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‘Skin: A History of Nudity in The Movies’ (review)

Produced by Jim McBride, Josef Brandmaier
Paul Fishbein, Judy Fox

Written by Paul Fishbein, Danny Wolf
Directed by Danny Wolf
Featuring Cerina Vincent, Eric Roberts,
Kristanna Loken, Linda Blair, Malcolm McDowell,
Marilyn Monroe, Pam Grier, Sean Young, Traci Lords
Shannon Elizabeth, Peter Bogdanovich, Kevin Smith,
Martha Coolidge, Amy Heckerling, Joe Dante


Skin: A History of Nudity in The Movies is a very enjoyable, commendably thorough documentary which, as the title indicates, offers an overview of nudity in film, from the silent era to the current #metoo climate.

It may surprise some viewers that there was onscreen nudity in a fair amount of silent films. There were films starring fully nude Audrey Munson, the top model of her day, as well as women in films by Cecil B. DeMille (justified under the guise of their Christian trappings).

I actually watched D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance for the first time a few months ago and was quite surprised that the film featured multiple beheadings and dismemberments, as well as nudity during the Babylon segment (amusingly referred to here as Caligula before Caligula).

The film discusses the Hays Code and how deeply it affected Hollywood. No more nudity (for the most part); however, the restrictions did force writers and directors to get creative about depictions of sex and sexual attraction.

Things of course loosened up in the sixties, and the so-called “nudie-cuties” and other subgenres of sex-oriented films became hits.

Russ Meyer hit his stride and found his calling during this time, and the film contains some laugh-out-loud anecdotes about the larger-than-life filmmaker.

I was happy that the film covered male nudity extensively, and the double-standard Hollywood – and in fact America – employed when it came to male v female flesh bared onscreen.

Malcolm McDowell is the most vocal proponent of the need to erase this misguided attitude, and he certainly is one to talk, having done multiple nude scenes in his career.

This leads to some trailblazing moments, such as the infamous nude wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in Women in Love, and of course, the modern jaw-dropper, the nude fight scene between Sasha Baron-Cohen and Ken Davitian in Borat.

It’s interesting to note the various comments by the many actresses interviewed here on their nude scenes. There are those such as Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3) and Betsy Russell (Private School) who completely embraced it, while others are more ambivalent, with some feeling they had to strip in a movie to start their careers.

All in all, a fast-paced, enlightening and thought-provoking examination of the subject. Highly recommended (except for prudes, as the film is loaded with explicit clips).

Skin: A History of Nudity in The Movies
is available today on Digital HD & On Demand


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