Beyond Boogie Nights
This fall I’m presenting another video clips show with Good Vibrations. “Beyond Boogie Nights: Celebrating the Golden Age of the Blue Movie” features excerpts from almost two dozen classic and rare films from the 1970s, most of them available for rental (and some for sale) from Good Vibes. In the 1970s, a decade that saw substantial changes in public mores and in obscenity laws, porn underwent a sea change. Bigger and better movies were made, featuring scripts, sets, and good actors, and for a time it appeared that porn was on the verge of crossing over. Several movies in that decade made in onto the big screen in mainstream movie houses: Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and the sexy musical Alice in Wonderland all did so, and directors like Gerard Damiano (Devil in Miss Jones) and Henri Pachard, a.k.a. Henry Paris (The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Naked Came the Stranger), made serious erotic dramas and sexy comedies. Even when they didn’t play mainstream houses, porn films got their due in big-screen houses like the Pussycat Theatre chain — the last of these are rapidly disappearing, most recently (and notoriously) in New York’s Times Square.
Boogie Nights, last year’s retro look at ’70s porn and the people who made it, may have captured the essence of part of the industry, especially the cocaine-laced southern California scene. But Hollywood’s spin on the John Holmes story showed a pop culture side of porn. Some porn auteurs aimed much higher — watch Devil in Miss Jones again if you don’t believe me. The suicide scene is a kick in the gut, as strong as anything mainstream Hollywood made in that era. We don’t usually think of porn as having literary influences, but Misty Beethoven retold Pygmalion, while Talk Dirty to Me was a takeoff on Of Mice and Men.
More than anything else, porn movies in the ’70s were diverse. Some were schlocky loops and others were big-budget, well-acted extravaganzas. Some were goofy, campy comedies, while others borrowed from Sartre (that’s Devil in Miss Jones again). Mixed in among the straight sex were hot lesbian scenes, S/M as sophisticated as anything being filmed today, orgies galore, and newly out-of-the-closet activities like fisting.
Most of those movies are now only available through collectors because of the havoc wrought on the adult industry by the Meese Commission on Pornography. “Obscene material” was aggressively prosecuted by the Justice Department after Meese gave the green light, and the more unusual and non-mainstream the sexual content, the quicker the JD was to pounce. After several distribution companies had been driven into bankruptcy by the Meese Commission’s aftermath, the adult industry got the message — and many of the Golden Age of Porn’s most wonderful movies were cut and censored in an attempt to keep their distributors out of jail. Uncensored copies are now rare — Good Vibrations has many of these videos, but most are no longer available for sale, only for rent. Some of the clips in “Beyond Boogie Nights” are these very cut-out parts. They’re hard to find today, and many porn fans (especially younger ones) have never even seen them.
If you can get past the hairstyles and fashions, porn from the 1970s offers things you can’t easily find today: really smart scripts and excellent actors, natural-bodied women, diverse sexual situations, S/M and sex in the same movie. (Customers often complain to us that most S/M videos include no genital sex, but movies that do are much more likely to be prosecuted for obscenity than S/M without sex.)
I’ll be joined on stage at “Beyond Boogie Nights” by a panel of experts — some of the stars themselves. Annie Sprinkle, Candida Royalle, Chris Cassidy, Richard Pacheco, and Jamie Gillis will share the stage with me for a panel discussion focused on their experiences in, and perspectives about, porn in the ’70s. Many of them still work in porn; Sprinkle and Royalle are pioneers of feminist porn, while Cassidy, though now retired, worked through the ’80s making her own lesbian porn with Tigress Productions — her video Erotic in Nature has been a mainstay in Good Vibes’s lesbian porn section for years. Pacheco retired in the ’80s, partly because of the impact of AIDS on the industry. Gillis still makes movies — on both sides of the camera, his talent and longevity in the industry are legendary.
We could have profiled some of the directors, too — their vision shaped porn in the Golden Age — but we elected to stick with a panel of actors because they were the ones with their asses literally on the line. Without their exhibitionism and erotic performance skills, even the best director’s work couldn’t shine. And the ’70s was a decade of porn superstars. Besides our panelists, think of Annette Haven, Georgina Spelvin, Marilyn Chambers, Constance Money, Darby Lloyd Rains, Vanessa del Rio, C.J. Laing, Juliet Anderson, Gloria Leonard, Seka, John Holmes, John Leslie, Paul Thomas, Harry Reems… there’s not room enough to list them all. Many were fine actors who gave porn their best work. Many were also incendiary sexual performers with undeniable charisma. Many worked in porn because, like the best of their directors, they believed society was finally changing as far as sex was concerned, loosening up. Porn in the ’70s was the sexual revolution, on-screen. It’s true that much of it was sexist, but the best of it often transcended even that, and if it had not been so actively attacked by the government (and economically undermined by the arrival of anybody-with-a-camera-can-make-a- movie video), there’s no telling how much better our erotic cinema might be today.
Join us on November 5th at the Castro Theatre for “Beyond Boogie Nights.” The clips show and panel will be preceded by a champagne-and-hors d’ouvres reception with the stars ($50; begins 6 pm). The general admission show ($10) begins at 8 pm. For more information and to reserve tickets call (415) 974-8985, extension 250. Panelists Candida Royalle and Annie Sprinkle will also be joining us at our San Francisco store (1210 Valencia Street at 23rd) for their own free events. Join Candida Royalle on November 8 at 8pm for a retrospective of her work with her company Femme Productions. Annie Sprinkle visits us on November 11 at 8pm to sign copies of her newly revised book Post Porn Modernist.
If you live out of town and can’t join us for the show, have your own ’70s film festival. Check the Classics section in our video catalog, watch Jim Holliday’s compilation videos Only the Best and Only the Best on Film, or go for one of the movies that started it all: the Mitchell Brothers’ Behind the Green Door, starring Marilyn Chambers.