Six years ago I wrote a short piece about a very touchy anatomical subject for my Reel.com column. I happened to come across it again today. It struck me as a very odd thing, and yet truthful. This is a slow news day so I’m re-posting with add-ons and modifications. The subject is why feet are almost never given close-ups in movies.
“Has anyone every wondered why directors and their cinematographers almost never include close-ups of actors’ feet in movies? Because 90% of human feet are strange and alienating, is why. But it goes farther than that. For me, bare feet are a contemporary pestilence that no culture since the sandal-wearing Greeks and Romans has had to deal with. Once upon a time sandled feet were a subject for light mockery, something that only eccentric beatniks went for. Exposed digits have been ubiquitous, of course, in warm weather months since the mid ’60s. I for one regret it.
“Nobody talks about it, but everyone understands. In real life all but the most unusually perfect feet are good for a glance at best, and should rarely be contemplated further. This goes double for the movies. Hands, kneecaps, ear lobes, fingers, noses, biceps, chest hair (or lack of) — these and others anatomical features are routinely displayed in films. But never feet.
“Well, almost never.
“There’s a close-up of Michael Keaton and Geena Davis‘ bare feet soaking in a fountain in Ron Underwood‘s relationship comedy Speechless (1994). An argument could be advanced that this insert shot was one of the reasons it bombed. I remember recoiling in my theater seat after glancing at those gleaming, well-pedicured nubs and deciding I would give Speechless a failing grade.
“The only tolerable close-up of feet I can recall happens about a half hour into Nicholas Ray‘s King of Kings (1961). Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus Christ is walking in the desert and looking for spiritual purification, and at one point the camera cuts to a shot of his bleeding feet stepping on sand and cactus thorns and sharp stones. Hunter’s feet (or maybe Ray used a foot double?) looked good to me — lean, tanned, athletic, perfect pedicure.
“Having bad feet can really mess with the aura that an attractive or extra-talented movie star has carefully built up. One definition of bad feet are feet with extra-long European-styled toes. New York writer Pete Hamill once described the toes belonging to Nastassja Kinski‘s for an interview he did with her in the early ’80s as ‘bad toes.’ So I’m not the first one to bring this up.
“The following actors, in my opinion, have either unappealing feet or bad toes: Meg Ryan (too long and bony), Terence Stamp (I noticed his bulbous toes after catching a restored print of Pasolini’s Teorema), Debra Winger (too-long toes) , Diane Keaton (ditto), and British actor Robert Newton. I distinctly remember not being pleased when Sam Mendes showed us the balls of Kevin Spacey‘s naked feet in a scene in American Beauty.
“The list is short for the simple reason that most directors are careful not to give audiences even a glimpse of these bare appendages.
“Bad feet can even mess up a stage performance. I remember cooling on British actor Stephen Dillane‘s performance in a Broadway revival of Tom Stoppard‘s The Real Thing because he was shoeless throughout most of the play, and because his toes were knobby and protruding.
“Is it allowable to acknowledge how unfortunate it is these days that virtually every American woman walks around these days in open-toed shoes or sandals, and that a good 70% should probably consider alternatives? I’ve seen some women’s feet that are drop-dead beautiful, but these are the exception. Most of the female feet I see are so-so or okay, at best. Some are close to dreadful. Most men over the age of 35 or 40 should just forget about going barefoot or wearing sandals, period.
“Every time I see a friend or acquaintance approach on a street or in a mall and I notice they’re wearing sandals, a little part of me dies inside. Or at the very least grims up and prepares.”