Pornographic films are motion pictures that explicitly depict sexual intercourse and other sexual acts, typically for the purpose of sexual arousal in the viewer. They appeared shortly after the creation of the motion picture in the early 1900s. Pornographic films have much in common with other forms of pornography. Pornography is often referred to as "porn" and a pornographic work as a "porno." Older names for a pornographic movie include "adult film," "stag film," and "blue movie." In general, "softcore" refers to pornography that does not depict penetration or "extreme fetish" acts, while "hardcore" refers to pornography that depicts penetration and/or extreme fetish acts.
Throughout its history, the movie camera has been used for pornography, but for most of that time pornographic movies were typically available only by underground distribution, for projection at home or in private clubs. Only in the 1970s were pornographic films semi-legitimized; by the 1980s, pornography on home video achieved distribution unimagined only decades earlier. The rise of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s similarly changed distribution of pornography, and furthermore complicated legal prosecution of obscenity.
Pornography is a thriving, financially profitable business: according to a 2004 Reuters article, "The multi-billion-dollar industry releases about 11,000 titles on DVD each year, giving it tremendous power to sway the battle between two groups of studios and technology companies competing to set standards for the next generation" (See Porn Business Driving DVD Technology )
(See also: History of erotic depictions)
Pornographic films are the latest in a long series of erotic or pornographic deptictions.
Pornographic motion pictures are nearly as old as the medium itself. According to Patrick Robertson's Film Facts, "the earliest pornographic motion picture which can definitely be dated is A L'Ecu d'Or ou la bonne auberge", made in France in 1908; the plot depicts a weary soldier who has a tryst with an inn's servant girl. Robertson notes that the Argentine pornographic film El Satario might be even older; it has been dated to somewhere between 1907 and 1912. Robertson notes that "the oldest surviving pornographic films are contained in America's Alfred Kinsey Collection." One film demonstrates how early pornographic conventions were established. The German film Am Abend (c. 1910) is, as Robertson writes, "a ten-minute film which begins with a woman masturbating alone in her bedroom, and progresses to scenes of her with a man performing sexual intercourse, fellatio and anal penetration." (Robertson, p. 66)
Pornographic movies were widespread in the silent movie era of the 1920s, and were often shown in brothels. Many pornographic films were made in subsequent decades, but given the usually clandestine nature of the filming and distribution, details of such "stag films" are often difficult to obtain. It is probably reasonable to assume that many sexually explicit films made before about 1950 are lost forever.
1960s and 1970s: Changing laws, changing attitudes
In the 1960s, some attitudes towards the depiction of sexuality began to change. European movies like Kärlekens Språk (1969) were sexually explicit, but were framed as a quasi-documentaries, which made their legal status uncertain.
One important court case in the U.S. was Miller v. California. The case established that obscenity was not legally protected, but the case also established the Miller test, a three-pronged test to determine obscenity (which is not legal) as opposed to indecency (which may or may not be legal).
More permissive legislation permitted the rise of "XXX-rated" movie theaters in the United States in the 1970s. There was also a proliferation of coin-operated "movie booths" in sex shops that displayed pornographic "loops" (so-called because they projected a movie from film arranged in a continuous loop).
At that time, pornographic movies even approached acceptance into the mainstream movie industry, with films such as Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, Boys in the Sand and Gerard Damiano's 1972 film The Devil in Miss Jones being shot on film with high production values, and grossing substantial amounts in movie theaters. These helped establish "porn chic" as a cultural trend.
1970s and 1980s: New technology, new legal cases
With the arrival of the home video cassette recorder in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the pornographic movie industry experienced massive growth and spawned adult stars like Ginger Lynn, Christy Canyon, and Traci Lords. One could now not only watch pornography in the comfort and privacy of one's own home, but also find more choices available to satisfy specific fantasies and fetishes.
Similarly, the camcorder spurred changes in pornography in the 1980s, when people could make their own amateur sex movies, whether for private use, or for wider distribution.
It has been suggested that, among other things, Sony Betamax lost the format war to VHS (in becoming the general home video recording/viewing system) because the adult video industry chose VHS instead of the technically superior Sony system. Other attempts at innovation came in the form of "interactive" videos that let the user choose such variables as multiple camera angles, multiple endings (e.g., "Devil in the Flesh", 1999, Private Films), and computer-only DVD content.
1987 saw an important legal case in the U.S. when the de facto result of California v. Freeman was the legalization of hardcore pornography. Ironically, the prosecution of Harold Freeman was initially planned as the first in a series of legal cases that would have effectively outlawed the production of such movies.
Two technologies became prominent in the 1990s that changed pornographic movies: the DVD offered better quality picture and sound, and was embraced by pornographers just as enthusiastically as it was embraced by major Hollywood studios and by private consumers. Erotic film producers are expected to play a major role in deciding the next DVD standard: large outfits tend to support the high-capacity Blu-ray Disc @wk, while small outfits generally favor the less-expensive HD-DVD @wk.
However, the internet arguably changed the distribution of pornography more than any earlier technology: rather than ordering movies from an adult bookstore, or through mail-order, people could watch pornographic movies on their computers. Rather than waiting weeks for an order to arrive from another U.S. state, one could download a pornographic movie within minutes (or, later, within a few seconds).
The internet also complicated legal prosecution of obscentity cases: if someone downloads a video clip that no one else in their town sees, are community standards violated? If a pornographic movie is produced in one U.S. state and downloaded in another state (after having been routed through half-a-dozen states via an internet service provider), in which jurisdiction should the legal case be introduced? These and related questions are still being sorted out in U.S. courts.
In the UK attitudes to censorship are becoming more relaxed. It is not illegal to make or to perform in pornographic films in the UK. Films with sexually explicit content have been shown on national tv.
Attitudes to the portrayal of sexual activities on film and on television have become more open on this decade. For example, the film The Idiots, a Danish film made in 1998, was shown on UK tv in the early part of this decade. It includes nudity, an orgy scene, and a full sexual intercourse scene complete with close-up footage of the act. The camera viewpoint was from the ankles of the participants, and the close ups left no-doubt as to what was taking place. These scenes were included when the film was shown on the national tv channel, BB2. The film has won many international awards for best film and various other film industry awards.
Current pornographic movies can be divided into a number of sub-genres by the sex of the performers, the types of sex act portrayed, and the intended audience.
Along with greater ease of access for consumers, a number of critics have argued that pornographic films can be harmful to people's lives.
AIDS and the porn industry
With the outbreak of the AIDS @wk crisis in the 1980s the pornography industry instituted a system of testing for HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS. The industry's voluntary system involves testing actors once a month for HIV. If the actor does not pass the test, he or she is barred from performing in any more pornographic scenes.
The system seemed to be effective, with very few AIDS cases among porn actors. Marc Wallice @wk, a known IV drug user, tested HIV positive in 1998, sending shockwaves throughout the industry.
In April 2004, an AIDS scare rocked the heterosexual US porn industry when two pornographic actors (Darren James @wk and Lara Roxx @wk) tested HIV positive in California, the hotbed of U.S. porn production. The straight segment of the porn industry voluntarily shut down for 30 days (a 60 day moratorium was originally announced but it was lifted early) while it tried to deal with the situation.
As of August 2004, estimates put condom use in the straight porn industry at around seventeen percent of adult performers, virtually the same usage rate as before the industry scare. The gay porn industry is more adamant about condom usage in their productions.
Two actors, Darren James and Lara Roxx, initially tested positive, and were barred from further sexually explicit content production. About sixty actors who had contact with James or Roxx were barred from working until their next round of HIV testing was completed and they were declared HIV negative. A total of five actors were diagnosed with the virus by the end of the moratorium: one male and four females, including one transsexual.
James most likely contracted HIV while filming a pornographic movie in Brazil and then passed it to the other women, excluding the transsexual, who was considered an unrelated case. Roxx was shocked by the news of her HIV status, believing porn actors to be cleaner than the general public. This belief is now in doubt.
Due to this limited outbreak, the California State government is considering regulating the industry. Some propose to mandate the wearing of condoms during sexually explicit scenes. Industry insiders say this would ruin sales of their wares since the unprotected content is one of the selling points of some of their films. They say the wearing of condoms ruins the sexual fantasy of many viewers. Insiders say that such regulation would force the industry underground, where it would be more prone to health risks for performers. The non-profit Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation is working with the government, trying to develop policies that both the industry and the government would find acceptable.
- Also see the page [ CAL-OSHA requirements ]
- Porn star
- List of pornographic movie studios
- Sex worker
- Sex industry
- Pornography by country
- Pornography in the United States
- Pornography in Japan
- List of porn stars
- Patrick Robertson: Film Facts, 2001, Billboard Books, ISBN 0-8230-7943-0