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Bodies in Nature: Rediscovering Mid-Century Nudist Films

Bodies in Nature: Rediscovering Mid-Century Nudist Films

Garden of Eden (Max Nosseck, 1954),

Veggie Cloud and Los Angeles Filmforum present

Jennifer Peterson on "Bodies in Nature: Rediscovering Mid-Century Nudist Films"


At Veggie Cloud

5210 Monte Vista St., Los Angeles 90042

FREE admission

Directions: First studio on the left when you enter the gate. Doors open at 7:30PM, screenings start promptly at 8PM. Digital Projection.

Beer and chairs on hand. Feel free to bring your own snacks, drinks, and comfy seat or cushion.

Jennifer Peterson explores how nature was spatialized in nudist films of the 1950s and 60s such as Garden of Eden (Max Nosseck, 1954), Naked Venus (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1958), and Diary of a Nudist (Doris Wishman, 1961). These films were legally protected by a claim of “educational value,” and their slight narratives disavow sexual activity in favor of presentations of the naked human body as an embodiment of a “natural” and “healthy” lifestyle. Embodying a relentless male gaze, the films contain long sequences in which topless women stroll around, swim, and play volleyball. Through “tour of the camp” sequences, the films chart an itinerary in which the nudist camp becomes a utopian space located in the wilderness. By focusing on the spatialization of the natural settings surrounding these naked bodies, Peterson argues that the films actually produce heterotopic spaces in which female bodies and the feminine are “at home” in the refuge of nature. While nudist films certainly essentialize femininity, they can also be connected to countercultural ideologies of naturism, environmentalism, and the back-to-the-land movement that were becoming popularized in this era. Overturning the usual cinematic relationship between characters and setting, in nudist films landscape and figure participate in a more equal exchange.

Jennifer Peterson is the author of Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film (Duke University Press, 2013). Her articles have been published in Cinema Journal, Camera Obscura, The Moving Image, the Getty Research Journal, and numerous edited book collections.