The Wiggle Effect

joe-solaDuring an episode of The Paul Lynde Show – a one season long ABC sitcom from 1972 — entitled “No Nudes is Good News,” the main character Paul Simms accidentally engages in a discussion about art and pornography with the town’s mayor.  The conversation goes a little something like this:

Paul: Mayor, how can you let an all-nude show come into a quiet, suburban town like this when you yourself promised to uphold the moral decency?

Mayor: Look at all the statues in the Sistine Chapel.  There are nudes everywhere.  Is that not art?

Paul: Yes, but when you look at the statues in the Sistine Chapel, they don’t wiggle.

The studio audience laughs a good, wholesome laugh at this lame punch line, but Paul brings up a point.  Fine art and nudity have indeed gone hand-in-hand for millennia, but pop culture’s relationship with the naked, human figure has always been fraught with a sense of uneasiness — a phenomenon I shall hereby coin “the wiggle effect.”

This wiggle effect seems to be exactly what artist Larry Johnson was concerned with when he was putting together Nudes Descending a Staircase, the third and final installment of the film series, Elective Affinities, which he co-curated with filmmaker William E. Jones at the Hammer Museum.  The Tuesday night screening featured five short pieces revolving around  nudity and pop culture.

First was the aforementioned episode of The Paul Lynde Show.  The plot followed the hapless Paul, an Archie Bunker wannabe, as he ranted and raved at his free-minded family and townsfolk for accepting the likes of an all-nude theatre piece into their martini-toting vicinity.  Paul makes his final point by coming round full circle and stripping to the buff himself, proving the limits of his relations’ tolerance levels.

Next on the cue was Pat Rocco’s Nude Groovy Guy.  Sans sound, it starred an assortment of fully-nude, male models circa 1970 staring at the camera awkwardly and showing off their goods.  The most striking part of this piece was the visceral feeling of discomfort in the mainly older, Hammer crowd.

The third and longest of the night was Most, a documentary starring Hugh Heffner in his prime as he discusses and traverses his self-made empire of parties, women, jazz, fast cars, and egoism.

Unfortunately, the fourth film in Johnson and Jones’ lineup was an exceedingly long taping of a poetry reading, which made most of the theatre long for the shots of male genitalia.

The series ended on a high note, however… and quite literally.  Video artist Joe Sola tapes his experience riding on a roller coaster with three male, porn stars.  It’s aptly titled Riding with Adult Video Stars and manages to capture a genuine, joyful energy that anyone can wiggle into!

All Hammer screenings are free of charge and take place inside the Billy Wilder Theatre, located within the museum at 10899 Wilshire Blvd.  For more information, call (310) 443-7000, or visit www.hammer.ucla.edu.

Image: Joe Sola, Riding with Adult Video Performers, 2002

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