It might come as a shock to learn that Allen Funt, creator and host of the very family friendly and long-running television show Candid Camera, made something of a cinematic Kinsey Report in 1970 called What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? Perhaps equally surprising is that the film eschews exploitation, presents and then leaves behind its initial gag as evidenced by the title, and ultimately works quite well as an examination of how people approach the idea of nudity and, to a lesser extent, the sexual connotations which often follow.
The film begins exactly as expected, with a naked woman (or two, or three) encountering unsuspecting and clothed people in their everyday lives. Funt captures it all, as he does for the entirety of the film, with hidden cameras. The whole idea here is to witness the reactions of those who come in contact with the undressed ladies. These vary, from shocked to shocked and then interested to shocked and then embarrassed. Few, if any, are bold enough to state the obvious - that the women are wearing no clothes - while the "models" all play along as though nothing is out of the ordinary. Despite the exposed bodies, this portion can come across as rather tame and unchallenging. It's mostly just cute. A later comparison between how men react when they think a semi-exposed woman can't see them versus how they do when presented with her directly is more intriguing. It's probably not too much of a surprise that the practice of safely peeping tends to eliminate the shy politeness that comes with encountering a totally nude woman, for example, stepping out of an elevator.
Throughout, Funt puts himself out there as an interviewer in disguise and a general guide through various bits and pieces of the film. One section gauges the reactions from women as a nude male model sits just behind them and Funt leaves the room. Another features a revealing interview with a very honest woman concerning her sexual habits and experiences with married men who are unhappy at home. Additional, frank discussions are shown with teenagers. The point over and over is to document these sometimes awkward but always instructive situations. And it works, particularly as a way of tackling a subject which never goes out of fashion and tends to dominate so many of our thoughts but seems to remain endlessly mystifying. The film is now over forty years old but it's easy to wonder just how different the unsuspecting participants and interviewees would react today. Progress, or lack thereof, is always fascinating to consider.
Another neat spin Funt puts on his film is the recurring presence of a test audience. Segments of the finished feature are projected to a room full of viewers who are then encouraged to share their opinions on what they've just seen. Can you imagine seeing this technique used for other movies? How great would it be to watch a big budget Hollywood action turd with interspersed complaints from cranky older women right inside the movie? Of course, in Funt's picture the unwitting participants act as part of the gag. It's their reactions, close-minded or otherwise, which provide further material on how society views certain aspects of sex and nudity. The film is quite clever in this way. The effects of viewing with a group, and the mentality that accompanies such, could conceivably play a factor, even if it's not explicitly addressed here. In the film proper, a similar idea is raised, however, when we see how someone reacts to synchronized actions by a group of four men playing cards. Sheep come to mind.
Though the general level of salaciousness in What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? is parked at a minimum, and refreshingly so, there are a few concerns which remain and deserve to be labeled either as deviating from the main idea or simply as missteps. Chief among these is an inappropriately lighthearted song about rape that plays with some video of what seems to be a staged encounter on a bed, involving an aggressive man and the woman he's supposed to dominate as a cameraman tries to capture it all. Songs (by Steve Karmen), with relevant lyrics about what's going on in the film, are used throughout but this is a complete one-off. It comes and goes without any connection to what has preceded or will follow it. Also out of place are the interviews with people who've just witnessed an interracial couple (half of which is Richard Roundtree!) making out at a bus station. Some of the opinions expressed are clearly detestable, but the whole thing seems to stray too far from the rest of the picture. Views on race and miscegenation are a little out of the scope presented here, and I doubt most would really enjoy seeing aggressive affection between a couple in public, regardless of race or gender.
For the most part, though, What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? is a perceptive and curious artifact which nonetheless doesn't seem too dated in a lot of its ideas. It must be fairly obscure by now, with no television showings being conceivable given the subject matter and things shown. The film is certainly worth a look, so to speak.
Allen Funt's What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? is released via the made-on-demand MGM Limited Edition Collection. The single-layered DVD-R can be had from various U.S-based online retailers, including Amazon, Screen Archives and Deep Discount. The Warner Archive website has also just begun to sell these burned MGM offerings.
The 1.85:1 video is enhanced for widescreen televisions and looks pleasing on the whole. The progressive transfer does not display any unwanted damage or significant digital errors. Colors appear true and reasonably bright. There's a good amount of grain left in but I found it to be a nice balance. Some footage, owing surely to the production, differs in quality from others, though it's mostly just a variation of sharpness and detail. The strongest images, like the black and white test screening interviews and other controlled close-ups, all seem pleasing to the eye.
Audio is an English mono track which alternates between Steve Karmen's frequent, narrative-complementing songs and the words spoken by Funt and his subjects. It's all generally clean, absent any distractions in the track. Again, there are some limitations with how the film was made and the presence and necessary placement of the microphones but these are minor. The whole schtick here is often hidden cameras and microphones but it tends to not distract from having a relatively good quality result. Subtitles would have been nice as a backup, plus for those who are hearing impaired, but there are none here, as per the usual policy with burned-on-demand releases.
A trailer (3:19) for the film has been provided as the lone supplement.