Doris Wishman’s NUDE ON THE MOON: An Out Of This World Peep Show

An appreciation of one of the best nudie cuties.

We're incredibly excited to partner with Fandor, a streaming service with the biggest handpicked collection of the most-talked-about indie films from around the world. With a catalogue this diverse and provocative, it was both easy and very, very hard to choose a handful of titles to discuss here on BMD.

When her husband died Doris Wishman decided to do something to fill her time rather than grieve, and so she started making nudist films. In doing so she became one of the most prolific female directors in history and a seminal figure in the history of exploitation film and cinematic outsider art.

She didn’t arrive at nudist films randomly - the 1950s saw changes in censorship laws that opened the door for nudity on screen (or rather re-opened it; film had always included nudity, it was just the tolerance of the powers-that-be that changed), as long as the nudity was somehow educational in nature. And documentaries about nudist colonies were, arguably, educational.

Filmmakers would shoot at resorts but wouldn’t use actual nudists - they would bring in often buxom models and handsome men, and film them playing volleyball or having lunch in the buff. The average nudist colony movie would shy away from showing full frontal nudity - genitals would be cropped out of frame or hidden, Austin Powers-style behind bushes or crossed legs. The nudity was always non-sexual. The films just had attractive people letting it all hang out, or at least most of it.

Wishman’s first movie, Hideout in the Sun (1960), is a crime drama set in a nudist camp (and featuring a death by cobra), but for her second feature she refused to stay earthbound, and thus was born Nude on the Moon (1961). The plot has a couple of scientists building a rocket and traveling to the Moon, only to discover it’s inhabited by a tribe of naked women who have whispery telepathic powers and cheap-looking antenna on their heads.

The first half of the film is on the slower side (the first two minutes are a shot of an illustration of the night sky with the song “Moon Dolls” playing over it), but once the pair get to the Moon it’s an endless parade of moon dolls lounging in the sun, cavorting in the water and dancing and prancing around the leafy grounds of the Florida tourist attraction the Coral Castle (a series of carved megaliths that may or may not have been moved using psychic powers, depending on which legends you believe). It’s a bright, sunny and very voluptuous vision of the Moon.

Nude on the Moon is one of the best examples of the sexploitation subgenre ‘nudie cuties.’ It’s a film that is essentially prurient - the whole purpose of the thing is to parade naked women around - but it has a feeling of warm harmlessness. Nudie cuties are silly, and their largely topless women feel incredibly old-fashioned in the modern era. Wishman’s nudie cities in particular have a real innocently mischievous quality that make them feel slightly less than naughty. In one scene an intrepid astronaut (wearing a spacesuit that looks like longjohns) gives the Queen of the Moon a candy bar; she makes a disgusted face when she eats the candy but finds the wrapper much more to her taste.

As cheap and silly and technically clunky much of Nude on the Moon is, there’s something hypnotic about it. Wishman has a personality, and it comes through in the film. More than that, Nude on the Moon is one of those low (low low) budget movies where the bargain basement production works in its favor, giving the entire film a charm. Wishman was a self-taught filmmaker, and it shows in her work, especially in the odd cutaways she uses - sometimes to hide an edit and sometimes, it seems, just for the hell of it. For me it’s the definitive nudie cutie (although some would give that title to The Immoral Mr. Teas, the movie that launched Russ Meyer’s career), and Wishman, with eight under belt, the definitive nudie cutie filmmaker.

Once the nudist colony movies ran their course Wishman turned to other sorts of sexploitation - some of it ugly. She worked in the roughie genre, movies where women were routinely beaten and sexually assaulted. While Hideout in the Sun and Nude on the Moon are brightly colored, Wishman’s roughies, like the classic Bad Girls Go To Hell (1965) are in stark black and white, reflecting the grimier nature of the films.

Eventually Wishman even made hardcore porn, although she claimed that she left the room during the shooting of explicit scenes. Her most famous movies were made with Chesty Morgan, an actress with absolutely enormous breasts. Like, comically huge. The two films - Deadly Weapons (1974) and Double Agent 73 (1974) - are tongue-in-cheek spy spoofs. But for me Wishman’s best film might be the profoundly transgressive Let Me Die A Woman (1978), a movie about the then-new world of transsexuals. Featuring erotic re-enactments of the lives of transsexuals, interviews with Christine Jorgensen, who was America’s first real experience with sexual reassignment surgery, and explicit footage of a penectomy, Let Me Die A Woman is at once grossly exploitative and incredibly progressive. It is pretty much fucking nuts, and it’s definitely for the advanced connoisseur of grindhouse movies.

Nude on the Moon is a much frothier film, what they used to call a romp. It’s actually weird to look at this movie and realize it was banned in New York State upon release - it was ruled that since there were no nudist colonies on the Moon, Nude on the Moon violated that whole ‘educational film’ clause that allowed bare flesh on screen.  And here we are, fifty years later and still no nudist colonies on the Moon.

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