23 December 2010 | lor_
When porn was set free
Made by a porno film pioneer Alex de Renzy, this 1970 documentary initiated the now 40-years-young era of widely distributed pornography. It's well-written narration is informative, but overall the "preaching to the choir" approach is boring.
At the time, the inclusion of considerable "naughty bits", namely explicit sex still photos and live action previously relegated to stag movies & smokers, gave the fans a thrill. But unlike De Renzy's later work, this is not sexually stimulating, but more in the nature of filler.
As in his later movie WEED, De Renzy uses documentary for advocacy purposes, not trying to be objective. His presence, microphone in hand, is pervasive here as he interviews, with tepid results, men and women on the streets of Copenhagen with the burning question: "What do you think of free pornography here?". Not free in the pocketbook sense, but free of censorship for people 16 & up. It's generally serious, with an occasional yock, but not the satirical bent of the current advocacy king Michael Moore.
Some useful historical info is imparted: in 1964 the Danish courts finally cleared Cleland's novel "Fanny Hill" for public consumption, leading to legislation in June 1969 freeing not just written porn, but photos & movies too. De Renzy visits Sex '69, a porn expo where over 50 vendors show their wares to try & drum up foreign exports of smut. Main markets are Germany, U.S. and England.
Prices are interesting: mail-order movies are strictly 8mm, and cost $50 for a 10-minute (200-feet) black & white stag film or $100 for color. Put in perspective, with typical inflation exceeding 20 times over 40 years, that would be over $2,000 for a 10-minute stag loop in today's currency, when of course retro-fans get to see typically two-hour compilations of vintage stag material on DVD for roughly $20 now. That's $20 vs. the equivalent of $20,000 - a measure of how starved for titillation the previous generation (living in a censorship regime) was. (Another example: I just watched another SWV oldie THE HIPPIE REVOLT, and in Haight-Ashbury of 1967 it cost 25 cents to have a bag of washing done for you at the local laundromat, what costs me $10 to $15 in Manhattan today, or a 50 times inflation.)
Dirty magazines (showing d.p.'s and lots of explicit sex) Private and Color Climax are displayed, as Alex tours sex shops, sex clubs and the like. A very lengthy sequence shows a girl and a moonlighting sailor filming a loop: this is quite tedious and ultimately softcore since De Renzy's 16mm camera can't get the angles to show us the explicit action. Later live-sex-show is similarly tame, as it consists of a topless dancer and some furtive lesbian groping. More explicit are loops shot off the screen in a private club, plus a nude interview with an attractive 18-year-old (Toni), who does explicit magazine and film work.
Recurring theme, which I've heard in countless of these early porn films, is that Denmark's experiment gives strong evidence that freeing up porn can be beneficial to society, citing tentative stats on the decrease in sex crimes locally, both since the 1964 literature decision and the more general 1969 opening of the floodgates.
More interesting in retrospect is De Renzy's wondering how long it will take before pornographers start creating quality film material. Noting that no serious Danish filmmakers have taken the challenge, he laments the low standards, as the public (including export markets) will watch anything. Of course, within five years some terrific porn films were being made, including De Renzy's own work, but alas, 40 years later I contend that Gresham's Law has taken hold, and in effect the bad has driven the good out of the marketplace, simply because very cheaply made gonzo porn is so popular, so why waste the time, effort and big bucks to aim at quality (or even shoot on film)?