BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: the shock and shame story of a night girl.

THERE’s always something not quite right in The Naked Kiss. The acting is a little wooden, camera shots don’t quite match, images pull focus every now and then. In fact, the storyline, like most Fullerian premises, is not quite right either. But this is a typical Fullerian premise – of all us, as individuals and society, aren’t really that quite right either. Apparently this film was cut against Fuller’s wishes by the studio, but despite this, the overall effect is still remarkably unsettling. This film is meant to be “weird”. And as you may see in The Naked Kiss’ companion piece Shock Corridor, Samuel Fuller doesn’t draw moral judgments on what is weird or abnormal. In fact with some of his favourite themes – madness, sexuality, civilization, punishment – you wonder if he was Foucault’s favourite filmmaker.

The Naked Kiss features Kelly (Constance Towers) trying to escape her city life as a prostitute by settling in an apple-pie small town. This is Douglas Sirk territory, but Fuller takes it even further than the great Sirk ever did. It’s as perverse as Russ Meyer, but minus the breasts. Kelly finds work in a children’s hospital, looking after disabled kids. The hospital’s benefactor and descendant of the town founder/hero, Grant, arrives back from Europe and claims Kelly’s heart.

But while the plot may initially sound rather melodramatic, the film digs its claws in deep. The very first shots thrust us straight into Fuller’s confrontational approach. We see Kelly beat her pimp (with a couple of shots where we seem to be the attacker). She appears as an attractive woman immediately, but then Fuller confounds the audience’s expectations by revealing her to be bald. Following her successful beating, she re-adjusts her wig and applies make-up directly facing us, using the camera lens as a mirror while the credits roll. This is extremely unnerving – Fuller’s playing on stereotypical conceptions of women in society (including the portrayals in film noir and Hollywood which persist to this very day), and challenging us to confront them. There’s also an even more disturbing use of the camera as a “character” later on in the film.

The Naked Kiss also ruthlessly exposes the underlying hypocrisy and binary opposites we construct in society. Things are always grey in Sam Fuller’s films, despite the best attempts of the characters to see things as good and evil, right and wrong, guilty and not guilty. For example, Fuller twists the moments that we see as “good” (or even cheesy) such as the children singing and the romantic scene in “Venice” into something with repercussions that are a whole lot more perverse. We know that Kelly is guilty, but then again, she’s not. She is both a “mother” and a “whore”, but is ultimately neither. Despite this, Fuller does retain a very black sense of humour (even with light touches such as having an advertisement for Shock Corridor).

However The Naked Kiss is ultimately of a much darker territory. It is chilling to think how relevant this film still feels today, and how not much has really changed. It was incredibly gutsy of Fuller to challenge themes like these and depict woman like Kelly in an era of The Sound of Music. Even more, The Naked Kiss puts most modern depictions of suburbia to shame for their complete lack of courage.

See also:
» In Appreciation: The Naked Kiss