In 2010, I was involved in an indie film, “American Nudist.” Because I wrote the book it was supposedly based on, and the first three drafts that were never filmed, I got all the blame when it bombed.
Let me rephrase that. It didn’t just bomb, it destroyed every professional relationship I had with the nudist organizations and was universally flamed, to the point of one naturist leader telling me I “needed to go back home where my Hollywood dreams will die a slow painful death.”
Was this review deserved?
Were all the bad reviews justified?
Does this film need to be forgotten as an embarrassment to the art of cinema?
No. Not at all.
I will explain why, but first let me preface this by saying that I had no creative control over the film. I was only an actor. We shot the entire film in the director’s condo, as it was intended to be a simple film, based on Fellini’s “81/2” which became the basis of “Stardust Memories” and “All That Jazz,” the film is non-linear and often times abstract. This was our first mistake, because I was the only one who knew that nudists are just normal people and most of them have never seen an arthouse film, nor would they be interested in one.
So I will be very objective.
I had to insist on going down to Terra Cotta Inn at my expense to film some nudist material, including an interview with Tom Mulhall and an additional scene with Alicia Arden which never made the film because of sound problems.
But my opinion and my efforts didn’t matter. I was only an actor.
And here was the problem. As an actor, I excel at playing dysfunctional characters. I am great at playing failures, because if there’s one thing I’m good at is failing, then keep on failing.
And here was the problem. To do a Fellini-esque film, I would have needed to play a SUCCESSFUL filmmaker, and we needed to see his art. We never see the photos that my character Taylor Kong took and there were no scenes of movie premieres or art gallery openings which would have established him as a success.
Again, my fault. I didn’t have a fully realized character, and add to this a director who was more image oriented than actor oriented. You see this in his other films where there is emphasis on image over character drama. In every other film, it works. There is balance. But not in “American Nudist.”
Another problem is not having a lead actress willing to do nudity, so the “muse” character that was central to our storyline was drastically changed. But this could still have worked if we had more preparation and really explored the characters the way the director’s idols John Cassavetes and Henry Jaglom would have.
So is there anything to redeem this film. Yes, it is a nudist story, and in an industry that seeks to make fun of or exploit nudism for laughs or to body shame nudists, this film does none of that.
In fact, the one actress that plays a nudist, Alicia Arden, is an entrepreneur and a very well rounded character. The other actresses were playing models and you really get a sense of who they are and their comfort level with their bodies that you don’t get in mainstream films. Admittedly, there should have been more conflict.
The nude models should have freaked when I tried to invite them to a nudist party. Or at least, one should have accused me of harassment. One should have accused me of being a pervert. All of these have happened to me, but we never got to explore this.
Had we more time and a production staff willing to make this film more structured and character driven, we would have had a proud film to add to Fellini’s legacy. But other nudist films took our place.
A modern nudist films like “Act Naturally” soon raised the bar on naturist storytelling, but is that film an honest depiction of the modern day realities and problems nudist face? Not so much. While I enjoyed the film, I felt it was too happy.
My experiences with naturism had its share of misery, loneliness and yes, persecution. I’ve lost potential girlfriends because I was a nudist, and worse, as a filmmaker in Hollywood I had no nudist peers when I started, so I was winging it. And though “American Nudist” only told ten percent of my true story, it at least told ten percent.
So though I can’t recommend anyone rent “American Nudist” or even watch more than a few scenes, I can endorse its production value, it’s lighting design, even its supporting cast who worked their asses off even if they didn’t quite know what they were doing.
Though the director was not a nudist, nor did he care about the nudist culture, he at least presented nudist characters, myself and Alicia Arden, as real people.
Most nudist screenplays I’ve read don’t really do that. In fact, most of them are just contrived allegorical tripe with no relevance to young millenials who are going skinny dipping for the first time, or to older nudists who long to hear the real stories that the mainstream media isn’t talking about. Why hasn’t anyone exposed Congressman Foley as the hypocrite that he is? Why don’t people know that most teenagers participate fully clothed, feel dragged along for the ride or feel just plain lonely?
We have one news story about the boy who stabbed a woman at Sunsport Gardens. I don’t see any fiction pieces based on it?
I encourage nudists to tell their stories, especially those who want to get into film, because Michael Bay is not going to knock on the door of your nudist club and film your life story. There are real platforms out there to get our voices heard, but I see nothing on crowdfunding sites to raise money for nudist films outside of my own.
There has been talk about “American Nudist” getting a sequel for quite some time. The director even wanted me to shoot new material. I haven’t, though I think I should.
And I don’t want to rant. I want to offer a solution. I am available to hold writing seminars in any nudist resort for aspiring writers. I am also willing to revise your scripts on my pacinv site on Fiverr.com
Rest assured, no one in naturism has seen my actual work. My best scripts are still in my closet, but samples are available upon request. You can also catch “Samurai Cop 2” on Blue Ray. And I can pretty much guarantee that if you were to read my script, “Naked Places” the first thing you’d tell me is to stop working with the company that made “American Nudist.”
But you’d be sadly mistaken. “American Nudist” may have been a failed experiment, but our later films have benefitted from the risks we took and the process of filmmaking itself. I only regret that we sacrificed our relationship with the nudist community in order to do it.