Documentary

Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies

A look at how Hollywood functioned prior to contracts detailing how much breast or cheek an actress must show to earn her paycheck

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When are nude scenes essential in film, and when are they gratuitous, designed not to advance a plot but to snatch more from the wallets of hungry, titillated viewers? Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies takes this question seriously, exploring Hollywood's working conditions before the business developed clearer expectations about the need for contracts detailing how much breast or cheek an actress must show to earn her paycheck.

Some roles, like Erica Gavin's portrayal of a nymphomaniac in Vixen! (1968) or Sylvia Miles' lusty Manhattan cougar in Midnight Cowboy (1969), would feel wrongly puritanical without some skin. Nudity can be a crucial storytelling tool in certain contexts. Yet Miles explains that the requisite toplessness was sprung on her, not agreed upon beforehand. The late Maria Schneider, discussing a harrowing depiction of rape in the movie Last Tango in Paris (1972), said she was likewise unaware of what the scene would entail and felt powerfully humiliated by it.

Hollywood used to be a place where consent didn't reign regarding the touchy topic of screen nudity, but this documentary suggests that might be changing for the better.

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  1. “When are nude scenes essential in film, and when are they gratuitous, designed not to advance a plot but to snatch more from the wallets of hungry, titillated viewers?”

    What? Do the streaming services stop the film just before some titties appear and demand extra payment (or upgrade to super-premium)?

    1. Another take:

      Who the fuck decides “essential”? Most healthy adults enjoy seeing some skin (whether they will admit it or not). Especially if the skin is wrapped around attractive people.

      What’s next? Observing that people pay more to see physically attractive actors? Will concerned citizens start to fret about whether beauty is “essential” or just gratuitous?

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    2. Would anyone have paid to see Showgirls if not for titties? Certainly far fewer than actually did

      1. All right, I’ll get ridiculed for this, but I thought Showgirls was actually a really good movie.

        1. Aside from the acting and plot, sure.

          1. And the dialog and the music and the editing and the premise and …

    3. Nude scenes are always essential

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  3. Odd time to publish this particular article, but perhaps the editors felt we all needed a break.

    1. Titties are better than elections any day.

      1. I’m a cynical asshole, and I approve this message.

      2. At least some titties.

      3. Would you vote for AOC, if she took her top off after winning?

        1. Only if she also gets down on all fours and whinnies.

        2. Sure, she’s not in my district. It’ll be as valid as the rest of her votes.

  4. Sorry for those actresses who felt they had been blindsided, but they had far more leverage than they knew — their “No” would have meant all previous footage was useless. Take some personal responsibility! It isn’t rape if you have the power to walk away.

    Same with Harvey Weinstein. Scumbag that he is, his casting couch was just another of Hollywood’s well-known casting couches. I imagine they existed before movies too, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find the equivalent in Shakespeare’s day when female roles were played by men.

    Women who claim they were raped by Harvey Weinstein had the ability to walk out, unharmed; that is not rape. I like to imagine that in the age of Twitter, merely tweeting that they had turned down his offer of sex for work would have done him in far faster than police and courts, and left those women feeling far more empowered than the victims they turned themselves into. “I had to be saved from Harvey by the police” is hardly as empowering as “I ruined Harvey’s career and drove his studio out of business”; I know which one I would prefer to remember.

    1. “I had to be saved from Harvey by the police” is hardly as empowering as “I ruined Harvey’s career and drove his studio out of business”

      I suspect that most of them don’t see a distinction between turning to the authorities to have Weinstein punished and ruining his career. Remember, a key feature of “victimhood culture” is the willingness of self described “victims” to appeal to authority to solve their problems instead of doing anything about it themselves.

      1. There are too many people who think like that, who don’t want to think for themselves, who want mommy/daddy/government to think for them, to do the hard stuff. Everybody feels like that sometimes, I am sure; I do. Something unexpected upsets my life, and one of my first reactions is “There oughta be a law” or “Why does this happen to me?”, as if someone else ought to fix it. But I am so disgusted with government that turning to them is not a thought that sticks around for long. These people, on the other hand, have been raised to look to government to save their ass, and can think of nothing else.

  5. When are nude scenes essential in film, and when are they gratuitous, designed not to advance a plot but to snatch…

    Nudity… snatch… Really? I see what you did there. SMDH.

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  6. Way way too many stories being posted here that are nothing more than proposals to the editor on a story topic. Come on Reason, let the writers finish their stories before you post them.

    1. Behold the age of Tweets.

    2. This was a post on the Reason.com blog. It’s not a story, not something that is going to ever appear in the print magazine.

      1. Yes, this is the blog. I understand that. Not talking about print magazine. I just want stories longer than three paragraphs. I’ve seen longer brickbats.

        This simply is not a story. It’s barely an intro to a story. There’s nothing here.

        1. Instead of complaining like a little bitch, why don’t you go start your own magazine / blog for all of us to comment on ?

        2. There was a reason writer back in the day who used to do one paragraph ditties on H&R. Can’t remember who it was, though.

        3. I agree, a little more thought would be nice.

  7. Hollywood used to be a place where consent didn’t reign regarding the touchy topic of screen nudity

    The actresses forcibly stripped against their will on set should call the police and seek to press criminal charges, no?

  8. This truncated post/magazine filler is yet one more piece of the overwhelming evidence that the 1970s were “peak liberty” in the US

  9. Hollywood used to be a place where consent didn’t reign regarding the touchy topic of screen nudity

    Or off screen.

  10. Vixen? I may have to add that to my must watch list.

  11. Back in the 70s when the (awful) Wonder Woman tv show debuted, HBO showed the (equally awful) B-movie Bobbi Jo and the Outlaw starring cheezy Marjoe Gortner and a TOPLESS Lynda Carter! I couldn’t effin’ believe my eyes.
    Juggtacular – it’s a must-see.

  12. Yet Miles explains that the requisite toplessness was sprung on her, not agreed upon beforehand. The late Maria Schneider, discussing a harrowing depiction of rape in the movie Last Tango in Paris (1972), said she was likewise unaware of what the scene would entail and felt powerfully humiliated by it.

    Once could argue that consent was always part of the equation, but a choice was made to go forward anyway because the alternative might have been the end of a career.

    I think we’re again seeing an example of context collapse. Perhaps we might reframe this as ‘coercion’.

    1. forward anyway because the alternative might have been the end of a career.

      And maybe not even the end of a career, but a more slow, plodding progression because a fast-track wasn’t taken.

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  14. In the age of “2 girls one cup”. Who cares?

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  16. Finally, something interesting to look at…

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