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Revisiting Educating Julie
An original review of the 1984 British naturist classic “Educating Julie”
An overwhelming majority of nudist films, particularly those made in America in the 1960’s and earlier, are simply exploitation films: the joys and health benefits of nudism are preached, but typically they’re just there to give the filmmakers a reason to fit as many naked bodies as they can onto the screen at once. Actors are often models, and while these films were shot in real clubs, with actual members as extras and in the occasional speaking role, there were still models added in to keep audiences interested. Full frontal nudity wasn’t allowed during that period either, so censorship was still in effect.
1984’s Educating Julie, produced by Heritage Video International in collaboration with British Naturism (known at the time as the Central Council for British Naturism) breaks away from all of these issues, the first video feature made by nudists for nudists, while still holding on to a particular story formula that filmmakers like Doris Wishman stuck to.
The movie is a docudrama: the titular Julie, played by Gail Ward, is given an assignment to write a thesis on nudity in the 80’s, a topic that contrasts with her fellow students, who were given subjects like street violence and elderly care. The story takes her to various clubs in England, Cap D’Agde, and to Florida, where she meets and talks with real nudists.
Julie is introduced as a bit of a timid, virginal type, mocked by her male classmates when she’s given the assignment. At a loss as to where to begin, her boyfriend Steve (Miles Taylor) gets excited to help and goes with her to pick up a bunch of magazines from a local shop to flip through.
Amidst the usual skin mags is an issue of Health & Efficiency, which catches Julie’s attention. They find a local club and give it a visit, but when it comes time to undress, Julie does so without hesitation while Steve develops cold feet.
The movie’s central conflict is the tension between the two: Julie becomes more and more immersed in naturism, while Steve keeps away from what he calls the “rudie nudies,” focusing instead on more sordid things like strip clubs while he grows more and more jealous of Julie’s experiences.
To be fair to Steve, his first experience, while played for laughs, was a bad one, as nudists at the camp teased him into undressing, but that doesn’t justify his increasingly obnoxious behavior. This tension culminates in Steve drinking alone at the pub one night, smoking and thinking about Julie cavorting around nude with other men, only to have some sense talked into him by an encouraging pal.
This formula, of a shy outsider discovering nudism and falling in love with the lifestyle, is hardly new, and this isn’t even the first movie of its kind to have its own theme song: Doris Wishman had her niece Judy Kushner create songs for her films, most famously Nude on the Moon.
But in almost every other way, Educating Julie is a departure from what’s come before. Producer and co-writer David Ball, who seems to get most of the credit for the making of the movie in publications (I couldn’t find anything on director/co-writer Gail Hardman), was a longtime naturist and this seemed to be a passion project of his, with British Naturism providing at least some financing.
There are some peeks into the history of nudism in Britain as Julie talks with an actual archivist and other club members. When clubs are visited, the movie feels more like a tourism video, especially when Julie travels on her own to Cap D’Agde in France, being shown around by a travel guide.
At each club, Julie interviews members who are real people, not actors. These conversations are clunky, as these people have no acting experience, but it’s more charming than the silent supermodels hanging out by the pool in other films, and nice to see people of all ages, shapes, and sizes enjoying themselves nude and without any silly attempts at censorship.
There’s also some very interesting editing going on, specifically with scene transitions that give away the movie’s videotape origins. The most jarring one is in Cap D’Agde: Julie, narrating into a tape recorder, remarks that her memories are like a series of postcards. A small montage of scenes races around the screen, leaving images in its path, reminding me of an old computer when it crashes.
There’s the aforementioned scene of Steve drinking at the pub, and at another point some gorgeous footage from vintage silent films pixelate, transforming into Julie’s face. Ball was also the movie’s editor, so one can assume he just really liked playing with all the different transition effects he could find with whatever equipment he was using.
Educating Julie was actually the first naturist movie I saw in full, and revisiting it after so many others I’ve watched over the years was mostly a nice experience. Julie herself may not get a lot of character development despite being the lead, but Steve certainly does, turning from a grimacing, insecure jerk and source of comedy into a more confident man and better boyfriend. In a lot of ways it feels like an industrial film, the kind you’d watch in elementary school to learn about different trades, and the British camps are a little overcast in a number of scenes, but there’s still some gorgeous imagery to see. It’s clear that, however dated and wonky the production may be, however rough some elements are, this was a serious effort driven by David Ball, who also directed other nudist videos for Heritage Video International in the 80s and 90s.
As far as I can tell, Educating Julie is no longer officially available in any physical format or on streaming. I couldn’t even find any VHS or DVD copies for sale anywhere! However, there are multiple uploads of the full movie on Youtube (I counted at least 3), plus it can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. If you do watch it, let me know if you think the video Julie puts in the VCR at the end is just the movie itself, creating a weird time loop situation. 🪐