Did you know the first movie to win a best picture Oscar (the 1927 silent film “Wings”) had both male AND female nudity?
All sorts of tantalizing trivia about breasts, butts and genitalia abounds in the new documentary “Skin: The History of Nudity of Movies” (streaming Tuesday digitally and on demand), which chronicles Hollywood’s long obsession with stars in their birthday suits. Featuring interviews with Peter Bogdanovich, Sean Young, Kevin Smith and many more, “Skin” tracks evolving views of nudity; discusses actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren, who knew way back when that sex sells; and digs into the impact of the #MeToo movement.
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“People are afraid of sex and maybe they’re a little afraid of nudity, too,” says Traci Lords, the adult actress who went legit and starred in films like Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” – a mainstream comedy that nevertheless lives up to its title in the naked-people department.
Here are five interesting facts exposed in “Skin,” the most NSFW movie you’ll see this year:
For a time, Malcolm McDowell was the king of male nudity
McDowel bared all in 1968’s “If ….” (which he recalls as the first studio movie featuring a man and a woman naked together) and also showed a lot of himself in 1971’s “A Clockwork Orange” and 1979’s “Caligula.” “This title of being naked the most of any young actor that period was thrust upon me. I did not go seeking it,” he says. “It was just that I came along at the very moment when the floodgates opened and they allowed nudity in movies. And about bloody time.”
“Caligula,” which also starred Helen Mirren and John Gielgud, was a historical drama “hijacked” into being a porn film, recalls McDowell, who played the title Roman emperor. He didn’t want to do any nudity since everybody else was naked, especially in the infamous orgy scene, but ended up toga-less in a rainstorm anyway.
“I figured that was OK,” he says.
‘Fast Times’ director Amy Heckerling cut a scene to avoid an X rating
Making the classic 1982 teen movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Heckerling felt nudity was a necessary element in the film, from the famous Phoebe Cates pool scene showing the disconnect between fantasy and reality, to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character losing her virginity to an older man in a baseball dugout.
Heckerling wanted to show male nudity, too, in a scene with Leigh and Robert Romanus, but “I was not allowed to do that,” she says. She was told that if that shot was in the movie, it would get an X rating, which to her “meant porn. So we had to blow it up so just like in every other film, you saw a guy topless, which is nothing essentially. It was cut way down and they said, ‘See, it’s better now. We improved your scene.’ Thanks a lot.”
Thanks to naked Kate Winslet, ‘Titanic’ almost hit an R-rated iceberg
Winslet has been nude a number of times in movies, including in “Jude” (1996) and “Little Children” (2006), though none of those performances was as widely seen as 1997’s blockbuster “Titanic.” In one romantic scene, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack sketches a portrait of Winslet’s naked Rose wearing the Heart of the Ocean jewel.
Joan Graves, the former head of the MPAA’s ratings board, reveals in the documentary that “Titanic” was “a very, very interesting film for us as far as nudity is concerned.” Most board members voted for it to be PG-13 “except for one or two of the fathers.”
Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper argues that “it’s a beautiful moment and it’s true to the story and it’s actually one of the most important scenes in the move because it’s the moment where we realize she’s going to be herself. It’s surprising that it got through, but it was the right thing.”
Rena Riffel’s love life is still reeling from being in ‘Showgirls’
In her final audition for Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 erotic drama – the first NC-17 movie to receive a wide mainstream theatrical release – Riffel recalls having to choreograph and perform her own dance and also take off her top: “We didn’t even have the role yet and we’re already doing nudity, which was awkward but I did it.”
She and star Elizabeth Berkley have a lesbian pole dance in one of the film’s more memorable scenes (“It’s like jumping off a cliff,” Riffel says of the experience), but Riffel still has mixed feelings about the whole project:
“Was I just taken advantage of? I thought I was being a great committed actress but really they were turning me into like a softcore-porn kind of performance.
“That movie has ruined my personal life when it comes to relationships,” Riffel adds, laughing. “I get like nudity shamed all the time.”
Shannon Elizabeth credits her career to being topless in ‘American Pie’
In 1999, “American Pie” brought the teen sex comedy back in a big way, with Jason Biggs getting busy with a pie. It was also a big break for Shannon Elizabeth, whose foreign-exchange student Nadia disrobes to just her panties. The movie “changed everything,” she says. “If I hadn’t done the nudity, I might not have a career today.”
However, the exact opposite happened to Cerina Vincent, who starred in the 2001 spoof “Not Another Teen Movie,” sending up Elizabeth’s character by being naked the entire movie. The gratuitous nudity offended fans of the former “Power Rangers” actress.
“The comedy made it fun for me and less intimidating,” Vincent says. “Dealing with the world judging you afterward was something I was not prepared for.”