Golden Age of Porn
The Golden Age of Porn or porno chic refers to a period in the history of American pornography lasting approximately from the early-1970s to the early-to-mid-1980s. The era is idealized, such as in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 movie Boogie Nights, as it was a time when porno filmmakers were pushing the envelope of publicly acceptable expression. Porno filmmakers had to provide a story to frame the depictions of sexual activity so as not to run afoul of United States Supreme Court decisions and local laws on pornography as the films had to be shown in theaters. With the advent of home video in the late 1970s and its explosion in popularity in the 1980s, pornography migrated from films shown communally in theaters to videotapes viewed privately in homes. Film was replaced by videotape. Narratives elements that helped keep a film from being banned were dropped as the depiction of sexuality became the controlling factor in visual pornography.
Between 1972 and 1983, the core years of the Golden Age of Porn, pornographic films accounted for 16% of the total box office receipts in the United States. Deep Throat, the first hard-core film to become a cross-over hit with mainstream audiences, grossed $1 million in its first seven weeks of release in 1972 (equivalent to approximately $5,638,027 in today's dollars), including a then-porn film single-screen record of $30,033 in its opening week at New York City's New World Theatre. The film made a then-record $3 million in its first six months of release and was still listed among the top 10 highest-grossing films, as ranked by Variety on a weekly basis, 48 weeks after its release.
The Golden Age was a period of interactions between pornography and the contemporaneous second wave of feminism. Radical and cultural feminists, along with the Christians, religious, and conservatives attacked pornography, while other feminists were pro-pornography, such as Camile Paglia, who defined what came to be known as sex-positive feminism in her work, Sexual Personae. Paglia and other sex-positive or pro-pornography feminists accepted porn as part of the sexual revolution with its libertarian sexual themes, such as exploring bisexuality and Swinging, free from government interference.
The origins of the Golden Age are typically associated with American director Bill Osco's 1970 film Mona the Virgin Nymph, the first adult film to obtain a wide theatrical release in the USA. Wakefield Poole's 1971 gay film Boys in the Sand was a solid hit that pushed the envelope of mainstream adult entertainment. The following year saw the massive success of Deep Throat (1972), porn's first blockbuster. The Mitchell Brothers' Behind the Green Door (1972), was another big hit that helped define the term "porno chic".
Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, both of which made their stars, Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers into household names, were the first hardcore porn films to reach a mass mixed-sex audience. Both, along with Boys in the Sand, received positive reviews in mainstream media. In 1973, The Devil in Miss Jones (which was directed by Deep Throat auteur Gerard Damiano) was a smash hit, cracking the list of the 10 top grossing films for the year. Other top-grossing, well-received porn films from the period include Score (1974), The Autobiography of a Flea (1976), The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1977), Candy Stripers (1978), and Debbie Does Dallas (1978).
Some of the major hits migrated out of grindhouses and appeared in mainstream movie houses of the United States for the first time. Golden Age of Porn films brought pornography into mainstream consciousness, in an era where drive-in theaters would take out full page newspaper ads to promote the latest adult features. Porn films started being shown in mainstream movie theaters, and were accepted as suitable for general public consumption, or at least tolerated.
For a period of two or three years it was fashionable to watch and discuss pornographic films. Deep Throat was an unprecedented box office success in 1972, making Variety's chart of the 50 top-grossing films in both 1972 and 1973. It became known as the Ben-Hur of porn due to its great success.
An influential five-page article about Deep Throat in The New York Times Magazine in early 1973 used the phrase "porno chic" in the title to describe the phenomenon. Actress Linda Lovelace once stated at that time that she believed that pornography would merge with the mainstream film industry.
The trend towards the mainstreaming of porn in neighborhood theaters was retarded somewhat by the Supreme Court's 1973 Miller v. California decision, which redefined obscenity from that of “utterly without socially redeeming value” to that that lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" and substituted contemporary community standards for national standards, as some prior tests required. Miller continued to hold that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment, which gave leeway to local judges to seize and destroy prints of films adjudged to violate local community standards.
What many saw as the march of porn to the mainstream was stymied by the Miller decision.Behind the Green Door, when it opened in Suffolk County, New York in 1973, was successfully prosecuted, as it was in New York City along with the 1973 porn film The New Comers. In addition to New York, Behind the Green Door was banned in California, Colorado, and Georgia.
However, pornography continued to thrive throughout the 1970s despite Miller. Although Hollywood's anticipated entry into pornographic film production never occurred due to Miller, porn films made by independent producers continued to be major hits during the era. Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy (1976), a hard-core excursion through Wonderland that was released in mainstream theaters, reportedly grossed over $90 million globally. It was produced by Bill Osco, whose Mona kicked off the Golden Porn era.
In 1975, Inish Kae, a distributor of the 1974 porn film Memories Within Miss Aggie, launched an ad campaign touting the movie for Academy Award nominations. The ads in the entertainment industry trade press touted the Miss Aggie for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Gerald Damiano) and Best Actress (Deborah Ashira).
Box office performance
In 1973, The Devil in Miss Jones made the Variety list of the top ten highest-grossing pictures of the year, and Deep Throat, in its second year of release (and second year on the list), just missed the top 10, coming in at #11 for the year. The Devil in Miss Jones racked up box office receipts of $7.7 million for the year, coming in just below the James Bond-franchise entry Live and Let Die and Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon. Deep Throat grossed $4.6 million for the year, placing it ahead of the prestige picture Sleuth, which featured Oscar-nominated performances by Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.
The Supreme Court's Miller decision closed much of America to the exhibition of hard-core pornography, relegating most product back to grindhouses where it wasn't banned outright. No other porn films would ever feature so prominently in the mainstream movie business as Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones.
Golden Age Stars
Major pornographic film actors of the first part of the Golden Age, the "porno chic" era, included:
A number of the Golden Age stars have taken part in The Rialto Report, an online oral history initiative that preserves and archives the memories of the industry's early participants.
At the time of the maturation of the second wave, movies increasingly were being shot on video for home release.
As their popularity rose, so did their control of their careers. John Holmes became the first recurring porn character in the "Johnny Wadd" film series directed by Bob Chinn. Lisa DeLeeuw was one of the first to sign an exclusive contract with a major adult production company, Vivid Video, and Marilyn Chambers worked in mainstream movies, being one of the first of a rare number of crossover porn actors.
Major producers during the first wave of the Golden Age, the "Porno Chic" era, include:
Films of the period
Some of the best-known pornographic films of the period include:
- Mona the Virgin Nymph (USA, 1970)
- Boys in the Sand (gay, USA, 1971)
- Deep Throat (USA, 1972)
- Behind the Green Door (USA, 1972)
- The Devil in Miss Jones (USA, 1973)
- Resurrection of Eve (USA, 1973)
- The Cheerleaders (USA, 1973)
- Memories Within Miss Aggie (USA, 1973)
- The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (USA, 1974)
- Sensations (Netherlands, 1975)
- The Story of Joanna (USA, 1975)
- A Dirty Western (USA, 1975)
- Alice in Wonderland (USA, 1976)
- Through the Looking Glass (USA, 1976)
- The Opening of Misty Beethoven (USA, 1976)
- Kansas City Trucking Co. (gay, USA, 1976)
- Spirit of Seventy Sex (USA, 1976)
- Inside Jennifer Welles (USA, 1977)
- El Paso Wrecking Corp. (gay, USA, 1978)
- Debbie Does Dallas (USA, 1978)
- Pretty Peaches (USA, 1978)
- A Night at the Adonis (gay, USA, 1978)
- Jack and Jill (USA, 1979)
- Inside Désirée Cousteau (USA, 1979)
- Caligula (USA, 1979)
- L.A. Tool & Die (gay, USA, 1979)
- Taboo (USA, 1980)
- Talk Dirty to Me (USA, 1980)
- Insatiable (USA, 1980)
- Nightdreams (USA, 1981)
- Café Flesh (USA, 1982)
- The Bigger the Better (gay, USA, 1984)
- Reel People (USA, 1984)
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- From an 1970s interview in the documentary Inside Deep Throat.
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- The Rialto Report: Audio, photo, and documentary archives from the golden age of adult film
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- The Rialto Report: Audio, photo, and documentary archives from the golden age of adult film