Saturday, March 20, 2010

Jack Stevenson: Totally Uncensored 2 (a lecture)

At Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Cinema and Sexuality), 20 March 2010.

Denmark was the first country in the world to abolish the censorship of the written word. The theory went that people would lose interest if pornography would be made free, and it worked. Denmark was also the first country in the world to abolish film censorship, setting the model for the rest of the world. In this case, the theory did not work, and pornography grew into a huge global industry.

Uden en trævl / Without a Stitch was a Norwegian novel by Jens Bjørneboe about a woman's equal right to experience life, including sexual life. It belonged to the Norwegian current of anti-authoritarianism, and the film based on it seemed to be like the prophecy presented in the film Gift fulfilled. Modesty is presented as something that people suffer from, something to be cured of, even with the help of the doctor. Critics and Bjørneboe hated the film, but it was a major discovery in the U.S.

In the 1960s, Hollywood was in a crisis, and Nordic sex films were screened in respectable mainstream cinemas with a huge success. Even Jack Valenti was distressed because he felt this would lower the value of the most respectable cinema circuits.

Without a Stitch was a soft core film which was sunny, cheerful, and upbeat, but its morality was perceived as perverse.

Mondo films picked Nordic countries as their subject, and displayed a veritable catalogue of stereotypes, with Nordic people seen as liberated but unhappy. The basic cause: "it' about the weather". "All Danish women are Lesbians". "Danish women have a high testosterone level". They were perceived as ice cold, with a high suicide rate. The welfare state was killing the joy of life. "They don't know how to live". Yet Denmark was presented as a cosy country, where the policeman protects the geese crossing the street. And people have casual sex in a telephone booth with everybody just passing by without noticing. Life in Denmark was seen as shockingly unshocking. The main mondo area had been Africa, now it was the Nordic countries. Also two Hongkong films showed a "parallel universe" of fictive Denmark.

In June 1969 censorship was abolished in Denmark, and there was a huge sex convention which drew a lot of international attention. Films were produced for export only. 3 slags kærlighed (DK 1970) was producer Peer Guldbranden's last film. Stille dage i Clichy (Jens Jørgen Thorsen, DK 1970) was a flop in the U.S., because audiences were no longer accepting Nordic experimental sex movies.

The artist Jens Jørgen Thorsen's most famous project was "The Sex Life of Jesus Christ", which caused international controversy for ten years. The Queen of England, the Pope, and Billy Graham reacted, and the Danish trade balance suffered. The film itself beside the point, the project was a happening. It was the biggest such thing in Denmark before the Mohammed cartoon.

Denmark's annual film production was some 27 films a year. Of the sex-related film there were different types. There were films based on books. There were the "white coaters" (educational films). There were soft porn comedies: the Sengekantsfilm / Bedside series, eight films starting with Mazurka på sengekanten / Bedside Manner (John Hilbard, DK 1970) [but two of the films had hard core action]. There were the hard core comedies: the Stjernetegnsfilm / Zodiac series, six films starting with I Jomfruens tegn / Danish Pastries (Finn Karlsson, DK 1973).

Abroad, Denmark was known as the land with no limits. The American couple Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen made in Denmark the film Hvorfor gør de det? / Why Do They Do It? (DK 1970), the most radical documentary film on Danish liberation. They took us to the live sex clubs. They even incorporated Bodil Joensen, the boar girl. In Denmark, it became impossible to create a scandal. In sex documentaries the current live sex club scene was documented with scenes of 69, lesbian sex, and customers getting Swedish massages. In 1972-1973 the clubs went out of business. In 1975 Catholic countries such as France started their own production lines of hard core films. The focus of liberation switched to Amsterdam.

Clips included: 3 slags kærlighed / The Daughter: I a Woman Part III (Mac Ahlberg, DK 1970), the opening dream sequence of  I Jomfruens tegn / Danish Pastries (Finn Karlsson, DK 1973), Animal Lover (the introduction with Bodil Joensen and a clumsy interviewer, DK 1970), Sådan är Porno / Facts: Copenhagen Sex-Report (Werner M. Lenz, DK 1971)

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