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In our weekly series Anatomy of a Scene's Anatomy, we're going to be taking a look at (in)famous sex scenes and nude scenes throughout cinema history and examining their construction, their relationship to the film around it, and their legacy. This week, we're looking at the film that helped Lisa Bonet graduate from Cosby kid to full-on sexpot, Alan Parker's Angel Heart.

Though the film isn't quite the neo-noir masterpiece some modern critics like to think it is, it's a film much better than its reputation suggests. Most people associate the film with the absurdly telegraphed twist that Robert De Niro's Lou Cypher is, gasp, Lucifer himself, but there's some really stylish filmmaking happening here. There's also a fairly remarkable cast including Mickey Rourke, Charlotte Rampling, and the focus of today's article, Lisa Bonet

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When she was cast as Denise Huxtable, the second oldest daughter of Bill and Claire on The Cosby Show, Lisa Bonet (above, far right) had done her fair share of beauty pageants and television guest spots, but the wholesome show vaulted her to celebrity status. Between shooting the show's second and third seasons, Bonet landed the role in Angel Heart based on the strength of her audition as director Alan Parker had never seen her on the television show. Bonet secured Cosby's blessing to do the film, though he would later reverse his stance on this. We'll get back to that in a bit.

The 1950s set film finds New York City based detective Harry Angel (Rourke) traveling to New Orleans to track down crooner Johnny Favorite, a man who reneged on a deal with the aforementioned Mr. Cypher—who isn't quite given away as the devil just yet. As Angel talks to various people who knew Favorite, each of them turns up dead, leading Angel to the doorstep of Epiphany Proudfoot (Bonet), the 17-year old love child of Favorite and a local New Orleans woman. 

When Angel first finds Epiphany just prior to the one hour mark, he catches her performing a voodoo ritual wherein she sacrifices a live chicken—relax PETA, it's clearly fake—and bathes in its blood...

 

Bonet makes her nude debut in the same scene, giving us our first taste of her blood-soaked nudity to come throughout the rest of the film...

 

Finding Epiphany reluctant to speak with him, Angel discovers two more people he spoke with dead, including Rampling's character Margaret, whose heart has been cut out. Margaret's father and some goons (hired goons) descend on Angel, suspecting he had something to do with her gruesome death. A bloodied Angel stumbles back to his hotel where he discovers Epiphany waiting for him and once inside, the two get down to business. 

 

The scene attained notoriety before the film was even released, with several profiles written at the time—including one in the Los Angeles Times—commenting on a sex scene that was made out to contain borderline pornography. As blood drips on the two love-makers, there are some shots of Rourke's ass thrusting, which the MPAA objected to and Parker willingly cut from the film after much debate. Bear in mind, this is a film where human hearts are consumed on screen, yet ten seconds of thrusting from Rourke was all that had to go in order to secure the studio mandated R-rating. The thrusting has been restored in the film's blu-ray release...

 

Commenting in the aforementioned LA Times interview, Bonet dismissed the controversy as ridiculous...

"It's nothing that hasn't been done before or that hasn't been seen before," Bonet said, comparing the brief glimpse of one of her bare breasts and Rourke's posterior to the R-rated frontal nudity in films such as "Blue Velvet."

While it's obviously not quite as innocent as they interpreted it to be, Angel Heart is obviously nowhere near as scandalous as other films of the era. Of course, the ultimate twist of the film finds Angel discovering that he is indeed Johnny Favorite, the man the devil has been tracking down in order to obtain his soul. This, of course, repaints the entire sex scene as Angel—and the audience—soon realizes that he had sex with and subsequently murdered his own daughter. That's right, we get one last blood covered nude scene from Bonet as she lay dead in bed with Angel/Favorite's dog tags around her neck...

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Blood is obviously an integral part of certain voodoo ceremonies and is often associated with the devil, so it's not entirely surprising that the film features a lot of it. It adds an obvious extra layer of meaning with nearly every one of the very pointedly underage Epiphany's nude scenes featuring her doused in blood. Sure, there's the innocent interpretation that she's a sacrificial lamb, yadda yadda yadda, but that interpretation would break with the direction Parker has been clearly been pointing you the entire time. 

Bonet's only clean nude scene, as it were, comes when we briefly see her topless in the tub shortly after sex, because any woman knows that you need to get clean immediately following sex with Mickey Rourke...

 

Nevertheless, she's dead in under ten minutes screen time, so she basically washes the blood off just to find herself covered in it again.

It's no wonder all of this didn't sit well with Cosby at the time, who was handling his many differences with Bonet by spinning her character Denise off into her own show, A Different World, set to debut six months after the release of Angel Heart. In an interview with Newsweek at the time, Cosby derided the filmmakers more than his on-screen daughter...

Cosby, for his part, doesn't much like Bonet's role: "It's a movie made by white America that cast a black girl, gave her voodoo things to do and have sex." But he did advise her to take it. As Bonet puts it, "My obligation wasn't to Denise. I felt obligated to myself and my career." via The Muse

In retrospect, it's quite rich for Cosby to espouse such beliefs when he was "allegedly" in the habit of routinely earning the trust of various women before drugging and assaulting them. However, it wasn't her role in Angel Heart that truly caused the rift between Bonet and Cosby that would lead to her dismissal from the show in 1991. According to Cosby Show Executive Producer Debbie Allen, it was Bonet's pregnancy the year after Angel Heart that became the breaking point for Cosby. 

There's no denying that Bonet came out of this controversy looking much better than virtually everyone else, mainly for speaking her truth and not bowing to pressure from her television father to tame her wilder sensibilities. It obviously gifted us with one of the great nude debuts of all time, something we're eternally grateful for, but looking back on it now, it seems like a whole lot of people got awfully upset over nothing. 

 

Catch up with our other editions of Anatomy of a Scene's Anatomy...

The "Real Sex" of Don't Look Now

Scarlett Johansson's Nude Debut in Under the Skin

The 2 Very Different Sex Scenes of Basic Instinct

How Halle Berry's Nude Debut Led Her to Monster's Ball

How Mulholland Dr.'s Legendary Lesbian Scenes Deepen the Film's Mystery

Showgirls and the Dangers of High Camp

Rosario Dawson Laid Bare for Danny Boyle's Trance

Katie Holmes Makes The Gift Worth Remembering

Jennifer Connelly Comes of Age in The Hot Spot

 

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The Cosby Show image via The Muse