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New York art photographer Spencer Tunick specialises in pictures of ordinary people nude in public urban spaces. Hoping that a gallery owner will give him his first solo exhibition, he makes a journey across middle America, visiting cities and small towns and asking their residents to pose for him. Back in New York, Tunick has to face a court battle as he is brought up on charges of inciting indecent behaviour.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Only in America. One of the most surprising details in this revealing documentary is the trouble Spencer Tunick has encountered while photographing nudes on home turf in New York City. In Baltimore and even Bible belt territory he's usually free to snap away without much fuss but New York's finest have seen fit to arrest him almost every time he removes his lens cap. That the supposedly bohemian Big Apple has been so uncomfortable with displays of public nudity would please Tunick in a perverse way. The aim of his Naked States project is to 'redefine the way we look at ourselves and our country' and the paradox of his New York activities provokes exactly the reaction and discussion he desires. Whether or not you buy Tunick's agenda, Naked States is an entertaining, humorous and compassionate look at a remarkable artistic event and the people who have participated in it. It begins with hundreds of New Yorkers losing their laundry in Times Square and includes some incredible portraits of massed human flesh - the shot of 1200 nude rock concert-goers in Maine is an eye-popping highlight. Even more impressive than the large scale spectacles are the interviews with ordinary folk who became nude models for a day. A rape victim describes the experience as an important part of her recovery; others reveal similarly uplifting stories of self-expression and personal liberation. Tunick is intelligent and cheeky without being a wanker and the charm with which he hands out flyers and recruits potential models is fascinating to watch. I left with the impression that every country could benefit from having a Spencer Tunick.

Review by Jake Wilson:

How do you persuade total strangers to pose for you naked? It's all about getting them to trust you, and Spencer Tunick has this down to a fine art. Youthful-looking and attractively pudgy, with a soothing line in self-consciously weak jokes, he exudes low-key competence, seeming unconventional yet not sleazy. Across America people are signing up to appear in his (alas) hopelessly tacky photographs, which are high-grade calendar art at best. A black and a white woman embrace while standing on a US flag—it could be a United Colors of Benetton ad. Or a thousand rock fans sprawl in a paddock pretending to be concentration camp victims, in what Tunick vaguely describes as a statement about war and terrorism. This bland documentary leaves it open whether we’re meant to view its subject as a convention-defying genius or just a typically American oddball working to get ahead: having hitched his wagon to an attention-grabbing gimmick, Tunick hopes it will carry him all the way to the top (or at least to a write-up in Artforum). More engagingly, his cross-country odyssey provides a pretext for documenting several generations of bohemian America. The old hippies and young groovers who appear in the photos often come off as more sincere and likeable than Tunick himself, even if they tend to extol the thrill of getting naked while obtusely insisting that Tunick’s work has nothing to do with sex. The film similarly takes for granted Tunick’s pure motives and self-proclaimed status as a serious artist, rarely questioning his privileged position behind the camera—though an intriguing scene where he freaks out at a nudist colony hints at some of the issues left unexplored. Offering little depth as either art criticism or psychological study, Naked States ultimately works best as an excuse to let us see a range of people with their clothes off—though even this pleasure is spoiled by the video format, which gives their varied bodies a uniform dull, smudged look.

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FEATURING: Spencer Tunick

DIRECTOR: Arlene Donnelly

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2001 (Melbourne); January 31, 2002 (Sydney – advance screenings Jan 25); other states to follow

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