It's time to drag out that old cliché, and not just because it is convenient. Sex sells, and filmmaker T.L. Young is counting on it. A first time filmmaker from Hawaii, Young claims to be a champion of the nudist movement. He describes a childhood on the Big Island considering in abject wonder such unseen concepts as the local nude beach, and the nearby nudist colony. Not knowing about naturalism or the sunworshippers of the 30s, his odd fascination turned into a far more connected curiosity. He joined a skinny dipping club, and then wrote a play about the closing of a local nude resort. Looking back at the lost canon of naked body ballyhoo released by the exploitation experts, Young decided to make his own nudist romp. The film, a version of his play The Naked Place, would reawaken the world to the joys of the clothes-free spirit. Unfortunately, he needs money to realize his vision. That's where Naked in the 21st Century: A Journey Through Naturism comes into play.
T.L. Young is announcing his new movie, a feature film on nudism called The Naked Place. Inspired by the exploitation films of the 50s and 60s, this young auteur knows that a modern audience will be eager to view his mammary and man ass epic - only problem is, they don't know it exists. Yet. So he decides to document the making of the movie, providing behind the scenes glimpses of the research that went into it and the overall audition process. When Amber, the manager of a modern nudist colony, hears that there are parts available, she decides to try out. Her boyfriend is less than understanding, but not because of the nakedness. He wonders if a post-millennial world is ready for films about followers of the flesh. As we learn the history of the naturalism movement and view some memorable backstage drama, Young just keeps on shilling. He wants to prove that, even in these decidedly Puritanical times, there is still a value in being Naked in the 21st Century.
Buried somewhere inside its obvious infomercial intentions, Naked in the 21st Century has a very interesting basic idea. Indeed, unless you are a fan of the exploitation films from the 50s and 60s, and have followed the careers of filmmakers like Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman and Herschell Gordon Lewis, very few film aficionados would have even heard of the nudist colony movie. At one time it was the most controversial cinema in America, a flesh fest that pushed the envelope of acceptability and social stigma with its daring to show people baring - it all. While they would rate a pretty paltry PG from our current, conservative censorship board, otherwise known as the MPAA, producers in the day had to fight multiple prosecutions to finally find a civil rights champion. It was the Supreme Court that decriminalized skin when they said nudity, but its very nature, was not inherently pornographic, and the raincoat crowd cheered as amiable auteurs scoured the international landscape to present their color and black and white accounts of pseudo-sexy, sun worshippers everywhere.
With titles like Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, Nude on the Moon, and Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls, the original films were semi-naughty novelties, their narratives using the bare back colonies and their indigenous members as the milieu for some fairly mediocre mammary exposés. Indeed, the main reason why these films faded away was because, once the uniqueness of seeing naked chicks wore off, the grindhouse crowd wanted a little more "bang" for their buck-fifty. Thus began the endless permutations into the roughie and the sickie and the ghoulie. It wasn't long before even the most rabid fan of female pulchritude would razz these retarded genre offerings. So anyone who wants to celebrate - nay, even revive - this once popular porn form deserves some Special Ed points for trying. And that is exactly what filmmaker T.L. Young wants us to think he is doing. Mixing multiple movie genres to encompass the documentary, stock footage, film clips, and a linking narrative thread about a girl auditioning for a new nudist colony film, Young hopes you will enjoy the retro ride. Unfortunately, his true purpose comes crashing through, leaving you with the fairly faint feeling that you've been had.
Naked in the 21 Century is one big con, a ruse to get investors to cough up the cash so that Young can complete his indie film magnum opus, a years in the making movie called The Naked Place. While one might be tempted to take this all as a good natured joke, almost a mockumentary if you will, Young has none of the cinematic style or jocular grace to make such a spoof work. Instead, he seems legitimately focused on making this motion picture and he tries to prove his professionalism time and time again. Hooking up with an established nudism organization, he pilfers their profiles to give nature loving a decent, wholesome name. He stages scenes with his "actors" so they can argue over the merits of this lifestyle choice, and he has his producers discuss the history of the genre, even providing clips from some of the classics. Yet with all this backslapping and gladhanding, it's not hard to see that Young has very little to show for his efforts. We see portions of The Naked Place's production, but the film itself is relegated to a two-minute trailer in the extras. Also, at 47 minutes, there is nothing feature length about this making-of montage. There is no single saleable plot point - not the nudist colony manager who wants to try out for the film, not the auditioning actresses who give us their philosophy for posing nude on camera. Indeed, when stripped of its initial idea, Naked in the 21st Century is flatter than a typical sunworshippers scorched flapjacks.
Had he truly understood what he was doing, had he used the documentary material to frame and comment on his so-called naturalism epic, had we really been able to get a handle on his overall approach - either as shill or satire - maybe this mini-movie would work. It does have some deliciously dopey snippets from the original bodkin bonanzas, and the interviews with people who worked with Wishman and others that actually live the naked life are very insightful. But this is really nothing more than an EPK crossed with a prospectus, and in both cases, the pitch is incredibly less than perfect. Young seems like a nice enough guy, and if he is serious about being a member of the Hawaiian Skinnydippers during his adult days, that's fine. And the information about how nudism traveled from Germany to these sexually conservative amber waves of grain is intriguing. But there is not enough of substance here. Both the history and the humor fail to make this movie work. No matter how hard he tries, Young is still stuck with a money grab. Had he given us the real deal (just why is The Naked Place not part of this DVD package?) or just a straight up overview of the cinematic fixation on naturism, we'd have an interesting diversion. As it stands, this is a tawdry time-share video, too long to be potent, too short to be entertainment.
Made up of old clips, new digital interviews, website video and old camcorder footage, Naked in the 21st Century offers a chaotic, inconsistent image. The material from the movie itself looks good, but everything else has a hampered, homemade quality that looks cheap and tacky. The 1.33:1 full screen image flares, bleeds and generally looks like a Super VHS mess. While it is watchable, it is not very visually vibrant - or professional.
Since this is a talking head production that moves between old fashioned mono and Dolby Digital Stereo, the sonics here are rather unpredictable. Sometime, the dialogue and conversations are easy to hear. At other times, they are lost in a cacophony of background wind, traffic noise, and internal microphone mania. Overall, the aural elements are weak and uninspired.
Where Naked in the 21st Century really reveals its sales pitch parameters is in the bonus feature department. Instead of offering up anything remotely original, Young reconfigures his film into two separate featurettes. Both offer nothing new and merely re-edit the mock doc into its true 'sell, sell, sell' format. The deleted scenes are of minor interest (they don't last longer than 90 seconds, total) and the trailer is tragically dull. In essence what we have here is one of the few instances in the history of DVD where the added content here actually takes away from the disc's overall value.
Though it rates a Rent It for its well-meaning ideas, fans of exploitation or mock documentaries will probably find very little to like about Naked in the 21st Century: A Journey Through Naturism. T.L. Young may be a filmmaker with a future. He may also be a painfully delusional dork who doesn't realize that the naked body and its entertainment elements have long ago been co-opted by the slasher film of the 80s and the made for cable erotic thrillers of the 90s. Trying to reinvent what pioneers like Meyer, Wishman and Lewis did flawlessly four decades previous seems like the craziest of conceits. And when the results are as routine and pedestrian as the examples shown here, it is clear why the nudist colony film finally went the way of the dinosaur and the sense of personal shame. Naked in the 21st Century is not really a movie, and it's not really a fact-based examination of the naturism movement. Instead, it feels like a private joke played on members of the money lending community - and critics crazy enough to give it a spin in their DVD devices. And to paraphrase a certain Victorian Queen, we are not amused. Or entertained.
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