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"Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies" Review

There's a certain appropriate poetry that one of the executive producers of Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies is "Mr. Skin" - the nom de cyber of one Jim McBride who has built an Internet Mecca of the same name, exhaustively cataloging the onscreen nudity in movies under the rubric of "fast-forwarding to the good parts" - as the documentary is almost a two-hour commercial for the site disguised as a lengthy history lesson and analysis of the subject.

As the trailer below details, Skin traces the progression of the exposure of flesh and depictions of sexuality on film from the late-19th Century through the current early-21st Century. With film historians, movie trades writers, filmmakers and lots of actors and actresses who've appeared in the more notorious films discussed plus, naturally, loads of illustrative footage, the viewer is treated to an overview of changing mores and how filmmakers continually pushed the envelope to make even more money under the guise of loosening up the squares.

Throughout there are some nice bits of trivia like how uber-cheapie producer Roger Corman realized that the MPAA never looked at movies in the theaters after they'd been rated, so they'd make cuts to attain the desired rating (usually R), then put that material back in and send it out to the drive-ins. Actresses discuss the pressures to show themselves and the sometimes harsh conditions they had to work under. (Women in prison shower fight scenes were particularly rough because the water would be freezing cold.) 

Sean Young discusses her audition for No Way Out  where the director asked her to lift up her top to show that she didn't have any scars and that actresses have to ride a line between being attractive enough to have producers want to hire them but not be so hot as to be only hired for nudity. Of course it's "lookest" to notice which actresses are still looking good into their 40s, 50s, and even 60s (Betsy Russell, Rena Riffel) and those who aren't (Linda Blair, yikes).

It's to Skin's credit that a two-hour clip show of nudity manages to come off as educational and not just prurient, but with so much history to cover it's unavoidably only a skin-deep perusal of the topic. It opens with lots of discussion of the #MeToo era that would've been better covered at the end given the chronological format and recency of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and while delving into the casting couch aspects of Hollywood would've been off topic, the demands of nudity during auditions as mentioned by Young and Showgirls's Rena Riffel (though to be fair, when you're playing a stripper...) could've been touched upon since the newly prominent role of "intimacy coordinators" is broached.

Still, it's got lots of bewbz, so it delivers on Mr. Skin's promise. 

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on Hulu)


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