"The new education: jiggling, not stirred"
[Yale Herald, October 24, 2003]

“Look, George, no hands!” Shae squeals, squeezing a champagne flute between her breasts. “Very nice,” George says, looking neither aroused nor particularly amused. Turning back to the camera, he continues showing us the 12 standard items of glassware in a properly equipped bar: As he names each one, she picks it up and gestures to it, smiling like a topless Vanna White. That’s right—the future of learning is here.

Answering the age-old question of whether education and partial nudity can flourish side by side with an emphatic yes, Topless Academy’s Guide to Bartending is an hour-long tutorial on the finer points of the job, covering over 50 cocktails, popular to obscure (do you know the difference between a sea breeze and a bay breeze?), the important tools and tricks (there is an exhaustive section on ornate drink garnishes), and general pointers to make you the best liquor jockey you can be. And in case that’s not enough to get you motivated, there are breasts. Lots of naked breasts.

Here’s how it works: Bartender George Hobbs (credited as Headmaster Bates, an immediate indication of the solemn dignity with which Topless Academy—“where D students move to the head of the class”—upholds its standards) takes us from setup through clean-up with a brisk professionalism, while a revolving cast of honeys in plaid skirts and little else act as his helpers, furnishing him with straws, limes and the occasional tidbit of wince-inducing banter. “Whether you want to start a hot new career as a bartender, or just be the life of the party, enroll at Topless Academy,” advises the DVD’s packaging. “Education has never been this titillating.”

As it turns out, this is not quite true. While TAGB may be a little too unorthodox to qualify as respectably educational, it’s also way too boring to be titillating. In a strangely admirable fashion, it is all instructional video; as much as you want to believe that there's a reason for all this senseless nudity, the administration of Topless Academy doesn’t seem to have figured out how to make it much more than an afterthought. Credit or blame Hobbs, who teaches on the line between focused and oblivious; most of the time he faces the camera, engrossed in the intricacies of the piña colada or the apple martini, and when he does address his helpers he's all business. Some of the most entertaining moments of the lesson are his displays of complete disinterestedness (“Okay, we’ll need another cherry,” he says after Tawny seductively eats the one he needs for an old-fashioned), but the general tone of the lesson is dry, dull, and faintly absurd. It’s refreshing that he treats the Academy’s girls respectfully and without a hint of misogyny, of course, but then... do they really need to be topless?

Soon enough you realize that it’s not just you who feels a little let down. The reaction of many of the girls during their first appearance is an appropriate parallel to the viewer’s experience: At lights up (or low-budget fade-in, as the case may be) they appear behind the bar, smiling giddily, excited for something ribald to happen—how can it not when you’ve got alcohol and nudity? Then they wait as Hobbs begins the lesson; maybe he’ll address them, if they’re lucky (although he consistently refers to Aubrey as Robin), or maybe not. Soon the smile fades into a bemused look of half-concentration 
(on the more complicated cocktails, some of the students seem to be genuinely laboring to follow along), but this too gives way to blank stares and wistful glances offscreen. More often than not, by the end of the chapter, the girl looks really, 
really bored.

While some resign themselves to the bland pedagogy of the program, others take it upon themselves to make it interesting (an acting career has to be launched somewhere, right?). While Hobbs outlines the fundamentals of bar equipment (“A bartender without a corkscrew is like a soldier without a gun,” he sagely advises), Kira picks up and plays with each item enumerated. “But aren’t you forgetting something?” she asks once he finishes. “No, I don’t think so, I think that’s everything,” he replies. “Are you sure about that?” she presses, coyly icing her nipples. The word “ICE” flashes a few times on the screen. “I’m sure, yes,” he says, a touch irritably, “I believe we’ve covered it all. We can move on now—” He looks over. “Oh, yes, of course. Ice.” He holds forth on the virtues of ice for a moment, and then acknowledges her again. “Thank you, Kira.” She giggles, nipples erect, victorious. “You’re very welcome.” When she returns later for the daiquiri tutorial she looks positively thrilled to be back.

Other moments throughout the lesson help pass the time, be they bizarre introductions Hobbs gives each new section (“It’s easy to make alcohol! Just ask anyone who’s been to juvie!”) or Skye’s ludicrous demonstration of how not to open champagne. But just as many of the exchanges are simply painful—the banter before, during, and after the tutorial on blow jobs and body shots, for instance, or when Chrissy inquires about how exactly one goes about rimming a glass. Still, for better or worse, there is more than a hint of everyone’s awareness of the inherent absurdity of this whole operation. The press release alludes to “the visual aids of topless women who help keep the viewer focused” as a part of the Academy’s “innovative way of teaching men certain skills,” but at least we can tell that nobody’s trying to take it too seriously.

It’s almost as easy to surmise that nobody’s claiming that this isn’t kind of sleazy, but every now and then you have to wonder. There are touches here and there that suggest that someone suddenly realized that the movie wasn't pornographic enough—the weird, nudity-emphasizing montages between sections, or the terrible-yet-amazing-Goth-erotica soundtrack of the closing credits—but then again, let's consider the kind of movie we’re dealing with. How tasteful can you be when you’re working for Topless Academy? Fortunately, the film’s objectification of the female form goes little further than its premise; whether that’s still unforgivable or just kind of funny is up to you. Meanwhile, the Academy won't be resting on its plaid, form-fitting laurels: Slated for release in the next year or two are topless guides to cooking, automotive repair, and, possibly the world’s largest reservoir of untapped sexiness, financing. And all you can ask yourself, really, is why nobody thought to do this before.

Ethical questions aside, there’s still a serious need for sober (pun only partially intended) reflection before enrolling in Topless Academy. If it’s solid bartending training you’re looking for, this’ll probably do the trick; if it’s sex, or even particularly attractive and intelligent topless women you want, it will not. If you thought Cuba Libre was just a noise-rock band, want nothing more than to be party to the secrets of indiscriminate winos, or just happen to like watching stationary boobs, then TAGB may just be right for you. If not, you should probably seek your thrills elsewhere.