June Butler takes a look at Naked, Edward Kennedy’s film which documents the collaboration between Irish artist Róisín Cunningham and three life models. The film explores the relationship between sexuality and creativity, the similarities and differences between the male gaze and the female gaze, and body image.
If a group of people were questioned about what would constitute their worst nightmare, standing naked in front of total strangers for hours at a time while those same viewers stare and scrutinise every line of your body must rank at the top of the scale. For three models, this is their daily job – for one model, it is her sole means of income.
The promotion line for Naked is touted as a ‘life modelling film about life’ narrating the story of three young life models who pose for artists. Director Edward Kennedy has beautifully rendered a most imaginative take on life models who tell their stories – provoking the same questions of each as they are asked the reasons behind embarking on such a career. Two female models and one male model are interviewed individually and it is fascinating to hear how they arrive at the same conclusion albeit using different language. All insist the initial stages were daunting but all equally maintain the ultimate payoff was worth the risk.
Model Kate Dunne explains once the threshold of fear was crossed, the idea of posing naked was no longer fraught with difficulties. Dunne is emphatic in her new-found sense of empowerment and observes being in such a position has lent increased meaning to her life. The narrator asks of Dunne whether she agrees with the statement that to be naked is to be oneself but to be nude is to be seen naked by others yet not recognised for oneself. Artist Roisin Cunningham, queries of Dunne which she prefers – to be naked for the camera or to be nude for the artist’s drawing. Dunne states she would prefer to be neither but feels in the setting she is both. Dunne brings her own sense of impartiality to the scene – Dunne senses she is an object yet is at peace with this depiction of her body. When Kate is asked if the feeling of being unclothed is one of sensuousness, she is unequivocal in her assertion that it is not but goes on to say that when looking at a naked body, the viewer can either take sexuality from that body or project sexuality onto it.
Izabella Linuza confesses to being fundamentally shy and claims that entering into the world of life modelling was her key to finding inner stability and peacefulness. Linuza exudes an air of contentedness and it is patent to see she is confident with her choice of metier particularly when artists, in some cases, can be standing as close as one metre away. There is a sense of Linuza accepting she is on a journey but pausing at this stage of emboldening, intent on continuing her travels when the need is sated. Izabella reveals when she is modelling, she can feel slightly numb, distanced from the activity but concludes this experience brings with it serenity and tranquillity – away from the bustle of day-to-day living.
The only male model of the three is Dylan Jon Matthews and for the most part he emanates a different energy. He discusses the male gaze versus the female one and agrees the female gaze is slowly coming to the fore. Matthews claims the male gaze is more overt whereas that of the female is somewhat hidden. However, Matthews feels this is changing and agrees with the evolutionary process. Dylan is the most extravert of the three – cheekily he suggests everyone should be naked all the time. He feels this is liberating but states it was not always the case. When Matthews first started life modelling, he did so because a friend challenged him to do something that took him out of his comfort zone. Life modelling fitted the bill and Matthews has never looked back.
Director Edward Kennedy has directed a wonderfully, enlightened documentary. Instead of stopping and starting the narrative, he provides a seamless continuum between watching the life models pose, witnessing the artist (and narrator) sketch, and hearing the testimonies of the three life models themselves. William R. Keane rounds off a most evocative and beautiful rendering with an imaginative and well-placed musical score. In all, Naked is just exquisite and truly worth watching. It is what a documentary should look like when it has grown up.