Nudity in cinema has existed since the medium has, which is not a surprise. Titillation is a big part of the entertainment industry, and nothing spells titillation like… nudity. Danny Wolf and Paul Fishbein, the team behind the recent Time Warp docuseries, alongside Mr. Skin himself, Jim McBride as executive producer, have created a documentary that pays homage to on-screen nudity in all its forms, Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies.
As a cinema fan who does not necessarily seek out nakedness on screen, I appreciate the historical nature of this production. Wolf begins with the art form’s creation, before 1900, and travels onward through today, highlighting the notable steps in rating systems, such as the Hayes Code and the introduction of the MPAA. The amount of nudity seen in film swings with the social mores of the time, which were just as wild in the 20s as the 70s. The impressive thing the documentary is its scope of over 100 years of cinema, and the fact that so many films are mentioned, and so many stars are interviewed.
Some of the films discussed are: Inspiration, Intolerance, Ecstasy, Garden of Eden, Blood Feast, Psycho, Promises Promises, I Am Curious Yellow, Greetings, If, A Clockwork Orange, Midnight Cowboy, Last Tango in Paris, Caligula, American Gigolo, Star 80, Bad Lieutenant, The Crying Game, Basic Instinct, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, Body Heat, Titanic, American Pie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, 50 Shades of Gray, and About Schmidt.
“…pays homage to on-screen nudity in all its forms…”
Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies also takes time to talk about how the actresses who performed the nude scenes felt about them. Some women felt like it was something they had to do and might regret it. Some women enjoyed it and didn’t care. It’s a real mixed bag. We also hear about Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement and its effect on the way films are made now. There are now intimacy coordinators on some film sets to make sure that both parties feel comfortable during sex scenes, so they aren’t inadvertently participating in sex work.
It is interesting to see how the country’s political landscape has changed over the decades and the effects this has on film and other forms of entertainment. Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies shows us that whether we’re under Republican or Democratic rule, people still want to see nudity on screen, and filmmakers and producers will skirt their way around whatever regulations might be in place to give folks what they want.
As expected from a Danny Wolf project, there are many talking heads from the world of filmmaking and criticism to chime in. Some of the notable names involved are Malcolm McDowell, Mariel Hemmingway, Mamie Van Doren, Kevin Smith, Sean Young, Peter Bogdanovich, John Cameron Mitchell, Sylvia Miles, and Bruce Davidson. The filmmakers always have more than enough people on their team to help them back up their point, which is part of why I always enjoy watching their documentaries. Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies is no exception. Obviously, I don’t recommend this to everyone, especially people with more puritanical views, but if you are interested in the history of cinema, this is a very unique lens to look at it through.
"…takes time to talk about how the actresses who performed the nude scenes felt about them."