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The Bootleg Files: Naked Yoga

BOOTLEG FILES 851: “Naked Yoga” (1974 Oscar-nominated short).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube and Internet Archive.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It fell deep through the proverbial cracks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely.

It has been said that the 1970s was the decade that good taste forgot, and that cogent designation is on full display in a 1974 short film called “Naked Yoga.” The film earned a footnote in cinema history as being among that year’s nominees in the Academy Award competition for Best Documentary Short Subject.

The premise of “Naked Yoga” is simple to the point of being imbecilic: three women perform yoga exercises across the beaches and meadows of Cyprus without being encumbered with clothing, while a fourth goes through her routine inside a plain white studio. When the screen isn’t occupied by these undressed lovelies, it is filled with selections of Buddhist-inspired art from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and the Hugh Moss Gallery, along with psychedelic effects similar to imagery viewed by the Jupiter-bound Keir Dullea in a certain Kubrick movie. The soundtrack is full of vaguely Indian-sounding music and narration by British blues musician Alexis Korner that is allegedly based on Buddhist texts but comes across as a wee bit too hippy-dippy in Korner’s gravelly and decidedly less-than-enlightened voice.

Now, if you recall the first paragraph of this write-up, you might recall that “Naked Yoga” was nominated for the Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar. And, yes, at 24 minutes it qualifies as a short film, but there is a chance that you might be puzzled at how a montage of naked women performing yoga qualifies as a documentary. Well, move over because I have no idea either – how in the world this thing ever got into that category is beyond me. Mercifully, it didn’t win – but, then again, the winner in the category was something called “Don’t,” which followed the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. Clearly, the Oscar voters of that year had more entomologists than Buddhist-focused perverts.

“Naked Yoga” might have gone the way of “London After Midnight” had it not been for Ed Carter, documentary curator at the Academy Film Archive, who did an inventory check in 2004 of the archive’s holdings and realized this film was not in the collection. Sadly, the film wasn’t completely lost – Carter learned that cinematographer Michael Elphick possessed a PAL Beta SP videotape copy – but it wasn’t until 2011 that he tracked down a 35mm print in the collection of the British Film Institute. From that print, the Academy Film Archive was able to do a digital restoration.

“There are several interesting aspects to this film,” Carter wrote in his blog Docs R Us. “It’s a real period piece, with the yoga content, the psychedelic music, the long lap dissolves, and unique special effects. The sequences of the Tantric art were made using an audio input, e.g., music soundtrack which created the multiple echo images (audio feed back) recorded onto a 2″ video tape recorder. The resulting manipulated images were then transferred out to 35mm film. There was only one machine like this, called a “Cox Box,” at the BBC.”

Sadly, Porter makes the film seem a lot more interesting than it is. To date, “Naked Yoga” has been unavailable for U.S. home entertainment release and it appears that it was never broadcast on U.S. television. It did show up on Britain’s Channel 4 and video tapings from that presentation are the source of the unauthorized uploads to the Internet.

But unless you are a die-hard Oscar completist who needs to see every film nominated for the cherished Hollywood prize, I would recommend that you satisfy your cravings for campy yoga flicks by looking up the Elvis Presley “Yoga Is As Yoga Does” from his flick “Easy Come, Easy Go.” And as someone who came of age in the 70s, even I have to grimace at the awfulness of “Naked Yoga.”

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to Phil Hall’s award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud and his radio show “Nutmeg Chatter” on WAPJ-FM in Torrington, Connecticut, with a new episode every Sunday. His new book “100 Years of Wall Street Crooks” is now in release through Bicep Books.