Friday, November 28, 2008

AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1 (2008) r. Cult Epics

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Film has long striven to bring to men the fantasies that they enjoyed as boys, teenagers or even adults. Sometimes those fantasies took the form of war epics or exotic adventure stories. Other times, film fantasies came in the shape of science fiction serials or horror tales. Most upstanding men would have never admitted it fifty or sixty years ago, but a popular fantasy arising in most males by the age of nine was the hope of seeing the pretty young wife next door or the lovely teenage girl down the street venture out one day without her clothes on, or find herself in a predicament where she ends up disrobed, or that you discover she has secretly joined a nudist colony and that you know a covert vantage point from which you can observe her au natural. What most men were unaware of in the 1940s and 1950s, but a select few had discovered was that some very brave film makers were bringing those fantasies to life in the form of “nudie” or “stag” loops/short films. Measured by today’s standards, these “nudie cutie” shorts are pretty tame and even quaint, but once upon a time, they were the height of naughty entertainment for the wayward Dad, the lonely single man or the connoisseur of the female figure. Cult Epics has restored to the world a collection of short films that is a true trip back in time to an era when you could see a young woman who called to mind the local beauty from the ice cream shop and she could be all yours as long as you were happy with the realization that you could only look.

AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1 is a collection of 17 short films spanning the early 1940s up through about 1950. Each of the shorts is black & white and while most are “silent” in nature, a couple shorts have voice-overs. The “silent” films all have jazzy or Big Band style music laid over them to give each a period feel and to increase their air of playfulness and light-hearted fun. The shorts with narration have a distinct “naughty news reel” feel and while maintaining a bit more historical authenticity are just as appealing. The “topics” of the short films are as diverse as the fantasies of men without crossing obscenity boundaries of the time. Lovely young women can be seen frolicking at sport and play outdoors, posing as artist’s and photographer’s models, taking part in nudist camp activities, bathing, swimming and splashing in pools and tubs, dancing their nightclub routines and posing in peep show-style reels, acting in silent skits, trying on clothes and performing in some contrived but marvelously outlandish schemes. Each of the 17 shorts has an impishly crafted title that may or may not give you a sense of what is coming, but they all deliver on some form of promise of suggestive sex and scantily clad sweetness.

There are a lot of things to like about AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1. For the many men who still remember the time when these films could be seen and/or accessed, these shorts will bring back a lot of memories. For the young men of today who have been raised on porn stars and internet tramps, there is a “girl next door” freshness that will still have appeal. For the men in between, there will be a sense of lost youth and passions aroused that will probably be both thrilling and a little sadly nostalgic. For any man who enjoys an attractive gal, these shorts evidence some impressive beauties. For their time, these films were surprisingly explicit. There are some films that are primarily “implied” nudes or not even fully nude, but the majority show full frontal nudity. The caliber of “actresses” is startlingly strong with body shapes of all types from slender to athletic to curvy and exceedingly buxom. While the hairstyles are a bit old fashioned (not to me though, I still love the dos of that time) and the women are of natural builds (no surgically enhanced women to be seen boys), these are all girls you’d want to bring home to mom, take out on a date and then run the car out of gas in a delightfully secluded spot. In short, these women were the true male fantasies of yesteryear and for many of us, they still are today.

In addition to the lustful nature of the visuals, there are the intangibles to be enjoyed as well. While some of the loops get a little redundant if they are dance routines, there are some like “Nat’rally Yours” and “Rosy Dream” that happen to star the same knockout and are both outdoor frolics that are simply joyful. “Accidental Nudes” is a wildly entertaining pool plunge that has an incredible bevy of bathing beauties and an Oliver Hardy look-a-like to boot. “Let er Rip” is possibly the best of the bunch for it has a comely and shapely lass having her clothes shredded from her body as she tries to claw her way through a thicket on a hike down a steep hillside. I once saw a very pretty girl tear her shorts on a fence while hiking in the mountains and this short film is the closest I’ve ever come to actually seeing a true realization of what I hoped would have happened. While ludicrous in the extreme, fantasies like “Let er Rip” are the kinds of daydreams that got boys through dull math classes or teenage guys through tough days at work, or GIs through the tedium between battles. Worshipful mental meanderings about the sweet young thing you snuck peeks at during church were clearly the fodder for many of these short films and they will restore a sense of youthful chicanery to any man watching today.

Any dvd connoisseur watching AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1 will need to be mindful that the condition of the source material for this disc is going to be inconsistent. While some of the shorts looked amazingly sharp and crisp, most evidenced some kind of fault brought about by the passage of time and/or improper storage methods. Some of the shorts had clear damage to their source, others were grainy, some were splicy and many suffered from overexposure. It is important to keep in mind that the cameramen of those days were often not experts in their field and were doing this as a way to make a few bucks or even as a lark. That these short films still exist at all is quite astonishing, for everyday 16mm and 35 mm film and crates of video tape find their way into the dumpster. I found the visual quality to be quite impressive and high marks need to be given to Cult Epics for the loving efforts they made to restore these to the condition they are in. Some viewers may also find fault with the application of period-style music to the silent features, but I’ve sat through silent “nudie” loops, and without musical accompaniment, they can be interminably dull. The addition of accompanying musical strains only adds to the atmosphere and intensifies the illusion that you’ve somehow slipped back into the past or been transported to one of the hidden corners of your adolescent psyche.

As each year passes and more of our history is lost to those who want to “tear down an old eyesore” or “refit obsolete structures”, we are sundered from the images and experiences that make us the country we once were. I find it fascinating that more and more people are clamoring for vintage television and film, for it is obvious that the mainstream entertainment that is offered to them does not satisfy. What is old is not useless and without value, quite the reverse. It is becoming increasingly apparent that what was once ours was better and that preserving it for future generations not only serves the purpose of creating essential connections between age groups, but it maintains a continuum of pleasure and satisfaction. AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1 works on many levels. It is marvelously enjoyable retro-smut, a charming look back at a vanished America and it is history that deserves to be preserved just as much as any political document or autographed baseball. In the end, isn’t it the memories of that which made us the happiest that we try hardest to cling to? You bet!

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