THE STORY – The definitive documentary on the history of nudity in feature films from the early silent days to the present, studying the changes in morality that led to the use of nudity in films while emphasizing the political, sociological and artistic changes that shaped that history. Skin will also study the gender inequality in presenting nude images in motion pictures and will follow the revolution that has created nude gender equality in feature films today. It culminates in a discussion of “what are nude scenes like in the age of the #METOO movement” as well as a look at CGI nudity that seems a large part of motion pictures’ future. The documentary will compare the use of nudity to further storylines vs. simple exploitation and discuss how nudity is used in movies today with the explosion of must-see television and its influence on the film medium.
THE CAST – Sean Young, Traci Lords & Marilyn Monroe
THE TEAM – Danny Wolf (Director/Writer) & Paul Fishbein (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes
By Josh Parham
It’s always a treat for lovers of cinema to get a deep dive into the various facets of its history. It can also be true that a lot more enjoyment can be derived from delving into niche subcultures related to this topic. There’s potential to either shine a new light on a previously unknown subject or simply revel in the unique subject matter that’s presented with an intriguing perspective. “Skin: A History of Nudity in Movies” aims to provide just that. The end result is an entertaining look back at how a taboo topic infiltrated its way into many important social issues and revealed many elements in the world of film.
As the subtitle of the film makes incredibly clear, the subject of this documentary is how the presentation of nudity in film has evolved throughout its history. The documentary chronicles the early years of exhibition and how nudity was employed to draw crowds, the effects of strict regulation following censorship guidelines, and its renewed interest during the sexual revolution and the dismantling of the studio system. As the line gets traced up to the present day, there’s a vast array of topics that are explored in which the subjects of representation, power dynamics, and political consequences are all tied into this analysis.
While the commentary on nudity in film could feel very exploitative, the tone of this discussion is far from it. Director Danny Wolf does a credible job to showcase how these images have impacted the course of cinema and what those implications ultimately mean. For instance, there’s a great emphasis on how these depictions fueled the rivalry between the major studios and independent productions, and tracing that inception to the modern era ends up being a fascinating study. The film ends up encompassing an intriguing history lesson, especially for those already inclined to be captivated by such material. Whether talking about classic dramas or 1980s teen comedies, there’s a rich and nuanced discussion to be had, which the documentary recognizes throughout. While the filmmaking here isn’t that inventive, it still manages to have a vast collection of alluring clips and interviews, with a particular delight being Malcolm McDowell’s wicked sense of humor.
However, while the documentary offers many fascinating tidbits, there are places in which it does falter. Much of its examinations regarding the early days of cinema are quite fascinating and revealing, but things become less engaging once it catches up to the present. The commentary becomes shallow, filled mostly by personal anecdotes that don’t play into the larger thematic weight in the earlier sections. It’s still entertaining to watch, but it’s nowhere near as profound as what came before and a fair amount of wheel-spinning is felt towards the later sections. The structure of the storytelling begins in the present day and creates a bookend, but it feels awkward at the start without any proper context and doesn’t create a natural rhythm. There’s also some lost potential in the gendered differences of these depictions. The film does touch on this subject, but only on the surface, and could have dived even deeper into these implications.
Even with the end result not being perfect, there’s still much here to dissect and enjoy. There’s a compelling legacy attached to such an unusual subject matter, and the discussions brought up are engaging. The history of these images has interesting roots to explore and the widespread political and social reach is a fascinating journey. It does a good amount to compensate for the latter half losing some momentum and the larger commentary getting lost in the finer details. Whether you are a serious lover of film and appreciate its history or just have a curiosity for the historical, “Skin: A History of Nudity in Movies” offers an entertaining trip through time with an appealing perspective.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A compelling and entertaining look at a niche topic in film history that offers interesting commentary on a variety of related political and social issues.
THE BAD – The latter half of the film runs out of interesting discussions and feels like it’s spinning its wheels. Some of the deeper and more nuanced conversations are not prodded as much as they could be.