film 2 of 5

Hold Me While I’m Naked

Film Review by Mar 26, 2015

An unofficial adaptation of the Who’s “Pictures of Lily”? Knocked Up, without the gloss and character closure? Let’s start with this. Hold Me While I’m Naked is saucy to the point of being completely unchecked, and maybe, probably it’s not very helpful to vulnerable populations. (Would that be all of us? [Mind you it’s 1966, and this is actually pretty mild compared to so many subsequent cinematic whirlwinds.]) The thing is that though it’s saucy, it’s also honest and true, an important, poignant treatment of sexual frustration, and of a deeper yearning that goes beyond mere physical appetite.

After a set of really cool, flashy opening titles we find writer-director George Kuchar himself, playing the part of our protagonist. He’s a film maker, and he’s directing a young couple that is presently clasped in an ardent embrace. It’s evident from the start: Kuchar’s character is an exploiter, or at least he’s engaged in trying to make exploitation pictures. But he’s also quite palpably an aspirer. What’s comical is that he is blithely and poignantly clueless in both of these capacities. Comical, but sort of stirring and beautiful too.

This is partly due to the fact that what this exploiter aspires toward is artistry. He certainly does take his work seriously. “The mysticism of the stained glass window and the profanity of that brassiere do not go well together,” he tells his mostly uncomprehending cast and crew. Kuchar’s character is clueless, but he’s also strangely, even aptly articulate. And he certainly has his reasons. He also gets his results, or at least the actual George Kuchar does, even if the character he plays cannot.

The filmmaker aspires to artistry, but artistry sometimes offers to take us even higher. Kuchar is searching for that too, and he traverses that hard road very creditably! That first, primal filmmaking scene is followed immediately by a superbly executed, simultaneously ironical and heartfelt forty-five second tracking shot. The director walks beatifically through a park, accompanied by lushly sentimental music. He comes upon a sweetly chirping/patently fake bird. He is enraptured. It’s an antic sequence, but its also absolutely in earnest; here is a man in harmony with both nature and culture. The scene is funny, very sincere, quite wonderful. This is no mere pornographer.

Of course—and it’s acknowledged, to the film’s credit—it wouldn’t look that way to everyone. One disgruntled actor eventually has her say: “I am sick and tired of being naked in almost every scene. I’m not going to do this picture any more!” That perception is as true and important as the protagonist’s take on things; if the protagonist doesn’t know it, then Kuchar certainly does. It all goes to show that there are different validities, the general and the personal, the reality, and the person trying to come to terms with it.

Hold Me While I’m Naked is partly a film about the contrast between a filmmaker’s perceptions and what’s really, actually going on. His production is unravelling. We find him desperately trying to recruit another raft of attractive people to appear in his production. They don’t answer and so, not a little paranoid, he imagines them to be all out together and swinging to pop music. Without him, of course. Note that fabulous Frankie and the Four Seasons needle-drop! It’s a pretty pop-cool moment. But for Kuchar’s character, maybe, probably, for Kuchar himself, these are also sacred precincts. There’s a reason that the final, Godfather-like intellectual montage sequence with the imagined enraptured couple in their shower together, and the solitary female-garment-clad protagonist in his, is set to music from an oratorio.

Could it be? Hold Me While I’m Naked tells the simple story about a sort-of pornographer who’s looking for life, and probably for God. For happiness, at the very least. The spectator could well pursue this particular and very substantial thread. Here’s another, just as important. Kuchar’s famous film is the Diane Arbus equivalent of one of documentary film’s great cultural raisons d’etre. It seems that privilege never considers some situations or populations. Or, if it does so, it does so in a derisive or condescending manner. So we need Robert Flaherty, or George Stoney, Challenge for Change, and eventually we need an actual wild misfit. We need George Kuchar. He doesn’t adhere to the norm, and yet still has his own reasons, and his own beauty. This film is a milestone in the history of the American avant garde, of the Independent or Underground Film, of portraying difference. It’s also a real milestone of just plain being different! All this being the case, there’s so much more going on than merely being funny, or being offensive. Kuchar’s conclusion, with its mighty last line, is no joke. “There’s a lot of things in life worth living for. Ain’t there?”