Children of the Porn.
During the U.S. film industry's adolescence, people in positions of power often took a puritanical attitude toward the art of movie-making. Films were expected to be sex free -- since violence wasn't an issue at the time -- and were to appeal to young and old audiences alike. "Box-office revenues were of paramount importance, but after the war [WWII] the studios began to look at the mass audience as something too diverse to satisfy with any single product." Once it became apparent that adult audiences desired steamy stories, censorship boards took note and laid the ground work for the inconsistent rating system we know today, in which scary cartoons heavy with religious imagery like The Prince of Egypt are given a child friendly PG, while "a gorgeously shot, serious bio-pic" like the somewhat graphic Henry and June garnered the dreaded NC-17.
Lewis, a professor of English at Oregon State University who also has taught film and cultural studies, provides us with a film censorship timeline that dates back to the early days of the twentieth century. He repeatedly points out that the studios' decision to self-regulate was a preemptive measure. They feared that government interference would signal the end of the movie industry, wrenching control from the hands of auteurs and giving it to politicians eager to win votes.
In the early '70s, porn movies regularly battled studio productions at the U.S. box office. The lower production costs of "sexacious fare" combined with the built-in audience appeal for this sort of titillation made for big bucks. Mainstream film artistry suffered when it was discovered that the 18-35 demographic that studios traditionally targeted seemed especially susceptible to the wily charms of these pornographic films.
"Porn films from 1968 to 1973 self-consciously courted the vaunted youth-oriented counterculture. 'Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks,' the one line of dialogue that people are likely to remember from [porn film] Deep Throat, spoke specifically to the anatomy lesson presented in the movie. But it also spoke, perhaps unintentionally, to and for a number of late-sixties/early-seventies phenomena," Lewis asserted. The legitimate film industry feared for its very existence in the face of this unanticipated yet formidable competition. But they found an unlikely hero in Republican President Richard Nixon.
Before leaving office in disgrace for his part in the Watergate fiasco, "the godfather of the silent majority," did his party proud by managing to stock the Supreme Court with four new justices who would eventually engineer the end of the theatrical exhibition of hard core.
In Miller v. California, the Supreme Court bestowed "the dirty work of content censorship" upon the states, essentially handing censorship power to "ambitious local prosecutors and anti-porn activists." Paris Adult Theater I v. Slaton compounded this hit on the porn industry with a verdict that made it hard to use adult-only admission policies as a way to avoid local bans and prosecutions. "In doing so, they inadvertently saved Hollywood."
Hollywood is an enjoyable book because the author's vast film knowledge provides readers with a veritable encyclopedia of movies, both studio-produced masterpieces and independently-made skin flicks. It makes one wonder just how many hours Lewis spent doing "research" in the XXX section of his local video stores.
But all that detail doesn't make for a compelling story. Lewis' descriptions of even the smallest events in porn history make one feel as though one were reading a very naughty history textbook.
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|Publication:||Video Age International|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2001|
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