Erotic Cinema... a Brief History and Why I Think it's Due for a Come Back?
Nudity and sex have been controversial topics throughout history, yet exist in art, sculpture and written word as far back as written history goes. In fact in the very first chapter in the bible Adam and eve are naked and only become aware of this being taboo after they sin.
So why is it that there is so much fear and repression surrounding nudity and sex?
The first practical form of photography the daguerreotype was publically unveiled in 1839
The first erotic and nude Photographs are from 1839.
By the second world war 1939-1945 what we now know as pin ups had become so popular that they were being painted on planes and over 9 million copies of magazines with pin up girls were sent to the troops.
By the 1960's there was a slew of low budget late night films being played in drive ins and cinemas in America. At the forefront of all this sleaze and debauchery was Russ Meyers, who's films outwardly appear to offer little else other than in your face poster art and lots of busty ladies. But upon closer inspection his films are ripe with social commentary dealing with issues such as racism, feminism, classism, abuse, violence and sexual liberation. There was always an underlying message in his films and many are considered cult classics today.
In 1968, when the X Rating was first applied to cinema, this included anything considered offensive or not appropriate for children. On release some movies that are now considered classics were X Rated such as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Last Tango in Paris and even Clockwork Orange.
After the late 60's revolution with massive cultural change regarding war, feminism, racism and a breaking down of religious and sexual hang ups.
People came into the 70's open and the music, film and art that followed careered more to this openness. Things were about to get shaken up a whole lot more with the breakthrough of Porn film in cinema. One of the first and most notorious of these films was Behind the Green door (1972) featured the Ivory snow Girl Marilyn Chambers. You see, she was the girl on the Ivory Snow laundry powder commercial and printed on the box. Back then the main sponsors of TV were soap companies. hence the term soap box. The film was artistic, subversive and surprisingly well received by critics and audiences alike.
But the film everyone went and saw in 1972 was Deep Throat. A fun, silly, campy film about fellatio. While not the best film of its kind, because of all the hype it was the first film like this that a lot of people went and saw at the cinema. It established the term "porno chic," now used to describe the films that followed such as Devil in Miss Jones, Insatiable, Flesh Gordon and Debbie does Dallas.
The reason I bring this up and the point I am making is that people went in groups to see these films in a cinema and have a bit of a laugh. People enjoyed these films as a whole.
What happened next would change all that.
Like any art form after its initial conception it split off into sub categories.
While some films got more silly, others focussed on a more serious or erotic approach.
This includes classics such as Emanuelle, Story of O, Nightporter and Lady Chatterly's Lover. How these films were to be rated was still quite a grey area as soft sex films were not rated X, yet violent films such as Evil Dead still recieved an X Rating.
For me the first and last great attempt to make a serious block buster film containing unsimulated sex was The film Caligula. Featuring Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Poole, Helen Marin and a fine array of theatre actors and Penthouse playmates alike.
The film was the inception of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, who eventually settled on Tito Brass as the Director and main visionary for the film. Guccione's vision was to create an explicit adult film within a feature film narrative that had high production values. He felt that this would be a land mark film impacting cinematic history. The Citizen Kane of it's era. He was trying to present a realistic historical drama stating "I maintain the film is actually anti-erotic... in every one of its scenes you'll find a mixture of gore or violence or some other rather ugly things". They showed the film in art theatres unrated but 18+ and grossed over $23 million U.S. at the box office making it the highest grossing independent adult film at that point. But the film was met with huge backlash, terrible reviews and a slew of legal problems and eventually edited to a shorter R rated version for certain countries.
"Absolute Power Corrupts, Absolutely"
The film was ahead of it's time. A masterpiece in it's own right and the defining role of Malcolm McDowell career. But the world was not ready for it.
Tinto Brass continued releasing gorgeous stylised films usually following a female protagonist and the story of her blossoming or sexual liberation.
These films are all about the build up and suspense. The anticipation, the crossing of lines and the exploration of ones deepest intimate fantasies.
With the introduction of home video the entire industry and
Companies producing adult films no longer had to worry about its reception or approval and because consumers could now watch it in the comfort of their home the demand changed. This meant far more adult films were being released at a far lower quality. There were still campy films shot on 8mm coming out but by the early 90's this was being fazed out by a demand for more sex and less plot. As people became more desensitised the content became more hardcore and lost nearly all of the character building and plot development. With the introduction of the internet, porn was reduced to little more than a biological act.
Ok, so the point to this blog is that I believe that plot based erotic cinema will make a come back in the next 5-10 years. Let me explain why... For people to be engaged in a form of media there needs to be some substance or build up.
Action movies are often about revenge or heroism,
no one wants to just see stuff blowing up for an hour.
Horror movies build up terror and suspense,
no one wants to just watch someone getting stabbed for an hour.
So why is it that sex has been stripped from media and reduced to a biological act on the internet? I think this is unhealthy and sets up unrealistic expectations for young people.
In real life most of us we like to go on a date, get to know each other and form some sort of attraction before we have sex. And I think its only a natural human desire that this will translate to how we want to view media of this kind. It has already started to change.
Pin up art has already made a huge resurgence and this time it's largely a female audience getting into it as a way to empower women. There's a sense of feminism to it that could never have existed in the 50's. Romance and erotic novels are on the rise and people are not ashamed to read erotic literature on the train. After the 50 Shades of Grey craze I think that the desire for
this kind of erotic content is on the rise. And while there's a whole generation of people raised on the internet, many people are looking elsewhere.
Vinyl records have made a comeback when we can stream music for free on the internet. And so have retro game systems and cartridges. So it is possible for people to want another way to enjoy things they can already enjoy for free or to return to the roots of a particular form of media. But in this case I don't really think it will be nostalgic. I believe that plot based erotic cinema and pornography will start to make a come back in fresh new and exciting ways and grace the silver screen once again.