Naked in the 21st CenturyReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 03/01/06 04:01:59
“Naked In the 21st Century” is one part failed documentary, three parts wretched incompetence, and seven parts despicable shill job. It presents itself as a serious study of the nudist lifestyle in America, but then comes the bait and switch, and ah, now we’re watching a talentless dolt with a digital video camera (but with no knowledge of how to use it) pitch us on a movie he hasn’t finished yet, although judging by the footage we’re shown, maybe it’s best left incomplete. But the sales pitch is too brazen on its own, and so the aforementioned dolt decides to toss us some clips of old nudist films, slap in some fake, unconvincing interviews, and pass it off as investigative film journalism. The result: “Naked” is bad beyond human comprehension, one of the poorest excuses for a legitimate feature film that I have ever had the misfortune to endure.Consider. Struggling filmmaker T.L. Young has been trying for years to make “The Naked Place,” a movie about nudism based on a play he wrote over a decade ago. His dream: to present nudists as a struggling minority, their story desperate to be told in the mainstream media. With his dream gaining no momentum, Young hatches a new plan: make a documentary about his movie, pass it around to potential investors, and whip up some fast cash. To make his sales pitch seem less sales pitchy (and therefore more appealing), Young will hide his pitch within a documentary that will study the nudist way of life. Oh, and maybe we should watch as a young actress, eager to land a major role in this hot new film property, struggles with the audition process.
Oh, but the movie hasn’t been made yet, so Young supposes he’ll have to slap something together quick, a few scenes that will showcase the young writer/director’s vision. This is nothing new, as aspiring filmmakers often shoot a scene or two, or put together a fake trailer for their future work, hoping that an investor will like what he sees and fork over some dough to complete the project. Since the young actress has already been cast, thus making any documenting of her auditioning process impossible, Young will write a fictional reenactment in which she not only talks to her boyfriend about why she’s perfect for the part, but then she can also talk to others involved in the film, wherein she can learn how this movie will be a major step forward for positive nudist portrayals in the American culture. (Please don’t ask how Young can justify telling us in “Naked” that “The Naked Place” has already been completed and released when the “Naked” official site has a page on it asking for funds so it can begin filming. That is a slimier part of weaselry that I dare not wish to ponder.)
Ah, and there will also be just enough pseudo-documentary crap in there that this very same sales pitch can be packaged as its own separate film and sold to unsuspecting DVD customers who might be looking for a serious film, or maybe even just some naked folks, who cares as long as they pay. (This, by the way, is how the film manages to carry the subtitle “A Journey Through Naturism” on the DVD box, even though the closing credits tell us the actual subtitle is “The Making of The Naked Place.” Huh.)
And to top it all off, in case this sales pitch does not work as a 25 minute short presentation (which is how the project was originally created), Young is ready and willing to haphazardly pad out the work to a 50 minute almost-feature. Hey, that’ll help justifying the claims of this being an actual movie.
So you can understand just how dropped by jaw had become by the sheer gall of Young and his cohorts. Perhaps you just did a little vomit-burp just now at the thought of it all. And yet this blatant trickery is nothing compared to the final result, an incomprehensible mess of what can only be called a movie in the loosest sense of the term. What we get in “Naked” is a collection of scenes from “The Naked Place” that Young shot on his camcorder, a series of what the film’s website describes as (and I am not making this up) “authentic documentary-style interviews” (the lines are so poorly read that anyone believing them to be true is also certain to believe that the little girl appearing in the grade school play actually is Abraham Lincoln), and random footage from whatever archived footage of nudists from the 1960s Young could dig up - all edited together so sloppily that I seriously doubt the editor was paying any attention to what clips being used, and when, and where. “Random” is not the word for this mess. “Chaotically, ridiculously arbitrary” is closer. Perhaps a low, unyielding groan of dismay might do it justice.
Oh, but that’s not even the worst of it. (Yes, really.) I am willing - reluctantly - to forgive the embarrassingly amateurish look of the film, on the questionable notion that maybe, just maybe, this was slapped together quickly in order to rush it out to investors. It’s ever so slightly possible that a camcorder is all they had at the time. But then we see clips of “The Naked Place,” and we cringe at the pathetic realization that these clips actually look worse than the rest of the movie. Every scene looks like somebody’s vacation video, assuming that somebody just bought the video camera and hasn’t quite figured out how to use it. And the sound? A tip, Mr. Young: when trying to produce a motion picture of even the slightest professional caliber, try to use something a little more higher up the quality ladder than the tiny microphone that is attached to the camcorder itself. (In one scene from “The Naked Place,” dialogue is covered entirely by the wind that was blowing directly onto the video camera.) By all accounts, if “The Naked Place” actually does get made, and it’s on the level of the scenes on display here, then the sales pitch would actually be a better movie than what’s being sold. Which should be impossible, and yet it somehow is not.
In other words, anyone actually stupid enough to offer financing to “The Naked Place” should not be allowed to have money. Period.
I haven’t even mentioned such things as the abysmal opening scene in which Young, thinking he’s being hilarious, starts his film by staring down the camera and quoting Criswell’s opening monologue from “Plan Nine From Outer Space,” then stopping himself midway through because “Ed Wood’s been done.” Judging by the ineptitude on display here (including the please-don’t-actually-be-real clips from the “coming soon” nudists-on-the-moon project that is hyped at the end of “Naked”), Young has no room to be joking around about Ed Wood. Hey, at least Ed Wood had the decency to keep his shilling and his celluloid separate.There is a point early in “Naked” in which a producer (or, at least, someone playing a producer) tries to explain that “The Naked Place” will be neither exploitation nor art house fare, but an honest-to-goodness mainstream release, and he proudly boasts, “A lot of nudist filmmakers are making art films. We’re not!” This statement is depressingly true. Indeed, whatever the complete opposite of artistic talent is, as far negative as one can go on the scale of expert ability, that is where you will find Young and his sad little pseudo-movie.
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