When people think of film (as an artform) they rarely allow for the very idea that adult/porn/porno/XXX could be art the same as any “real” movie… which only shows how little those who would make such a claim know about the artform of Adult. X matters and has influenced far more than many would like to credit it with. Lars von Trier says that his film Nymphomaniac (with full on hardcore scenes) is not porn but instead it is art which leads to the only way that can be interpenetrated as being that porn can not be art according to Trier and I suspect many others. My friend Bill Margold thinks I might be over-intellectualizing all of this… and perhaps I am but still…
History of the Rating
Why X matters is something that I am willing to bet many of you that read this will discount solely on the fact that (to you) X is nothing more than cheap prurient exhibitionism meant to titillate and nothing more… to stimulate something other than the mind. Before we get too deep into this though, the Godfather of Adult Bill Margold takes issue with my use of the term X to describe these films “I think that X-Rated term was whored out and overused. Back in the day, I would have preferred Explicitly Adult instead of tossing X’s around Ju-Ju-Bees. Although squandered in the minds of fools who think that by putting an X on something it gives them a license to degrade humanity and insult their viewers with repellant images, the 24th letter of the alphabet is a cornerstone for Freedom of Expression and must be utilized carefully…and wisely.” I don’t necessarily disagree with Bill on this nor do I agree with him on this assertion for the simple reason that, for negative or positive, X is the monicker that was given and the one that made the most impact on society as a whole. X was the name they gave it. It should also be pointed out that XXX does not actually exist as a rating, this was simply the industries way of saying they were beyond the X, in fact so far beyond X they were X… X… X… but there is in actuality no MPAA rating of XXX. The main view of X is of something dangerous and something which will cause great harm if left unchecked when in reality X boasts a much more static and even benign standpoint. X simply means “Adults Only” to which porn so clearly applies but what happened that caused X (as a rating) to get so stigmatized that on the relatively rare occasions that a “mainstream” film was graphic enough for an X the immediate reaction for the studios was to panic and begin “damage control”? A film that is rated R and features nothing this side of pure exploitation is okay but if a film gets an X it is then Persona Non-Grata with the inability to play many theaters, a complete lack of advertising possibilities and most of all a facade of trash from the public. The tableau of X used to mean simply a film that was strictly adults only and not necessarily in a sexual sense, just that this film was not to be viewed by anyone under 18, after a bit though the X seemed to have morphed into an X means porn ideal which over time, not due to the X being applied mainly to porn films*, became just what the public already perceived it as so in effect it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Why it Matters
X matters for a variety of reasons not the least of which is that many of the freedoms allowed in “mainstream” films only happened due to the efforts made by the ‘pornographers’. All of the taboos in film were first broken not in an MPAA approved film but in an adult film. With porno being a (relatively) underground medium they were allowed to get away with more in their films, both in terms of actual content and of the freedom in HOW the films were made**. With no studios to make marketing decisions and with having a market of presold audiences the filmmakers were able to be creative and do things a studio film would never have allowed. Race mixing, bloodletting, acts of deviation, brutal satire etc… The story of a movie such as Behind The Green Door simply could not have been made in any other environment besides that of 1972 independent adult films. Coupled with the films nascent story being that of pseudo-rape or at the very least a rape fantasy played out before an audience (in movie) was the unique filmmaking techniques the Mitchell brothers employed including that of a seven minute long slow motion (color) strobing cumshot set to booming music… this was not the kind of filmmaking (leaving out the adult aspect for a moment) that any movie studio would have allowed in a film at this time for this effect. This was the true freedom of an unencumbered id run amok and I believe a symbol of the reason that X matters.
Filmmakers such as Stephen Sayadian*** took the idea of art within X to levels undreamed of with his almost hallucinatory trips into the inner mind that we dare not touch. A picture such as Nightdreams is the very definition of an art film on every level and it alone set a standard that remained untouched in the adult world let alone the “mainstream” world. Prior to Nightdreams though Sayadian made Cafe Flesh, an adult film that set a new standard in both it’s storytelling and in the hardcore aspects. Along with Caligula, Cafe Flesh was one of the only hardcore films to be reedited and re-released in “R” rated versions to mass audiences. The funny thing about both Caligula and Cafe Flesh was that the hardcore scenes in both films were not meant to be alluring nor to turn you on, in fact the hardcore scenes in Cafe Flesh are so intentionally unerotic they are almost challenging you to get hard watching them… almost daring you to find this as eroticism, this is something that mainstream Hollywood would not understand for decades to come, actually giving the audience a challenge. X once meant walking away with a feeling of having been enlightened as well as a feeling of being sticky. Besides Sayadian other artists in the medium of X such as The Dark Brothers and Michael Ninn have proven again and again that being a hardcore adult film does not mean you stop being an artist. Gerard Damiano was doing this in the 70’s and these men kept pushing the boundaries until there was no doubt that X was art.
There was even a time when hardcore porns played to mass middle class and upper class audiences right out in the open… the era of Porno Chic. Porno Chic was a time when celluloid scintillation was at the corner theater and middle class couples would go out to the movies for Deep Throat or The Devil In Miss Jones over The Godfather or American Graffiti with no stigma of these being “dirty” movies… these were movies the same as any other. Porno Chic was a fairly short lived period but Porno Chic was a nationwide phenomena which alone proves that X made an impact on film and yet is very quickly forgotten by those who wish to dismiss porn as nothing more than base urges and scandalous sexcapades.
What is the (real) difference though between a movie such as The Satisfiers Of Alpha Blue or Sex Crimes 2084 and American Pie or The Hangover? Why is it that a film like Sex Crimes 2084 which posits the message that sex without attachment is meaningless, is disregarded as salacious while a film about teens that will have sex with anything they encounter is hailed by critics? I feel this is a matter of not just semantics but a matter of perception; the comprehension that adult films are also art is one that is sorely lacking today and yet there is more awareness today of this fact than ever before which says more about how far we have come and less about the medium itself as in my opinion X has taken a huge hit in quality in the last decade and simply became what it was always (erroneously) believed to be… a collection of scenes that are loosely connected by the threadbare of a “story”****. The question then is why the ignominy of X and the pride of NC-17? Why does the movie Kids get critical accolades for it’s real portrayal of sex while Sex World is tossed aside with it’s heartfelt and intensely true depiction of alienation and the breakdown of relationships? You were always taught from a young age that sex films which showed penetration were bad for you all the while you were given the okay to like sex films where women were mere objects to be lusted over. Porky’s is okay but Cabaret Sin will melt your soul and crush your spirit. There is a massive campaign to keep X films underground by the very people who indulge in these films as they are ashamed of themselves and a way to deflect that shame is to project it.
There happens to be two worlds of film, mainstream films which include low budget direct to video works, and adult film and these two worlds are far more connected than you might think they are despite how hard the mainstream contingent tries to keep it’s distance from the world of X. These worlds feed off of one another in such a symbiotic manner that they are impossible to separate and the crossover is something that many of you may not even know is there… but that is for next week…
*Adult features rarely even sought MPAA approval so the X being applied to them was more of a marketing gimmick than any real rating.
**This was both a boone and a bust as with no real legal oversite, abuses were rampant and the mob played a large part in the early days of the booming adult industry… but then again Bryanston films was a major distributor of “mainstream” films and were just as mob affiliated.
***More commonly credited as Rinse Dream.
****If they even get that, most adult “films” these days are an unapologetic collection of scenes with no cohesion whatsoever.