The link to the above video is a teaser for an exhibition I am curating on pornography up to 1972.
Thursday, August 28th – Saturday, August 30th, 12pm-6pm
Artspace, 378 Aylmer Street North, Peterborough, ON
The 1920s was a booming decade for moving-image pornography. 10 to 20 minute films were shot and then screened at stags, thus the name, stag films. Oftentimes the players in these shorts were prostitutes and their johns, or filmmakers and their friends – the films are therefore made anonymously. What is interesting about them is the lack of differentiation between the sexual act as such, real penetration for instance, and the performance of sexual acts. We see in a number of these films that men do not get erections or cannot remain erect for the duration of the shoot. What mattered most, it seems, is sex in any shape or form; or, put differently, the reality and/or the illusion of persons doing things otherwise private. At times the mise-en-scene was elaborate – nuns, teachers – while at others a man “picks up” a woman and has sex. But even in this latter case some kind of narrative unfolds. Even anonymous sex, shot and performed for the enjoyment of a group of men, needs a story. The clips are edited from The Good Old Naughty Days, available from Strand Releasing.
The period from about 1956 to 1972 offered a number of soft-core pictures to the public. These films, from The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) to Swedish Marriage Manual (1968) and many European art films, were generally accessible. While sex was implied or, in the case of some art films, not shown with maximum visibility (as Linda Williams calls it), simple displays of nudity saturated the big screen. Even in films such as Sweetback (1971), the simulated sex is boring – Sweetback doesn’t dare use his sweetback too quickly. Stag films, even when obviously faking the sexual act, were energetic. There was something about the projection of movement that was, in itself, fascinating to watch.
In the early 1970s, films such as Mona (1970), Boys in the Sand (1971), Deep Throat (1972), and Behind the Green Door (1972) brought hard core sex to the screens. Explicit cinematic sex finally became a commodity in its own right, and in the case of Deep Throat, men and women began to take an interest. However, Deep Throat tried to downplay its explicitness with humor while the interracial and orgiastic Green Door used special effects and a hypnotizing score to bring sex into the realm of art.
Pornography today is a far departure from any works of the prior decades. Or, if we prefer, contemporary pornography has taken something from each of the three periods identified: the vigor and energy of the stags; the beautiful bodies of sexploitation flicks; and the explicitness and maximum visibility of 1970s hard core.