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
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,
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