Starring: Veterans of Cinematic Nudity

Director: Danny Wolf

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (But Take a Guess What It Would Have Been Rated)

Release Date: August 18, 2020 (On Demand)

You might look at the title “Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies” and bemoan, “Isn’t that just the way to be academic and stuffy and take all the fun out of a pleasurable topic!” But you should know that pretty much all the nude scenes that are discussed are shown in their full, uncensored glory. If on the other hand you’re worried that this endeavor is a little too prurient for its own good, then it should be said that this is far from a Mr. Skin-style supercut (although it’s worth noting that Mr. Skin founder Jim McBride is an executive producer). There are PLENTY of interviews to contextualize what all these examples of cinematic bare skin have meant for the individuals involved, the industry in general, and society at large. We all have bodies, and private parts on those bodies, and those parts have been featured in movies for as long as movies have existed, so it’s worth discovering the stories behind those parts.

Skin clocks in at a dense two hours and ten minutes, which sounds like it might be a bit overloaded for a documentary that’s just a mix of talking heads and film clips. But director Danny Wolf and company have about a hundred years of history to cover. No chapter is lingered upon or indulged in any longer than it needs to be. As a piece of entertainment, this thing just cooks. Nobody is shy about sharing what they have to say, and what they have to say is interesting and illuminating. Actors who have famously appeared nude like Pam Grier and Borat‘s Ken Davitian (and many others) provide illuminating storytelling, while critics and film historians identify contextual landmarks, like the looming specter of the Hays Production Code or the first appearance of pubic hair in a mainstream film.

If this is an underlying question to this whole pursuit, it is the eternal one: when is cinematic nudity essential, or at least justifiable? The answer that multiple interview subjects offer is, “when the movie calls for it.” Which is fair enough, but also decidedly non-specific. The objections to onscreen nudity that we see raised throughout this historical survey are a mixture of perfectly reasonable and protective, hyperbolic and hypocritical. Overall, Skin posits that nudity is a foundational fact of cinema. As society has evolved, so have movies, and so therefore has nudity in the movies. Perhaps an examination like this documentary can help ensure that all future onscreen nudity will be the kind that everyone can feel comfortable with and enjoy.

Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies is Recommended If You Like: Intolerance, And God Created Woman, Psycho, Blow Up, I Am Curious (Yellow), If…, Greetings, Drive, He Said, Midnight Cowboy, Women in Cages, A Clockwork Orange, Alice in Wonderland (1976), I Spit on Your Grave, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Showgirls, American Pie, Something’s Gotta Give, Borat, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Fifty Shades of Grey

Grade: 4 out of 5 Private Parts