorRon Peck
Production CompanyGreater London Arts
Financial assistanceBFI Production Board
ProducerJames Mackay
ScriptRon Peck
PhotographyChristopher Hughes

Cast: John Levitt (the photographer); John Brown (the model)

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A male model strikes poses which illustrate a photographer's lecture on the historical difficulty of picturing the male nude, covering issues such as censorship and obscenity from a homosexual point of view.

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Shot on video, What can I do with a Male Nude? (d. Ron Peck, 1985) is a humorous investigation into contemporary censorship of the male body. In 1984, following a massive increase in commercially available video tapes for home viewing, the Video Recordings Act made video releases subject to stricter censorship than cinema releases. Although the new law was mostly targeted at 'video nasties', it also laid down strict guidelines covering images of sexuality.

The film uses first-person narration to tell the story of how the male nude has been depicted through the ages and how this is determined by the censorship of the time. It demonstrates that current censorship is arbitrary, based on the prejudice and political advantage of the Government of the day. In Ancient Greece, the depiction of the male nude was a part of everyday life, as were sports performed in the nude - and homosexuality. In Renaissance Italy, homosexual painters used Bible stories as a pretext to paint male nudes. After the invention of photography, magazines used health and fitness as a pretext for displaying the male body. During the 1960s, more explicit images became permissible, but have always been strictly regulated by the law.

The use of the photographer's voice-over personalises the story and equates the activity of the photographer with that of the filmmaker: both are involved in representing the male nude, but are also subject to the legal dangers in doing so. The film is also very funny, and doesn't shy away from the photographer's and filmmaker's own sexual desire for the model, playing on the way pornography often justifies itself by claiming to be art.

Helen de Witt

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Video Clips
1. The classical nude (2:51)
2. Payment (4:10)
Production stills
Peck, Ron (1948-)