There can be few as well qualified as Mark Storey to write this wonderful history of nudist/Naturist films. Mark is a lifelong Naturist, joining the Naturist Society (TNS) back in 1988. He is a member of the Naturist Action Committee (NAC), where he has worked with the Naturist Educational Foundation (NEF), and has also been the editorial consultant of Nude and Natural magazine. He helped organize four TNS festivals, two clothing-optional jazz festivals, a Naturist-related film festival, and a theatrical production about nude beaches. As if that is not enough, his day job is teaching philosophy at Bellevue College in Washington State.
Mark first published this book back in 2003 to a great reception and has now updated to a second edition. The book covers the nudist exploitation films that tantalised audiences from the 1930s through to the 1960s, but it is so much more than that since it looks at how these films were received by the nudist/Naturist community and how these communities used the medium of film to promote nudism/Naturism as a healthy lifestyle.
This new edition updates the coverage to include films such as Act Naturally (2011) and Patrick (2019) - although these are classed not as exploitation films, demonstrating how the market has now moved on.
The nudist film genre used the exploitation techniques of exposé and education and the classic nudist film had a number of common themes - it was usually set in a nudist ‘camp’ or ‘colony’; it sought to apparently promote a nudist philosophy; they were relentlessly nonsexual - breasts and buttocks were fine but genitals or pubic hair would have classified the film as ‘obscene’. But the main aim was devoted to getting attractive naked women on screen - everything else was secondary.
There were three types of exploitation film: the documentary, the fictional story and the dreaded compilation which endlessly rehashed random clips of naked women from any source and was always without context or any attempt at a story. One of the most popular storylines used in nudist exploitation films went as follows: an attractive female nudist introduces her female friend to nudism with the friend initially rejecting the idea but always coming round to love the nudist movement. The book covers the development of censorship on both sides of the Atlantic – Garden of Eden (1954) proved a test case which established the filmmakers’ rights to portray the nudist lifestyle. The film’s success, playing to packed audiences, prompted the
UK film industry to respond with Nudist Paradise (1958) which included coverage of the 1958 World Congress of Nudists at Woburn Abbey, albeit behind a fictional love story. The mid-1960s also saw the arrival of colour films, the increasing use of low budget models and strippers rather than genuine nudists and saw the end of the era as audiences moved to more challenging films for their entertainment.
The move to age-related ratings for films in 1968, including the infamous ‘X’ category, effectively killed off the nudist exploitation film as full frontal nudity without the educational ‘justification’ became the new model to attract audiences. But there were genuine Naturist films that did not follow the exploitation route - Michael Keatering - better known to UK Naturists as Edward Craven Walker - was to make Travelling Light (1958) which used a Naturist cast from across Europe in an attempt to promote the Naturist lifestyle. Walker was to follow this with Sunswept (1961) and Eves on Skis (1963) before he moved on to invent the Lava Lamp and establish BDOC.
Sometimes the films did get one thing right – “the sense of freedom and innocent fun of being nude outdoors with friendly people.” In the US, Garden of Eden was taken up by the American Sunbathing Association as a genuine vehicle to promote nudism as a healthy lifestyle choice while Educating Julie (1984) was endorsed by British Naturism - then known as CCBN.
The book concludes by reviewing the story arc that nudist films have gone through from the films of the 1930s to 1960s, which increasingly moved towards the exploitation of female flesh, through the barren 1970s, when pornographers used their greater freedoms to make the nudist genre irrelevant, to the 1980s with nudist film makers finally using the new medium of video to begin to promote social nudity. The 1990s saw a glut of cheaply produced content before the arrival of the Internet suddenly made Naturists wary of being exposed in their lifestyle choice and reticent to appear on film. But the arrival of the iPhone and YouTube finally made it possible for anyone to become a Naturist film maker.
Ending with Storey’s Top 20 nudist films - over a third of which are British - this is an excellent and complete retelling of the Naturist films from the 1930s through to the present day. I highly recommend it - and this is not only because it gives several favourable nods to British Naturism along the way. It is a fascinating, knowledgeable and very readable account of a vital part of our Naturist history.
Review by Brian Curragh
Cinema au Naturel is available to order direct from the publisher