The Naked And The Dead

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I like nudity. I like musicals. So what, I figured, could be better than a combination of the two, assuming Nathan Lane wasn't involved? You can imagine my dismay in discovering that not only does the movie Moulin Rouge contain absolutely no nudity but the characters sing unmusical rock songs like Up Where You Belong and Smells Like Teen Spirit. I hadn't felt this disappointed since learning that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a children's movie.

So while on assignment in Paris — or, as they say here, l'exploitation de la compagnie — I checked out the real Moulin Rouge. The two-hour show was dripping with nudity. Every dance number contained fantastic period costumes that happened to be missing the top half, like Merchant-Ivory meets Stringfellows. There were pirates, clowns, cancan dancers, a woman swimming with giant eels, Egyptians, genies, Shetland ponies and, for reasons that must have to do with this being France, a 15-minute hand-shadow puppet show. I was insulted that the producers thought that the only way to keep a man's interest is to show women's breasts, but far more worried that women were paying attention.

The first number was to a song consisting of the lyrics "Dance, dance, partee, dance. Partee, dance, dance," and it only got better. Two men in leather pants, armbands and wristbands appeared, and one used his feet to flip the other one by his butt while the sound system played Part Time Lover. It was the gayest thing I ever saw, even more than the way Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel interact on The Man Show. The whole thing was just like a Las Vegas show — the major difference being that instead of spending two hours away from losing money at blackjack, you spend two hours away from Paris.

The audience was made up of older American couples, the husband apparently using the old Toulouse-Lautrec "art" gambit to get his wife to go to a strip joint with him. But unlike eyeing the nudity in magazines or movies, I couldn't help seeing the performers at the Moulin Rouge as real people taking off their clothes for money. Unfortunately, my seat was really good, so I was a little too close to the dancers. I didn't want to stare at their breasts because that seemed rude, and I was too embarrassed to look them in their eyes, and checking out their crotches seemed totally wrong. They had some really nice open-toed stilettos.

No matter what, I felt uncomfortable looking at a naked woman pretending she was turned on strictly for my benefit. That's a moment I like to reserve for my home life. The whole thing was a lot like a strip club, only with a hand-shadow guy. The women wore inappropriately formal gowns, too much makeup and danced with their breasts at the guys' eye level. In a lot of ways it reminded me of my eighth-grade dance.

I know it doesn't make sense to watch porn and then act embarrassed at the Moulin Rouge. But without the distance of a camera, the exploitation is too real, too confrontational. I'm having a lot of trouble trying to make this argument in France, though. That may be because my French is weak, but I think it has more to do with the fact that they still keep mistresses here.