Back in the hoary days of the first expansion of cable television, the cable box marked your family as people of means and scrutinizers of entertainment. Said mechanism sat atop a boxy old boob-tube, and its prehistoric remote control ran across the room on a long cable like an umbilical cord of options. The remote had twelve keys—one for each channel, starting at the number two and ending at 13—and three rows you clicked between to get to the higher channels. The keys went up to 37, but only the most sophisticated and wealthy could afford to go past 30.

Legend told prepubescent boys what sort of programming hid behind the blackout on stations like Cinemax, the Movie Channel and Playboy. Everyone had a secret combination of numbers they clicked simultaneously to get some grainy reception of adult entertainment. Nudity in film became an obsession for a generation that was willing to work for it, and we all waited breathlessly for the parental warning to appear before a movie on HBO, the one premium channel included in the service. We wanted an “N” and an “SC” but would settle for “BN” if that’s all there was. The birthdates of writer/director Danny Wolf and cowriter/producer Paul Fishbein are unknown to the usual entertainment websites, but their new documentary Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies is an adoring missive to boys raised on Phoebe Cates, Deborah Foreman, P.J. Soles, Helen Mirren and a host of men and women who have bared it all for our amusement.

Nudity in film is not a conceit of the ‘80s, but the decade reached a peak where a certain amount of breasts and shower scenes were required by distributors of horror films, exploitation films and teen comedies. A wealth of performers exists who are more than happy to sit down and talk about their experiences. Long before the #MeToo movement sent the cockroaches in power scurrying throughout Hollywood, women often had to disrobe as part of the audition process. It was a double standard, of course. Requirements for male genitalia were never typed into a distribution deal, and the sight of a penis could get filmmakers in trouble with the MPAA, the American film studio’s self-regulating ratings board, and dangerously close to an “X” rating.

If myth is to be believed that audiences ran the first time a moving locomotive was projected on a bedsheet, then primitive filmmakers needed a new shock to sell once those early novelties wore off. From dancers in a short at a nickelodeon to background actors in Birth of a Nation, the naked body became the next frontier, and the unregulated industry was happy to exploit it until the moralists complained and the Hays Code was enacted in 1934. Wolf and Fishbein start their narrative in the present with the introduction of intimacy coordinators, who ensure the emotional well-being of actors who participate in sex scenes. Then they rewind to the beginning of film and the Lumière brothers, taking us through the decades back to our current moment. It’s an oral history told by critics, film historians, directors and finally the actors who did the work.

The problem is it’s surprisingly dull. Given the subject matter and the potential for a 130-minute film to entrench itself in topics like hypocrisy, the male gaze, exploitation and empowerment, the documentary is ultimately a frustrating and shallow exercise. No one topic or theme is given its due as more and more people are brought on to talk about the subject. There is no consistent throughline other than that of nebulous nudity. Speakers like Malcolm McDowell, Amy Heckerling, Joe Dante and Sybil Danning cry out for more screen time, but Wolf and Fishbein choose to meander with Jim McBride, the founder of the Mr. Skin website, or Peter Bogdanovich’s yarn about getting Cybill Shepherd to take her top off in The Last Picture Show. Women like Linda Blair express real rage, but it’s all done with a wink and a smile so no one feels too uncomfortable.

Undoubtedly, the challenge of tackling 100 years of an aspect of film history in one film is a daunting prospect, particularly when wrestling with something as intimate as one’s own body. Consider the trepidation experienced when standing naked with one person. Then consider what it must be like when a director, crew and teamsters are mulling around. There are often co-stars with boundary issues to deal with, which is one of the reasons the intimacy coordinator exists. This is work that requires a safe environment, and until recently film sets were quite the opposite. This could have been a film with a great deal to say about patriarchy, feminism and America’s continued excoriation of sex and nudity, but the end product is one for boys who took some classes in college but who are forever glued to their cable TV giggling at Porky’s.

There is no consistent throughline other than that of nebulous nudity.
40 %
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One Comment

  1. Nick cihlar

    November 26, 2020 at 12:18 am

    I came right to this thoughts area to say, I understand how so-and-so-many persons like seeing others without clothing on enough to go see it. I thank God and our forefathers and any women for the reasonable, indeed blessed liberty that Americans and then other nations have! Even where not, many many of us can have faith that God is indeed whom His very Word the Bible says that he has been a eyewitness of to be: love. This means in short and I promise you, in short, that whatever God does and doesn’t do is for our best, whom he created for good purpose, not a random occuring of humans are we?…………..Now with this intro, can I fairly express that God GIVES freely his understanding of all things in a limited amount to only people humbled and willing to receive it FREELY. Why? To refuse it, by the way is to say, I know better and to think lightly of this claim is to be short sighted, my friends. If we say clearly that abortion can be good when a mother has not acted wisely, ending up with a pregnancy, well, in order to strongly think this is to be, well, blinded.

    This causes me to pronounce this: the danger of selfish pride is that it’s the one thing which leads to things found to be “wrong.” Mind you, God created people without clothes……..he made them to sexually enjoy each other as for one man with a woman…….so to consider the same human body with eyes of excitement only is wrong. If God can know it’s wrong and not misjudge it, he has the good right to first lovingly expect all of us to abide by him—-so this does reveal to me and many other God lovers that its true: not all therefore……….want to be living well, but for the quicker, lustful side of things. Supporting this is wise just as there’s a way for certain people to say they “feel” enough to do this or look at nudity. Distasteful it is to think about a change of heart away from gawking at other’s bodily features, it’s known. And then do you realize that those who Godlessly live this way are fairly fore—warned they cannot enter heaven forever, but will be going into hell forever? It’s so terrible there I DO warn you as God is warning you. This is correct. It could be late here as I tell you the better life away from the “want” of more nudity. It controls you and after some time it’s obvious. Is that more important than when it’s relevant, your very date or spouse? True excitement has no need to be deceitful or flashy or arrogant in any way. The truth is not here to annoy us since God as a Person is truth, he’s shown me. But fear not because God can save us from hell. I also know that frankly, though it could read so fictional to you, I know of a gentleman Bill Wiese whose book 23 Minutes in Hell is all about his actual “limited yet scary” experience of God relocating him right inside of actual hell! This serves only one effective purpose: to get us all to respect God more or start to. Well, I do not force you to express at any future point of what God may cause within your thoughts in order for you to live without acting on false things……….

    anything that purposefully opposes God is not to be acted on. It’s beyond words to me that many will agree to lust with pictures and one day let that belief let them die that way, later going into hell to get a just outcome for the seriously bad things done in this life. Since God shows this to be true and not just with me, then these words are MANDATORY to be keyboarded and taken in, whether or not the reader is using their emotions as the indicator of what’s to be done! God is love and can only be understood with fuil fledged faith and with no other person involved such as Buddah with all known respect given to him. Many just do NOT realize the power of God’s gentle, yet life changing love and I am one who has it, and i’m soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

    thankful that since I got saved by him, I will not ever enter hell, ever, but go where God wants me-heaven-And its where I and no one else deserve to go. Clearly, if you love God enough for loving you and knowing His love is reasonable to be real, then you and I will stop living to “trick others” in order to get what just “we” want. This happens commonly. Spouses get lied to. YOu hate lies and I do. So why lie? Why tell the next one that _____ wants to say when the upcoming hardship pans out? What?Pride to believe a lie? There’s a lie from God’s enemy the devil to us:

    “You and I who are reading, you deserve to have whatever you want. Nudity in big amounts (if that’s it). Though I used to fall for it so um, hard I refuse to by choice. Hormones are natural things are one thing. Yes, many teachers in schools are correct about what they tell others on this…………and while God is never stupid or worth calling an ugly God forsaken cuss word, its so simple: nudity is reserved by God the Creator (we are not the Creator God) for married straight couples in privacy. Boring to you? Hey, you as me too get to choose what we even think about. Thoughts are what our very living is built on. Understand? There’s no cold or ending day in hell! America lies about that. But I hate lying myself so I ask God to give me the ability to always talk with good motives and truthfulness to the point that He is pleased. He is so sad when we sees people………… know, it’s not that your neighbors are walking about naked. But without God the world of us can do many things that we (feel like doing.)


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