Judge Neal Solon wrote this review with extra layers of clothing on, to make up for what he was seeing on screen.
Our review of Naked In The 21st Century: Special Edition, published April 28th, 2006, is also available.
"No way! Everyone's gone skinny-dipping…Look at all the videos and
everything that are out now. Those girls have gone skinny dipping…all
those college kids go skinny-dipping."
Sizable minority groups in the United States have long been raising concerns about not being represented in the mainstream media. People have become increasingly conscious of creating politically correct representations of the world, but I seriously doubt that many have ever stopped and said, "I wonder why there aren't more naked people in Hollywood. You know, naturists." Until now, that is. Director T.L. Young (Soap Girl) sees a void in the Hollywood catalog: naturists are out there, and gosh darnit, they deserve to see themselves accurately portrayed on film.
Facts of the Case
Amber (Athena Demos, Baberellas), manages a naturist resort, so when she sees that T.L. Young is making a feature film about naturists called The Naked Place, she decides she's got a pretty good chance at landing a part. To prepare for her audition, she does some research about the history of the naturist movement. Her discoveries, as well as the thoughts of the film's director, the cast, the crew, and a random "naturist librarian," make up the bulk of this short film's 23 minutes.
I will freely admit that when I requested a copy of Naked in the 21st Century, I didn't realize what I was getting into. When the DVD arrived, my first reaction was to bury it in a desk drawer where my girlfriend wouldn't stumble across it. Why? The cover prominently features the naked backside of a seductively posed, appropriately bronzed woman standing on a beach. This picture was inconsistent with my expectations for the film, and in truth, this pin-up on the cover sums up the film's biggest failing: It has quite the identity crisis.
The film struggles with its own identity in three major arenas: its purpose, its form, and its use of nudity. In real life, T.L. Young wants to make a feature length film called The Naked Place about, among other things, the biases that naturists encounter in the world. Naked in the 21st Century is marketed as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this feature film. Sure enough, this DVD does include clips from the feature film. However, Pacific Invasion's website discusses how Young plans to shoot The Naked Place, "as featured in Naked in the 21st Century," within the Screen Actors Guild's guidelines. Notice how T.L. Young plans to shoot it this way—meaning that he has yet to do it.
The website goes further and tells how you can support this endeavor by becoming a producer. In other words, Naked in the 21st Century is a "behind the scenes" look at the making of a film that has yet to be made, and this DVD is an attempt at fundraising. On top of this, Naked in the 21st Century simultaneously tries to tell the story of a fictional character, Amber, and the actual history of naturism in the United States. It is in trying to simultaneously tell these two stories that the film's next major flaw becomes apparent.
Pacific Invasion has advertised Naked in the 21st Century as a documentary; the DVD case even has it marked as such, though the majority of the film is fictional. The Amber storyline is obviously fictional, or, at best, "dramatized." The true story that the film intends to document, then, is that of the history and public perception of naturism. Unfortunately, the filmmakers often use dialogue between Amber and other fictional characters to try to communicate facts about the history of the naturist movement. The effect of this is that the viewer is left trying to discern between fact and fiction, a worthless pursuit when pertinent information from the film can easily be found elsewhere.
The last main quibble with this release is, honestly, less with the film than with the way it is being marketed. T.L. Young purports to be making a film that should be a welcome change in the world of naturist movies. He says that his films are a move away from the exploitation flicks that characterize "nudist films" of the past. For some reason, though, his company Pacific Invasion is still trying to sell this film with sex. Now, I'm not simple-minded enough to think that sex and naturism are somehow mutually exclusive; but for a film that has nothing to do with sex and, in fact, focuses on a movement that emphasizes the idea that nudity itself is not sexual, the advertising seems out of place. Each ad that I have seen for this film makes copious mention of the fact that two of the actresses in the film have modeled for Playboy and Hawaiian Tropic, respectively; and, again, the DVD case features a naked "idealistic" female body. The disconnect between purpose, content, and advertising is just too large to ignore.
In terms of its technical presentation, Naked in the 21st Century falls short again. The video is adequate, if overly grainy, on a standard television, but if watched on a screen without overscan along the bottom (like a computer monitor) black and white noise reminiscent of poor quality, over-edited videotape often appears. This problem occurs most frequently when the film features clips from vintage nudist films, and disappears whenever the aspect ratio switches from full frame to non-anamorphic widescreen. To add to the technical woes, the PCM stereo track lags considerably behind the picture in each of the many scenes featuring the naturist librarian (Douglas Dunning, Hellroller), though it otherwise gets the dialogue across clearly.
One bright spot on the disc is the group of extras, which are extensive, considering the nature of the film. On tap are a number of deleted scenes, extended interviews, a featurette about filming nude scenes in Hollywood, and a "trailer" for T.L. Young's upcoming feature film. The most useful feature is the selection of deleted scenes, though they are useful for unfortunate reasons. These scenes add an unusual amount of context and information to the short, addressing the non sequiturs that plague the film proper. While it is nice to have these scenes as extras on the DVD, it would have been wiser to have left most of them in the film to begin with. Much of the film doesn't make sense without them. Also of interest are the brief featurette about the logistics of filming nude scenes in Hollywood, with comments by the director and some of the cast and crew, and the interviews conducted with real naturists and the owner of a naturist club.
In the end, I respect the idea that Pacific Invasion has here: making movies about naturists, for naturists. Pacific Invasion is trying to position itself to be the sole provider of a genre of film for an as-yet untapped market. The problem is that this short film doesn't provide anything that can't be found elsewhere with better quality.
Nudity isn't the draw here; and even if it were, you'd be smart to explore other options. For a history lesson on the naturist movement, you can open a book or browse the internet; if you're simply looking for entertainment, you're not likely to find it here. The only reason to purchase this film would be to support T.L. Young's feature filmmaking aspirations. Should you be feeling especially generous, Naked in the 21st Century is for sale on your favorite naturist websites today.
The court finds that T.L. Young, his cast, and his crew are free to continue doing what they do, as long as I don't have to see it. Case dismissed.
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