Bright Lights Film Journal

Between Nudist Morality and Freudian Realism! Denuding Fleshly Hypocrisies, Cinematic and Otherwise

“Nude on the Moon’s exploitation is as innocent as the Good Christo-Nudist’s reclaiming of a pre-figleafed (albeit non-recreational) Eden.”

What do you consider most humane?
— To spare someone shame. — F. W. Nietzsche

We have all been washed too well in Christian moralism’s filthy legacy — even decades of belligerent atheism cannot fully exfoliate those layers of shame acculturated and inculcated during the months we spend as toddlers twiddling with our bizarre appendages and groping through fantastical stages of Freudian anality. Following the terrific yearnings of adolescence and brazen awakenings of young adulthood, we at last cast aside every folk neurosis and totemic inheritance with which our irrational upbringings smothered us. We soon become overconfident in our sophistications, as complexly layered in their denials as our toddling naivetés once were in their credulities. We watch Pasolini during tea, page through Civilization and Its Discontents in the tub, and employ Erwartung as the soundtrack for our weekly nosehair tweezings, so what possible meanings can New Testament shame, ruler of the unlettered and beguiled, still portend for us, who’ve endured and absorbed every cultural revolution?

But when we come face-to-face with the ungenerous bathroom mirror, our years of erudition falter, our superiority buckles, and our intellects are bullied by reflections of a jowly visage, drooping flesh, retreating hairlines, and the slow, genetic sprouting of an ursine hirsuteness. We are reminded instantly of materiality and inevitable organic decay — Freud can’t help us now. At least anorexics and bulimics take matters into their own bony hands and recoil against nature, even if Madison Avenue air-brushers are twisting their arms; I, pathologically lazy, am (dis)content to let everything droop into oblivion. Would that the framed mirror were a painting like Manet’s Olympia, a nude that Stephen Kern sees as “blatantly provocative” as it “stares challengingly at the viewer,”1 despite the model’s modest concealment of her pubis. But knowing that I, in my physical decrepitude, must conceal everything, I conceal nothing, knowing the game, the “challenge,” to be futile. Staring into an abyss of oily breasts and grease-fed thighs, animalistic and artless, I succumb to the long-buried yet never-killed shame that conquers all.

The muscle-bound, I suspect, endure feelings of inadequacy and narcissism in equal measure. If a disproportionate number of bodybuilders are short (Mishima was only 5’1″, three-and-half inches shorter than I), a phenomenon disclosing early inadequacy syndromes, they soon become enslaved to idolatry and appetitively jerk around their monstrous parts, succumbing to a dysmorphics as biophysically addictive as any opiate. The legacy of Christianity, on the pretext of a pacifism more often preached than performed, thus warns us of the dangers of self-interested pride.

For all of Christianity’s historic horror and social damage, I sympathize with its demonization of pride — certainly, much warfare would cease if all Christians were the conscientious objectors their dogma commands them to be. On those occasions when I’ve allowed myself to feel pride, it usually stabs me in the back — this is why I bury pride as most people bury shame. A simple anecdote here will suffice.

One evening several years ago I returned to the Marriott Hotel where I was spending the night only to discover a wallet innocently dropped inches from the dimly lit side entrance. Such moral dilemmas are typically relegated to the egregious didacticism of 1970s sitcoms or Sunday school sermonizing, but here was I, improbably faced with a real-life cliché. At first, any ethical wrangle seemed gratuitous: life having been generally unkind to me, and sorely needing the crisp wad of hundreds I imagined tucked within, I was prepared to pocket the booty and run. But an inspection of the contents humanized me: there were only $63 in cash and, more lamentably, a laminated badge identifying the owner as a twenty-four-year-old employee of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Pathos drowned my avarice, even in anonymity. How could I pilfer the few dollars of a young man — his expressionless face frozen forever onto a slice of industrial plastic — unlucky enough to slave as a reviled state functionary? His dreams had already been dashed; it was unthinkable to punish him doubly.

Suddenly the pride of a mission swelled within me, and recalling the dicta of sweet, dead Maimonides (right), I returned the wallet anonymously to the hotel’s front desk, for charity given facelessly is yet a step closer to true, shameless tzedaka (whereas Christian charity, doled out by the soup-bucket, shames the recipient).2 The nighttime desk clerk was so overwhelmed by my ethics, and so incredulous to encounter honesty in the vacuum of 2 a.m., that she regaled me with two complimentary Marriot Rewards Breakfast Buffet Coupons (which did not include tax and tip). Her face beaming with newfound faith in humanity, she phoned the wallet’s owner — of course also a guest at the hotel — but I ducked out before his arrival, lest my facelessness become foiled. Returning to my room, he passed me in the hallway going in the opposite direction: I recognized his tall frame and lanky face, just roused and drowsy, and passed him quickly, like a joyful ghost. My self-satisfaction lasted about thirty minutes. As I fell asleep, the sensation waned, and upon waking it had dissipated into an emptiness more depressing than the numbness into which I normally arise. My pride, as the Jewish philosopher would say, was my shame. I should have kept the money.

Twain’s famous remark that “Man is the only animal that blushes . . . or needs to,” is trenchant in its misanthropy but perhaps too easily equates human folly with post-Christian habits of socialization. In The Unfashionable Human Body, an amusing tour through history’s garment neuroses, Bernard Rudofsky describes “an unauthorized easterly version of the Fall [in which] the first man and woman are described as sexless; only after having sinned ‘were the halves of the forbidden apple grafted unto them in the shape of breasts and testicles.'”3 This “unauthorized” Eastern Orthodox incarnation of Eden, wherein developmentally arrested Adam and Eve are instantly socialized through some fruity magic, makes abundantly clear Christianity’s equation between abstract, totalized knowledge and bodily knowledge per se — an equation both neurotic in its reductions and logical in its identification of the body as the source of primal knowledge, a Platonic notion that reaches its apogee in Rousseau’s Emile. Our familiar Western version of Eden is coy to the point of discomfiture: the fruit, once digested, becomes an internalized desire (shame) to cloak the sex organs in leaves, rather than becoming an externalized manifestation of the organs themselves. Though more blatant in its associations, this Eastern version refuses to equate sexual knowledge with knowledge totalized, or the procreative act with all productiveness. Had this been the version on which we were socially weaned, perhaps our nudity neuroses might be at once more intensified and more limited, compartmentalized in a special place in our collective conscious as a unique category of sexual-bodily knowledge distinct from the illimitable sensory investigations of every innocent, autodidactic Emile.

The ingrained fear of the body — the fear of self-knowledge — has long necessitated safeguarding, mystifying textiles, from primitive skins and furs to the synthetics of capitalistic industries fueled by a mélange of fashion and shame.4 Our knowledge phobias blind us to the fact that textiles, not nudities, are what eroticize. The full-time nudist does not, and cannot, tease; such rituals are the domain of the textilist, or part-time exhibitionist, intent on mating or evanescent pleasures. Clothing, surely, is utilitarian, but it provides more than warmth or capitalist identities. It also manifests the erotic allure of bodily scultpings, cuppings, concealments, and revelations in cowhide, sheepskin, and wormsilk, all texturally more pleasing than pimpled, pocked epidermises. (True, some may prefer mimetic rayon or other synthetics, but that is a Platonic problem.) If Americans insist on dressing themselves, perhaps they could at least follow the example of the tribesman’s priapic sheath, which properly maintains a constant vertical attention. Clothing thus makes animal fetishists of us all and the penal code a hypocrite — it is legally forbidden to fuck a pleasing vole or elephant, but law compels us to enflesh erotically our bodies in livestocks’ woven membranes and tanned skins. Those who harbor more exacting vestment fetishes, fixating on twirling tassels, rubbing their groins against field hockey kneepads, or targeting a jockstrap’s intensely framed rear, are therefore only particularizing from a historically embedded condition.

The performative postmodernist may turn to clothes to rebel against and remake nature (even if the materials of this remaking are mass-produced in Thai sweatshops), but too often performance addresses the effect without confronting the cause, for without clothes, whether conventional or transformative, we still cower in shame. Clothing’s multifariousness may proffer infinite personae and attendant performative freedoms — for clothes are, in a commedia dell’arte sense, personae in themselves — but this freedom only deepens our enthrallment to the cruelly controlling history of textility, which has often been a vehicle to enforce economic, gendered, and sociocultural meanings. Thankfully, the most egregious oppressions of the apparel industry vanished with the rise of liberal democracy, but the oppressions linger still in different skins.

Women no longer contend with the intestinal diseases routinely incurred from squeezing their torsos into Victorian corsets and wire crinolines,5 but must today compare meekly their spread flesh against the beauteous deformations of virtual airbrush technology. This is to say nothing of surgical technique, which crafts a second skin from our first, stretching decrepit skins into crisscrossed maps of mortality. Elsewhere, the British legalist’s periwig still sits atop colonized lawyers; Islamic veils conceal the illegal provocations of female faces and their forbidden blushes; the homophobic spandex of modern Olympians continues to affront their free Greek forebears; and skullcaps infantilize the worshipful, even though, God being everywhere, He likely lurks, too, in the dark crevasse between yarmulke and Hebraic scalp.

We momentarily can put aside the institutional social controls of prison, military, and parochial school costumes, and I will overlook those maniacs who outfit their pets in petticoats, for we are dealing here with mass neurosis, not advanced psychotic disorders. It is, however, worth recalling the irony inherent in the general practice of adding artificial layers (clothes) while removing natural ones (hair), until the denuded female, her underarm hair as superfluous as stockings, retains only the lower bush (and any genital pests therein) to remind her mate that she is, at last, an animal. The shaved bodybuilder, meanwhile, is so thickened in unnatural exoskeletal display that he is, paradoxically, never naked but always clothed in aberrant muscle. This is precisely why his synthetic and rarely bulging compulsory loincloth is so preposterous on the competition stage — it not merely conceals the one steroid-shriveled part hopelessly out of sync with his general excess, but undoes the very Godliness the narcissist seeks. Yet the bodybuilder’s paradox is perhaps appropriate, for God, the sexless patriarch, at once wields phallic omnipotence and cannot be reduced to petty criteria of biological materialism.

Suffice it to say that we remain unemancipated as long as we remain as dependent on clothing as we are uncomfortable in, ashamed of, sickened by, or enthralled to our skins. Despite the pride we take in scientific progress, collective morality has progressed little beyond Jacques Boileau’s didactic tract A Just and Seasonable Reprehension of the Naked Breasts and Shoulders (1675), a product of the era of Louis XIV (right), during whose time aristocrats hid their decadence behind protestations of virtue (lest their evils be found out and a bloody revolution occur, of course). Today legal frameworks transform at a moribund pace: only in the 1990s did the New York State Supreme Court declare that women can go publicly topless on grounds of gender equanimity (for men’s nipples, vestigial and milkless, are flaunted with impunity). But few take advantage — or know of — such tiny developments, and everywhere the populace cowers before 19th-century lewdness and obscenity statutes designed to demonize Nature and enrich textile industrialists.

Recently, however, I’ve become aware of the growing trend of theological nudism, particularly among libertarian Christians wishing to recapture the unashamed Edenic innocence that preceded the Fall. Sprouting across the landscape are schismatic flocks as diverse as the Fig Leaf Forum, the Natura Christian Fellowship, Tampa’s long-standing Florida Naturist Park with Adjoining Clothing-Optional Church, and the family-values-centric AARN (American Association for Nude Recreation), itself sometimes affiliated with the Bare Buns Bikers and the Entertainment Weekends that bear their name.6 But this is no mere lifestyle — it is an ideology, a holy charge, an awakening.

The bold heterodoxy of theological nudism is not purely the revisionist project of Quaker or Unitarian-Universalist liberal humanism, for even Baptist Nudism now takes a valiant, even glorious stand,7 as evidenced by the Calvary Baptist Nudist Church in Tyler, Texas, whose home page is nevertheless quick to distinguish allegedly nihilist naturism from Christo-Nudism’s theosophy of preternatural innocence:

We are not naturists, for the Lord looks down on hedonistic, recreational lifestyles. But in the House of God, we kneel with the most devoted kind of humility and faith . . . We are lambs before the Lord, and every Sunday we give thanks to Him with all of our body and soul. And [this] includes the sacrifice of our garments, for it was when Eve ate from the Tree of Life and gathered fig leaves that mankind fell into sin.8

Such declarations will prompt the uninitiated and conventional to leap into derisive badinage, but sniggering denial cannot negate Christo-Nudism’s potential catalogue of revolutionary imagery: the clitorises of devout grandmothers sighing freely in harmonized prayer; chilly breasts alert in the confessional; bare anuses ready to eject the remnants of the holy wafer; newly budding testicular hairs brushing against the sweet wood of olden pews; the gluttonous gentleman’s weighty breasts — heretofore an affront to the nailed Christ’s penurious, emaciated beauty — unfurling before a constellation of stained-glass angels; and the priest’s undraped, unconscious erection slowly mounting during a homily on Sodom and Gomorrah. Far more than sterile debates about abortion, stem-cells, or redefining marriage, it is this fruitful, life-affirming exposure, this epistemological denuding, that could undo Christianity’s irrational revolt against pagan nature and empirical reality.

Owing to the basically aesthetic nature of religious ritual, Christo-Nudism is poised to reconfigure a number of preconceptions regarding bodily representation. As Texan Baptist Nudists of all ages kneel, bow, and jubilate in ecstatic concordance, they become a kind of nude performance art, grafting the heavenly enfleshments previously relegated to Renaissance painting or semi-anatomical sculpture onto their wrinkled toes, taut, ticklish midriffs, or what-have-you.9 What had been acceptable in the abstract now becomes acceptable in unframed praxis. The unreality of the statue is no longer the reality of the man.

Admittedly, all of this remains highly speculative and optimistic. Nudity is still most frequently encountered in the shower, during masturbation, with steady partners, promiscuous strangers, or in the dreaded mirror; for most, nudity exists only for recreational or hygienic ends, a temporary vacation from tight trousers (why don’t obese Americans adopt looser African dress?) and asphyxiating neckties that act like directional arrows to our groins.

But there is cinema, too.

Today we (mis-)understand the human body most vehemently through its exposure in cinema, as the human form is alternately lit and shadowed, demurely hidden by strategic framing or outstretched in pornography (whether soft, hard, or glutinous). With Muybridge, the cinema began nakedly, but his daguerreotypes built upon still abstractions, not realist motion. When moralists defined the cinema as inherently realistic, social hygiene movements, women’s leagues, and Roman Catholics banished nudity from the screen, despite its occasional neoclassical recrudescences before the rise of Hays and Goebbels: the gymnasium sequences of Ways to Health and Beauty: A Film of Modern Body-Culture (1925), the showering workers of Kameradschaft (1931), Hedy Lamarr’s once-sensational swim in Ecstasy (1933), Maureen O’Sullivan’s rediscovered nude scenes in Tarzan and His Mate (1932, above), and so on. But neoclassicism was no match for Catholicism, and nudity ducked into an underground that cranked out 8mm stag reels and Bettie Page loops, and, decades later, surfaced into a marginal mainstream with Russ Meyer’s Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), Eve and the Handyman, and Wild Gals of the Naked West (1961). Many knockoffs followed, such as Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962) and the famed Behind the Nudist Curtain (1964); let’s briefly examine one of the earliest and best-known variants, Doris Wishman’s Nude on the Moon (1961), which marks that uncomfortable, illogical transitional stage of partial nudism, before the U.S. Supreme Court, in the late 1960s, admitted to the existence of human genitalia.

Nude on the Moon demands that we cast aside the term “exploitation filmmaking,” for this exploitation is as innocent as the Good Christo-Nudist’s reclaiming of a pre-figleafed (albeit non-recreational) Eden. The term “exploitation” is, moreover, only a derogatory term for whatever is both socioeconomically marginal and fixates on the body, either in its state of nature or in the libertine spillage of its fluids. Surely asking a young actress to bare a nipple or buttock is less exploitative than, say, forcing her to employ the Method to relive childhood terrors so she can convincingly embody a victim of psychological abuse and make art-house patrons experience fallacious catharses. Mainstream film production depends on saddling the marginalized with a bad name — such is its legitimacy. But I digress: it is enough to say here that in the nudist idylls following The Immoral Mr. Teas, purity and pornography, innocence and masturbation were returned to their natural states of indistinguishability, and not, according to that barbarous turn of Christian anti-knowledge, made Manichean polarities.

Filmed in vivid Eastman Color and accompanied by a breezy score, Nude on the Moon concerns a young rocket scientist using the three million dollar inheritance from wealthy furrier Uncle Ted to construct a history-making moon missile. Following some tourist footage of Florida and a series of moral and astrophysical debates regarding the treacheries of lunar travel, the scientist and an avuncular professor pile into a thin, metallic space penis and blast themselves off. Curiously, the cockpit effects of blastoff are identical to those of orgasm, as the heroes moan, squint, and achieve a climatic paroxysm from the initial rush of the engines before sighing in relief. When these Vernian heroes finally reach their destination, Wishman (here using one of her many pseudonyms, “Anthony Brooks”) treats us to a shock cut of them descending from their craft, unexpectedly clad in green and red jumpsuits, over which shoulder pads and a flimsy yet bulge-occulting aluminum codpiece have been overlaid.

After the exploration of lunar shrubbery, the discovery of gold, and a wholly gratuitous attempt at plotting, the astronauts finally stumble onto a grotto of full-time semi-nudists, where unschooled children gambol, topless women laze against (clearly Floridian) palms, and, for some reason, men carefully rotate two reclining beauties on a stone wheel, as if they were the prize Napoleon in a diner pastry case. One of our heroes then spies the Moon Queen, arrayed in conservative blue panties and regal matching cape, her shapely, unclad breasts pointing toward brighter moral horizons. After our explorers are captured and subdued with a fairy wand, the Queen ascertains their peaceful motive, and thereafter permits them into her thicket of otherworldly delights, allowing them to scientifically photograph chesty women tossing an inflatable ball and men in swimsuits<10 sharpening rectangles of rock. When the humans’ oxygen runs low, it is time to bid nudity adieu, but the crestfallen young scientist cannot abandon his Moon Queen, whom he tenderly feeds an earthly candy bar. Knowing he must return home from his odyssey, the Moon Queen bewitches him into unconsciousness, and he is quickly bundled into his zooming missile. In a coda that repeats hoary wish-fulfillment fantasies, the hero discovers that the Moon Queen has manifested herself as a buxom laboratory assistant, whereupon he fantasies about her breasts, Oedipal and unhomogenized, and is mentally returned to a paradise the Earth of 1961 cannot permit.

Once the plot disappears and the frolicking commences, the film delights, becoming a welcome respite from narrative cinema’s needless contortions of plot and endless characters, all with names, as if fiction’s act of naming ever convinced us of anything. Light jazz on piano and vibraphone continues throughout the semi-nude scenes, and is a thankful replacement for the tenor saxophone that earlier in the film heralded the appearance of an earthly secretary’s piercing tits (as if the earthbound bosom were a freemasonic horn the filmmakers could toot handily at will). Like progressive Unitarians who prayerfully undrape their vulvae in the House of God, or adolescent Nudo-Baptist boys unashamed of unscheduled erections in full view of the laity, the film is easy to mock until we realize our laughter is one of denial, feigned superiority, and utter conventionality. The plotlessness of Nude’s second half weaves a spell as beguiling as any Busby Berkeley number, a panorama of shapes and innocent pleasures.

But, of course, cinematic nudity circa 1961 was not quite innocent (i.e., nude) enough, and we cannot fully fetishize clichés of lost innocence where innocence was still suppressed, as it was in Wishman’s previous Hideout in the Sun (1960, above), which, filmed in Nude-arama, falsely promised viewers an “escape to a modern Garden of Paradise where Nature’s sun-kissed daughters walk forth in all their natural beauty!” This was a bizarre cultural-historical moment when cinema’s gradual assault on decency could only pretend to salaciousness, when sun-kissed daughters could, in fact, walk forth in only some of their natural beauty. True, the naturally gravity-resistant breasts Wishman displays are anatomical marvels compared to today’s stuffed, synthesized concoctions, and Nude’s women are happily liberated from the brassiere manufacturer’s contrived cleavage. But the lunar sunbathers’ Sears & Roebuck panties dispel any whiff of lost Edens, while the astronauts’ fixed foil codpieces, secreting the crux of virile privilege, ensure that the very notion of nudity remains so alien that it literally and forever belongs to a different heavenly sphere.

Because the frank meretriciousness of the exploitation film (again, I use the term for lack of a good neologism) is linked to nudity not only economically but ideologically, we encounter truly naked meanings not only in the films themselves but in their trailers, which distill texts down to pure id and pure tone. Today the trailer — gone soft, corporate, and humanistic — is simply an elongated television ad; trailers of previous eras were assaults on the audience, brandishing film titles like declarations of linguistic war. To my knowledge, no full-length study exists on trailer aesthetics, though such an endeavor should appeal to post-Foucaultian academics who prattle endlessly about the production of pleasure — for the successful trailer, like a good ballet suite, can please more than the original, un-rearranged article. The trailer, stripping the text of the extraneous bourgeois baggage of setting, plotting, and character development, is about the pleasure of essences, and the essence of pleasures.

The trailer’s forthright voiceover narration is linguistically nude, though not according to the sincere monosyllables of a Hemingway, or the ironic ones of a Gertrude Stein. Of course, the voiceovers of some trailers, attempting “adult” frankness, stumble into stupidity. We are skeptical when the trailer for Frank Warren’s sexploitative All Woman (1967) bills itself as “A Bold Look at Freudian Realism!”, a comment that surely would baffle the good doctor. Wholesale datedness can also prevent trailers from achieving the grindhouse poetics for which they often strive, as evidenced by the text for the trailer for the hermaphrodite melodrama I Was a Man (1967):

The terrible conflict within a person born with a man’s body
That secretly harbored a female vagina [we may question the consequences of harboring a male vagina] Was he really a man, or someone queer?” [we see the hero confusedly buying dresses] There was one solution — Finland!
The doctors gave him a great gift
He was now a she . . .
And could enjoy a normal sex life without the humiliation and disgrace of a homosexual.

At times, a trailer’s shocking epistemological claims can be overambitious. When the Americanized trailer for The Cats (actually Kattorna [1965] of Henning Carlsen), wherein jailed women “have two kinds of sexual urges . . . and find . . . in themselves physical tendencies they never knew they had,” explains that “only the Swedish talk so freely about heterosexuals, and now bisexuals,” we reserve the right to skepticism on nationalistic grounds. Elsewhere, the poorly-accented female narrator of the trailer for Fanny Hill Meets Lady Chatterley11 (1967) claims that “the real truth is that which comes from a female relationship,” a boldly anti-Platonic statement that attempts to goad us into questioning the main premises of Plato’s Theaetetus. Nevertheless, as previews from Fanny Hill Meets Lady Chatterley treat us to the spectacle of a nude woman dispensing punch from the massive bowl in which she ceremoniously squats (is that what a female relationship looks like?), the narrator explains that, “This motion picture is different . . . the people are different!,” a seemingly harmless claim until we realize that today’s films strive for radical similitude.

Other trailers depend more heavily on voiceover stylization. The richly-voiced narrator for the trailer for William Girdler’s Three on a Meathook (1972) transforms a deceptively spare text into a nearly Whitmanesque elegy under which one might otherwise imagine the pastoral swoons of Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music. Yet the trailer remains naked in its intentions, first depicting a woman who creeps into a shed where swing the titular three, and climactically dwelling on her face in shocked freeze-frame:

A padlocked shed [we hear an ominous snare drum] Hooks of cold steel [the hooks terrify us] And a maniac on the loose [the maniac — that’s us in the audience, according to rules of spectatorship] Torn flesh, impaled, slowly swaying to a cadence of death [show us!] A measured beat only they can hear! [the snare drum grows louder] Three on a Meathook! [exquisite–all three economically on a single hook!]

Certainly, sensational hyperbole was the bread and butter of the exploitation trailer in its heyday, but even in gross exaggerations we can still sense a forthright, anti-humanistic, denuded intent that antagonizes bourgeois sentimentalism. The trailer for late auteur Girdler’s Asylum of Satan (1975) assures us that its heroines are “. . . doomed at their last meal, with death as the dinner guest,” only to be “awakened by a mutilated crazed animal who seeks [their] beauty to appease the bloodlust of a devil bride groom, pursued to the canyons of hell, to the edge of sanity, for the bestial cravings of the prince of darkness!” Jazz music then accompanies the image of a woman fleeing down a corridor, only to be caught, once again, in a fatal freeze frame.

The trailer for The Virgins from Hell (1987, Perawan Disarang Sindikat, right) is altogether more sophisticated, combining hyperbolics — the lowest level of trailer poetics — with sudden shifts in subjective identification, progressively positing the spectator as antiheroic sadist, heroic masochist, and, ultimately, heroic sadist:

Captured in the clutches of a sex hungry madman with no one to turn to for help! [We, of course, are collectively the madman delighting in virgin terror] . . . Whether battling whole armies or just fighting one on one, these women . . .
[We now see and identify with these hotpants-clad women — some of whom appear to be transsexuals — as they are tortured with barbed wire and roasted over spits] . . . aren’t gonna give in for a second
Because nobody pushes around The Virgins from Hell! [Suddenly, we are The Virgins, poised for revenge and conquest]

“This is one motorcycle gang those bastards have been pushing around too long,” opines the leader of these rebellious female (and/or shemale) bikers, at which point our sadistic identifications come full circle, for we now imagine ourselves as stuffed snugly into hotpants, overcoming a jungle dictator. Similar shifts in audience identification are employed in the American trailer for The Brutes (1970, actually Mädchen . . . nur mit Gewalt), which sadomasochistically implicates us in its opening scene of rape:

“I’ve been raped!”
Say it! [We must obey his command] I’ve been raped! [Yes, in one way or another, we all have been raped] How did he force your legs apart? [With cunning and persistence] Did he come once, twice, three times?” [I wasn’t counting] The Brutes! [You’ve switched from the second person to the third! — please do not abandon me!] They’re prime for pleasure! [Wait a moment, I’m prime for pleasure — now I’m a Brute] . . . they take turns . . . [in raping, you mean] Does she really hate it? [No, as long as you stay in the third person]

For fear of boring you, I will not elongate this list much further, but the trailers for Madame Olga’s Massage Parlor (1965) and Joseph Sarno’s My Body Hungers (1967) deserve special mention for their linguistic unashamedness. Madame Olga’s Massage Parlor, which “dares to penetrate the inner workings of the vice syndicate,”12 promises “violence so grotesque only a warped, sadistic mind could conceive [sic]” and scenes where “innocent-looking health apparatus [is] used with sinister and insane perfection to destroy its captives,” whereupon we see from a low angle a woman attached to a malfunctioning reducing machine. Then the narrator’s thesis strips away all pretension: “Madame Olga’s Massage Parlor will shock the very foundations of all that is good!” How grateful we are for his candor, how reassured we are that a commercial film once proposed — however unrealistically — to undo the goodness of society itself. Where today is such honesty, such naked boldness? The trailer for My Body Hungers provides the coup de grace, offering us “the actual assault of an innocent girl filmed in its entirety,” and then reminding all overpaying, capitalist, male-gazing spectators that “you as an audience can ask no more of a picture — it’s as bold and frank as the law allows.”

That is it . . . exactly it . . . precisely what we ask from pictures. The cinema in its true nakedness revealed — I can indeed ask no more.

  1. Kern, Stephen. Anatomy and Destiny. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1975, p. 24. []
  2. The highest of the eight tiers of Maimonidean tzedakah is to enter into a business partnership with the disenfranchised, thereby treating him as an equal rather than a charity case. Unfortunately, Maimonides’ rules of tzedakah betray insular communitarianism, applying only to Jew-on-Jew interactions. []
  3. Rudofsky, Bernard. The Unfashionable Human Body. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1971, p. 15. Rudofsky also cites a Nepalese version of the Fall that describes Adam and Eve as hermaphrodites, perhaps a transcultural negotiation among Christianity, Asian tribadism, and the account of human origins given in Plato’s Symposium. Ibid., p. 17. []
  4. The textile industry epitomizes the marketing of shame but obviously doesn’t dominate it; car manufacturers, for instance, can only sell compensatorily phallic sports cars if adolescent boys and middle-aged men are shamed sexually. []
  5. Corset diseases were so common that new and improved, allegedly medicinal ones began to appear in the late 19th century. Rudofsky points out that “Dr. Scott’s Electric Corset” of 1883 claimed to impart “to one’s system the required amount of Odic force which Nature’s law demands” — a reference to the 19th-century quack-notion of Od, a quasi-psychic sensitivity to the natural world. Ibid., pp. 107-108. []
  6. See here. []
  7. A random Google search unearths far fewer nudist websites affiliated with competing religions, Abrahamic or otherwise. The search terms “Jewish nudism” or “Jewish nudist” yield primarily this, a page extolling the eccentricity and pride of a geriatric female Jewish Psychic Nudist offering “peekaboo psychic readings” and “mythical goddess attunements.” Searches on terms such as “Zoroastrian Nudism,” “Islamic Nudism,” “Confucianist Nudism,” and “Jain Nudism” invariably disappoint. “Zionist Nudism” likewise seems a subject for future research and development. Yet it is logical that fringe Christians, whose mother religion fetishistically equates bodily knowledge with knowledge itself, should trailblazingly advocate nudism as revisionist theology cum epistemology. []
  8. See here. []
  9. True, there are forms of dress-like embellishments to the body possible only in art, such as halos, beams of light, grafted-on horns, etc. []
  10. It is worth mentioning that the cast of semi-nudes is mainly in their thirties; the hirsute men, clad in tight trunks, evince a maturity not seen in the underground gay soft porn of the time, which tended toward neoclassical ephebophilia (e.g., Bob Mizer’s AMG shorts, etc.). []
  11. Directed by Barry Mahon, of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972) infamy. []
  12. Still, we should be chary of the definite article — as if there were only one vice syndicate. When asked by a telephone pollster if “the country was moving in the right direction,” I responded that I couldn’t answer because the question erroneously assumes that a country can only move in a single direction at a given time. []