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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies is a documentary that chronicles the history of nudity on film. It covers everything from famously controversial titles to iconic nude scenes (Last Tango in Paris, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Showgirls, etc.). As you might expect, there's lots of video footage of topless, bottomless, and full-frontal nudity in movies; clips span the full history of cinema. While some of the featured nudity is nonsexual, the majority of it is sexual and/or voyeuristic. The filmmakers interview various industry folks, the actors (mostly female) who disrobed, and culture and film critics who explain the significance and context of the trends in nudity. One of the movie's executive producers is Mr. Skin, the popular website that catalogs footage of on-screen nudity, but the movie isn't as salacious as you might think. Expect plenty of candid conversations with older actresses who share their early experiences doing nude scenes and who express gratitude for the fact that younger actors no longer have to do nudity to get roles. Language isn't frequent but includes "t-ts," "retarded," and more.
What's the story?
SKIN: A HISTORY OF NUDITY IN THE MOVIES is a documentary that chronicles exactly what the title promises: the history of on-screen nudity. It covers everything from early nonsexual peeks at human bodies to the heyday of '70s and '80s sex scenes and the many famous cases of controversial full-frontal or X/NC-17-rated titles. Director Danny Wolf takes a very straightforward approach to covering the way that nudity in movies impacted and reflected the social mores of the times. Featuring interviews with actors, filmmakers, critics, and historians, the documentary is more educational than salacious, but it does show dozens and dozens of "fair use" movie clips that feature nudity of some kind. Memorable interviewees include mainstream envelope-pushers like Pam Grier, Malcolm McDowell, Sylvia Miles, and Sean Young, as well as soft-core and adult-film crossover actors like Traci Lords and Sybil Danning.
Is it any good?
Despite its suggestive topic, this documentary is a surprisingly educational exploration of the fascinating history of how nudity in films has changed with the times. Wolf does a good job of lining up a wide range of interview subjects, from former ingenues who remember their first time disrobing for a movie to actors whose skin-exposing roles permanently changed their trajectory in Hollywood. Occasionally, other directors and writers give commentary about why nudity was included in their films, and now-middle-aged actors share their perspectives on why they felt they had to show their bodies to land roles. Most of the actors don't express any regret, but they do admit that they were perceived differently for doing nude scenes and that they're relieved young actors no longer have to do nudity.
Although Skin is more educational than it is salacious, there's an undeniable abundance of video footage of the many, many examples of nudity in movies. Viewers will see naked breasts, bare bottoms, and full-frontal nudity, as well as many sex scenes in all genres: comedies, dramas, romances, sci-fi/fantasies, horror flicks, B movies, and more. A few interviewees are proud of the nudity in their movies, including Kristanna Loken and Shannon Elizabeth. And McDowell is positively cheery about his reputation for nudity (Caligula, A Clockwork Orange). But seeing other actors describe their experiences and explain how they were simply expected to do nudity or they wouldn't have been cast is definitely bittersweet.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what purpose the clips of nude scenes in Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies serve. Could the movie have been made without them?
Talk about the role that sexism plays in how nude scenes are perceived and how often they feature women rather than men. Is there a double standard? What does the term "male gaze" mean?
What did you learn from the movie about the history of nudity in film? Was anything surprising? What do you think about the time period when movies were more heavily censored?
Discuss the reasons you think it's easier for actors to not do nude scenes currently than it was in previous decades. Do you think nude scenes overall are less common than they used to be?
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