Mais où sont les chattes d'antan?, Dept.
Marilyn Chambers. Seka. Linda Lovelace. Desireé Cousteau. Georgina Spelvin. Vanessa del Rio. Traci Lords. Juliet Anderson. Lisa Deleeuw. Annie Sprinkle. Annette Haven. Bambi Woods. Ginger Lynn. (And, thank yew, I hadn't forgotten, John Leslie. John Holmes. Ron Jeremy. Harry Reems. Johnnie Keyes. Jamie Gillis.)
What is the adult film industry equivalent of "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!"?
And who among us does not have fond memories of pouring fondant to the celluloid escapades of these pornothespians? So many handymen called to service a lady's plumbing. So many girls in Camaros with fellatious notions of how to settle a speeding ticket. So much money shot. Disinfectant-scented darkroom glimpses into a parallel world of amazingly easy pleasure, only two bits a thrill.
(I once heard that the real difference between porn and non-porn is that the narrative of the former unspools in real time. So, you accompany the hung plumber driving crosstown to his new client's house. Take a right. Down the road a ways. Stop light. Round the circle. Straight past the laundromat and the liquor store. There's a spot in front of the house. Park. Take the keys out of the ignition. Walk to the front door. Ring the bell. Denying the existence of the jump cut certainly helped these porn Griffiths and Vertovs pad three or four suckyfucky scenes into feature-length films.)
Even now, as porn, like heartburn medication, is more commonly available than at any time in human history, it has, for your sobsister, lost its charm, its mystery, its creaky Americana. The stars of the '60s and '70s were human, individual and distinctive in a way that finds few equivalents in the modern day. Not to romanticize the job of grinding out dozens, hundreds of loops. Or forget the difficult lives some of these actors experienced before, during or after their film careers. But, there's something I love about the products that tumble forth at the creation of an art form. Like early sound musicals. Or 1939 comic books. In that formative period when any action repeated becomes a rule. Just as the unanticipated possibility of real profit presents itself to the moneymen. And those impromptu rules become conventions and then cliches.
So, just as Ruby Keeler's tap solo in 42nd Street looks like someone trying to shake shoeboxes off her feet, so, too, does the dialogue in these seminal (*ha ha*) adult films sound as if it were a Warsaw Pact translation of a Love, American Style episode being read by those people down the street who really need to buy shades for their bathroom. But the charm of both genres is undiminished--if anything, enhanced--by the wide-eyed novelty and earnest clumsiness. They are camp in the best way.
What costs a dollar apiece?
Gershwin and Porter by Lee Wiley and a great early Steve Winwood retrospective and a Blue Note 1949-59 best-of and a rerelease of the first Crown Heights Affair album ("You Can't Bend My Super Rod": how had I never heard this song?) and Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret and Mandrill's Just Outside of Town, all and each on glorious, frangible vinyl
So, where was I...? Men's penises, or Men spenis es..., from Catullus 50. Yes, vintage pornography. Unlike our current enlightened times, wherein parents and pillars of the community can post daily MPEG updates to myhotslutwife.com without risking the stocks, flogging and transportation, in the Olden Days people actually felt shame at being associated with, not to mention participating in, public copulation before any audience, much less a national one. More informed commentators than I will have spilt useful ink on how the various '60s revolutions midwived the adult film industry. But it's still worth noting just how outré appearing in porn was at the time.
For perspective, this period fell in the vast gap between the 8mm domino-mask'd cavalier of greatgrandfather's smoker fame and the 21st-century 18-year-old, his Flip and oral "Brytny" in his Rover. At that time, to do this work as a profession, as the thing one did to live, was to be little better than a whore at a time when whores didn't enjoy book deals and talk show seats. Whereas Gypsy Rose Lee, by dint of her style, savvy and smarts, became acceptable in the way a reformed madam did, the women of porn offered no coyness or tease. They just fucked men and women and black men for money. On camera. For a living. Between stretches of plot and dialogue that were either crafted to ape Hollywood's infinitely more prestigious products or to avoid courtroom claims of gratuitous prurience. In contrast to our own enlightened present, when the "leaked" sex tape is a savvy career move, at that time, a sexually explicit film of a national figure, hot-eyed and moaning around the veined pipe she's sucking, would have been ruinous, suicidal, unimaginable. Imagine, for example, a Sophia Loren sex tape.
I'll be here when you're done.
All set? So, the fact that these people were alienated enough from society at large to say, "I'm going to let a bunch of guys fuck me onscreen, and, with any luck, millions will see me" was pretty radical as a departure from societal norms and expectations. The extent to which the actors were abused or abused themselves as a function of this work seems to have been widely divergent. (For example, were drugs used for pleasure, for escape or for coercion?) Yet, the films exude enough rough fun transcending the paucity of resources to engage the viewer as genre narrative in the midst of forming the conventions that would define the genre.
Pornography made the VCR and pornography drove the Internet, building on the work of these people. And I think that the fact that some freaks in San Francisco and Los Angeles contributed substantially to the popularization of two of the three transformative entertainment-driven technologies of the latter half of the 20th century (portable music from the Walkman on, being the third) is pretty fucking remarkable. And as unlikely as the outsider sons of immigrants pooling pushcart and pin money to build the dominant American contribution to world culture of the last 100 years.
So, yes, the Porn Pioneers. Doff your hat or boff your cat if you see one of these august personages in the street. Others metamorphosed their crayon-and-oaktag world into Bukkake Bitchez VIII: Ass Candy. Sic transit Gloria Leonard, and all that. But they had faces then, if occasionally streaked with the white tracers of luv. They are the Bessie Loves and Dick Powells of their form. And just because their form involved a few more threeways than most cultural innovations does not in any way diminish the significance of their contribution.