This first comprehensive and most in-depth history of cinematic pornography details sex in film from 100 years ago to today, concentrating on the quarter-century since Deep Throat, when pornography became a subject of popular culture.
Insightful, entertaining, and bold, A History of X takes us from the primitive film studios of the 1900s, where porn got its start as a daring experiment in sexual freedom, to the closed-door, multi-million-dollar porn-film corporations of today. Ford includes exclusive interviews with the stars, the producers, and the distributors as well as detailed data on censorship attempts from the early days to the present. The author documents the controversial careers of top porn stars Marilyn Chambers, John Holmes, Linda Lovelace, Harry Reems, Gerard Damiano, Georgina Spelvin, Traci Lords, Max Hardcore, Ginger Lynn, and others, revealing both the great benefits and the tragic consequences that often come from fame and fortune in the porn industry.
He also discusses the many controversial aspects to the business, including Mafia influences, the impact of the AIDS epidemic on the industry, and the myths and realities behind child pornography.
Extensively researched and documented, A History of X is a fascinating expose of a business few dare to touch.
|Product dimensions:||6.25(w) x 9.27(h) x 0.97(d)|
About the Author
Luke Ford was educated in Australia and has worked as a radio host as well as a journalist. He now operates a website on the porn industry: www.lukeford.com.
Read an Excerpt
Naked Came the Stranger
"P ornography" denotes writings and pictures intended to stimulate lust through the explicit portrayal of sex. Discussions of sex in academic works, for example, may be explicit, but are not pornographic because they do not seek to arouse. And while a TV program may be arousing, it is not pornographic if it is not explicit. A subcategory of pornography, "porn" refers to the commercial product of the X-rated industry: photos and movies of adults performing sexual intercourse.
In the popular mind, "pornography" connotes explicit images that exploit women while "erotica" refers to nonexploitive, less explicit images. For example, Hustler's Larry Flynt produces pornography while novelist Janet Daily produces erotica. The moral-legal term "obscenity" reinforces the designation "pornography."
The English word "pornography" is a combination of two Greek words: porne, meaning "harlot," and grapheim, meaning "to write." First listed in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1857, "pornography" literally means "writing about whores."
For as long as humans have been able to draw or write, they've crafted pornography. Danish sociologist Berl Kutchinsky traces the beginnings of modern porn to the publication of three books anonymously authored in the 1650s: The Wayward Prostitute, Girls School, and Satya. Translated into the major languages, they became the models for later pornographic books and movies. An examination of the three classicsshows that little has changed in porn over the past 350 years. Themes of lesbianism, sodomy, seduction, multiple copulation, flagellation, and sadism dominate, writes Kutchinsky, "as well as total amorality, a disregard for artistic merit, an absence of affection or other emotions, flimsy plots, stereotyped characterizations, monotonous repetitiousness, and a constant exaggeration of sexual interest, energy and potency."
By the Victorian era, sexually explicit fiction had developed into a mature literary genre increasingly defined by its illegality. When Sir Charles Sedley in 1663 got drunk in a public tavern, climbed upstairs, took off all his clothes, and urinated onto the crowded street below, he provoked the first recorded occasion in Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that the state punished an affront to public decency. Until this time, most Western societies worried more about blasphemy than obscenity. After the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment, however, porn and censorship grew hand-in-hand. Common law, as opposed to ecclesiastical, began to apply to obscene libel in England.
"Pornography heralds the increasing hostility of the artist toward society," write Al Di Lauro and Gerald Rabkin in their 1976 book, Dirty Movies. Sexual license in literature, for instance, led to explicit attacks on religion. By the eighteenth century, porn depicted sexual orgies in religious orders. This rebellious attitude reached its apogee in the Marquis de Sade, who fleshed out what lies behind porn's obsessional detail: "the superiority of the senses to established moral codes." Di Lauro and Rabkin go on to describe de Sade as "the clearest, most powerful example of the pornographer as transgressor."
Still photography was invented in 1827 and motion pictures in 1894. Five minutes after each invention, quips producer David Friedman, a woman posed naked before the latest male toy. Actress Louise Willy disrobes in the 1896 French film Le Bain, the earliest known sex film. Other French flicks before the turn of the century offered similar fare while in Germany, producer Oskar Messter revealed women taking off their clothes while exercising, dancing, or bathing.
As with the development of other forms of communication, such as writing, drawing, painting, and printing, pornographers led the way in the popular application of moving pictures. They made sex films known as "stags." As an adjective, "stag" means "for men only." Thus a stag film is a film for men onlya film depicting graphic sex. Stag films frequently appeared at stag partiesparties for men only.
America probably made the most stag films, followed by France, where the genre originated and flourished until Gaullist repression in the 1950s. Becoming so adept at making stags that the term "French film" became synonymous with porn, French pornographers developed many of the genre's basic plots, which William Rotsler listed as the following:
1. A woman alone becomes aroused after handling a phallic-shaped object. Masturbation follows. A man arrives, is invited inside, sexual play begins.
2. A farm girl gets excited watching animals copulate. She runs into a farmhand, or a traveling salesman, and sexual play begins.
3. A doctor begins examining a woman and sexual play begins.
4. A burglar finds a girl in bed or rapes her or vice versa.
5. A sunbather or skinny dipper gets caught and seduced.
Latin American stags came largely from the brothels of Tijuana and Havana and bestiality appears in some, such as Rin Tin Tin Mexicano, A Hunter and His Dog, Rascal Rex, and Mexican Dog. Technically abysmal, these humiliating productions focus their hatred on women and the Catholic Church. Films such as Mexican Honeymoon show priests exploiting their parishioners. Anti-Catholic porn flourished in countries where the Church dominated. By contrast, American stags skirted religion. "I would rather my kid saw a stag film than The Ten Commandments," said comic Lenny Bruce, "because I don't want my kid to kill Christ when he comes back. Pleasure is a dirty word in Christian culture. Pleasure is Satan's word."
Satanic pleasure fills the classic 1907 stag from Argentina, El Sartorio, which begins with three women playing in a river. A man dressed as a devil with a tail, horns, and false whiskers emerges out of the foliage and captures one woman. She sucks him off, engages in a 69, and finally screws him. Close-up shots of his penis pushing inside her appear every few seconds.
Stag films specialized in such "meat shots," close-ups of penetration, rather than "money (cum) shots," men ejaculating on, rather than within, women. By the early 1970s, however, cum shots became so essential to porn that it seemed flicks without them weren't pornographic.
American fare, such as 1915's A Free Ride, emphasized sex over story. Shot outside using many camera angles and titles, Ride (the first known American stag) flows from the open films of the first decade of the century. The story is simple. A man picks up two girls and takes them for a drive in the country. He stops the car in a wooded area, gets out, and walks behind a bush to urinate. The girls spy on him, become aroused, and sex ensues. Unconsciously, A Free Ride reveals a classic male-female parallel: What urination is to women, the release of a biological need, sex is to men. For most of us males, most of the time, orgasm most resembles a strong piss down the toilet.
America's thriving underground stag film industry came under attack in the 1920s from law enforcement and U.S. Post Office agents. Porn commentators, good liberals all, blame socioeconomic structures for freezing the form of the stag film at the point achieved in its infancy in A Free Ride. But almost a century later, in the era of greatest freedom humanity has ever known, porn remains a limited genre. Just as adult films began with arty movies like The Devil in Miss Jones and The Opening of Misty Beethoven before dropping such pretensions in the 1980s, so too stags "of the teens, twenties, and thirties," write Di Lauro and Rabkin, "displayed narrative and stylistic concerns which almost totally disappeared after the Second World War."
Bereft of almost all concern with story and style, later stags used ugly and old performers. Most of the men appeared to be pimps and the females prostitutes. Performers frequently wore masks or otherwise attempted to conceal their identities by the use of bizarre disguises.
From the 1920s through the 1950s, college fraternities and volunteer social groups like the Elks and Shriners provided the largest market for stag films in America. Patterned after theatrical striptease, stags encouraged male spectators to talk to the projected female image and even to "touch" her spread legs and labia. Unlike later pornos, which seek to satisfy the viewer's sex urge, stags generally aimed to arouse. Brothels used them to encourage potential patrons to buy the sexual favors of their women.
After World War II, the greater availability of projection equipment enabled the stag to move into the home. During the 1950s, they were increasingly shot on 8mm color film, using younger and more attractive performers.
Smart Aleck (1951), the most popular stag ever, starred stripper Candy Barr, then a sixteen-year-old named Juanita Slusher. "I never thought about doing it," Candy Barr told Oui magazine in 1976. "But it happened and I've had a lot of flack about it. People say, 'What the hell, it's only a fuck movie.' Well, that was 1951; I do care what the hell. If I had done it by choice, then I would have had some mechanism to adjust it into my lifestyle. But I didn't do it by choice.... I wasn't lured. I was taken, done and that was it."
Distinguished only by the youthful presence of Barr, Smart Aleck, a typical "motel" film, begins with a traveling salesman inviting Candy into his motel room from the swimming pool. He gets her drunk before making his move. They engage in sex. The only drama occurs when Candy refuses to go down on him. "At the time I wasn't even aware that people engaged in oral sex," she says. To placate him, the fledgling porn star calls in her girlfriend to perform the dirty deed.
Barr's notoriety raises the perennial question of whether such Hollywood stars as Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, or Marilyn Monroe appeared in stag films. Probably not.
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While stag films remained outside the mainstream, nonexplicit exploitation films played on the edge of polite society. "The makers of adult movies, with rare exceptions, are part of a long thriving tradition of American hucksterism," write Eddie Muller and Daniel Faris in their 1996 book, Grindhouse. "From carny barker to holy-rolling evangelist, to grindhouse sleazemeister, the goal has always been the same: promise something extraordinary and then get the hell out of town."
The first mainstream films overflowed with sex. Examples included "exposés" of white slavery like Traffic in Souls (1913), orgies (Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow and The Wedding March), and epics that featured Christians lashed at the stake (Cecil B. De Mille's Sign of the Cross). Following prohibition of alcohol, however, came prohibition of sex in cinema.
Out of fear of public censure, the studios, then as now owned and operated by secular Jews, chose former Postmaster General Will Hays to create a Production Code Administration (PCA) and act as an internal censor. Irish Catholics Martin Quigley and Joe Breen helped create standards tougher on sex than on violence. In 1932, Breen wrote to powerful Jesuit priest Wilfrid Parsons about Hollywood Jews.
They are simply a rotten bunch of vile people with no respect for anything beyond the making of money. Here in Hollywood we have paganism rampant and in its most virulent form. Drunkenness and debauchery are commonplace. Sexual perversion is rampant. Any number of our directors and stars are perverts. These Jews seem to think of nothing but moneymaking and sexual indulgence. The vilest kind of sin is a common indulgence hereabouts and the men and women who engage in this sort of business are the men and women who decide what the film fare of the nation is to be. They and they alone make the decision. Ninety-five percent of these folks are Jews of an eastern European lineage. They are, probably, the scum of the earth.
Meeting with studio heads, Joseph Scott, a Catholic lawyer hired by Breen and Los Angeles's Bishop Cantwell, described the Jews as "disloyal" Americans, engaged in "a conspiracy to debauch the youth of the land." Scott told the producers that America housed groups "sympathetic with the Nazi assault on Jews in Germany and were even now organizing further to attack the Jew in America.
Founded on Judeo-Christian principles, Joe Breen's Production Code office previewed 98 percent of the movies released in the United States between 1930 and 1968. A first-run house couldn't screen a movie without the PCA seal, and studios wouldn't allow their films to be shown on a double bill with a film that wasn't PCA-approved. Filling this gap were independent producers who displayed all the skin and sin Hollywood couldn't show. These rip-off artists avoided prosecution for obscenity by disguising their movies as cautionary moral tales.
Publicist-turned-pornographer David F. Friedman explains, "The whole secret to the scheme was that the sucker never really saw it all, but, 'Boy didja see that preview for next week's show? We're really gonna see it then.' Of course, they never did. But hope springs eternal in the human breast."
The grindhouse spectacles of the 1920s through the 1950s now seem tame. Expectations exceeded delivery. Producers surrounded the few minutes of illicit behaviornudity, drugs, sexwith an hour of story. Come full circle, today's "adult" movies concentrate on action rather than story. But in another sense, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Exploitation's grand con of promising something extraordinary and not delivering lives on in X-rated video boxcovers with their glitzy pictures of gorgeous women who rarely appear as beautiful, if they appear at all, in the final product.
Made in Czechoslovakia in 1932, Ecstasy ranks as the first sexy art (i.e., nonexplicit) film from Europe. Starring the actress who became known as Hedy Lamarr, the movie created a scandal upon release because of its brief nudity and purple symbolism evoking Hedy's orgasmrearing stallions, howling winds, and surging flames. An ocean away from American fare, Ecstasy depicts a woman who leaves the affluence of her cold, older husband for "ecstasy." Though her estranged husband shoots himself, she's not punished for her sins.
Filmmaker Dwain Esper earned the nickname "King of the Celluloid Gypsies" for creating such exploitation movies as The Seventh Commandment. "The whole play is the most thoroughly vile and disgusting motion picture," said Hollywood's censor Joe Breen, "which the three members of this staff ... have ever seen. It is thoroughly reprehensible ... offensive and disgusting." Just one of many films of the '30s about venereal disease, Commandment, which featured the Caesarian delivery of a dead baby, helped create the genre of sex hygiene.
Though cheap, nasty, brutish, and short (on story), Esper's films always delivered nudity. "Esper created dingy, prurient imagery framed within scripts of fervid moral righteousness. The result was a head-spinning, hellfire-and-brimstone huckster's stew, just like they served at a carnival geek show."
Touring the country with the 1930 classic Freaks retitled as Forbidden Love, Esper encountered a crowd in North Carolina who threatened to riot when the film didn't deliver. So Esper handed the projectionist a ten-minute reel of frontal male and female nudity and soothed the anger.
While the golden age of burlesque lasted from the mid-1920s to mid-1930s, films of burlesque became popular in the 1940s, though they rarely showed as much skin as a typical MTV video today. Because of different standards of censorship around the country, films starring such performers as Jill St. Cyr and Tempest Storm appeared in as many as three versions, with only the raciest version showing a woman's bare breasts. Jungle pictures, with the simple formula of exotic locations and black nudity, traveled the adults-only circuit for years. Until the 1960s, state censors rarely allowed white women to disrobe.
After World War II, "great numbers of European directors used their artistic and sexual freedom to parlay the zaftig, braless Continental sexpots into fame, fortune, and revolution. Auteur filmmakers such as Michelangelo Antonioni ... [and] François Truffaut produced a new form of cinema. They couldand didshow nudity, adultery, sex games, rape, foreplay, but never sexual intercourse."
Scandinavian skinny-dipping prepared America for Ingmar Bergman films. One Summer of Happiness (1951) tells of a young farm girl's summer of freedom, love, and budding sexualityall ended by a motorcycle accident. Bergman's 1953 film Summer with Monika contained a nude shot of star Harriet Anderson. Fifteen years later, another round of Swedish imports changed the American film industry.
* * *
In Samuel Roth v. U.S. (June 1957), the Supreme Court ruled that for material to be declared legally obscene it had to be "utterly without redeeming social importance." Under this new definition, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the imported French film The Game of Love, which had been closed in Chicago for displaying nudity, was not obscene. The court also quoted Roth in overturning subsequent obscenity cases against the homosexual magazine One and the nudist magazine Sunshine & Health. In 1959, a federal judge, influenced by the new definition of obscenity in Roth, rescinded the ban against the novel Lady Chatterly's Lover, calling D. H. Lawrence, the book's author, a genius.
Those who pushed America to a more liberal view of sex were mainly male non-Jewish Jews (Jews alienated from Judaism and Jewish life as well as the Christian culture embraced by a majority of Americans) including Samuel Roth of the 1957 Supreme Court case; Grove Press Publisher Barney Rosset; the owner of Olympia Press, Maurice Girodias, and his father, Jack Kahane, a Paris publisher and author of sexually explicit novels; comedian Lenny Bruce; filmmakers Russ Meyer, David Friedman, and Radley Metzger; Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich; Screw publisher Al Goldstein; Eros publisher Ralph Ginzberg; publisher Edward Mishkin; Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America; defense lawyer Stanley Fleishman; Playboy Playmate and Hugh Hefner's ex-lover Barbara Klein, aka Barbie Benton; Hefner's personal secretary Bobbie Arnstein; philosopher Herbert Marcuse; psychologist Albert Ellis; authors Philip Roth, William Styron, and Norman Mailer; and Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. They carried on a hundred-year history of radical Jews challenging the reigning order. In the nineteenth century, for instance, most of the madams of major brothels in the Western United States were alienated Jews as were many of the traffickers and prostitutes in the white slave trade. Though only 2 percent of the American population, Jews dominate porn. Most of the leading male performers through the 1980s had Jewish parents. Leading Jewish pornographers include Wesley Emerson, Paul Fishbein, Lenny Friedlander, Paul Norman, Bobby Hollander, Rubin Gottesman, Hank Weinstein, Fred Hirsch and his children Steve and Marjorie, Steve Orenstein, Theodore Rothstein, and Reuben Sturman.
Born in 1924, Reuben Sturman, the godfather of porn, grew up in Cleveland's East Side, the ambitious eldest son of immigrant Russian Jews who ran a grocery. The future leader of the "Kosher Nostra" served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, then attended Western Reserve University before marrying and starting his own business. Working from home, Reuben drove through Cleveland, visiting candy stores and selling comic books from the trunk of his old Dodge. His business grew by the late 1950s into a wholesale magazine company with warehouses in eight cities.
At the suggestion of an employee, the company began to sell sex magazines and smut paperbacks. Once Sturman realized these items produced twenty times the revenue of comic books, he decided to stock every such publication printed. He eventually produced his own nudie periodicals and opened retail stores. By the end of the 1960s, Sturman ranked at the top of adult magazine distributors.
By the mid 1970s, Rueben owned over 200 adult bookstores supplied by regional distribution companies with regal names such as Royal News in Detroit, Noble News in Baltimore, and the flagship Sovereign News in Cleveland. Though not as well known as Playboy's Hugh Hefner, Hustler's Larry Flynt, and Penthouse's Bob Guccione, Sturman exerted far greater influence. One competitor complained that Sturman did not simply control the adult-entertainment industry; he was the industry.
To guard his privacy, Sturman used at least twenty different aliases, avoided the news media, and frequently hid his face behind a mask during his many court appearances to face such charges as peddling obscenity and tax evasion. "To his defenders in the sex industry Sturman was a marketing genius and a champion of free speech, an entrepreneur whose toughness, intelligence, and boundless self-confidence were responsible for his successes. But to anti-porn activists and Justice Department officials, Sturman was the head of a vast criminal organization whose companies enjoyed an unfair competitive advantage: protection and support from the highest levels of the Cosa Nostra [Mafia]."
In keeping with the Roth decision, to avoid prosecution for obscenity, early American filmmakers needed to invent reasons to display the naked human body. So, in 1957, the first nudist colony film, Garden of Eden, appeared.
In 1959, three American filmmakers stopped resorting to such inventions as nudist colonies to unabashedly make above-ground movies full of nudity (as opposed to the underground world of fully explicit stags). Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr. Teas, David Friedman's Adventures of Lucky Pierre, and Ted Paramore's Not Tonight, Henry brought breasts and story to the big screen. Meyer's film was the first, raunchiest, most popular, and most profitable but Not Tonight, Henry was the most erotic film of 1955-1960 says porn historian Jim Holliday.
Not Tonight, Henry was the first major film by Ted Paramore, the son of a major Hollywood screenwriter. Paramore began producing erotic loops (ten minutes of film looped in the projector) in 1954. "You were only allowed to shoot girls in bikinis, and then in pasties, then nudes. But you couldn't show pubic hair. These loops were just little stories. No sex."
Starring comedian Hank Henry and narrator Paul Friese, Not Tonight, Henry tells the story of a man who, frustrated by his wife, dreams about sex with glamorous figures of history such as Cleopatra, Delilah, Pocahontas, and Lucrezia Borgia. Henry illustrates the primary reason for pornographythe human need to fantasize when the real thing either isn't available or isn't satisfying. Generally speaking, at such moments men turn to sexually explicit pictures while women turn to romance novels.
Film director Russ Meyer explored another aspect of the industry: softcore porn. He dominated three decades of soft pornno penetration or cum shotsspecializing in beautifully photographed sex, violence, and big breasts. This Hugh Hefner of adult movies made pictures that together grossed $100 million dollars, four of them ranking among the 1,000 top-grossing films of all time: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; Vixen; Cherry, Harry & Racquel; and The Supervixens. Meyer's 1959 nudie breakthrough The Immoral Mr. Teas became the most notorious erotic film released in the United States until 1968's I Am CuriousYellow. Mr. Teas set the standard for a new genre of narrative films that featured female nudity and poked fun at the clumsy participants in the game of love.
"There was a vacuum," says Meyer. "The public was waiting for something new.... Once Mr. Teas caught on, it was booked all over the country."
With 1964's Lorna, Meyer moved past nudie-cuties (nudity-filled sex comedies) into realistic drama. Sex now drove behavior. Not love, but lust. "Lorna was the first dramatic naked-lady movie," says author William Rotsler. "The films with nudity before then were more vaudeville than drama.... Meyer's scripts operated as excuses to create as many opportunities as possible to show female nudity. He wasn't a story-teller." "Lorna established the formula that made Meyer rich and famous, the formula of people filmed at top hate, top lust, top heavy. There are few if any subtleties in a Russ Meyer film, any Russ Meyer film. His canvas is vivid, but it is all red or all purple." Meyer peaked with 1968's Vixen, the best known and highest grossing of his films. Produced for $72,000, it grossed over $10 million.
Unlike Meyer, whose plot staggered out of the nudity and sex, professional filmmaker Radley Metzger directed feature films whose sex and nudity arose out of the plot. Metzger debuted in 1961 with the softcore Dark Odyssey. The second time he filmed, Metzger made a five-minute insert for a French film he'd bought and renamed The Twilight Girls. "Some nudity, two girls kissingI thought the projectionist was going to call the FBI when he ran it the first time." One of the girls in the insert became famous a decade later for her starring role in The Devil in Miss JonesGeorgina Spelvin.
David Friedman made the third movie of 1959 to be blatantly sexual: The Adventures of Lucky Pierre. Friedman's father, who served as an editor of the conservative Birmingham News, ownedalong with Friedman's unclean amusement park and a chain of movie houses. In 1956, Friedman formed a company to make sexploitation films. He toured the country with a movie that dared to show the birth of a babyMom and Dad, which he estimates grossed $40 million. Figured in today's dollars, Mom and Dad may be the most profitable film ever.
When I got into the exploitation distribution business in the late '50s, there were four of us in the countryBill Mishkin and Joe Brenner in New York, myself in Chicago, and Dan Sonney in LAand the total output in the whole United States was about eight to ten pictures a year, so that the sixty theaters that had to play this stuff every year played each one ten to twelve weeks, gave you a fair percentage, and you made a fortune with it.
I bought a drive-in in Joliet[, Illinois,] and I had one of the first nudie houses in Chicago back when Chicago had a tough police censorship board. And it was more profitable than it is today when you don't have to submit anything and they're playing hardcore in Chicago.
Along with Dan Sonney, the son of Louis Sonney, who started the exploitation genre in the 1920s, Friedman bought a run-down theater in Los Angeles that became the flagship of the Pussycat Theaters. "On the opening day of a new film you could almost call roll," Friedman remembers. "The same guys were there, week after week. They'd stand out front reading the one-sheets [movie posters] so long you'd think they were studying the Gutenberg Bible."
The adults-only market exploded in the 1960s. Friedman estimates that at the beginning of the decade there were only about twenty theaters around the country that showed adult pictures exclusively. By 1970 that number had jumped to 750. The Pussycat chain built twenty-five theaters from the ground up to show X-rated movies to supplement the previously existing movie houses they owned. There were forty-seven Pussycat Theaters in California alone.
"I've exploited the basest human emotions," says Friedman. "But the one I exploited most was loneliness. That's who was paying my way, a lot of very lonely men."
Realizing that the nudie-cutie was running out of steam, David Friedman became one of the first producers to add violence to sex films. Blood Feast appeared in 1963, inspiring hundreds of imitators. Kenneth Turan and Stephen Zito, in their book Sinema, write
Unlike the Friedman and Meyer films, which dealt in violence but had some artistic merit, the Roughies and Kinkies of the middle '60s generally represent the nadir of the sex-exploitation film, ugly in spirit and appealing to the worst instincts of humankind.
The death rattle of the woman with the severed leg replaces the unfettered cry of ecstasy, and blood rather than semen becomes the symbolic fluid of erotic expression. Paradoxically, these grotesque films, featuring neither complete nudity nor loving sexual contact, were largely exempt from the wrath of the censors, possibly because the United States has traditionally been a country that censors sex but tolerates violence.
The husband and wife team of Michael and Roberta Findlay created numerous cinematic crimes against humanity. Under the name Anna Riva, Roberta began performing in sex films before moving behind the camera with Michael to make 1965's Satan's Bed, which features the rape of a mute Yoko Ono. Next came their "Flesh" trilogy Touch of Her Flesh, Curse of Her Flesh, and Kiss of Her Flesh, which displayed various methods of murdering nude women such as a poisoned cat's claw dragged across a naked midriff, electrically charged earrings, and razor-studded dildos.
(In a case of life imitating art, Michael Findlay himself came to a grizzly end. Headed for Europe in 1974 to seek investors for his invention of a portable 3-D camera, Findlay was decapitated by the propeller of a helicopter that crashed into the roof of the Pan Am building in Manhattan.)
As one long hooked on the sexually sadistic side of cinema, pornographer Bill Margold wrote
there is nothing more arousing than sexual terror. A helpless woman being strangled, stabbed, axed, suffocated or drowned is the most exciting thing I can watch. It unlocks my fantasies.
Nineteen seventy-one must be remembered for a slickly sick slice of sexual sinematics called The Psycho Lover.... This show had it all. A nut goes about strangling and stabbing women and the police are baffled. Each of the murders is done with care for the viewer's arousal. He [the murderer] uses the strangulation method combined with sexual taunting and terrorism. A stylish dual electrocution/execution at the end of the film (with much writhing about) was particularly stimulating.
Margold makes explicit the dark desires of many men for achieving the ultimate revenge against womenmurder. In a less dramatic fashion, standard porn reveals the male desire for revenge through its habitual depiction of facial cum shots. Just as there are few jokes without a victim, so, too, there is little porn without a victim.
The nasty films of the 1960s and 1970s made by Friedman and company show that without some form of restraint, either industry-imposed or government-imposed, pornographers gleefully churn out a product that drips with blood as well as semen.
* * *
The year 1966 was a particularly bad year for literaturethe two runaway best sellers were Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann and The Adventurers by Harold Robbins. In the spring, New York Times literary critic Lew Nichols wrote, "Seldom has there been so wretched a collection of titles as appears today." And in June a journalist thought up the literary hoax Naked Came the Stranger.
"The act of conception [of the hoax]," recalls Newsday columnist Mike McGrady, "took place, fittingly, in a gin mill. Fittinglybecause the gin mills that year were filled with writers anesthetizing themselves against the harsh new realities of their profession. To be a serious writer in the 1966 was also to be, by inclination if not by definition, a serious drinker."
On a Tuesday night, McGrady sat drinking at a gin mill known unofficially by its largely journalistic clientele as "the bureau." He felt depressed as he recalled his recent interview with Harold Robbins and his attempt to read Valley of the Dolls. As McGrady found solace in alcohol and male companionship, he had an epiphany and turned to a couple of fellow reporters. "Why don't we all do one? A novel. Everyone could do one chapter and each would write about one specific perversion ..."
Twenty-five Newsday employees, mainly journalists, each wrote sections of the sex-drenched novel that became Naked Came the Stranger, which describes in pornographic detail the adventures of a wife who seeks sexual satisfaction through sex with loads of men. (McGrady cast as author Penelope Ashe, a demure suburban housewife who resembled Jacqueline Susann.)
Seeking a publisher, McGrady visited the office of Lyle Stuart, who specialized in trash. Poster-sized photographs of the communist revolutionary Che Guevara grabbed McGrady's attention as he entered the office, as did two large cardboard cartons filled with books and carefully labeled "Sex Soft" and "Sex Hard."
"It's not just that Lyle Stuart and Che Guevara were friends," remembers McGrady, "which they were. But Lyle Stuart is to the publishing world what Che Guevara was to the world of international diplomacy."
Well into their first meeting, McGrady told Stuart about his pranka bunch of journalists getting together to write a truly bad book.
"I'll publish it," Stuart said.
"It should be ready in a year or so," McGrady replied. "You can read it then."
"I mean I'll publish it sight unseen," was the response.
"You mean without reading it?"
That was Lyle Stuart's way. He generally refused to read books that he published. "That may seem strange to someone who is new to book publishing," says McGrady, "but the remarkable thing is that so many publishers do read what they publish."
In 1969, Naked Came the Stranger exploded like an orgasm to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, helped along initially by Screw magazine and later by exposure of the hoax in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. A year later, McGrady published a book about the experience rifled Stranger Than Naked or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun & Profit.
In 1980, ten years later, McGrady and Stuart conspired on another hoax that largely remains undiscovered: a book that profiled a leading star of the fledgling porno industryLinda Lovelace.
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The first legitimate film to show pubic hair, Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up, appeared in 1966, followed a year later by the laborious I Am CuriousYellow, which overflowed with full frontal nudity. Underground, stags became known as loops and producers shot increasingly in color. (Although the first color feature films were released in 1939, porn was shot in black and white until the 1950s.) Body painting flicks proliferated as an excuse for showing skin. "Then came the beaver shorts ["beaver" is slang for vagina], the split beaver shorts and features that dealt with S&M, spankings, whippings and the like," writes porn historian Jim Holliday. "By the late sixties, color feature films showed full body simulation. This was only a step away from IT."
Sexually explicit material remained outside popular culture until the 1960s, when notions of sin, shame, and guilt diminished. Literature, plays, and movies became raunchier and sex shops, adult movie houses, and strip joints proliferated. After dropping its production code in favor of a ratings system in 1968, Hollywood unleashed such experimental fare as Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, and Midnight Cowboy.
During the turbulent 1960s, which lasted in spirit through most of the 1970s, the nation's ethic, says social scientist James Q. Wilson, changed from self-control to self-expression. It became okay to do your own thing. Along with drugs and rock'n'roll came porno chic.
"To deny sex is to deny life," writes William Rotsler. "To reject art is to impoverish yourself, rejecting pleasure and growth. To accept sex and art together is to add to oneself, to be positive instead of negative. Erotic cinema ... reveals us to ourselves with increasing artistry.... Perhaps it will be the catalyst that finally breaks us loose, as a culture, from centuries of ugly repression."
Many leftists supported pornography because it subverted middle-class morality. Sexually explicit movies brought into the open the most private act that was supposed to occur only in the bedrooms of married couples. Porn equalizes human beings. "Sex strips away identities it takes a lifetime to build," writes John Hubner. "A naked aroused man is not a brain surgeon or a university president or a Methodist bishop. He is an animal with an erection."
"Sex is the one area that is innately subversive to the rules and regulations of society, and pornography is the celebration of the subversive side of sex," says Dr. Martin Blinder, a San Francisco psychiatrist who testified in dozens of obscenity cases. "Pornography revels in all of sex's deliberately subversive permutations. It shows sex in a convent or a schoolroom, all the most unlikely places. We all have fantasies about our ninth-grade English teacher, and in pornography you can subvert her dignity. There she is with her butt in the air, getting it in both holes."
The late psychiatrist Dr. Robert Stoller offered a more sober perspective on "free love": "Humans are not a very loving species, especially when they make love.... Harm energizes erotics.... The desire to harm, cruelty, anger, revenge, and humiliation is the grain of sand around which the pearl of erotic excitement exists."
Table of Contents
|1. Naked Came the Stranger||11|
|2. Deep Throat||35|
|3. The Devil Behind the Green Door||63|
|4. The Golden Age of Porn||83|
|5. La Cosa Nostra||109|
|6. Snuff Child Bestiality||145|
|7. Porn Stars||157|
|8. Fallen Angels||183|
|10. Porn in the 1990s||219|