Sunday, October 25, 2009

Available from iTunes: Liverpool's UNDER THE MUD, Nelson/Tunick NAKED STATES

As channels of movie distribution grow more bizarre and varied, look to some different sources for your viewing pleasure -- one of which might be iTunes, which is stacking up an ever larger library of films. Two of these came into TrustMovies hands in the past week, and so he promptly watched them in order to give you a heads-up.

UNDER THE MUD has quite a little history behind it: When the Liverpool-based Hurricane Films approached a youth-led community center in the area, a screenwriting project developed, characters appeared and were fleshed out, and finally a full-length film was completed -- which made the round of festivals but was not picked up for distribution (due, supposedly, to its cast's lack of star power), even though it garnered praise from a number of critics (The Guardian: "A wonderful, magical, uplifting tale... may be the best British film you'll never see." Understanding the maxim "Marketing is all," Hurricane began a kind of become-a-part-of-this-movie routine that has evidently raised enough funds to produce a DVD and to get the film on iTunes as a download.

Because Hurricane was also responsible for one of our favorite films of last year, Terence Davies' Of Time and the City, I had perhaps too high a set of hopes for this little movie about a scrappy, more-or-less happy family in Liverpool and its many crises that occur over a single day. To begin with, the DVD I watched had no subtitles in English, and the dialog is nigh unto impossible to understand -- even for this movie watcher whose dad hailed from the Liverpool area. (There's a very funny moment -- doubly funny, really -- that happens well into the movie when one particular character whose speaking is so indecipherable that the other characters make fun of her and actually add subtitles to a bit of her early dialog.) I stuck with the film anyway, even as I realized that maybe some one-third of the dialog had gone right passed me.

This day with family and friends -- and one, just-out-of-prison enemy -- involves unrequited love (adult and teen-age varieties), pregnancy and communion (there's a very funny scene of a stoner's take on the religious ceremony, plus a clever communion costume). Initially, the movie seems so very perky that you're not sure you'll survive it, but as it goes along, you'll probably hang on. The perfor-
mances are good and the director generally knows his stuff (a little too much so, from time to time), but by the finale I did wonder if the bandwagon for this movie was more successful than the film itself.


Another, older film -- NAKED STATES from 2000 -- is now available for download via iTunes. Directed by Arlene Donnelly Nelson (the cinematographer of the wonderful Beaches of Agnes), it deals with photographer Spencer Tunick, the fellow who was more often in the news some years back, due to his preference for photographing groups of naked people on city streets and in other public places.

Ms. Donelly Nelson tracks Tunicks' journey across country from east to west (stopping especially at the Burning Man festival) and back again, as he (accompanied by a small crew and his girlfriend) coaxes various individuals to pose naked by themselves or a part of a group. Often arrested but always let off -- he evidently has a very good lawyer -- Tunick also has an attraction to nudity and groups that is only slightly explained (at one point he refers to war, death, terrorism and the apocalypse). Why does the artist do this? His girlfriend claims that he's fearless, but who knows?

The film is finally more about its subject -- Tunick wants to film naked people in each and every one of the 50 states -- than about its artist. And that's OK, as it is consistently interesting and features lots of nudity which, after awhile, loses its power to titillate and becomes instead something to speculate about. When Tunick and company arrive at a nudist colony and director and crew must also disrobe, there's a sense of rough justice in what we see. (Tunick looks a bit like a fatter-faced, chubbier John Cusack.) The movie comes complete with occasional title cards, one of which, Public Solitude, introduces us to Deborah a very overweight but beautiful young woman whose photo against the rocks of a New York river is stunning indeed.

The film climaxes with the famous Phish concent in Maine, at which Tunick hopes to gather his largest nude crowd. Will the Phish folk help him? You'll find out -- and since the movie was made almost a decade ago, your memory will probably not be keen enough to spoil things.

(Stills are courtesy of Under the Mud and Hurricane Films.)

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