Interview with Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies executive producer Jim McBride aka Mr. Skin Interview
by Bobby Blakey
I love movies of all kinds and like most as a kid trying to see those nude scenes and violence we weren’t supposed to see was part of the fun. Even to this day there is a stigma on anything involving nudity, but it has obviously opened up in a lot more avenues. There is one man who is a mental encyclopedia of nudity in films and his name is Mr. Skin. Ok actually his name is Jim McBride, but he owns and operates the popular data base site mrskin.com as well as appearances on The Howard Stern Show yearly for the Skinatomy Awards. Now he is executive producer on the new documentary Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies. I had the pleasure to speak with him about this awesome documentary and mrskin.com.
Bobby: Before getting into the film can you tell us what the Mr. Skin brand is for the few people that may not know?
Jim: I have been running mrskin.com since 1999 and in fact on August 20th the site will be 21 years old. Mrskin.com is a database that is a history of nudity in film and television from all over the world, not just American. It’s really been a fun ride and we 40 skinpolyees and we also launched mrman.com which is the male version of Mr Skin. I have a great team and have never been involved with creating a movie or anything prior to this, but I am the executive producer and looking forward to it.
Bobby: Outside the obvious reason you would be involved in this film how did you get involved with the movie?
Jim: A couple things. I look at documentaries now and I really think we are in the golden age of them. The reason I say that is I really feel when you are out with friends and talking over dinner the water cooler type talk is usually these documentaries. The Last Dance was huge about the Chicago Bulls, Tiger King whatever it is that’s what people are talking about. It used to be people were all bummed to have to watch them but now they are so fascinating. After doing this for over twenty years I knew no one had done a definitive history of nudity in the movies, but I didn’t have a back ground in movies, I run a website. I got to know Paul Fishbein who used to own AVN and he has produced a number documentaries and movies. We got to talking and I explained to him that no one had ever done this before and it has got to be done. Director Danny Wolf had worked with him on some other projects and I put together some writers that I liked and we put a team together. We worked on this for about two years and here we are. I am really proud of what this has become, but it wasn’t like something five years ago I thought I would do.
Bobby: When you see the title Skin, you get an assumption to what you are going to be watching, but this film was so much more. How hard was it to keep on track to keep the nudity aspect while focusing on the history, Me Too movement and everything else?
Jim: It was very hard. I tell you, the hardest thing was narrowing it down to a two hour documentary. We kind of book end the Me Too movement starting with what’s going on with Weinstein and all these other guys then we go right to the 1880s with
Thomas Edison and the first motion pictures and one of the first motion pictures was of nude people. We really went decade by decade through this. We started with hundreds and hundreds of potential nude scenes and moments that were important and keep having to narrow it down to do it in a couple of hours. That was really hard, but the other thing too we were really mindful of, especially with the ME Too movement, doing it so we weren’t tone deaf. Listening to what the actors and actresses had to say about their nude scenes, making sure we had female directors, and even had the senior chair of the MPAA who is a woman in this. One of the great things that comes from this when you are coming from the 70s, 80s, and 90s is talking to the actors, actresses and directors and then up to where we are now and get to interview the Intimacy Coordinator which is a really good new thing they have now. You see these actresses from those times didn’t have any power. There were many times where they weren’t so much forced to do things, but weren’t given much of a choice. Because of the experiences and the ME Too movement you can see in the documentary that actresses are much more empowered. Don’t kid yourself, there is more nudity now than ever before but they have better choices and feel a lot more comfortable when doing the scenes. I think that comes through a lot in the documentary which is a good thing as it shows there has been movement in the way it’s handled.
Bobby: I love seeing a movie and then researching more in depth to it. I loved that this film does just that going deeper into issues and scenarios you may or may not have known about.
Jim: Yeah it’s cool. We went into the weeds with some stuff. We had Malcolm McDowell and of course we were going to talk to him about A Clockwork Orange and Caligula but we also talked with him about a 1968 movie called If…. in which he was nude with a woman which was one of the first times where a man and a woman nude in the same scene which was a historic moment. I have heard from a lot of people that saw this and wanted to go check out some of the films that they never heard of. I think we introduced people to a lot of stuff that I don’t think they knew existed.
Bobby: It’s funny you say that as my wife and I do a YouTube show discussing films and we are both fans of the controversial film I Spit On Your Grave which is a horrific film to watch, but is actually a woman empowerment movie.
Jim: Yeah, one of the cool things about this film is that the star of that film Camille Keaton and the people that showed up for it. Yes that is a horrifying movie, but was also one of the first films where a woman could go back and seek revenge. It was really and empowering movie for Camille Keaton and it was so cool to have her. Where has she been since 1978, but there she was. It was pretty cool.
Bobby: Yeah, now my wife wants to find some other films that had the same ideals.
Jim: That’s cool. I am hoping by talking about it will do just that and make people want to go check them out. There really are some great ones from a by gone era.
Bobby: One of the things I felt elevated the film even further was hearing all these people discussed not only their experiences, but the descriptions of how they were directed which was sometimes highly inappropriate, but also par for the time. Yet nothing came across angry or attacking towards anyone. Was there anything that was said they didn’t want in there after the fact?
Jim: We did some fun things at the end during the credits where there were a lot of things we couldn’t really work into the documentary, but they were really fun things. It wasn’t a Gotcha thing, we are fans of movies and these actors and actresses. We just wanted to hear their stories and don’t forget if someone spoke in that movie there was probably another forty five minutes of stuff we couldn’t use just because trying to keep it within the two hours. Overall the experience was really great and they were all so cool. People like Malcolm McDowell you just turn the mic on and he went off into stories.
Bobby: His inclusion made me so happy because of the stigma of male nudity and getting to see someone of his caliber speak on it was a refreshing aspect to the film overall. It just gives a better perspective of the entire film in my opinion.
Jim: I agree, a lot of these scene we’ve seen and know them, but then to get this fresh perspective that you’ve never heard before whether it be a sad, happy or funny story it adds to the whole experience. I loved hearing all these people talk about these things.
Bobby: That’s an ongoing discussion my wife and I have had regard the male nudity. I don’t necessarily want to see more of it but why isn’t there. There should be balance between the two.
Jim: For those out there wondering believe it or not we are getting pretty close to that. I think we tracked it in 2019 and there was like 146 televisions shows across like 36 platforms that featured female nudity and like 142 shows across 35 platforms that featured male nudity. I know when I was a kid you never saw male nudity and it if it was it was for comedy, but now it is used way differently.
Bobby: The story from Ken Davitian talking about that famous scene from Borat when they wrestle naked is one of my all-time favorite moments.
Jim: How funny is that? People cannot believe that we got Ken to be in this documentary and show that scene. I have never laughed so much at a nude scene as that one between Ken Davitian and Sacha Baron Cohen wrestling. Even when I watched it again in the documentary I was laughing so to have him here talking about that was pretty cool.
Bobby: On the production side was it easier to compile the archival footage thanks to the Mr. Skin site?
Jim: Yeah, but we didn’t so much use it from the site, but we had to do some digging to find the stuff from the 20s. Not everything was super easy to find, but nowadays with the internet you can find most of this stuff. If we had tried this twenty years ago it would have been a lot harder.
Bobby: There is an entire section of this film about the ratings system, yet this film itself is dealing with the same thing that it’s talking about.
Jim: We had to keep it balanced. With things like Caligula we couldn’t show things or we would end up with an X rating. We had to actually edit other people’s scenes to make sure you fall into a favorable rating.
Bobby: Do you think it’s easier to get passed the ratings more now than even like five years ago with certain things that used to not make it through?
Jim: Yeah I think so. Especially with male nudity like when Amy Heckerling talked about the full male frontal she wanted in Fast Times At Ridgemont High and they said no or she would get the X rating so it was edited in a way to not show it. Now a days it’s different and male nudity is more acceptable unlike in the past.
Bobby: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I’m a big fan from the yearly Skinatomy Awards on Howard Stern and really loved the film.
Jim: Thanks so much for having me I really appreciate it.
Check out Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies is available now On Demand from Quiver Distribution.
Check out more Jim McBride’s site www.mrskin.com