Confessions Of A 70s Porn Aficionado

December 26, 2013
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When people hear the words “70s porn” they usually have several clichés in mind: Lots of pubic hair, cheesy funk music, bad lighting, long talkative scenes and thick mustaches.

Now, while all of those things are mostly true, I get the feeling that some of the best features of this era are being unfairly overlooked. For every current young person with an over-developed sense of irony, there’s a beautiful part of the 20th century culture that has gone mostly unnoticed. One of these lovely things is, without a doubt, the adult cinema of the 1970s.

Autobiography of a Flea
An itch to scratch

Porn has always existed. As soon as a live-action movie could be reproduced, there was somebody with an immediate interest in seeing naked people having sex. The first known pornographic film dates back to 1896, just a few months after the Lumière Brothers‘ invention. Of course, it was nowhere close to what it is today, so let’s consider some of the history. When we look at the context, it’s easier to understand the groundbreaking nature of the 1970s.

In the United States, pornography was illegal until 1970, when the Lockhart Commission eliminated all criminal penalties for the sale and distribution of adult content. Prior to that, the only way to show hardcore sex on screen legally was through sex education films, since they couldn’t be categorized as pornography due to their educational value. If you haven’t seen any of these, let me warn you with a personal opinion: listening to the clinical narration of the voice-over, recorded by some doctor, does not enhance a hands-on viewing of these movies. Trust me.

The Devil in Miss Jones
Fiendishly hot stuff

Other than that, there was the illegal variety, of course. Stag films had been made clandestinely and smuggled into towns by travelling salesmen for decades. Unfortunately, even though the quality of Hollywood films was constantly improving, there was little technological advancement on stag movies. There were also no film critics that could suggest any major changes.

Once it became legal, the market was open, but society was not. Major Hollywood studios would not risk any social repercussions by showing any kind of hardcore sex. This left the business in the hands of amateurs. Sexual deviants with a burning desire to show as much graphic sex as possible and express their visions. And yes, God bless them, they did.

Hardcore sex had always been portrayed on its own. Stag movies went straight to the action and were isolated from any other moment. But in this new era of smut, stories were being told.

The birth of the adult film industry doesn’t receive as much credit as it should. Porn was self-financed; it had basic equipment, improvised locations, unknown performers and, basically, friends of the producers who’d lend a hand to the process. In other words: Porn was the true essence of what “independent cinema” became. This term gets thrown around a lot nowadays, but most of what are known as indie movies in our times are in fact made by production companies that – even though they’re not major – have a budget, a big professional team, and sometimes famous actors that choose to do these movies for their artistic value. But back in the early 70s, porn was the real deal. It was true independent cinema. Like the experimental non-pornographic films made by John Waters or John Cassavetes (and at times, at the same dodgy theaters these films were being shown,) this was changing the process of what making a movie was about. A small crew of inexperienced, yet determined filmmakers was all they needed. For the first time, there were feature films being shot by people without the mainstream machinery backing them up. They were pieces that didn’t have to answer to movie executives nor conventional audience logic. The true spirit of the DIY culture had reached the big screen and it was there to stay.

Behind the Green Door
Chambers gets knocked beyond the door

To me, there was something really honest about the way everyone involved in the porn movies of the 1970s participated in them. Perhaps I’m romanticizing it too much, but most of these flicks weren’t a goldmine. The majority of adult films weren’t grossing the money they could have done after the proliferation of videotapes and the Internet. There was a feeling that a lot of people involved in these shoots had another goal besides money. Maybe it was simply getting laid; maybe it was about making a cultural statement; maybe it was just fun to shoot a movie. Whatever the reasons were, there was a kind of innocence and a desire to make things happen.

Quite a number of filmmakers became legitimate directors out of the porn industry. Not only that, but a lot of people who became important mainstream film personalities in future years, started in porn. It was an entry-level gig that allowed them to get a lot of on-the-job training in many capacities on a movie set, which is an opportunity that didn’t arrive so easily in Hollywood.

There were plots. Let’s establish that. Were they the finest scripts ever developed? Hardly. But there was a story! There was something else to follow. All of a sudden, people weren’t only there to watch someone fuck; there was a background story to the sex scene. Adult movies were being made with events that involved characters, regardless of the quality of the premise.

Deep Throat
The classic that began it all

There were also fine actors. Real actors. Were they all like that? Not really, it was a small percentage, but some of them were pretty good. Jamie Gillis and Georgina Spelvin are examples of actors who were classically trained and ended up in porn for one reason or another. But there was a certain respectability that came out of this. There was a subversive element to acting in these movies. The cultural changes of the era benefited the industry. It was easy to look heroic if you challenged the moral standards of the time.

In 1972, Deep Throat became the first pornographic movie to receive national attention. The New York showings got the word out, and people would line up for several blocks to watch it. Suddenly, normal, respectable members of society were actually going to a movie theater and watching a blowjob on screen. This did not sit well with some important figures, including President Richard Nixon. The police raided the movie theaters that were showing Deep Throat and the state did their best to prosecute the film several times, mainly because it was a big target and they were trying to make a statement. This backfired and it only helped it reach a much bigger audience, famously being featured in an article in the New York Times that would call it “Porno Chic“, and giving it mainstream legitimacy.

After the success of Deep Throat, the adult industry was a force to be reckoned with. From 1973 to 1974, there were approximately 100 pornographic films made in America. And while Deep Throat was quirky and silly, other titles quickly explored brand new territory. From the psychotic experimentation of Behind the Green Door, to the impossibly dark subject of The Devil in Miss Jones, to the playful literary recreations of Autobiography of a Flea, the genre’s possibilities were now endless.

On a weekly basis, we’ll be reviewing many of these classics. Some of them are famous; some of them more obscure, but all of them have lots of pubic hair, cheesy music and mustaches. And all of them are beautiful gems.

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