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Erotic Cinema Essay, Research Paper

The ability to sexually stimulate an audience is one of the earliest distinctions of film. Before the turn of the century, an exotic dancer named Fatima performed her act for the motion-picture cameras — and for at least those segments of the public who saw the film uncensored. In the brief peep-show films of the early 1900s, scantily-clad women posed, danced, or undressed in such then-daring efforts as Her Morning Exercise and The Pajama Girl. Municipal censorship boards started appearing in America by 1908, and before the end of the teens, state and local censors existed throughout the country. Although they made sure that no general-release film went too far in its treatment of sex, clandestinely shot and screened erotic films already existed. These "cooch reels" (an allusion to the salacious gyrations of hoochie-coochie dancers) were usually 100-foot rolls for private collectors who had their own projectors. One example to have survived the years is A Free Ride (aka The Grass Sandwich), thought to have been made as early as 1915. The Hays Office in Hollywood standardized censorship rules for the industry in 1922, but pornography such as On The Beach (1925) continued to be made, sold, and viewed illicitly throughout the silent era. The situation remained the same after the arrival of sound: The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 policed the sexual content of mainstream films, while underground suppliers continued to make pornographic shorts (known variously as "stag films" or "smokers" because they were usually shown at all-male gatherings, such as fraternal organizations and private parties). In the first decades of sound, exploitation films went as far as they could in offering the ticket-buying public sexually-themed films which could still be legally distributed. Melodramas such as Slaves In Bondage (1937) and The Flesh Merchant (1954) depicted young women forced into prostitution; Child Bride (1941) looked at pedophilic inclinations among country folk. Some films pretended to teach sex education, like Test Tube Babies (1953), Because Of Eve (1948), or the highly lucrative Mom And Dad (1944), directed by William Beaudine and produced by Kroger Babb, which included an actual scene of childbirth. Alongside the slowly growing and highly secretive realm of short pornography for anonymous collectors and secret screenings, a new kind of above-ground erotica wriggled onto theater screens by the late 1940s when such films as Hollywood Revels (1946) and Midnight Frolics (1949) featured the routines of strippers and comics from burlesque shows. "Burleycue" films were most popular in the early '50s, with such 1952 shorts as Love Moods with Lili St. Cyr and Striptease Revealed with St. Cyr and Tempest Storm; both performers also appeared in the burlesque features Lili's Wedding Night (1952) (aka Her Wedding Night) and A Night In Hollywood (1953). St. Cyr starred in the feature Striporama (1953), which also introduced the beloved Bettie Page (often credited as "Betty"). Between 1952 and '57, Page posed for thousands of cheesecake (and bondage and spanking) stills for photographer Irving Klaw, who also filmed her in numerous 8- and 16-mm loops, including Betty's Erotic Dance In High Heels, Betty's Lingerie Teaser Dance, and Cute Betty Dancing In Panties. Klaw also produced and directed the burleycue revue films Varietease (1954) and Teaserama (1955), both with Page, and Buxom Beautease (1956) with Blaze Starr, St. Cyr, and Storm. Other burlesque films set their storylines against a grindhouse backdrop, such as the 1954 effort Dream Follies, directed by Phil Tucker and written by Lenny Bruce (who also appears unbilled in the film, playing two comic roles). Despite such mid-'60s efforts as The Peek Snatchers (1966), directed by Joseph P. Mawra, or the striptease horror/fantasy Orgy Of The Dead (1965), directed by Stephen C. Apostolof (as "A.C. Stephen") and written by Edward D. Wood Jr., burleycue films began to fade by the end of the '50s with the growing popularity of a new kind of titillating movie set in a nudist camp. Whether pseudo-documentary or pseudo-dramatic, these largely plotless and actionless "nudies" were strictly T&A films and never exposed any genitalia. They showed enough T&A, however, to run into censorship attacks until Garden Of Eden (1954), the first color nudist-camp film, set a legal precedent: A New York court ruled that a film was not obscene or indecent simply because it featured nudity. A torrent of nudies followed, including Naked As Nature Intended (1961, aka As Nature Intended), directed by Harrison Marks, and Nature's Sweethearts (1962), produced by Irving Klaw. Producer David F. Friedman and director Herschell Gordon Lewis, who would launch the horror sub-genre of gore films in 1963 with The Blood Feast, started out with nudist-camp films (which Lewis directed as "Lewis H. Gordon"): Daughter Of The Sun (1962), Nature's Playmates (1962), Goldilocks And The Three Bares (1963). In 1966 the genre went full-frontal with producer/director John Lamb's The Raw Ones, but by then it too had been replaced by the more explicit "nudie-cuties." The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), written and directed by Russ Meyer, may not have been the first nudie-cutie, but this comic fantasy, in which the audience saw how the titular Teas imagines women look without their clothing, was a huge moneymaker. Meyer put the genre on the map and followed with several more nudie-cuties, including This Is My Body (1959), Eve And The Handyman (1960), Erotica (1961), The Immoral West (1962), and Europe In The Raw (1963). Other filmmakers on the bandwagon included Friedman and Lewis with The Adventures Of Lucky Pierre, (1961), writer/director John K. McCarthy with The Ruined Bruin, (1961) (aka The Riotous Bruin;producer/director Doris Wishman's (Nature Camp Confidential, (1961) (aka Diary Of A Nudist), Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, (1962) (aka Blaze Starr Goes Back To Nature, Busting Out); and producer/director Barry Mahon's (Nudes, Inc., (1964) and Nude Scrapbook, (1967). There were even a few large-budget nudie-cuties, such as director King Donovan's Promises! Promises! (1963) with Jayne Mansfield, but by then audiences were already in search of better thrills. "Roughies," films that added violence to the parade of naked females, were the next step. Russ Meyer launched the sub-genre in 1964 with Lorna and made his classic the following year, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!; he'd stick to roughies into the 1970s, developing a campy sense of humor and an individual, kinetic editing style with such hit films as Vixen (1968), Cherry, Harry And Raquel (1969), Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970), and Supervixens (1975). Also playing it rougher were Mahon with The Sex Killer, (1967), Friedman with A Smell Of Honey, A Swallow Of Brine (1966), and Wishman, who directed the appropriately named Chesty Morgan in the 1970 films Deadly Weapons and Double Agent 73. As the roughies got rougher, their violence became more sexual: The "kinkies" relied on sado-masochism, torture, rape, and castration in such films as Love Camp Seven (1968), directed by R. Lee Frost; the "Flesh" trilogy — The Touch Of Her Flesh (1967), The Curse Of Her Flesh (1968), The Kiss Of Her Flesh (1968) — directed by Michael Findlay (as "Julian Marsh"), who co-scripted and co-produced with his wife Roberta (as "Anna Riva"); and the "Olga" films from director Joseph P. Mawra and producer George Weiss, including White Slaves Of Chinatown (1964), Olga's Girls (1964), and Madame Olga's Massage Parlor (1965). The 1960s also saw the development of "softcore" films. These sexploitationers rarely made any pretense at redeeming social value or even the narrative conventions of other genres. What they offered was plenty of sexual activity, most often in a series of escalating sequence — from female masturbation and male-female sex to bisexuality (but only insofar as some of the women would swing both ways) and group sex (usually a man joining two women or else two or more couples swapping wives). What made the films softcore was that the sex was invariably simulated, and no erect penises, penetration, or ejaculation was shown. The decade's slew of softcore films include Wishman's Bad Girls Go To Hell (1965); The Orgy At Lil's Place (1964), directed by J. Nehemiah; The Notorious Daughter Of Fanny Hill (1966) and Starlet (1969), both produced by Friedman; and Sin In The Suburbs (1962) and Moonlighting Wives (1964), both directed by Joe Sarno. Marsha Jordan became a genre star with a series of softcore films such as Lady Godiva Rides (1969), produced and directed by "A.C. Stephen," and a series of films for producer/director Don Davis, including The Daisy Chain (1969), The Golden Boy (1970), and Marsha, The Erotic Housewife (1970). Ed Wood had a flair for softcore comedy, writing and starring in The Love Feast (1969, aka The Photographer) for producer/director Joseph F. Robertson, and writing, directing, and acting in Take It Out In Trade (1970). Radley Metzger established his career producing and directing softcore with The Dirty Girls (1965) and The Alley Cats (1966); his Carmen Baby (1967) was a big hit, as were his lesbian dramas Th?r?se And Isabelle (1968) and his update of Dumas, Camille 2000 (1969). In 1966 Metzger scored another hit by re-editing and distributing the softcore I, A Woman (1965), a Swedish/Danish co-production directed by Mac Ahlberg and starring Essy Persson. By the late 1960s, producer/director Pat Rocco was making gay softcore; he later assembled his short films into such compilation features as Sex And The Single Gay (1970) and Mondo Rocco (1970). Other all-male softcore from the late '60s and early '70s include The Meatrack (1969) (aka Meat/Rack; Street/Rack), directed by Michael Thomas (as "Richard Stockton"); The Song Of The Loon (1970), directed by Andrew Herbert, an adaptation of the famed gay novel by Richard Amory; and Passing Strangers (1974), written and directed by Arthur J. Bressan Jr., who'd later make the non-erotic gay-themed features Abuse (1983) and Buddies (1985). Hollywood's self-regulating ratings system went into effect in 1968, with an X-rating going to films the content of which restricted them to adult audiences. One of the biggest grossing films of 1969 was an X-rated Swedish release I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967), a dose of politics seasoned with some sex action, written and directed by Vilgot Sj?man. By 1970, however, Sj?man's sequel I Am Curious (Blue) (1968) was ignored in the States — the publicity and censorship cases had died down for Yellow, and homemade, sexually-explicit "hardcore" films began to appear. With their ascendancy, the market for softcore started to vanish, although the genre had a last hurrah with the major box-office hit The Stewardesses (1970), an X-rated 3-D film written and directed by Alf Stillman. In the early 1970s, Roger Corman's New World Pictures squeezed a little more life out of softcore with a series of R-rated "Nurse" films, including The Student Nurses (1970), Night Call Nurses (1972), The Young Nurses (1973) (aka Emergency Nurses), and Candy Stripe Nurses (1974). Columbia also managed to do good business releasing the French softcore drama Emmanuelle (1974), directed by Just Jaeckin; numerous sequels followed but met with less success here. By the end of the 1960s some two-dozen American theaters were exclusively showing short hardcore sex loops. A pair of 1970 films put hardcore footage into more-general circulation with documentaries about Denmark's uninhibited attitude toward pornography: Sexual Freedom In Denmark, produced and directed by M.C. Von Hellen, and Censorship In Denmark: A New Approach, produced and directed by Alex de Renzy. (De Renzy also gave 1970 audiences vintage hardcore with A History Of The Blue Movie, as did Peter Neal and Anthony Stern with their 1974 documentary Ain't Misbehaving.) Producer Bill Osco took the next step and made the hardcore feature Mona: The Virgin Nymph in 1970. With the success of Osco's follow-up, Harlot (1971), hardcore films soon become an important industry; other filmmakers who followed include De Renzy (Powder Burns, 1971), director Paul Gerber (School Girl, 1970), and director Roger Guermontes (Dark Dreams, 1971). Radley Metzger continued to do well with softcore, such as his four-character films The Lickerish Quartet (1970) and Score (1973), the latter a bisexual film which included gay sex; but eventually he also took the plunge into hardcore, and as "Henry Paris" directed such films as The Opening Of Misty Beethoven (1976), Barbara Broadcast (1977), Maraschino Cherry (1978), and The Tale Of Tiffany Lust (1981). All that remained for the genre of hardcore pornography was legitimacy, and that came in Deep Throat (1972), directed by Gerard Damiano; Linda Lovelace starred as a woman who can achieve orgasm only by performing fellatio. Major film critics reviewed this hugely successful, landmark porno film, and two more celebrated hardcore films followed which also met with establishment recognition and spectacular box office. The first was Behind The Green Door (1972), produced and directed by Jim and Art Mitchell (who were among the first hardcore filmmakers with such early-'70s erotica as Wild Campus, Rampaging Nurses, and Flesh Factory). Its success was due in part to its star, Marilyn Chambers, having also been the "Ivory Snow Girl"; her appearance on boxes of detergent as a wholesome young mother made the idea of seeing her in hardcore pornography irresistible. (Chambers followed up with the Mitchell Brothers' The Resurrection Of Eve (1973) and Inside Marilyn Chambers (1984) and also starred in David Cronenberg's non-erotic horror tale Rabid (1977) as well as the popular porno film Insatiable (1980).) The second film was also by director Damiano: The Devil In Miss Jones (1973), with Georgina Spelvin as a woman who commits suicide but is permitted to live out her erotic fantasies before spending eternity in Hell. (Among Spelvin's other hardcore films are High Priestess Of Sexual Witchcraft (1973), written and directed by Beau Buchanan, and 3 A.M. (1976), directed by Gary Graver (as "Robert McCallum").) Other '70s hardcore includes Necromania (1971) and The Only House (1971), both by writer/director Ed Wood, who ended his porno career making 16-mm loops; Joe Sarno's Deep Throat II (1973), the first of many Throat sequels over the next 20 years; High Rise (1972), written and directed by Danny Stone; and It Happened In Hollywood (1972), written and directed by Peter Locke. Gay hardcore also became a staple of the porn industry in the 1970s. Among the first directors were Wakefield Poole, with Boys In The Sand (1971) and Bijou (1972), and Fred Halsted, who also appeared in his controversial gay S&M hardcore film L.A. Plays Itself (1972). Other notable directors over the ensuing years include J. Brian (Seven In A Barn), Toby Ross (Do Me Evil, Schoolmates), Arthur J. Bressan Jr. (Forbidden Letters, Juice), Steve Scott (Inches, 1983), and France's Jean-Daniel Cadinot (Sex Bazaar, 1989; Carnival In Venice, 1990). Part of the impact of gay hardcore was the development of genuinely bisexual hardcore by the mid 1980s, with such 1985 films as Bisexual Fantasies, directed by Don Christian, and The Big Switch, directed by Paul Norman, in which gay sex is included along with the heterosexual and lesbian action. The erotic-film industry underwent a profound shift during the mid 1980s and made an almost-total changeover in format from film to video. This retooling cost hardcore the critical attention it had begun receiving — film critics want to criticize films that get distributed to theaters, not direct-to-video releases. But if pornography remarginalized itself as a genre, it blossomed as an industry. Shooting directly on video for VCR owners to rent or buy for their enjoyment in private was more than just an inexpensive way to make and sell erotica; with the gradual disappearance of porno movie houses, the audience for erotic movies expanded beyond its two major markets, straight men and gay men. Now viewers of more-specialized tastes, who might be too small in numbers to support a theater aimed at them, were targeted and tapped. Heterosexual porn (with frequent dollops of lesbian action) aimed at men is of course still the industry's mainstay; recent video directors include John Stigliano (Buttman, 1989), Scotty Fox (Shattered, 1991), and Jim Enright (User Friendly, 1992). Gay erotica is also a major part of the adult-movie industry and has also grown with the adaptation of video; among the important directors are Matt Sterling (Inch By Inch, 1985; Bigger Than Life, 1986) and Christopher Rage (Christopher Rage's Orgy, 1983). With video, both kinds of erotica have also branched into racial subdivisions, offering tapes with all-black, all-Latin, or all-Asian casts. The market for bisexual porn increased significantly after the changeover to video and now is a full-blown sub-genre, with such efforts as Innocence Lost (1986), directed by Paul Norman. Even more striking is the popularity of transgender erotica. Some videos feature transvestite performers, usually in relations with men; others are "she-male" hardcore, which feature men who take female hormones and whose bodies, except for their genitalia, are remarkably like a woman's — and their sexual partners cover the gamut of genders to include men, women, and other she-males. Transgender pornography has also been made increasingly by transgendered people: Good Boy Bad Girl (1991), produced by Kim Christy; Bitter She-Males (1993), directed by Karen Dior. Lesbian erotica, made by women for women, began appearing with such video releases as Erotic In Nature (1986), directed by Cristen Lee Rothermund, and BurLEZk Live! (1987) and Hungry Hearts (1989), both from producer/directors Nan Kinney and Debi Sundahl. Bondage-and-discipline videos have also gained in popularity, with numerous tapes from such companies as Bizarre Video (Fantasies Of Submission, Bound For Slavery) and Star Maker Video (Abduction Of A Salesman, A Humiliating Bind). In these relatively censorship-free times, this enormously profitable industry — on film or video or even CD-rom — will continue to expand not just its audience-base but also its range of entertainment; barring any sweeping social reaction that would regulate its private consumption, the genre of erotic cinema will remain a permanent fixture, regardless of how much or little critical attention it may receive.


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