Watching the watchers

Narrator’s voice has a built-in pant

Published: Aug 10 2017, 01:01:am

Tuesday, May 12, 1970.

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO A NAKED LADY? Music by Steve Karmen. Written and directed by Alan Funt. Running time: 85 minutes. Restricted entertainment with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: frequent nudity.

IT WAS ONLY A MATTER of time before the increasingly candid presentation of sex and nudity in American movies brought with it a relaxation of provincial censorship rules in Canada. At the moment [1970], Hot Spur, a 1968 sex-exploition film currently on view at the Surf Theatre in suburban Port Coquitlam, is an example of the current state of permissiveness on British Columbia screens.
    Though trimmed of its most explicit sex scenes, the adult Western retains several instances of full-frontal female nudity. The same permissiveness applies to What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?, now playing in downtown Vancouver’s Coronet Theatre.
    Lady is made up of some 30 situations that Candid Camera-man Allen Funt would not have been able to air on his popular network television show. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s content guidelines are actually stricter than those of our own broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission.
    In his new feature, the ambush filmmaker focuses directly on people’s reactions to unexpected sex and nudity. From these moments, Funt, whose voice seems to have a built-in pant, has assembled the first great American Mondo Crudo documentary.
    Naked ladies are seen popping out of elevators, hitch-hiking along country roads, climbing ladders and giving sex lectures to college classes. Director Funt’s hidden camera watches the people watch the women.
    On the movie screen, Funt’s material is faster paced and more polished than it ever was on the tube, but both shows are based on same basic gimmick. Funt operates a spy camera, and he loves to leer through keyholes.
    Despite his veneer of soft-sell sociology, at heart Allen Funt is little more than a tasteless old voyeur who likes to share his snickers. What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? gives him the opportunity to vicariously peer up girls’ skirts, fondle their bottoms and stimulate their orgasms.
    Anyone who likes his TV show deserves his movie.

The above is a restored version of a Vancouver Express review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1970. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Although it became an American institution — the Archive of American Television website credits it with being “the first and longest-running reality-based comedy program" — Candid Camera always struck me as shoddy and tasteless, altogether the lowest form of TV humour. I’m not surprised that it inspired today’s “reality” TV, which in reality is most often just public humiliation. Low-rent broadcasters can pass it off as entertainment because the people involved all participate of their own free will.
    According to his son, Allen Funt was not pleased with the genre that his half-hour comedy spawned. Following his death in 1999, Peter Funt told the Chicago Tribune that “some imitators or others have trashed that genre a little bit by what they call ‘reality television.’ And that didn't make him happy one bit.” What Funt objected to is not made clear. It’s hard to take his disapproval seriously, given that in the 1980s he produced an "adult" show called Candid Candid Camera for HBO and the Playboy Channel, programs later released on cassette tape to video stores.  
    The above review begins with the acknowledgement that changes were occurring in the popular culture. As a young critic, I believed that the arts were all about pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. Funt, on the other hand, was all about pushing buttons. He traded in the sort of tastelessness that made me cringe. The cinema’s real artists —among them innovative  directors such as Sam Peckinpah, Ken Russell, Russ Meyer, George Romero, Ralph Bakshi, Sergio Leone and Paul Verhoeven — were using the new freedoms to explore the dark corners of the human heart. Funt used his opportunities to take the popular culture in a different direction. If his major legacy is the reality television phenomenon that includes such shows as The Apprentice, then Americans have Allen Funt to thank for today’s top-rated fake news show, What Do You Say to a Donald Trump Presidency?