Golden Age of Porn

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Golden Age of Porn
Part of the sexual revolution
Deep Throat poster 2.jpg
The film Deep Throat helped inaugurate the Golden Age of Porn.
Date1969–1984
LocationUnited States
ParticipantsPorn producers, critics, porn fans, and celebrities
Outcome
  • Box office success of porn
  • Critical appreciation of porn
  • Return to low-budget porn

The term "Golden Age of Porn", or "porno chic", refers to a 15-year period (1969–1984) in commercial American pornography, which spread internationally, [1] [2] in which sexually explicit films experienced positive attention from mainstream cinemas, movie critics, and the general public. It began with release of the 1969 film Blue Movie directed by Andy Warhol, [3] [4] [5] and the 1970 film Mona produced by Bill Osco. [6] [7] These films were the first adult erotic films depicting explicit sex to receive wide theatrical release in the United States. [3] [4] [5] [6] Both influenced the making of films such as 1972's Deep Throat starring Linda Lovelace and directed by Gerard Damiano, [8] Behind the Green Door starring Marilyn Chambers and directed by the Mitchell brothers, [9] 1973's The Devil in Miss Jones also by Damiano, and 1976's The Opening of Misty Beethoven by Radley Metzger. According to Warhol, Blue Movie was a major influence in the making of Last Tango in Paris , an internationally controversial erotic drama film, starring Marlon Brando, and released a few years after Blue Movie was made. [5]

Contents

Following mentions by Johnny Carson on his popular Tonight Show and Bob Hope on TV as well, [7] Deep Throat achieved major box-office success, despite being rudimentary by mainstream standards. In 1973, the more accomplished, but still low-budget, film The Devil in Miss Jones was the seventh most successful film of the year, and was well received by major media, including a favorable review by film critic Roger Ebert. [10] The phenomenon of porn being publicly discussed by celebrities, and taken seriously by critics, a development referred to, by Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times , as "porno chic", began for the first time in modern American culture. [7] [11] It became obvious that box-office returns of very low-budget adult erotic films could fund further advances in the technical and production values of porn, making it extremely competitive with Hollywood films. There was concern that, left unchecked, the vast profitability of such films would lead to Hollywood being influenced by pornography. [12] [13]

Prior to this, thousands of U.S. state and municipal anti-obscenity laws and ordinances held that participating in the creation, distribution, or consumption of obscene films, constituted criminal action. Multi-jurisdictional interpretations of obscenity made such films susceptible to prosecution and criminal liability for obscenity, thereby restricting their distribution and profit potential. However, the US Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Miller v. California , narrowing and simplifying the definition of obscenity, resulted in dramatically fewer prosecutions nationwide. Freedom in creative license, higher movie budgets and payouts, and a "Hollywood mindset", all contributed to this period.

However, with the increasing availability of videocassette recorders for private viewing in the 1980s, video supplanted film as the preferred distribution medium for pornography, which quickly reverted to being low-budget and openly gratuitous, ending this "Golden Age". [14]

Background

Pornographic films were produced in the early 20th century as "stag" movies, intended to be viewed at male gatherings or in brothels. In the United States, social disapproval was so great that men in them sometimes attempted to conceal their face by subterfuge, such as a false mustache (used in A Free Ride ) or even being masked. [15] [16] Very few people were ever identified as appearing in such films; and performers were often presumed to have been prostitutes or criminals. Vincent Drucci is said to have performed in a pornographic film made in 1924. [17] Candy Barr, who appeared in the 1950s Smart Alec , was virtually unique among those appearing in stag films, having attained a degree of celebrity through her participation. [18]

In the US, during the late 1960s, there was regular semi-underground production of pornographic films on a modest scale. After answering New York City newspaper advertisements for nude models, Eric Edwards and Jamie Gillis, among others, appeared in these films, which were silent black and white 'loops' of low quality, often intended for peep booth viewing in the proliferation of adult video arcades around Times Square. [19] [20] [21] The product of the New York City porn industry was distributed nationwide by underworld figure Robert DiBernardo, who commissioned the production of much of the so-called 'Golden Age' era films made in New York City. [22] [23] Although not the first adult film to obtain a wide theatrical release in the US, none had achieved a mass audience, and changed public attitude toward pornography, as Deep Throat did.

The era

Andy Warhol Andy Warhol by Jack Mitchell.jpg
Andy Warhol

Beginnings

Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, released in June 1969, [3] [4] [5] and, more freely, Mona , by Bill Osco, released afterwards in August 1970, [6] were the first films depicting explicit sex to receive wide theatrical distribution in the United States. [3] [4] [6] Although Blue Movie involved sexual intercourse, the film, starring Viva and Louis Waldon, included substantial dialogue about the Vietnam War and various mundane tasks. [3] [4] In comparison, the film Mona differed from Blue Movie by presenting more of a story plot: Mona (played by Fifi Watson) had promised her mother that she would remain a virgin until her impending marriage. [24] Nonetheless, Blue Movie, besides being a seminal film in the 'Golden Age of Porn', was a major influence, according to Warhol, in the making of Last Tango in Paris (1972), an internationally controversial erotic drama film, starring Marlon Brando, and released a few years after Blue Movie was made. [5] [25]

Also around this time, in June 1970, the 55th Street Playhouse began showing Censorship in Denmark: A New Approach, a film documentary study of pornography, directed by Alex de Renzy. [26] According to Vincent Canby, a New York Times film reviewer, the narrator of the documentary noted that “pornography is more stimulating and cheaper than hormone injections” and "stresses the fact that since the legalization of pornography in Denmark, sex crimes have decreased." [26] Nonetheless, on September 30, 1970, Assistant District Attorney, Richard Beckler, had the theater manager, Chung Louis, arrested on an obscenity charge, and the film seized as appealing to a prurient interest in sex. The presiding judge, Jack Rosenberg, stated, “[The film] is patently offensive to most Americans because it affronts contemporary community standards relating to the description or representation of sexual matters.” [27]

Nevertheless, afterwards, in October 1970, the History of the Blue Movie , another film documentary study of pornography directed by Alex de Renzy, was released and featured a compilation of early blue movie shorts dating from 1915 to 1970. Film critic Roger Ebert reviewed the film, rated it two-stars (of four), and noted that the narrator tells us "solemnly about the comic artistry of early stag movies". [28]

Somewhat later, in December 1971, the film Boys in the Sand , one of the first adult erotic films, after Blue Movie in 1969, [29] [30] to be reviewed by Variety magazine, [31] was released and opened in theaters across the United States and around the world. [32] The film's title is a parodic reference to the 1968 play by Mart Crowley, and the related 1970 film adaptation, The Boys in the Band . [33]

Deep Throat

The 'Golden Age of Porn' continued in 1972 with Deep Throat . It officially premiered at the World Theater [34] in New York City on June 12, 1972 and was advertised in The New York Times under the bowdlerized title Throat. After Johnny Carson talked about the film on his nationally top-rated TV show [11] [35] [36] [37] [38] and Bob Hope, as well, mentioned it on TV, [7] Deep Throat became very profitable and a box-office success, according to one of the figures behind the film. In its second year of release, Deep Throat just missed Variety's top 10. However, by then, it was often being shown in a double bill with the most successful of the top three adult erotic films released in the 1972–1973 era, The Devil in Miss Jones , which easily outperformed Deep Throat, while leaving Behind the Green Door trailing in third place. [39]

The Devil in Miss Jones

The 1973 film The Devil in Miss Jones was ranked number seven in the Variety list of the top ten highest-grossing pictures of 1973, despite lacking the wide release and professional marketing of Hollywood and having been virtually banned across the country for half the year (see Miller v. California, below). [39] Some critics have described the film as, along with Deep Throat, one of the "two best erotic motion pictures ever made". [40] William Friedkin called The Devil in Miss Jones a "great film", partly because it was one of the few adult erotic films with a proper storyline. [41] Roger Ebert referred to The Devil in Miss Jones as the "best" of the genre he had seen and gave it three-stars (of four). [10] Ebert also suggested the film's box office receipts were inflated as a way of laundering the profits from illegal activities, although such a method would have required organised crime to be paying taxes on their illegally obtained income. [42] [43]

The Devil in Miss Jones was one of the first films to be inducted into the XRCO Hall of Fame. [44] The sound-recording, cinematography, and story-line of The Devil in Miss Jones were of a considerably higher quality than any previous porn film. The lead, Georgina Spelvin, who had been in the original Broadway run of The Pajama Game , combined vigorous sex with an acting performance some thought as convincing as anything to be seen in a good mainstream production. She had been hired as a caterer, but Gerard Damiano, the film director, was impressed with her reading of Miss Jones's dialogue, while auditioning an actor for the non-sex role of 'Abaca'. According to Variety's review, "With The Devil in Miss Jones, the hard-core porno feature approaches an art form, one that critics may have a tough time ignoring in the future". The review also described the plot as comparable to Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit , [45] and went on to describe the opening scene as, "a sequence so effective it would stand out in any legit theatrical feature." [45] It finished by stating, "Booking a film of this technical quality into a standard sex house is tantamount to throwing it on the trash heap of most current hard-core fare." [35] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49] [50] [51]

"Porno chic"

An influential five-page article in The New York Times Magazine in 1973 described the phenomenon of porn being publicly discussed by celebrities, and taken seriously by critics, a development referred to, by Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times , as "porno chic". [7] [11] [52] Some expressed the opinion that pornographic films would continue to extend their access to US theaters, and the mainstream film industry would gravitate toward the influence of porn. [12] [13]

Supreme Court's 1973 Miller v. California

Supreme Court's 1973 Miller v. California decision redefined obscenity from "utterly without socially redeeming value" to lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value". Crucially, it made 'contemporary community standards' the criterion, holding that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment; the ruling gave leeway to local judges to seize and destroy prints of films adjudged to violate local community standards. The Miller decision stymied porn distribution. [35] The Devil in Miss Jones , as well as Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door , was prosecuted successfully during the latter half of 1973; the Supreme Court's Miller decision closed much of America to the exhibition of adult erotic films, and often led to it being banned outright. Porn films would not feature as prominently in the mainstream movie business as they did in the Golden Age, [53] until the emergence of the internet in the 1990s. [54]

Post-1973

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision to have put mass box office returns beyond the reach of pornographic films, the leaps in the films' quality that had occurred between 1972 and 1973 were not sustained.[ clarification needed ] With their relatively modest financial means, a predicted move of organized crime into Hollywood failed to materialize. [13] Pornographic films continued to be a highly profitable business, and thrived throughout the rest of the 1970s, leading to the concept of porn "stars" gaining currency. Ostracism of porn performers meant they almost invariably used pseudonyms. Being outed as having appeared in porn usually put an end to an actor's hope of a mainstream career. [55] An indication of the returns still possible was that a 1976 release, Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy , favorably reviewed by film critic Roger Ebert in 1976, [56] reportedly grossed over $90 million globally. [35] [57] Some historians assess The Opening of Misty Beethoven , based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (and its derivative, My Fair Lady ), and directed by Radley Metzger, as attaining a mainstream level in storyline and sets. [58] Author Toni Bentley called the film the "crown jewel" of the Golden Age. [59] [60]

In general, after 1973, adult erotic films emulated mainstream filmmaking storylines and conventions, merely to frame the depictions of sexual activity to prepare an 'artistic merit' defense against possible obscenity charges. The adult film industry remained stuck at the level of 'one day wonders', finished by participants hired for only a single day. The ponderous technology of the time meant filming a simple scene would often take hours due to the need for the camera to be laboriously set up for each shot. [61] Repeated sustained performances might be required on cue at any time over the course of a day, which was an issue for men without the recourse to modern Viagra-type drugs. [55] [61] Production was concentrated in New York City where organized crime was widely believed to have control over all aspects of the business, and to prevent entry of competitors. Although their budgets were usually very low, a subcultural level of appreciation exists for films of this era, which were produced by a core group of around thirty performers, some of whom had other jobs. Several were actors who could handle dialogue when required. However, some participants scoffed at the idea that what they did qualified as "acting". [7] [35] [55] By the early 1980s, the rise of home video had led to the end of the era when people went to movie theaters to see sex shot on 35mm film with production values, ultimately culminating with the rise of the internet in the 1990s and beyond. [55]

Feminist criticism

The 'Golden Age' was a period of interactions between pornography and the contemporaneous second wave of feminism. Radical and cultural feminists, along with religious and conservative groups, attacked pornography, [62] [63] while other feminists were pro-pornography, such as Camille Paglia, who defined what came to be known as sex-positive feminism in her work, Sexual Personae . Paglia and other sex-positive or pro-pornography feminists accepted porn as part of the sexual revolution with its libertarian sexual themes, such as exploring bisexuality and swinging, free from government interference. The endorsement of female critics was essential for the credibility of the brief era of "porno chic". [64] [65] [66] [67]

Golden Age stars

Major pornographic film actors of the first part of the 'Golden Age', the "porno chic" era, included:

Second-wave stars

At the time of the maturation of the second wave, movies increasingly were being shot on video for home release.

As their popularity rose, so did their control of their careers. John Holmes became the first recurring porn character in the "Johnny Wadd" film series directed by Bob Chinn. Lisa De Leeuw was one of the first to sign an exclusive contract with a major adult production company, Vivid Video, and Marilyn Chambers worked in mainstream movies, being one of the first of a rare number of crossover porn actors.

Producers

Major producers during the first wave of the 'Golden Age', the "Porno Chic" era, include:

With the rise of video, the dominant pornographic film studios of the Second Wave period were VCA Pictures [68] and Caballero Home Video. [69]

Films of the period

Some of the best-known adult erotic films of the period include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Pornographic film Film genre that depicts unsimulated sex activity as the central part of story

Pornographic films (pornos), erotic films, or sex films are films that present sexually explicit subject matter in order to arouse and satisfy the viewer. Pornographic films present sexual fantasies and usually include erotically stimulating material such as nudity (softcore) and sexual intercourse (hardcore). A distinction is sometimes made between "erotic" and "pornographic" films on the basis that the latter category contains more explicit sexuality, and focuses more on arousal than storytelling, but the distinction is highly subjective.

<i>Behind the Green Door</i> 1972 film by Mitchell brothers

Behind the Green Door is a 1972 American feature-length pornographic film, widely considered one of the genre's "classic" pictures and one of the films that ushered in The Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984). Featuring Marilyn Chambers, who became a mainstream celebrity, it was one of the first hardcore films widely released in the United States and the first feature-length film directed by the Mitchell brothers. It was adapted from an anonymous short story of the same title, which was circulated by means of numerous carbon copies. The story's title makes reference to the 1956 hit song "Green Door", whose lyrics describe being denied entry to a raucous nightclub with a green door. Though the main focus of the film, Chambers does not have a single word of dialogue in the entire film. The film is possibly the first U.S. feature-length heterosexual hardcore film to include an interracial sex scene.

<i>The Devil in Miss Jones</i> 1973 American pornographic film directed by Gerard Damiano

The Devil in Miss Jones is a 1973 pornographic film, written, directed and produced by Gerard Damiano and starring Georgina Spelvin and Harry Reems. It is widely regarded as a classic adult film, released during the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984). After his 1972 success with Deep Throat, Damiano shot the film in a converted apple-packing plant in Milanville, Pennsylvania. Along with Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, the film is associated with a time in American culture known as "porno chic", in which adult erotic films were just beginning to be widely released, publicly discussed by celebrities and taken seriously by film critics. The film's plot was inspired by the 1944 play No Exit by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. The Devil in Miss Jones went on to spawn numerous remakes and sequels.

Harry Reems

Herbert John Streicher, better known by his professional pseudonym Harry Reems, was an American pornographic actor and later a successful real estate owner. His most famous roles were as Doctor Young in the 1972 pornographic cult classic Deep Throat and The Teacher in the 1973 classic The Devil in Miss Jones. Throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s he was one of the most prolific performers in the adult film industry. He became the first American actor to be prosecuted solely for appearing in a film. He retired from the industry in 1985.

<i>Deep Throat</i> (film) 1972 film by Gerard Damiano

Deep Throat is a 1972 American pornographic film that was at the forefront of the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984). The film was written and directed by Gerard Damiano, who was listed in the credits as "Jerry Gerard"; produced by Louis Peraino, credited as "Lou Perry"; and starring Linda Lovelace, the pseudonym given to Linda Susan Boreman.

<i>The Opening of Misty Beethoven</i> 1976 pornographic film directed by Radley Metzger

The Opening of Misty Beethoven is an American pornographic comedy film released in 1976. It was produced with a relatively high budget and filmed on elaborate locations in Paris, New York City and Rome with a musical score, and owes much to its director Radley Metzger. According to author Toni Bentley, The Opening of Misty Beethoven is considered the "crown jewel" of the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984).

Georgina Spelvin American pornographic actress (born 1936)

Georgina Spelvin is the stage name of Shelley Bob Graham, a former American actress and pornographic performer who is best known as the star of the classic 1973 pornographic film The Devil in Miss Jones, released during the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984).

<i>The Image</i> (1975 film)

The Image is a 1975 American adult drama that was re-released in an edited version in 1976. The film is also known by two other titles: The Punishment of Anne and The Mistress and the Slave and was directed by Radley Metzger. The film is based upon the classic 1956 sadomasochistic novel L'Image, written by Catherine Robbe-Grillet and published under the pseudonym of "Jean de Berg".

<i>Score</i> (1974 film)

Score is a 1974 American erotic romance film directed by Radley Metzger. One of the first films to explore bisexual relationships, it was part of the brief porn chic fad in the early 1970s that also included Behind the Green Door, The Devil in Miss Jones and Deep Throat. The film was based on an off-Broadway stage play that ran for 23 performances at the Martinique Theatre from October 28 through November 15, 1971 and featured Sylvester Stallone in a brief role. The theatrical version of Score was written by Jerry Douglas, who later became a mainstream screenwriter. It was set in a shabby Queens tenement, while the film was set in an elegant, mythical land and sported a relatively high budget for an independent film of that era.

<i>Blue Movie</i>

Blue Movie is a 1969 American film written, produced, and directed by Andy Warhol. Blue Movie, the first adult erotic film depicting explicit sex to receive wide theatrical release in the United States, is a seminal film in the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984), and helped inaugurate the "porno chic" phenomenon, in which porn was being publicly discussed by celebrities and taken seriously by film critics, in modern American culture, and later, in many other countries throughout the world. According to Warhol, Blue Movie was a major influence in the making of Last Tango in Paris, an internationally controversial erotic drama film, starring Marlon Brando, and released a few years after Blue Movie was made. Viva and Louis Waldon, playing themselves, starred in Blue Movie.

<i>The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann</i> 1975 film by Radley Metzger

The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann is a 1974 American hardcore adult film starring Barbara Bourbon and directed by Radley Metzger that is considered one of the classics of the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984). It was a step forward in the development of the genre, as it had a plot and good acting. The movie can be seen as a meditation on voyeurism, due to the trope of Mann being spied on by a private detective hired by her husband, and the production of pornography itself, as the detective films her sexual encounters.

Pornographication or pornification is the absorption by mainstream culture of styles or content of the sex industry and the sexualisation of Western culture, sometimes referred to as raunch culture. Pornographication, particularly the use of sexualised images of women, is said to demonstrate "how patriarchal power operates in the field of gender representation". In Women in Popular Culture, Marion Meyers argues that the portrayal of women in modern society is primarily influenced by "the mainstreaming of pornography and its resultant hypersexualization of women and girls, and the commodification of those images for a global market".

<i>Barbara Broadcast</i>

Barbara Broadcast is an American adult erotic film released in 1977. The film was directed by Radley Metzger and filmed in several elaborate locations in New York City, including the Olympia ballroom and restaurant in the Royal Manhattan Hotel.

<i>Maraschino Cherry</i> (film)

Maraschino Cherry is an American hardcore pornographic film and comedy released in 1978. The film was directed by Radley Metzger and filmed in several locations in New York City; it was his fifth and final hardcore film.

<i>Naked Came the Stranger</i> (film)

Naked Came the Stranger is an American adult erotic film released in 1975. The film was directed by Radley Metzger and filmed in several elaborate locations in New York City.

<i>The Tale of Tiffany Lust</i>

The Tale of Tiffany Lust, also known as Body Lust, is a 1979 American adult erotic film. The film was directed by Radley Metzger and filmed in several elaborate locations in New York City.

Joao Fernandes is a Brazilian-born cinematographer best known for his work in the adult film industry during the Golden Age of Porn, before his shift toward more mainstream genre cinema.

The World of Henry Paris is a 1981 American compilation film documentary of the 1970s erotic films directed by Radley Metzger, working under the alias name of "Henry Paris".

<i>Aphrodesias Diary</i>

Aphrodesia's Diary is a 1983 American adult erotic film directed by Radley Metzger and Gérard Kikoïne.

<i>The Sins of Ilsa</i>

The Sins of Ilsa is a 1985 American adult erotic film, based on a novel by Iris Murdoch, that was filmed in New York City and, for exteriors, in Paris. The film is notable as the last film directed by Radley Metzger and, as of November 2019, has not yet been released publicly.

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