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Art in the Buff Presents: Venice Beach
Anyone who wishes the 1960s never ended will want to take a look at "Art in the Buff Presents: Venice Beach," a wacky record of a 2004 concert of performance pieces at a club in the boho Los Angeles precinct.
Latter-day flower children recite original poetry and sing and dance in degrees of undress, often with painted bodies and oddball accessories. While the emcee is male, most of the open-mike performers are young women with beautiful bodies and some degree of talent. The poetry is beat-ish, though there are recitations of scenes from Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke" and Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapine Agile." Fire-dancing and a "fashion strip tease" are also on view.
It's not taken very seriously, by the performers or the audience, and the nudity seems to be the real reason everyone is there.
Interwoven throughout the brief program is a bit in which two attractive female "audience members" meet at the show and have R-rated sex with each other by the end. The lesbian "subplot" clearly was shot away from the nightclub action.
In true '60s form, the filmmakers employ kaleidoscope overlays, double exposures, over- and underexposures, black lights, animation and other techniques that would fit right into an Austin Powers happening. There are also claymation interludes, one of which depicts President Bush enjoying himself while watching a DVD of an oil drill hard at work.
"Indie" would be too generous a word for this production. While the performers have a sincere quality, they're not served very well by the distracting filming techniques, the dodgy sound quality and the lack of a firm directorial hand. The thing just happens, with no narration, no comments from participants, no context.
The picture is full screen, and the colorful nighttime events are clearly captured. You get Dolby Digital Surround, but good chunks of the performers' vocals are not properly picked up by the sound equipment.
Extras amount to a full-length performance by one of the topless poetesses we saw in the main program, and an "Old Man Poem," in which a fearless coot wearing glasses, a white beard and nothing else reads something, and not too well.
Falling somewhere in the vast space between "Oh! Calcutta!" and "The Last Waltz," "Art in the Buff Presents: Venice Beach" is strange yet sweet: it's nice to know that long after the age of Haight-Ashbury there are still young people out there who think poetry, nudity and bongos can make the world a better place. The "art" is hit-and-miss, but the "buff" is boffo.