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Naked States

A movie directed by Arlene Donnelly

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Naked States - 2000

  • May 21, 2011
Pros: whoa nellie

Cons: none for me

The Bottom Line:
"and everybody wants to be naked and famous
everybody wanna be just like me i'm naked and famous"
~Presidents of the United States of America

After I watched Dirty Pictures a few years ago, I didn't think I'd be surprised at the reaction of government officials again concerning anything to do with photographs.   Then I watched Naked States, directed by Arlene Nelson and once again scratched my head with amazement.   It was nominated for, and won, two awards and has an R rating for language and nudity.

The story:
Stanley Tunick and crew travel the US with one goal in mind.  They want to photograph a naked body in all 48 states.   There is nothing in the least foul or pornographic in his work, other than the fact that he really wasn't the best view in the buff, but that's another story.

He's been arrested more than once and the film opens with his latest arrest.   He has never received a citizen complaint about his work, all the arrests came at the hands of the police that meander by and decide what he is doing is considered obscene.   Actually what he is doing is creating a unique form of art, the arrangement of bodies against the harsher realities of the surrounding landscape.

He doesn't apply for permits for his posing areas, they are all in highly public places.   He generally arranges for the photographs to be shot just at dawn when foot traffic and vehicle traffic is at a minimum, however that doesn't always pan out.   His work is extraordinarily beautiful in content although I prefer the more casual grouping, what he calls an apocalyptic collapse, or the delicate and refined poses or just one or two models against a stark landscape.   I understand the premise of the bodies lying in a more rigid pattern, lined up like lemmings, but they weren't my favorite.

By the way, I call them models but they are just your average Joe or Jane, not professionals.   He recruits them in several ways - passing out flyers or individual contact.   He shows them his portfolio, explains in advance what they are required to do, and gives them time to think it over.   Their faces are never shown on the print as he has them all turn away from the camera.   They don't do anything controversial even though some of the shots are highly sexual, but not in a nasty way.  Instead they are almost ethereal in appearance.

A few of the models are interviewed along the way and we find their stories as captivating as Tunick's challenge.   One woman had been the victim of a brutal rape and found this freedom he offered as a way to learn to love her body again.   Another was an obese woman that suffered from comments by others about her body but as she posed naked on the craggy rocks along the Hudson River with the skyscrapers in the background, she took on a soft and delicate appearance.  One man, in his 60's, had shied away from public restrooms all his life, finding the urinal an uncomfortable experience, but he gloried in his nudity and recommends it to everyone.  They all found a sense of freedom and expression they had never experienced before. 

I found some of his experiences along the way quite humorous, some were sad, some even threatening.   Who knew his biggest challenge would be trying to work with a nudist colony and his least challenging was finding someone in Fargo to pose nude.   I only have one personal comment about the entire shooting process ... well, maybe two ... no way in any manner would I lay my naked body on the sidewalks of NY and no way am I buffing it when the temps are freezing and laying on wet grass while he gets his shot "just so".  Nope.   

Of course his goal was to be finally recognised by the art community, written up in posh art magazines, and maybe even a show.   I ask now, as I always do when someone works toward their life goal, what now buddy?  You can only do this one once, after that it gets boring and repetitive. 

Nelson has a beautiful way of showcasing the models used as she follows Tunick on his trek.   She brings an intimacy that surpassed the nudity being shown, touching on the human side. 

DVD extras:
feature: Strawberry Fields; Tunicks photographs, biographies on Tunick & Nelson, trailers.

Overall impression:
I found the film enlightening, watching the changes come over the different people once they accepted their nudity.   I also enjoyed their stories and wished they had went a bit further with the ones they chose to showcase.  At times I found Tunick a but prissy but I guess it comes with the artistic nature.   What I enjoyed the most was the fact he didn't search out the perfect form, the gorgeous face, but took humanity with all its flaws, along with its perfections, and gave it to us.  It didn't matter if it was one person posing or the group shots of hundreds at a time, they were all done wonderfully.



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Susi Dawson ()
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About this movie


Originally filmed for broadcast on the cable channel HBO, one of America's premiere broadcasters of fine documentaries, NAKED STATES tells the story of an obsessive artist and his strange goal to photograph a nude body in every American state. Over a 5 month period, the film tracks the famed Spencer Tunick as he journeys across the nation and explores sites of subcultural activity--and possible nude subjects--such as a biker rally, a Phish concert, and the Burning Man celebration in the Mojave Desert.
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Director: Arlene Donnelly
Release Date: 2001
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: New Video Group, Inc. (July 30, 2002)
Runtime: 1hr 20min
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