Skin: A History of Nudity at the Movies

What are you willing to get naked for? A question every actress has asked herself before unveiling her goods on the big screen. The world has always been obsessed with the wonders of the bare skin. Throughout history, every art form, from every culture, has tried to captivate the beauty of the nude and it has become a staple in every art history class. Film is no exception to this. “20 minutes after they invented film, someone started photographing naked people.”  Is a woman undressing for an art form considered exploitation or empowerment? Getting naked for a scene can be a double-edged sword because it can start a person’s career, but it can also force an actor into only playing one role.

A new documentary coming out in August explores the evolving nature of the nude and how it has affected the audience and the actors for decades. Skin: The History of Nudity in the Movies teases us as the nude has done for centuries, examining the naked body’s presence in silence era films, all the way to present movies like 50 Shades of Grey (2015). Danny Wolfe, the director of the documentary, looks at the way we perceive nudity and how the production convinces someone to perform naked. It is no surprise that nudity is almost always one-sided. When you hear the word ‘nude’ you think of the female figure in all her glory. This documentary explores how that has changed in modern times with the #metoo movement and the changing of the balance of power between the production and the actress. Many actresses are interviewed such as Shannon Elizabeth who claims,” If I did not do that scene, I would not have a career today.” Should women have to do that? And if they do, is that okay? Skin introduces some of this question in their new trailer and will be exciting to see their take. 

 ATM recently caught up with Danny Wolf, the director of Skin, who has made many documentaries on film’s history such as his Time Warp series that focuses on the history of different movie genres. When asked why he decided to focus on nudity he explained,” because it had never been done before.” He explained that there is a history of nudity that had never been discussed and the documentary dives into how nudity was affected by the production code in the ’40s and ’50s and how male nudity and female nudity have been addressed. There are many interesting things to unpack with exploring in the more risqué side of film and it will be new territory for people to indulge in. The documentary also has an impressive list of actors who have done iconic nude scenes, but with so many to choose from, how did they pick the actors they chose to interview? Danny explains that he picked the movies and actors that were instrumental to nudity in film. For example, they interview Meryl Hemmingway on her breast enlargement for Star 80 (1983) and they interviewed Sylvia Miles before her passing, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her erotic scenes in Midnight Cowboy (1969). These are just some of the interesting accounts that will be featured in Skin, as they plan on exploring many of the key movies in nudity history. He also plans on showing a wide range of experiences between how different actors and actresses experienced performing those scenes and how it affected their careers. He shows experiences like Marilyn Monroe who showed that being nude on camera would not destroy your career, but he also covers Erica Gaven who became anorexic after looking at her body on the big screen during Vixen (1968). There will be a well-rounded view on the subject and promises to give an accurate account of nudity and how it affects the actors.

 While this film reels you in with the promise of a risqué topic and some interesting celebrity interviews, it will also dive deep into areas of film that are often left out of conversations when discussing nudity. When speaking to Wolf, he explained that nudity was done very differently back in the day. “If you take your top off, we will give you an extra $100,” is how Wolf explained how many nude scenes would often evolve. He also explained many women did not want to be difficult or halt production, so they often felt pressured into doing so. However, Skin will show how nudity is handled now and how actors and actresses maneuver nudity scenes with an intimacy director and have a lot more say-so in what they are willing and unwilling to do for the camera. Nudity is being done in a new way and it will be fascinating to see how the documentary will show a shift in directing nude scenes in the present day with the evolving social structure.

While Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies explores the idea of one’s birthday suit, Danny Wolf made it clear that the documentary is not meant to be a ‘boob fest,’ rather a comprehensive history of nudity. It is a history lesson from the beginning of film to the present day and not meant to be exploitative. Wolf even suggested he would enjoy for his films to be shown in film classes for other students to learn from. The documentary ranges in topics that go farther than just nudity by discussing the production code, morality police, and underground films. It will discuss how moral or amoral censorship was and how it ‘cleaned-up’ Hollywood and the evolution of artistic change within the movie industry. These are topics that have been rarely discussed, and like the topic of nudity, it will something new for the public to learn and think about.

The trailer for Skin is out and watching it will surely tease you for what is to come. The full documentary will hit VOD from Quiver Productions on August the 18th, so get your popcorn and cover your children’s eyes, because some history is about to be uncovered before your very eyes.

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