It made me… let’s say “happy”… that I was able to finally screen Unashamed, a nudist camp film from 1938. I had first read about the film in Eric Schaefer’s seminal book, Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of Exploitation Films 1919-1959. Later I remember reading a much more in-depth essay in Film Comment, which focused on the film’s racial politics.
In much the same way that the narrative of Unashamed sets up a dramatic conflict between “clothed and unclothed” and “light skinned and dark skinned,” the film itself wages a battle… with itself. At F This Movie!, we have often discussed movies that fight themselves; Bridesmaids is a good example. Half of Bridesmaids wants to be small, winsome, and well observed (Kristen Wiig bakes herself a cupcake) and the other half wants to be a literal Judd Apatow gross-out shit-fest (with bridesmaids literally shitting in sewers and sinks). Unashamed exists because, since film began, there has been a market for nudie films; but in the late 1930s, there were very few ways to get them made, much less distributed. While people would pay money to see T & A, the only legal way to provide it was to cloak the film in a protective covering of “societal exposé” and “redeeming social importance.” This film was not made for nudists—in fact, nudists at the time expressed their distaste for the film, claiming it was unrealistic. Yet the dubious premise of a nudist camp and its supposed health benefits allowed the filmmakers to give the public what it wanted.
My friend, you have now read this column, based on my own sworn testimony. Can you prove that this film doesn’t exist? Perhaps on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, but he or she will be UNCLOTHED and UNASHAMED. Perhaps it will be a clothing-optional ventriloquist’s dummy. Many scientists believe that bad movies are being filmed at this very moment. We once laughed at air baths, the wheel, gravity, the horseless carriage, the telephone, the electric light, and golfing in the nude. So much laughter! And now some of us laugh at very bad movies. God help us in our naked future.