Friday, March 05, 2010

Susanna Paasonen: Pornography and the Moving Image (lecture)

A lecture in the series Sexuality on the Screen by the Film Society of the Helsinki Students' Association, at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 5 March 2010.

Susanna Paasonen gave us two short histories: A) the conventional history of the pornographic film, B) the history of pornography and the media.

The story A starts from the 1890s, from the mutoscope loops to the projected films. Stag films were viewed in closed circumstances. The formats included 8 mm and 16 mm as soon as they became available. Censorship was abolished in many countries since 1969, enabling public viewing and distribution, and in the 1970s there was the period of "porn chic". The case of Lasse Braun (Alberto Ferro), the porn king 1961-1977. The history of sexploitation. The "golden age" 1972-1978 (Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, The Devil in Miss Jones, The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Debbie Does Dallas). - In the mainstream cinema there were films like Last Tango in Paris and the Emmanuelle series. - The Bavarian alp sex comedies. - The turning point: home video in the end of the 1970s, the "golden age" of video porn from the 1980s till the end of the 1990s. The decline in technical quality, the explosion of volume and profitability. A new set of stars. - The breakthrough of the dvd in the 1990s, the expansion of downloading. Since the 2000s there has been a decline in profitability. There is more porn than ever, the volume is immense, but more and more is available for free in the net. - In the conventional history of pornographic cinema the norm has been narrative film available on 35 mm. The "golden" age of porn film lasted only 6-8 years, and there were only ca 12 central films.

The story B approaches pornography as the open secret of media history. In the 18th century the development of printing techniques enabled mass distribution of printed images and literature. In the 19th century photographs could be reproduced for mass consumption. - The mass consumption of pornography was based on printed matter until the breakthrough of the home video. The explosion of pornography actually happened first in the 1980s, due to the home video. - Until that the circulation of porn magazines was huge, even in Finland ca 100.000. - In the USA in the 1980s home video production companies became huge: Caballero (1974), Vivid (1984), in Europe, Private (1965), and Bel Ami (1993, gay). - The US companies were the shadow of Hollywood. - The companies have distinct profiles. Vivid and Private stress quality. Max Hardcore has a rough edge. In Europe after the fall of the Wall there has been a shift to Eastern Europe (Czechoslovakia, Hungary), which has a rougher profile. The more general and growing trend has been towards increasing violence, including double penetration and even double anal. - The two main trends remain the polished style of Vivid and Jenna Jameson, and the documentary, authentic, amateurish aesthetique: gonzo porn, reality porn, with pro-am (professional / amateur) and semi-am (semi-amateur) aspects. - The rough porn is increasingly visible on the net. Gonzo (even operated by the male performer, himself) is cheap. - Private stresses higher quality, taking Miss Hungary to the top of the mountain for hard core action with three men. - Porn has been seen as the "killer application" in media: always the pathbreaker in new media. However, the Betamax vs. VHS story is more complicated than that of Sony refusing pornography. Undoubtedly porn has opened many of the practices of the www. Porn was the only profitable content before the breakthrough of the game industry.

Magazines, videos and dvd's, and the net are ideal for the home: anonymous, affordable, enabling subcultures and marginal interest. The broadband has the added opportunities for social consumption, fan fora, interaction, do-it-yourself.

How big is the porn industry? Some say 80% of the bandwidth is dedicated to porn, others estimate 20-30%. Is porn bigger than Hollywood? Bigger than the game industry? In any case, it is not separate from the other media industry (pay-tv). Porn has been a central aspect in the media, but the current trend is the decline in its profitability because of amateur porn, peer-to-peer networks, and do-it-yourself. This is a blow to dvd distribution. An example of the new possibilities of porn is the Beautiful Agony website, with Warholian close-ups of faces of men experiencing orgasm via fellatio.

"The Golden Age" of the 1970s is an anomaly in the history of porn. The episodic format has always been dominant. Porn is composed of "numbers", to quote Linda Williams. Instead of characters, there are types, even caricatures. Instead of plots, there are frameworks. The 1970s feature film format was only one possibility amongst several. The acceptance into the mainstream was paradoxical.

In the net, episodes are dominant, and the plot is minimal. The same content circulates in different media (dvd, the net, the print media, the mobile media, pay-tv), it is a cross-platform. Even in video porn the same acts are recycled. - No motivation is needed. The plot can be absent.

Linda Williams in 1991: porn is a carnal genre. The reaction is the criterium, as in melodrama (weeping), comedy (laughter), and horror (horror). The criterium for porn is excitement.

Finnish porn movies really started in ca 1998. Nowadays there are two-three production companies. Many of the porn makers have been women, such as Mariah, Rakel Liekki, and the Tukiainen sisters. The story of Kullervo Koivisto. Radical Pictures. Low production values, cheap aesthetics, well-known locations, national landscapes, homegrown approach. An example is Uivelot, situated in the Iron Age, with men as sex slaves for the fur-clad amazon women.

The expansion of the boundaries. The concept of the milf (the mother I'd like to fuck) comes from the movie American Pie (1999). Now there are the phenomena of the puma and even the gilf (the grandmother I'd like to fuck).

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