It seems insane to think about, but there hasn't been a comprehensive documentary about the history of nudity in the movies. Thankfully the new documentary Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies rectifies that and it comes to us courtesy of our very own Mr. Skin, the film's Executive Producer! The film covers everything from the days before movies when there were just naked women on film to the days when the Hays Code put an end to cinematic nudity for several decades. Then it goes into the nudity revival that began in the 60s and continues through to this very day.
Coming to us as it does from producer Paul Fishbein and director Danny Wolf, the film features an impressive array of talking head interviews from celebrities and experts across a wide spectrum. Such recognizable faces pop up as Pam Grier, Shannon Elizabeth, Mariel Hemingway, Linda Blair, and Kristanna Loken—to name but a precious few—along with an assortment of experts from film critics Richard Roeper and Amy Nicholson to nudity experts like Celebrity Sleuth and Mr. Skin himself.
One of my personal favorite things about seeing Mr. Skin in this documentary is getting to see the jovial, absurdly knowledgable guy that we get to work with day in and day out. The side of him you see in this documentary is the side we see all the time, constantly dropping in bits of knowledge along withsome god tierdad jokes and puns. Trust me, this film gives you the full Mr. Skin experience!
I had a chance to chat with Jim "Mr. Skin" McBride just prior to the film's release and he was effusive in his praise not only for the finished product, but the incredible talent that went into getting the film made.You can check out Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies for yourself right now, available to rent or own viaAmazon Prime Video, Fandango Now, iTunes, and Vuduand keep reading foran interview with Mr. Skin about the film...
Thrustin' Hoffman:A documentary about nudity in film seems like a no-brainer, as does your participation in such a documentary, why do you think it took so long to get this made?
Mr. Skin:That is a real head-scratcher. The fact that we live in this Golden Age of Documentaries, with everything from Mr. Rogers to the Tiger King coming up as subjects, it was amazing to me that nobody had ever made one about the history of nudity in movies.
One reason might be that it really did have to be done right. You know, anybody could simply string together nude scenes, but audiences would just say, “Who cares? I can see all these on Mr. Skin in any order I want!”
So, I think, much like in the case of the Mr. Skin site, it took the right team of people, all on the same page with the right ideas, to really pull this off—pun, for once, not intended! That team is headed by executive producer Paul Fishbein, director Danny Wolf, and supervising producer Kristine Augustyn—the same crew that also made the recent, brilliant, three-part doc series, Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Movies of All Time.
Once I hooked up with them, the project leapt to life and I think we have created something together that far exceeds my most crazily hopeful expectations.
TH:What did your role as Executive Producer entail? Did you get to pick the talking heads or films that would be discussed, what sort of level of involvement with major decisions did you have?
Mr. Skin:Well—I put up the money! And, obviously, my expertise automatically put the project way ahead from the jump because, look—I’m Mr. Skin! So I worked with the team in picking the movies.
In terms of talking heads, I was on board in planning and helping reach out to some of them. In particular, I’m really proud and grateful that I could get my inspiration and idol to participate—the great Celebrity Sleuth himself. I really think Sleuth comes off as the doc’s breakout superstar!
TH:How important was it to establish and contextualize the MeToo stuff early on rather than placing it in the timeline of the story?
Very seriously, though, the #MeToo movement has redefined reality, entirely for the better. So to make this movie in 2020 means that to discuss nude scenes and the actors who worked in them, we have to do it with the awareness that #MeToo has brought to light regarding sexism and abuse—and the doc makes that very clear, right up front.
TH:What was the selection process like for the films that were discussed?
Mr. Skin:Paul and Danny are also movie fanatics and they each have an encyclopedic knowledge of film history. Combine that with my nudity knowledge and, going in, we already had a basic roadmap of which movies to choose in our minds. From there, we had a crack research staff headed by my former Head Writer and long-term associate/pain-in-my-ass Mike McPadden. He’s in the movie, too, and he’s great—talking about 1980s teen comedies, which are the topic ofhis amazing book, Teen Movie Hell.
In terms of specifics, the documentary is really a history project—a chronicle of how movie nudity has evolved from the earliest silent films to today’s streaming stuff. Some milestones are obvious, like, say, Sharon Stone crossing her legs in Basic Instinct.
To me, that’s the absolutely definitive celebrity nude scene. It essentially stopped the world for a minute and changed everything! The entire world took notice, it sparked debates everywhere, Sharon became an instant superstar, and the movie turned into not just a blockbuster, but a fixture of popular culture forever.
So using Basic Instinctas the measuring stick—pun maybe not intended there—we selected movies that made similar impacts and drove forward the narrative story of how movie nudity has affected and changed not just cinema but life itself over the past hundred-plus years.
TH:While Mr. Skin the website is a celebration of nudity on film, I appreciate how the doc isn’t afraid to call out the darker side of the industry and some nude scenes. The actresses sharing their experiences with demands they’ve been given on set is quite powerful, as is the sequence where both you and Amy Heckerling talk about the uncomfortable sex scenes in Fast Times. Do you think this sort of thing would’ve been in the doc had it been made five or ten years ago, before MeToo and the public awareness of these sort of things?
Mr. Skin:It’s all part of how the documentary approaches nudity in movies as a truly historical subject. That means taking on everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly. But also the funny, too. I always want to point out that while we all took this project seriously, there are many, many laughs to be had while watching the documentary.
As to what might have been different had we made this movie in the past—well, the Amy stuff would have always been included, because Fast Times getting rated X because “the male organ is aggressive” is a major milestone in movie nudity history. And Amy is spectacular in the doc! I am so grateful to her.
But like I stated before—#MeToo has made the entire world better, and that includes this documentary. However we might have approached the unpleasant or uncomfortable aspects in this history, it would not have been the same. #MeToo gave us a very clear understanding of many realities and a very clear set of positive parameters that we could refer to in how we handled the material.
TH:While you’re obviously well associated with the Mr. Skin and female nudity side of things, it was nice to see you showing expertise on male nudity as well. Was that something that developed organically or was there a concerted effort to cover male nudity from the very beginning of the project?
Mr. Skin:The documentary, from the start, has been about naked human beings in movies—so, for this project, that meant male and female nudity. You could definitely make separate documentaries based those genders—as well as the other genders we’re becoming more aware of all the time—but we wanted to take a “big picture” approach on for Skin.
TH:Were there any stories in the film that even you had never heard before?
Mr. Skin:I think for me the amount of sex and nudity in the pre Hays-Code era. I knew of Clara Bow in Wings and Hedy Lamarr in Ecstasy. But there were so much more debauchery—like the Cecil B. DeMille’s ape-and-woman scene in Sign of the Cross—that I learned about from working on this doc.
TH:Any good stories/sequences that you remember that ended up on the cutting room floor?
Mr. Skin:A lot. Many. More than I can even recall. The topic is huge and the challenge was to tell the story within the boundaries of a two-hour documentary. But that’s what sequels are for!
TH:Is there any chance of a follow-up about nudity on television?
Mr. Skin:Yes! The team is presently hammering out a number of follow-ups on a vast array of topics, and there’s certainly reason to expect that ‘boob tube nudes’ will be among them. We absolutely love working together and we’re eager to keep making documentaries that—I am amazed to realize—are even better than fast-forwarding to the good parts!
Check out Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies for yourself, available to rent and own via the following streaming platforms...