Bruce Willis’ penis has caused quite a stir with the MPAA. The ratings board objected to seeing it in Color of Night and threatened the film with an NC-17 unless producers made cuts. Director Richard Rush strongly disagreed with the MPAA’s suggestions but was forced to live with an excised six minutes.
”These were intense sex scenes,” says MPAA president Jack Valenti. ”If Bruce Willis had stepped out of a shower and was toweling himself, or was reaching for a telephone and there was a fleeting glimpse of nudity, (the rating) would probably be an R. But if you’re shown totally nude and screwing somebody on a bed, that’s something else.”
Rush, however, argues that the MPAA has a double standard on nudity. ”We’ve all seen frontal nudity on television,” says Rush. ”Supposedly, this is self- regulation to avoid censorship, but in a sense it has the same effect. We fell victim to the exigencies of the madness.”
That costar Jane March is also nude in the disputed scenes doesn’t seem to bother the MPAA, says Rush. The ratings board informed him that one problem was, in his words, the ”proximity between genitals and faces” in a shot (ultimately cut) that featured the nude March floating on her back in a pool with Willis on display at her side. Yet another shot, which included March’s pubic hair and Willis’ face, was allowed to remain. It’s a case of men trying to shield ”the ‘little women,”’ says Rush. ”In the name of protecting women we’re imposing this absurd censorship to protect our own egos.” Valenti counters, ”(Saying) there’s a double standard is sheer hypocrisy. These people are trying to get free publicity.”
Traditionally, male frontal nudity has been a rarity in R-rated movies, though women have been baring it all on screen for years. According to Peter Lehman, professor of media arts at the University of Arizona and author of Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body, action heroes are never shown totally naked because filmmakers want to preserve their images of ”symbolic phallic power. There’s no way the actual penis can live up to that.” He commends Willis (now filming Die Hard 3) for daring to risk that image by revealing himself in an erotic thriller. ”It’s a very gutsy thing for him to do,” he says. ”The (audience) doesn’t separate what you do in one genre from what you do in another.”
Though the MPAA may have momentarily thwarted Willis’ attempt to gain more exposure, Rush is making sure his star’s penis will have its day. It will likely be restored in a director’s cut on video, along with what he calls ”other material that has to do with style, wit, density, and darkness.”