‘Body Parts’ Review: Even Sex Scenes Have Rules

Cinema’s first kiss was recorded in 1896, and the American film industry has been obsessed with desire and sex ever since. The documentary “Body Parts” is an attempt to account for cinema’s prurient interests. The documentarian Kristy Guevara-Flanagan interviews performers and filmmakers — including familiar faces like Jane Fonda and Karyn Kusama — on the topic of onscreen nudity and sex. Their stories of exploitation and negotiations are supported by archival clips from Hollywood movies of the present and past.

The movie is strongest when it focuses on labor rules. Interview subjects explain the use of nudity riders, contractual documents that specify what acts an actor is willing to perform. Intimacy coordinators discuss their work as liaisons between actors and filmmakers, and the documentary shows them directing actors on how to touch appropriately. In these sequences, the film helpfully elucidates the practical side of filmmaking, and personal stories demonstrate how clear contractual practices can create a safer work environment.

However, the movie is limited when it comes to deeper philosophical considerations, and its use of archival footage at times undermines comments from interview subjects. They describe the frustration of having intimate scenes posted online without context, on websites intended for pornography. But this documentary also includes decontextualized clips of nudity, with no onscreen reference to the process of informing the performers depicted. And pornographic performers are not interviewed about their work rules at all.

It’s not that these omissions make the movie unethical, but their absence does suggest an intellectual laziness, a lack of precision or curiosity on the complex subject of sexual exploitation and how it relates to the work of making movies. Ironically, the film mirrors the callow cinematic dynamics it critiques: It titillates, even as it scolds.

Body Parts
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. In theaters.