"...illuminating, provocative and thought provoking"

Buns, Butter and Censorship in Cinema

(062720) Skin: A History of Nudity in Cinema is an informative new documentary that frankly examines the evolution and the history of nudity in the movies. It starts out with the silent film era (when nudity was supposed to be necessary and film had to have redeeming qualities for society), and it goes all the way up until the present in the #metoo era where more big name actors and actresses are refusing to appear naked. It also explores the context of the many changes in moral views took place throughout the ages in mostly chronological order. The film examines the attitudes that prevented naked scenes from happening or allowed nudity to happen.

The film includes many illuminating interviews with some of the film makers involved in ground breaking cinema classics such as Mariel Hemingway (Star 80 and Personal Best), and Bruce Davison (Last Summer and Willard in which he kissed a rat), Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie), Kristanna Lokken (Terminator 3), Malcolm McDowell (If and A Clockwork Orange), Mamie Van Doren, Pam Grier (Foxy Brown and The Big Doll House), Kevin Smith (talking about problems caused by one of his film’s titles), Sean Young (on No Way Out), Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Erica Gavin (Vixen) and Traci Lords (who graduated from porn to sci-fi flicks). Most of them discuss their controversial nude scenes or problems with censorship.

One of the biggest changes occurred in the early 30s when the Hayes Code went into effect, and viewers might be surprised to learn that movies in the early 30s like Baby Face, were much more sexually explicit than those in the mid and late 30s. Sometimes it was a good thing because directors like Hitchcock had to find creative ways to imply erotic content in order to get around the code.

Some of the biggest cinematic changes concerning nudity occurred in the new Hollywood era of the 60s and 70s when film school trained directors and edgy foreign directors like Martin Scorsese, Arthur Penn, Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Altman, Ken Russell, and Stanley Kubrick emerged. The film discusses and has clips from some of their films. Some of the new freedom came about because of the new, more liberal MPAA rating which began in 1968.

Sometimes the film cuts and censorship had the opposite of the desired effects. The makers of Women in Love discuss how they were amused because the cuts done to their film actually made it more sexually explicit. When the censors cut the infamous scenes of two men involved in naked wrestling at a certain point it made it look like it was a gay sex scene.

The early 70s saw film makers take even bigger risks with sexual material. Midnight Cowboy an actual X rated film before the rating became synonymous with porn cleaned up at the Oscars. A few years later Last Tango in Paris had as its centerpiece Marlon Brando's shocking butter scene also got awards and accolades.

 By the time of the 1980's Hollywood had evolved even farther. Jaimie Lee Curtis recounts how by the time when she did the nude scene in the Trading Places, it was no longer shocking and almost expected. Later, the erotic thriller, Basic Instinct stirred up the film world with its infamous interrogation scene, and Titanic got a PG13 despite the having a nude scene in it.

Then things started to go full circle. The film asserts that modern day film contracts now sometimes have nudity clauses that spell out exactly what the stars will and won’t do and sometimes intimacy counselors are hired now to help with the nude scenes on the sets.

Skin also explores the hypocritical attitudes and double standards of censors that time and again have cut slack for big mainstream films while punishing art films for showing essentially the same thing or less offensive material. Groups like the MPAA and the Legion of Decency in the USA tended to be much harder on sexually explicit content, especially if it was homosexual, than violence.

The movie also shows how there is a double standard because the same directors (who were frequently male) often expected their actresses to appear female naked often prohibited male nudity in their films. The early 70s exploitation film director Stephanie Rothman (Night Call Nurses and Velvet Vampire) discusses how she faced hurtles when she tried to have a more even approach to showing the nudity of both genders.

Because of the material and frankness of the discussion, the film is not appropriate for very young viewers or families. But adult film aficionados and students of film history will find much here that is illuminating, provocative and thought provoking .

Directed by:   Danny Wolf
Written by:   Paul Fishbeine and Danny Wolf
Starring:    Martine Bestwick, Linda Blair, Sybil Danning
Released:    081820 On Demand
Length:    127 minutes
Rating:    Not Rated

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Review © 2020 Alternate Reality, Inc.