Nitehawk Naughties: Reclaiming 1970s Porn

As I embark on a new erotic film series in 2015, here’s a look back at what I programmed for the 2014 Nitehawk Naughties series…and why.

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I am a woman and I programmed a year-long dirty film series at Nitehawk Cinema.

It seems important to point this out given that some of the recent press covering the series and the current interest in “vintage porn” has had a distinctively male voice. I suppose it’s natural to assume that porn equals “just for men” but there is so much more to screening these older films now than to arouse a man.

I took the helm of our 2014 signature series Nitehawk Naughties program last year originally intending to highlight older sex pics ala Doris Wishman, of whom I’m a huge fan and who is an essential influence for both porn and mainstream cinema. However, my idea truly formalized when a friend posted a link to Vinegar Syndrome’s digital release of The Sexualist and I went down the proverbial rabbit hole discovering their commitment to restoring and historizing a golden era of porn and cult films (see the New York Times feature “Smut, Refreshed for a New Generation”). Learning of their archive made it impossible for me to think of any other direction of the series. This is reason number one: preserving cinema of any genre so that it can reach new audiences is vital to cultural history and should be an integral consideration in film programming.

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The Nitehawk Naughties program I’ve put together presents six films spread out through the year (there’s a pretty fabulous “Naughty Summer” section taking place in June, July, and August – get it, it’s hot?) that include: Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven in 35mm (1976), Evil Come, Evil Go (1972), The Telephone Book (1971), The Sexualist (1973), Memories Within Miss Aggie (1974), and Wakefield Poole’s Bible! (1974). Made during the same period as the iconic Deep Throat (1972), a movie that broke ground in reaching a more mainstream audience, this era represents a crucial time in porn that focused on the act of filmmaking as much as much as the sex. With actors, innovation, and even social commentary, it’s important to remember that these films were made to be played in a movie theater. This is reason number two: in our immediate digital age of amateur and overabundant porn, I want to this era of 1970s porn back where it was originally intended to be seen…the cinema. This is not for nostalgic purposes but rather to reclaim a cinematic space for an often wayward genre.

Speaking of genre film, Nitehawk is no stranger to programming horror movies. The inevitability of the trauma experienced culturally from the Vietnam War, the disillusionment experienced at the end of the hippie movement, the full-fledged second wave of feminism, and all the social unrest that came forth from the late 1960s is all subtextually there in porn and horror from the early 1970s. And that the intensity of horror is seen as somehow, even if marginally to some, more acceptable than its sister corporeal genre of porn seems to be an enormous oversight. Think of how the violent eruptions in Wes Craven’s directorial debut The Last House on the Left (1972) or Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) were intended to invoke Vietnam traumas back in America. Then consider how pornographic films imbue the search for self, the quest for morality and righteousness, and question the sexual liberation of woman all through the explicit representation of taboo acts. This is reason number three: to put 1970s porn into the same socio-political and corporeal context as the horror genre.

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The six films included in our Nitehawk Naughties series detail a woman’s life journey. Yes, this journey is through sex that is often in relation to or in opposition of a man, but the women in these sex films have ownership to their actions. Whether it’s looking back at an intensely passionate life or whether it’s in an attempt to save souls, the female characters here own their sexuality and isn’t that what is ultimately desirable? This is reason number four: sexuality in film shouldn’t be solely associated with a man’s pleasure. Showing this past moment in porn just might give us perspective on the male gaze, cinema, audience, female pleasure, and humor.

Originally published on Nitehawk Cinema’s blog, Hatched (January 2014) 

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