A Brief History of Early Porn
You may not be surprised to hear that there’s little hard information to be had about the dawn of porn. But while data about 'the first’ porn books, photos and films remains elusive, a fair bit is known about the 'oldest surviving’ examples of these genres. Porn historian Luke Ford has written an extensive history of the early sex film industry which is posted on his highly informative web site. Condensing his work and rephrasing a little gives us this short report on the birth of the porno flick: 'Motion pictures began in 1894. By 1896, actress Louise Willy was disrobing in the French film Le Bain. Other French flicks before the turn of the century offered similar fare while in Germany, producer Oskar Messter revealed women taking off their clothes, exercising, dancing or bathing.
'The first mainstream films overflowed with sex. Examples included "exposes" of white slavery like Traffic in Souls (1913), orgies (Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow and The Wedding March) and epics that featured Christians lashed at the stake (Cecil B. De Mille's Sign of the Cross).
Perhaps the earliest surviving porn film is Argentina’s classic El Sartorio (1907). Three women frolic in a river and start fondling one another. A man dressed as a devil with a tail, horns and false whiskers, emerges out of the foliage and captures one woman. She sucks him off, engages in a 69, and finally screws him. Inserts of close-up shots of his penis pushing inside her appear every few seconds. As the woman gets up from the "devil," sperm falls out of her vagina.
Germany produced Am Abend (1910). After watching a woman masturbate through a bedroom keyhole, a man enters the room and penetrates her vaginally, orally and anally.
American fare, such as 1915's A Free Ride, emphasized slot over plot. Shot outside using many set-ups and titles, Ride flows from the open films of the first decade with one essential difference - the explicit sex. The story is simple. A man picks up two girls and takes them for a drive in the country. He stops the car in a wood, gets out, and walks behind a bush to relieve himself. The girls spy on him, become excited, and urinate. The man spies on them, becomes excited, and fucks them. Ride reveals a classic male - female parallel: What urination is to women, an orgasm is to men.
After WWI the industry developed into more of a production line
with the arrival of more formulaic sex flicks known as stag films. "Stag" as an
adjective means for men only. Thus a stag film is a film for men only - meaning
a film of graphic sex. Stag films frequently appeared at stag parties - parties
for men only. Despite the common language of the silent stag form and the
absence of copyrights, early porn films rarely traveled outside the countries
that produced them because of legal dangers. America probably made the most stag
films, followed by France, where the genre originated and flourished until
Gaullist repression. Becoming so adept at making stags that the term "French
film" became synonymous with porn, French pornographers developed many of the
genre's basic plots.
'Latin American stags came largely from the brothels of Tijuana and pre-Castro Havana. Bestiality appears in such films as Rin Tin Tin Mexicano, A Hunter and His Dog, Rascal Rex, and Mexican Dog. Technically abysmal, these humiliating productions focus their hatred on women and the Church. Films such as Mexican Honeymoon show priests exploiting their parishioners. Anti-Catholic porn flourished in countries where the Church dominated. By contrast, American stags skirted religion.
Stag films specialized in "meat shots" - closeups of penetration, rather than "money shots" - men ejaculating on, rather than within, women. It was only later that cum shots became so essential to porn that it seemed flicks without them weren't pornographic.
Most stag films revolved around five common plots. "Plot 1. Reading or handling some phallic-shaped object arouses a woman alone at home," writes William Rotsler in his 1974 book Contemporary Erotic Cinema. "Masturbation follows. A man arrives, is invited inside, sexual play begins; Plot 2. A farm girl gets excited watching animals copulate. She runs into a farmhand, or a traveling salesman, and sexual play begins; Plot 3. A doctor begins examining a woman and sexual play begins; Plot 4. A burglar finds a girl in bed or rapes her or vice versa; Plot 5. A sunbather or skinny dipper gets caught and seduced."
Stags after WW II dropped almost all concern with story and style. Ugly and old, most of the male performers appeared to be pimps and the females prostitutes. Some wore masks or otherwise attempted to conceal their identities by the use of bizarre disguises. Patterned after theatrical striptease, stags encouraged male spectators to talk to the projected female image and to "touch" her spread legs and labia. Unlike later pornos, which sought to satisfy the viewer's sex urge, stags generally aimed to arouse. Brothels used them to encourage potential patrons to buy the sexual favors of their women.
Because of such power, stags developed into a thriving American industry by the 1920s, though a determined attack by law enforcement and U.S. Post Office agents held the business down until the 1960s. After World War II, the greater availability of 16mm equipment enabled the stag to move from the communal smoker to the privacy of the living room, setting the scene for the arrival of video in the 1970s.’
The acting talent employed was decidedly amateur, that is to say probably paid but in most cases unprofessional in every other sense. A precious few actresses, like Blondie Blondell (HOKUM THE MAGICIAN, etc.), conveyed a certain class and used the same pseudonym and created a recognizable character over a series of films, but there was no "star system" - actors identities were secondary to their physical ability to perform on the set and their courage in the face of possible arrest.
"Real people" were on display, not actors or movie stars. Some films involved fairly clever if basic scenarios, but usually the small casts were caught in awkward or clumsy situations that resonated more of real life than the seamless glamour of Hollywood, and by this the films retain a kind of inadvertent documentary quality that has enduring appeal. Many Stags are quite ordinary, but in the best instances they have an unpolished nervous charm to them and exclude an unstaged realism that derives from their primitive, clandestine origins. Some of the actors donned masks, but many didn't.
These people were recruited from the "irredeemable" outlaw underclasses, a largely transient element of society distinct from but equally as marginalized as the immigrant poor and the blacks - who rarely appeared in Stags since sexual culture was as segregated as anything else at that time. From this population of "the damned" came the "bad women" who acted without shame or disguise in Stag films. Many of them were older than the general norm, appear a bit "hardened" and might seem open-minded to various other types of criminal enterprise. During the Depression-era Thirties when many Stags were made, their production and distribution formed part of the conglomerate underground economy ruthlessly controlled by the notorious gang lords of the day. Rumors of the involvement of famous movie stars and Hollywood studios in Stag film production have cropped up over the years.
Filmmaker Kenneth Anger says Joan Crawford made Stag films when she worked in a cat house in Chicago in the early Twenties under the alias of Lucille LaSueur. BUSOM BUDDIES was a title of hers that features some lesbian action, while in another film she dances The Charleston sans panties as she flashes her pussy. Anger also reports that Creighton Hale, the bespectacled "poor man's Harold Lloyd", appeared in THE GOAT MAN shot in 1923 outdoors on a beach locale. Hale sticks his member through a hole in the fence, thinking it's a bathing beauty on the other side. And Bray studios, producer of the popular Felix The Cat cartoons, made some excellent and professionally executed porno cartoons packed with raunchy sight gags. The famous stripper, Candy Barr, did make a Stag entitled SMART ALECK. A gay Stag film starring a Chuck Conners lookalike surfaced at some point, while a dreary Fifties Nudie entitled THE APPLE-KNOCKERS AND THE COKE claimed to present a young Marilyn Monroe. The woman was actually Arline Hunter who enjoyed brief popularity in the early Fifties as "the poor man's Marilyn Monroe". Rumors of famous stars appearing in Stags were impossible to squelch because the public wanted so much to believe them, and they became something akin to urban legends.
Are snuff films for real?
Many people are sure they exist, but no one has ever seen one. They've been worried about, written about and allegedly screened by questionable movie-producing hucksters. One pornographer even offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who can prove the films exist. But despite a constant stream of stories about kidnappings, rapes and torture sessions being filmed for the enjoyment of movie audiences, 25 years of FBI investigation has failed to produce evidence of even one authentic snuff film.
No, they are not. They were invented by a B movie producer named Allen Shackleton, who heard about snuff rumors and decided to make some money off of them. He purchased an Argentinean biker movie made by a female film director named Roberta Finley. the biker movie was called, "The Slaughter." Shackleton purchased the movie for $30,000, re-shot the ending, where an actress was supposedly murdered on camera. Shackleton then hired some off-duty policemen in New York City to plant stories in the New York Post and the New York Daily News, claiming that these snuff films were emerging in the culture. Just when the rumors were catching on, he released "The Slaughter" under its new name with advertisements that read: "The film that could only be made in South America where life is cheap." Snuff got the desired reaction, and Women Against Pornography was formed to specifically protest the film Snuff. Originally, it was called "Women Against Violence in Pornography and the Media," and it was later shortened to just "Women Against Pornography." No one remembers the movie Snuff, because it was that bad of a film, but the snuff rumors lived on, and became urban legends. The adult film industry has an outstanding offer Of, I believe, about $100,000 at this point, to anyone who can prove the existence of an actual snuff movie. Al Goldstein has an outstanding offer of $1 million, to anyone who can produce one.
HOWEVER - this discussion has been about Snuff FILMS, not snuff clips. There are MANY short clips not just of death (like Faces of Death type clips) but of actual murder. Many serial killers have filmed their exploits, to be sure - but not even that - there ARE clips are out there that may be authentic. They just aren't "films" per se, but merely filmed murders.
What role does organized crime play in pornography?
Legs McNeil: Organized crime controlled the porn industry from 1972 to the end of the 80s. It was basically controlled by the Bonanno crime family in New York, through Mickey Zaffrano. and the Gambino family, through Robert DiBernardo and through the Columbo family. But they all dealt with each other, and it was more disorganized crime than organized.
Most of the people making and distributing pornography are not in the Mafia or, as law enforcement calls them, LCN which stands for La Cosa Nostra. There's very, very few made members of the Mafia. I think Tony Peraino was a made member. Nicky Zaffrano was a capo, which is Italian for captain, and Robert DiBernardo was a made member of the Gambino family. Other than that there weren't too many other made members of the mob, and a lot of the guys in the business were Jewish, and Jews are not allowed in the Mafia. They're what law enforcement calls "known associates" of organized crime.