Naked States (2000)
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Instead of showing an artist in angst, this film shows the artist at work and reveals the surprisingly happy effect of his efforts on the people he portrays.
As far removed from Hollywood and films about Jackson Pollock and Vincent Van Gogh and Michelangelo as Spencer's vision is from conventional notions about what art does and who it's for.
Starts slow and tentative and builds to a glorious and satisfying ending. Great pacing and direction put this on a straight track to documentary perfection.
Especially surprising was the segment that reveals Spencer's troubles with --and distaste for.......NUDISTS! They're a real pain in the ass to work with.
Nothing in the film draws attention to the making of the film. There's no didacticism here, but by the end of the film I was ready to take off my clothes and find Spencer.
HBO showed it but if they don't show it again, find it and rent it..... the legacy of Woodstock come to small-town America.
Although quiet and unassuming, Spencer's as bold as his subjects when he goes up to total strangers and persuades them to undress for art's sake.
And yes, he's been arrested, but never on a citizen complaint.....just by cops who can't stand the thought of people not wearing clothes in public. Bravo, Spencer!
In elevating his work above porn, Tunick often photographs the nude in large numbers. Placing the subjects against the background of daily life, amid urban streets or modern architecture, and in glorious black and white, some moving and timeless images have been created. The body of work Tunick has produced through this documented project alone will serve as noteworthy in the timeline of 21st century artisans.
Overlooking pacing and editing, the film (which oftentimes resembles an episode of MTV's "Road Rules") stands as a testament to artistic integrity and persistence of vision.
Nelson's documentary dwells on several of Tunick's photographs. Most of these find Tunick forging shapes and structures out of naked crowds, creating living landscapes out of flesh, or clashing human bodies with jagged buildings, social spaces and architecture. Whilst Tunick is often attacked by puritanical folk, his photos are all desexualised. And his characters seem more anonymous, more private, more mysterious than their outer nakedness would suggest; clothes reveal personality, removing clothes oft brings about a certain anonymity.
Tunick's nudes also suggest something beyond class distinctions, beyond social and ethnic barriers. His crowd shots tend to turn naked bodies into undulating seas of skin, whilst his smaller photographs use solitary, nude bodies to evoke very specific emotions. One great photograph, seen toward the end of "Naked States", features an obese woman perched at the ocean's edge, her copious folds of flesh positioned beneath the phallic pistons of the World Trade Centre towers, which loom, almost judgmentally, over her private mysteries.
Today many critics view Tunick as a washed up parody of himself. Like Anne Geddes and her countless photographs of babies/toddlers, Tunick's now become associated with a very specific "gimmick". These days he seems obsessed with photographing increasingly larger nude crowds, often in front of famous big city landmarks. Has his work now been reduced to kitsch? Maybe, maybe not. One would have to sit down and view much more of his work before making such a judgement.
One of the more interesting aspects of "Naked States" is how Tunick's acts of staging photographs are themselves a kind of performance art, independent - and wholly different in terms of mood, intention and content - of the final photo. Elsewhere the film contrasts the vast planning and logistical hurdles required for some of Tunick's shoots, with his soft-spoken, meek personality. He's an unassuming man, but is nevertheless able to command, mobilise and inspire battalions of people.
8/10 – Worth one viewing.