Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962)

Nudist camp movies enjoyed something of a vogue in the late 50s in the wake of a US Supreme Court ruling that nudity as such was not obscene. But it had to be presented in a non-sexual way. Nudist camp movies got around that problem, but even nude volleyball palls after a while. Russ Meyer solved the problem by inventing the nudie-cutie which mixed non-sexual nudity with a flimsy plot and comedy. His first effort, The Immoral Mr Teas, was hugely successful and was widely copied. Nudie-cuties proliferated. One of the many film-makers who jumped on the bandwagon was Doris Wishman.

Wishman was self-taught and her film-making style was eccentric and wildly individualistic. Once you get used to it it’s fascinating in its own bizarre way. In 1961 Wishman made one of the more imaginative nudie-cuties, Nude on the Moon, about astronauts who reach the Moon to find it’s full of nudists!

In 1962 she followed up with Blaze Starr Goes Nudist. Like most of Wishman’s early movies it’s a sort of hybrid, a nudist camp movie with a cursory plot tacked on.

Burlesque star Blaze Starr plays actress Blaze Starr who is suffering from stress. She needs to find a way to relax. When she sees a movie about a nudist colony she thinks she’s found the answer. What could be more relaxing than taking your clothes off? So she decides that from now on she’ll be spending her weekends at the nudist camp.

Her agent (who is also her boyfriend) is suffering from stress as well - Blaze no longer makes any personal appearances or attends studio publicity events. And where does she go to on the weekends? She’s about to sign a new film contract but the studio boss might not be pleased at her un-cooperativeness. But there’s something he doesn’t know about the studio boss.

That’s it for the plot.

As an actress Blaze Starr is passable enough for a movie like this. Since she was a famous strip-tease artiste the film teases us as well - will she actually disrobe? Will we see her playing volleyball? Of course she does strip, but the movie makes us wait. She doesn’t play volleyball though.

Apart from the flimsy plot the movie offers copious quantities of nudity. Of course in 1962 you could only go so far - there are bare bottoms and breasts but no frontal nudity. Well, almost none. Part of the art of making such a film was to tempt the audience into thinking they might see more than they really do and there are brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashes of pubic hair, fairly daring for the time.

One thing that really annoys me is when modern online reviewers encounter a film like this and make snide remarks about the women, describing them as ugly because they don’t conform to modern standards of female beauty (and often because, shock horror, they actually do have pubic hair). These are women who look like women, not undernourished teenage boys. In 1962 the women in this movie would have been considered to be pretty stunning, which they are.

The arrogance of our own times is such that we often assume that people in the 50s and 60s were terribly strait-laced and repressed but as Dave Friedman pointed out in his wonderful book A Youth in Babylon exploitation film-makers in those days never had a problem finding women prepared to take their clothes off for movies (just as magazines like Playboy had no great problems finding women prepared to pose naked for them). The women of the 50s were rather less repressed than we imagine. We tend to believe the English poet Philip Larkin who assured us that sexual intercourse began in 1963.

So what do you get in Blaze Starr Goes Nudist? You get plenty of beautiful naked ladies. You get a mildly amusing plot. You get one of the legends of burlesque in her birthday suit. You get beehive hairdos (which I thoroughly approve of). You get silly harmless fun. You also get nude chess. This was one of those fascinating quirks of Doris Wishman’s film-making style - she had a thing for nude chess. Not that there’s anything wrong with nude chess. One of the reasons chess has never caught on in a big way as a spectator sport is that most chess players insist on wearing clothes. Maybe Wishman was on to something.

Since the DVD comes from Something Weird Video there are several extras including Blaze Starr doing some of her actual strip-tease routines. If you’re a fan of burlesque that might well be the highlight of the package. It's also available as a double-header DVD paired with the amazing Nude on the Moon.

An oddity, but an interesting one.

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