Jennifer Peterson: The Space of Nature in Mid-Century Nudist Films

A Talk By Jennifer Peterson
The Space of Nature in Mid-Century Nudist Films

Wednesday, February 17
6:15 PM
Michelson Theater, Department of Cinema Studies
721 Broadway, 6th Floor

This paper explores how nature and gender were 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 walk around, swim, and play volleyball. By focusing on the spatialization of nature that surrounds these naked bodies, I argue that these films actually produce heterotopic spaces in which female bodies and the feminine are “at home” in the refuge of nature. Through “tour of the camp” sequences, the films chart an itinerary in which the nudist camp becomes a utopian space located in the wilderness. Overturning the usual cinematic relationship between characters and setting, in nudist films landscape and figure participate in a more equal exchange. While the nudist film vision certainly essentializes femininity, it can also be connected to countercultural ideologies of naturism, environmentalism, and the back-to-the-land movement that were becoming popularized in this era.

Jennifer Peterson is Associate Professor in the Film Studies Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her articles have been published in Cinema Journal, Camera Obscura, The Moving Image, the Getty Research Journal, and numerous edited book collections. Her book, Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film, was published by Duke University Press in 2013.

This event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and is available first-come, first-served.

Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (Doris Wishman, 1962)

Presentation Video