So during my first few weeks in Philly, I found myself sitting across the aisle from my friend Ernest Schier of The Philadelphia Bulletin, watching things with titles like "Meatballs" (starring the ubiquitous Harry Reems) and "Sweden - Between Heaven and Hell." Ernie would snort comically through these movies (that's when he wasn't snoring) as I wondered how the hell I was going to construct a credible review of what I was watching.
I was 21 and feeling panicked. I still can't quite believe that I actually wrote a review of a porno titled "Meatballs" and that it ran in a daily newspaper as if it were perfectly normal. The new normal then.
Concurrently, perhaps inspired by their lowly relatives, Hollywood studio movies also became sexually liberated. Suddenly, the dormant X rating was being utilized for major movies made by estimable filmmakers - Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool," Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," Ken Russell's "The Devils," Sidney Lumet's "The Last of the Mobile Hotshots," Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch," Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris," Ralph Bakshi's animation "Fritz the Cat" and, of course, John Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy," Oscar's Best Picture of 1969.
Some of these titles were re-edited to qualify for the R rating, while other films, threatened with the X, voluntarily went under the knife before their release. That was the fate a couple decades later for two by Paul Verhoeven - "Flesh + Blood" and "RoboCop." It was around this time that the movie industry belatedly noticed that porno had appropriated the X rating (and its progeny, the XX rating and the XXX rating) and invented NC-17 in response. "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" anyone?
Anyway, all this is in preamble to my recollection of the most curious Hollywood X movie of all - Allen Funt's "What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?," which opened in Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 11th, 1970 and at one-half of a twin called The Duke (the other being The Duchess), at 1605-1607 Chestnut Street. (Thanks to reader Jimbo for the heads-up.)
The idea behind the film is Funt's curiosity about the public's true feelings about X-rated movies. He approached this question by making an X-rated film himself. Funt took advantage of the new permissiveness of the era, employing nudity from every possible angle, including full-frontal. And his shots aren't stingy but lengthy. His film leaves nothing to the imagination as his hidden cameras leer at naked bodies and attitudes towards sex.
The reactions of the average American to these shots and Funt's questions are very funny and, not surprisingly, revealing. He tells one of his unsuspecting subjects, a middle-aged woman, about how many students are "matriculating" and asks how she feels about that word. Not good, she says, obviously thinking that Funt is talking about masturbation. There are other words invoked, all innocent, but they're also deemed filthy.
But most of the film is about Mr. and Mrs. American being confronted by naked strangers in office buildings and on city streets and even highways.
And he talked enthusiastically about future movies that he never made - one a documentary following children as they age from two to five (shades of Richard Linklater here) because "children lose their innocence during this period." Another was a narrative about "ghetto furniture dealers who keep their poverty-stricken patrons in debt, with one merchant teaching his son the tricks of fraud by filming, Candid Camera-style, actual hoodwinking transactions." Funt's passion was transfixing.
While Allen Funt would go on to make a second film, the 1972 PG-rated hidden-camera documentary, "Money Talks" (about how people, including celebrities, relate to money), I've no idea why he never got to make the two that he described so enthusiastically, but they seemed promising to me and I felt compelled to share these missed opportunities with you today. And re-reading my "Lady" review and interview with him, I also feel this yen to experience Funt's little film again,arguably the most curious X-rated movie ever made. And perhaps even the most relevant.
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~Publicity shot of Allen Funt
~One of the more discreet shots in "What Do You Say to a Naked Woman? (the only kind newspapers and magazines could run)
~photography: United Artists (1970)©