Nakedly Revealing: “Oh! Calcutta!” (1972)



BARE ESSENTIALS: While the talented Margo Sappington choreographs and performs her own dance au natural in the pursuit of Art, the audience is left to ponder as to polar extremes of its own patronizing interest: the search for artistry or merely prurient curiosity?  Surprisingly, the answer may  lie within Jacques Levy’s unpredictably revealing film recording of the initially Off-Broadway production of “Oh! Calcutta!”, which actually speaks more about the audience’s reaction to the new sexual freedoms opening up in popular culture at the time, than in  exhibiting  the smallest  hint of wit or insight into the subject of sex, despite the prestigious roster of names accredited with the show’s conception.

          “Oh! Calcutta!”  (1972)

    “In America, sex is an obsession. In other parts of the world, it’s a fact.”                                                                                                                          – Marlene Dietrich

    There’s an interesting sequence at the beginning of Jacques Levy’s film version of the notorious theatrical revue “Oh! Calcutta!” in which the cast members are unashamedly mingling in the altogether as they go about their preparatory rituals backstage, while the arriving audience is seen sitting with a palpable discomfort as if each 00000000ohcalcuttaOSof the patrons were awaiting a court sentence. The dichotomy in behavior is both amusing and revealing: the performers enjoying complete ease with their bodies (how refreshing to see nudity portrayed as something other than for a lewdly sniggery effect instead of the casual celebration of the unselfconscious unencumbered state of the human body shown here) while the audience members seem to be layered in extra clothing as if the very act of sitting in the theater is tantamount to a shameful admission of prurient appetites (not to mention fleshy contact with the theater chairs might create an intimate contact with a sexually transmitted disease, as if they were sitting in a midnight showing on The Deuce).

     The brief sequence is an unexpected (and, from the evidence of the rest of the film, unintentional) documentation of common extremes of the systemic popular hypocrisy here finding expression in behavior associated with the perceived acceptance of open sexuality in American society while contradictorily proffering an acknowledgement of an unspoken defensive societal posture in publicly denying any actual interest in sex. So restrictive were the watchdogs of the most influential art form of the 20th Century (cinema), who actively quashed any overt expression of the sexual impulse except as a provocation for moral condemnation, that it perpetuated a self-castigating mindset for an unhealthily extended period in popular cultural.

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About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
This entry was posted in Culture, dance, erotica, Film Reviews, movie reviews, Movies, Musicals, Reviews, sex, theater, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Nakedly Revealing: “Oh! Calcutta!” (1972)

  1. johnrieber says:

    Talk about a play and film “of their time!” For those who can see nudity and so much more on TV and online, it’s hard to imagine the controversy – but was it ever controversial! I was a bit young to have gotten a chance to see this but what a cultural “time capsule!”

  2. beetleypete says:

    I didn’t see this film, but I did see the show on stage, in London.
    We went to see the naked people, that was it. Anyone who claimed to be going for the ‘art’ was just fooling themselves, or lying. It was pretty boring, as I recall. But I was only 18.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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