Recently-released out-takes from the film Ciao Manhattan show Allen wandering naked on the set (such set as there was!) Memorial Day Weekend, 1967, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, Old Palisades Road. As directors David Weisman and John Palmer, point out, it’s in the grounds of “The Castle”, a rambling, eccentric mansion, rented out and loaned to the company by artist Peter Max. Ciao Manhattan was, of course, a vehicle for fated Warhol star, Edie Sedgwick, Allen’s cameo, only a very minor part of it. He does, however, manage to stand out!
“Starving, hysterical, naked..” – the role and significance of nudity in Allen’s life and work is a topic of some interest.
Nicolas Calas, a propos some remarks by Allen on a Wynn Chamberlain show, writing in The Village Voice, in the mid ’60’s, usefully cites art-historian Sir Kenneth Clark‘s fine but essential distinction: “To be naked is to be deprived of one’s clothes and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition, the word nude, on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtones. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenseless body, but of a balanced, prosperous, and confident body…”
So, from this perspective, Allen is most definitely concerned with the former (but, paradoxically, with the latter’s confidence).
The pivotal event is 1957 and the events described by Lawrence Lipton in his book The Holy Barbarians. The key confrontation (Allen strips down and confronts his heckler, his heckler is challenged):
“He provoked and challenged the man to come and expose his feelings and real self as nakedly as he had. “Come and stand here, stand naked before the people, I dare you! The poet is always naked before the world.” (this account is not from Lipton, but from Anais Nin, who was very much part of the audience
Allen, in his Letters, comments, a decade later, regarding “the inaccurate rumor that (typically) in college “performances”, I remove my clothes” – “It is not generally known that I am initiated into a school of Hinduism, some members of which do go abroad in the city ash-smeared and naked, this is Shivaite Hinduism, but I am not a practicing naga (naked) holyman. So I have not removed my clothing at a public reading for, alas, ten years. The one occasion in 1957 in which I did remove my clothes is, as an anecdote, too oft-repeated (as in an edition of Life magazine a year ago) to be worthy of further repetition…I do bear witness (however) that in a private house once upon a time a red-haired lush from Hollywood interrupted poet Gregory Corso in the middle of his long poem, “Power”, and shouted, “Whatter you guys tryana prove?”, and I spontaneously shouted back, “Nakedness!”, and he shouted back, “Whadya mean nakedness?”, and so, thinking over my own language, I silently disrobed, and then clothed myself again, and then Corso continued the reading of “Power”.
And, regarding the famous Avedon shot (taken in 1963) – “There is nothing in the picture to offend, unless one is offended by the sight of (a) not-so-naked person, in which case, any slick magazine or local newspaper carrying bathing-suit or shower-soap advertisements might be found offensive, but they’re not”.
In London in 1965, Ginsberg extolled nakedness. At his 39th birthday… Here’s a couple of John “Hoppy” Hopkins delightful images:
“Scribble down your nakedness. Be prepared to stand naked because most often it is this nakedness of the soul that the reader finds most interesting”, Ginsberg is quoted as saying, around this time. Nakedness is, then, both metaphor and physical fact.
Allen proposed he and Henry Kissinger get naked (for more honest, more open, communication):
To the very end of his life, he explored nakedness. “Candor ends paranoia”.