Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies (2020)

Danny Wolf’s newest documentary is notable mostly for being a movie that’s produced by Jim McBride. McBride is famous, of course, for being “Mr. Skin,” the founder of one of the biggest, and first, websites about nudity in film. Aptly titled “Skin,” the documentary about the history of nudity in Hollywood and filmmaking and how it shook the landscape of pop culture, wants to desperately be taken as a bold mix of educational and entertainment, but beyond fleeting insight and fascinating looks at pre-code film, it’s mostly just another nudie reel.

“Skin” is a documentary chronicling the pervasive culture of nudity in film culture and how it’s managed to change the medium for better and worse. Wolf sits down with myriad filmmakers and actors like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kevin Smith, and Shannon Elizabeth, respectively, to explore the infamous examples of nudity, censorship and how little our acceptance toward the human form has evolved.

“Skin” is partially a very important movie about sexuality and the expression of sexuality as a means of conveying a point in a narrative. The other half it doesn’t really opt for much than to run through the same old clips we’ve seen a thousand times. Phoebe Cates in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Elizabeth Berkeley in “Showgirls,” Demi Moore in “Striptease,” et al; It’s all here. Again. It’s kind of sad when HBO has managed to tackle this topic so much thoroughly and insightfully with late night documentaries than most of the film.

It’s a shame because Wolf has a good opportunity to analyze the sexual repression in America, the idea of using the human form to control our opinion of expressing sexuality, and so on. To its credit though, “Skin” does take astern look at rape culture and using sexual violence as an excuse to feature nudity. Not to mention there’s the whole NC-17 crimson stamp issue, and how to tackle nudity in the #MeToo era. Wolf and co. also take some time out to discuss the Pre-Code era of Hollywood and how film looked so much different in that era.

Before the Hays Code was instilled and enforced, Hollywood was able to take more risks and hit the ground running in acknowledging sex as a norm. There is a lot of admiration by the filmmakers and film scholars presented here, and it adds substance to the experience with success. Hell, I’m just glad they acknowledged that movies were being made before 1975. At over two hours, “Skin” wastes the opportunity to approach nudity in film from a more academic stance, but if you’re willing to compromise and accept that we’re here primarily for the T&A, it’s a pretty good retrospective.