Review: Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: SKIN takes a deeper look at how Hollywood has handled on-screen nudity for over one hundred years. The documentary includes interviews with actors and actresses, film pundits, filmmakers, and much more.

REVIEW: Do you remember the first time you saw a nude scene in a film? That moment when an actress or actor bared all on the massive movie screen right before your very eyes?  For many of us, it may feel like a bit of a coming of age moment. But can you imagine what it's like for the person in front of the camera? In the new documentary SKIN: A HISTORY OF NUDITY IN MOVIES, we as fans get a little extra insight into that very surreal feeling. In the film, everyone from Shannon Elizabeth to Traci Lords to Malcolm McDowell opens up about appearing in the buff. If you've ever wondered what it must be like for some of these familiar faces to appear naked on film, this is as clear a vision as you are likely to get.

SKIN opens up with the very beginning of nudity in film. Throughout the Danny Wolf directed feature, actors, actresses, filmmakers, and film pundits discuss how nudity has evolved. Whether it's the 1915 feature INSPIRATION or a modern sex comedy like AMERICAN PIE, the film explores the ebb and flow of how Hollywood has dealt with exploring sexuality and nudity. It features several interviews with talent who have dealt with the complications of getting naked on-screen, as well as how it's changed in the current #MeToo movement. Some of the many artists you'll hear from include, Kevin SmithSean Young, Kristanna Loken, Peter Bagdanovich, Linda Blair, Diane Franklin, E.G. Daily, and many more.

Skin, A History of Nudity in Movies, E.G. Daily, Marilyn Monroe, documentary, JoBlo.com

Perhaps the most eye-opening thing about this documentary is just how prevalent nudity was in the early years of cinema. One such performer is Aubrey Munson who was the model for several famous statutes. The film INSPIRATION attempted to bring artistic nudes to the silver screen by examining Ms. Munson posing for an artist searching for the perfect model. At that time in history, as long as she wasn't moving, it was perfectly acceptable to reveal her unclothed figure. The acceptance of nudity did change as time went on, but even during the Golden Age of cinema, filmmakers would find ways to push the boundaries.

One of the most intriguing things about SKIN is the openness of so many actors who've appeared nude. Malcolm McDowell brings on the charm to discuss his several moments of being fully naked on camera. But it's the discussion of the infamous CALIGULA that's a real treat. If you've never witnessed the 1979 cult classic, it may be even more shocking to see how a film starring McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, and Peter O'Toole also featured numerous sequences of pornographic sex. And speaking of classic stars, the documentary explores how nudity may have even brought more fame to stars thanks to the legendary Marilyn Monroe and her risque performance in what would've been her final film, SOMETHINGS GOT TO GIVE – tragically the film was never finished due to her untimely death.

Skin, A History of Nudity in Movies, Marilyn Monroe, Something's Got To Give, documentary, 2020, JoBlo.com

There's much to appreciate in how tactfully the film opens up discussion on the subject matter. Yet it did seem to spend far less time on movies made after the turn of the century. Surprisingly, the question of how things have and will change in regards to acceptance and popularity was surprisingly quick. Less surprising of course, sexual assault is covered, but it didn't dive too deep into how on-screen sexuality is currently handled and how things are likely to change drastically. Considering the film runs over two hours, I would've expected more ground covered when it comes to modern films. That said, there's certainly enough here to give you a foundation on how nudity in features isn't going away anytime soon.

SKIN: A HISTORY OF NUDITY IN MOVIES is an enjoyable documentary that examines its provocative subject matter informatively. It was rather surprising that some titles were skimmed over, especially something like PORKY'S, but they cover a whole lot of ground. And remember that question? The one about which nude scene was the first you'd ever witnessed? This documentary will likely, at the very least, touch on it. A whole generation and then some will remember when Phoebe Cates removed her bikini top in a FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH dream sequence. Either way, if you've ever wanted a deeper look into how Hollywood has dealt with on-screen nudity, this is certainly a good choice for your viewing pleasure. 

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Source: JoBlo.com

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JimmyO is one of JoBlo.com’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.