There is something very empowering about being able to bring a room to a bewildered silence. Ditto about being able to make people crinkle up their faces and repeat what you just said with disbelief: "Octopus?" "Saran Wrap?" "Helen Keller?" Every once in a while you give vent to an opinion that couldn't surprise the room any more than if you farted and, instead of saying, "Excuse me," you smiled and winked.
I get to bring things to a standstill every time the sexual viability of celebrities is discussed. Everybody pipes up with their growly thoughts about Angelina Jolie or Freddie Prinze Jr. Then I say, "I think Harvey Keitel is the hottest thing since jalapeños right out of the deep fryer." Everyone looks at me like they're driving west at sunset.
I do think Harvey is the deal, and have Keitelathons -- at least two Harvey movies in a row -- to remind me there are cool guys in the world. Harvey's tough without being a dumb-ass, smart without being a reedy intellectual. His face couldn't be stonier if he came from Easter Island. He doesn't have a website. Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck are Disney. Harvey is Amsterdam.
Harvey gets naked in movies. Since he first stripped down in "Bad Lieutenant" he's shown his McFlurries in every picture he's been in -- well, not really, but when you tell someone there's a new Keitel movie, the first question is not "What's it about?" It's "Does he show his ass again?" Even Dennis Miller said, "I've seen Harvey Keitel's dick more than I've seen my own." Presumably he meant onscreen.
Front and center
Ewan McGregor, Richard Gere and Mel Gibson have flashed the audience in at least three movies each, but when their movies come out no one wonders aloud whether they open the tackle box. Well, they wonder it about Ewan, but that is because he, like Harvey, does the full-frontal monty, which men almost never do. There were people who were disappointed that he wore that housecoat the whole way through "Phantom Menace." Having seen his naked front in Velvet Goldmine, I think it's safe to say that this is because, well, he has a lot on the ball. Nudge, nudge.
At any rate, Harvey was just in Holy Smoke!, an excellent movie, with Kate Winslet. Harvey naturally gets naked. (No one asks, but Kate does, too, and is sexy enough to turn RuPaul into a lesbian.) After a while you have to wonder about the trend. Does he just have dumb luck? A case of garden-variety exhibitionism? Or does he seek out these scripts purposely because he gets to be naked?
Room for improvement
If actors like Liv Tyler and Natalie Portman have the clout to get nude scenes excised from their scripts -- and they do -- then certainly a guy like Harvey has the clout to get naked scenes put in them. In fact, I personally can't think of a single movie that wouldn't benefit from the appearance of a naked man. Here are some ideas for movies that Harvey could have slipped a nude scene into, thereby upping their commercial and cultural value immeasurably. (Well, for my purposes it will be Harvey, but you can imagine any naked man you want; I'll bet either you or your lover is really good at doing this.)
Elmo in Grouchland: Or any movie involving Muppets. Naked guy as an infant Snuffalupagus, blending into wall of other Muppets a la ET hiding in that stuffed-animal collection, only wearing a costume from the "men's novelty" section of Frederick's of Hollywood.
Star Trek: Any "Star Trek." Finally someone's clothes don't make it through the transporter.
The Amazing Colossal Man: A remake of the '50s radiation-scare classic, only this time they don't find the guy a giant diaper.
The Mummy: A mummy, by definition, cannot be naked. But this one has his package wrapped separately from the rest of his body.
Any war movie: Instead of hands or legs, some soldier gets his clothes blown off.
Any Merchant-Ivory or Jane Austen adaptation: Passing village idiot wreaks havoc on pastoral English country life by flashing Helena Bonham-Carter.
Next Batman flick: The supervillain's power lies in constant nakedness. People's natural tendency to turn away from a naked person over the age of 35 gives him the chance to do diabolical things like steal their watches and set off a sodium-pentathol smoke bomb. Code name: The Dangler.
Teen comedies: Something that's in the same category as American Pie and Sixteen Candles. A senile grandfather walks around naked the entire movie. Inappropriate by any standards, and therefore bound to attract an audience.
Live-action Tigger movie: Springy? Bouncy? Say no more.
Hopefully one day man will evolve back down to the place where everyone is running around naked all the time. Until then we have our imagination. And I have Harvey -- even if I'm the only one who can see it.