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A pornographic film is a film that seeks to create the sexual arousal of viewers and their erotic satisfaction, usually by including eroticly stimulating material such as nudity and the explicit portrayal of sexual activity. Pornographic films can be sold or rented out on video or DVD, shown through Internet and special channels and pay-per-view on cable and satellite, and in adult theaters.
Throughout its history, the movie camera has been used for pornography, but for most of that time pornographic films were typically available only by underground distribution, for projection at home or in private clubs and also night cinemas. Only in the 1970s were pornographic films semi-legitimized; by the 1980s, pornography on home video achieved wider distribution. The rise of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s similarly changed distribution of pornography and furthermore complicated legal prosecution of obscenity.
Pornography is often referred to as "porn" and a pornographic work as a "porno". Older names for a pornographic movie include "adult film", "stag film", and "blue movie". In general, "softcore" refers to pornography that does not depict penetration or "extreme fetish" acts, while "hardcore" refers to pornography that depicts penetration or extreme fetish acts, or both.
William Kennedy Dickson, while working for Thomas Edison, developed the first practical celluloid film and worked on making the kinetoscope, a peep show machine showing a continuous loop of the film Dickson developed lit by an Edison light source. Dickson left Edison's company to produce the mutoscope, a form of hand-cranked peep-show movie machine. These machines showcased moving images via technique of a revolving drum of card illustrations, taken from an actual piece of film. These were often featured at seaside locations, exhibiting sequences of women undressing or acting as an artist's model. In Britain, these devices became known as "What the butler saw" machines, taking the name from one of the first and most famous softcore reels.
The idea of projecting a moving film onto a screen in front of an audience was a European innovation. In 1895 and 1896, Auguste and Louis Lumière and Robert W. Paul gave their first public demonstrations of motion picture projectors.
Production of pornographic films commenced almost immediately after the invention of the motion picture. Two of the earliest pioneers were Frenchmen Eugène Pirou and Albert Kirchner. Kirchner directed the earliest surviving pornographic film for Pirou under the name "Léar". The 1899 film Le Coucher de la Marie had Louise Willy performing a striptease. Other French filmmakers were inspired by Pirou's film and realised profits could be made from these types of risqué films showing women disrobing.
Because Pirou is nearly unknown as a pornographic filmmaker, credit is often given to other films for being the first. In Black and White and Blue (2008), one of the most scholarly attempts to document the origins of the clandestine 'stag film' trade, Dave Thompson recounts ample evidence that such an industry first had sprung up in the brothels of Buenos Aires and other South American cities by the turn of the century, and then quickly spread through Central Europe over the following few years; however, none of these earliest pornographic films is known to survive. According to Patrick Robertson's Film Facts, "the earliest pornographic motion picture which can definitely be dated is A L'Ecu d'Or ou la bonne auberge" made in France in 1908; the plot depicts a weary soldier who has a tryst with a servant girl at an inn. The Argentinian El Satario, whose original title could have been El Sátiro (The Satyr), might be even older; it has been dated to somewhere between 1907 and 1912. He also notes that "the oldest surviving pornographic films are contained in America's Kinsey Collection. One film demonstrates how early pornographic conventions were established. The German film Am Abend (1910) is a ten-minute film which begins with a woman masturbating alone in her bedroom, and progresses to scenes of her with a man performing straight sex, fellatio and anal penetration."
In Austria, cinemas woud organise men-only theatre nights (called Herrenabende) at which adult films would be shown. Johann Schwarzer formed his Saturn-Film production company which between 1906 and 1911 produced 52 erotic productions, each of which contained young local women fully nude, to be shown at those screenings. Before Schwarzer's productions, erotic films were provided by the Pathé brothers from French produced sources. In 1911, Saturn was dissolved by the censorship authorities and the films destroyed.
Pornographic movies were widespread in the silent movie era of the 1920s, and were often shown in brothels. Soon illegal, stag films, or blue films as they were called, were produced underground by amateurs for many years starting in the 1940s. Processing the film took considerable time and resources, with people using their bathtubs to wash the film when processing facilities (often tied to organized crime) were unavailable. The films were then circulated privately or by traveling salesman, but being caught viewing or possessing them put one at the risk of prison.
The post-war era saw developments that further stimulated the growth of a mass market. Technological developments, particularly the introduction of the 8mm and super-8 film gauges, resulted in the widespread use of amateur cinematography. Entrepreneurs emerged to supply this market. In Britain, the productions of Harrison Marks were "soft core", but considered risqué in the 1950s. On the continent, such films were more explicit. Lasse Braun was a pioneer in quality colour productions that were, in the early days, distributed by making use of his father's diplomatic privileges.
In the 1960s, some attitudes towards the depiction of explicit sexuality began to change. Swedish movies like I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) included numerous frank scenes of nudity and staged sexual intercourse. In one particularly controversial scene, Lena kisses her lover's flaccid penis. In 1969, the film was banned in Massachusetts for being pornographic. However, ultimately, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that the film was not obscene, paving the way for other sexually explicit films. Another Swedish film Language of Love (1969) was also sexually explicit, but was framed as a quasi-documentary sex educational film, which made its legal status uncertain though controversial.
In 1969, Denmark became the first country to abolish all laws outlawing pornography, including hardcore pornography. The example was followed by toleration in the Netherlands, also in 1969. From these safe-havens, there was an explosion of commercially produced pornography. Now that being a pornographer was legal, there was no shortage of businessmen who invested in plant and equipment capable of turning out a mass-produced, cheap, but quality product. Vast amounts of this new pornography, both magazines and films, were smuggled into other parts of Europe, where it was sold "under the counter" or (sometimes) shown in "members only" cinema clubs.
In the 1970s, more permissive legislation permitted the rise of adult theaters in the United States and many other countries. There was also a proliferation of coin-operated "movie booths" in sex shops that displayed pornographic "loops" (so called because they projected a movie from film arranged in a continuous loop).
Denmark started producing comparatively big-budget theatrical feature film sex comedies such as Bordellet (1972), the Bedside-films (1970–1976) and the Zodiac-films (1973–1978), starring mainstream actors (a few of whom even performed their own sex scenes) and usually not thought of as "porno films" though all except the early Bedside-films included hardcore pornographic scenes. Several of these films still rank among the most seen films in Danish film history and all remain favourites on home video.
The first explicitly pornographic film with a plot that received a general theatrical release in the U.S. is generally considered to be Mona the Virgin Nymph (also known as Mona), a 59-minute 1970 feature by Bill Osco and Howard Ziehm, who went on to create the relatively high-budget hardcore/softcore (depending on the release) cult film Flesh Gordon.
The 1971 film Boys in the Sand represented a number of pornographic firsts. As the first generally available gay pornographic film, the film was the first to include on-screen credits for its cast and crew (albeit largely under pseudonyms), to parody the title of a mainstream film (in this case, The Boys in the Band), and to be reviewed by The New York Times. Other notable American hardcore feature films of the 1970s include Deep Throat (1972), Behind the Green Door (1972), The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), Radley Metzger's The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1975) and Debbie Does Dallas (1978). These were shot on film and screened in mainstream movie theaters. The prediction that frank depictions of onscreen sex would soon become commonplace did not eventuate. William Rotsler expressed this in 1973, "Erotic films are here to stay. Eventually they will simply merge into the mainstream of motion pictures and disappear as a labeled sub-division. Nothing can stop this." In Britain, however, Deep Throat was not approved in its uncut form until 2000 and not shown publicly until June 2005.
One important court case in the U.S. was Miller v. California (1973). The case established that obscenity was not legally protected, but the case also established the Miller test, a three-pronged test to determine obscenity (which is not legal) as opposed to indecency (which may or may not be legal).
With the arrival of the home video cassette recorder in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the pornographic movie industry experienced massive growth and spawned adult stars like Seka, Ron Jeremy, Christy Canyon, Ginger Lynn, John Holmes, and Traci Lords and directors, such as Gregory Dark. By 1982, most pornographic films were being shot on the cheaper and more convenient medium of videotape. Many film directors resisted this shift at first because of the different image quality that video tape produced, however, those who did change soon were collecting most of the industry's profits since consumers overwhelmingly preferred the new format. The technology change happened quickly and completely when directors realised that continuing to shoot on film was no longer a profitable option. This change moved the films out of the theaters and into people's private homes. This was the end of the age of big budget productions and the mainstreaming of pornography. It soon went back to its earthy roots and expanded to cover every fetish possible since filming was now so inexpensive. Instead of hundreds of pornographic films being made each year, thousands now were, including compilations of just the sex scenes from various videos. One could now not only watch pornography in the comfort and privacy of one's own home, but also find more choices available to satisfy specific fantasies and fetishes.
Similarly, the camcorder spurred changes in pornography in the 1980s, when people could make their own amateur sex movies, whether for private use, or for wider distribution.
The year 1987 saw an important legal case in the U.S. when the de facto result of California v. Freeman was the legalization of hardcore pornography. Ironically, the prosecution of Harold Freeman was initially planned as the first in a series of legal cases that would have effectively outlawed the production of such movies.
In the 1990s, the DVD was adopted for pornographic films. They offered better quality picture and sound than the previous video form and allowed innovations such as "interactive" videos that let the user choose such variables as multiple camera angles, multiple endings and computer-only DVD content.
The introduction and widespread availability of the Internet changed the way pornography was distributed. Previously videos would be ordered from an adult bookstore, or through mail-order; with the Internet people could watch pornographic movies on their computers, and instead of waiting weeks for an order to arrive, a movie could be downloaded within minutes (or, later, within a few seconds).
Internet pornography is distributed by means of various sectors of the Internet, primarily via paysites, video hosting services, and peer-to-peer file sharing. While pornography had been traded electronically since the 1980s, it was in the invention of the World Wide Web in 1991 as well as the opening of the Internet to the general public around the same time that led to an explosion in online pornography. Like videotapes and DVDs, the Internet has proved popular for distributing pornography because it allows people to view pornography (essentially) anonymously in the comfort and privacy of their homes. It also allows access to pornography by people whose access is otherwise restricted for legal or social reasons.
That same year, Zentropa also produced Idioterne (1998), directed by Lars von Trier, which won many international awards and was nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes. The film includes a shower sequence with a male erection and an orgy scene with close-up penetration footage (the camera viewpoint is from the ankles of the participants, and the close-ups leave no doubt as to what is taking place). Idioterne started a wave of international mainstream arthouse films featuring explicit sexual images, such as Catherine Breillat's Romance, which starred pornstar Rocco Siffredi.
In 1999, the Danish TV-channel Kanal København started broadcasting hardcore films at night, uncoded and freely available to any TV-viewer in the Copenhagen area (as of 2009, this is still the case, courtesy of Innocent Pictures, a company started by Zentropa).
The global pornographic film industry is dominated by the United States, with the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California being the heart of the industry. This being the case, most figures on the size of the industry refer solely to the U.S. Other cities like Houston, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and New York City are also home to pornographic movie studios, primarily amateur or "independent" porn films.
In 1975 the total retail value of all the hardcore pornography in the U.S. was estimated at $5–10 million. The 1979 Revision of the Federal Criminal Code stated that "in Los Angeles alone, the porno business does $100 million a year in gross retain volume." According to the 1986 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, American adult entertainment industry has grown considerably over the past thirty years by continually changing and expanding to appeal to new markets, though the production is considered to be low-profile and clandestine.
The total current income of the country's adult entertainment is often rated at $10–13 billion, of which $4–6 billion are legal. The figure is often credited to a study by Forrester Research and was lowered in 1998. In 2007 The Observer newspaper also gave a figure of $13 billion. Other sources, quoted by Forbes (Adams Media Research, Veronis Suhler Communications Industry Report, and IVD), even taking into consideration all possible means (video networks and pay-per-view movies on cable and satellite, web sites, in-room hotel movies, phone sex, sex toys, and magazines) mention the $2.6–3.9 billion figure (without the cellphone component). USA Today claimed in 2003 that websites such as Danni's Hard Drive and Cybererotica.com generated $2 billion in revenue in that year, which was allegedly about 10% of the overall domestic porn market at the time. The adult movies income (from sale and rent) was once estimated by AVN Publications at $4.3 billion but the figure obtaining is unclear. According to the 2001 Forbes data the annual income distribution is:
|Adult Video||$500 million to $1.8 billion|
The Online Journalism Review, published by the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California, weighed in with an analysis that favored Forbes' number. The financial extent of adult films, distributed in hotels, is hard to estimate—hotels keep statistics to themselves or do not keep them at all.
The world's largest adult movie studio Vivid Entertainment generates an estimated $100 million a year in revenue, distributing 60 films annually and selling them in video stores, hotel rooms, on cable systems, and on the internet. Spanish-based studio Private Media Group was listed on the NASDAQ until November 2011. Video rentals soared from just under 80 million in 1985 to a half-billion by 1993. Some subsidiaries of major corporations are the largest pornography sellers, like News Corporation's DirecTV. Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, once pulled in $50 million from adult programming. Revenues of companies such as Playboy and Hustler were small by comparison.
Arguably the first pornstar to become a household name was Linda Lovelace from the United States, who starred in the 1972 feature Deep Throat. Casey Donovan, star of the first mainstream pornographic hit Boys in the Sand in 1971, achieved name recognition nearly a year before Deep Throat debuted. The success of Deep Throat, which grossed millions of dollars worldwide, spawned a slew of other films and pornographic film stars such as Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door), Gloria Leonard (The Opening of Misty Beethoven), Georgina Spelvin (The Devil in Miss Jones), and Bambi Woods (Debbie Does Dallas). Other well-known performers from the 1970s and early 1980s included Seka, John Holmes, Ginger Lynn Allen, Veronica Hart, Nina Hartley and Amber Lynn.
Attempts were made in the 1970s to outlaw pornography in the United States by prosecuting porn stars for prostitution. The courts in California were where the case was initially made, and stopped short of advancing the case to the United States Supreme Court for a final decision. It was this decision and acceptance to let stand whereby the California Court made a legal distinction in the case of People v. Freeman between someone who took part in a sexual relationship for money (prostitution) versus someone who takes on the act of merely portraying role where a sexual relationship was engaged in on-screen act as part of their acting performance. It is this specific legal distinction between pornography and prostitution in California law that has allowed California to become the porn center of the United States.
The primary focus of heterosexual sex films are the women in them, who are mostly selected for their on-screen appearance. Most male performers in heterosexual pornography are generally selected less for their looks than for their sexual prowess, namely their ability to do three things: achieve an erection while on a busy film set, maintain that erection while performing on camera, and then ejaculate on cue.
Most male performers in straight porn are paid less than their female counterparts. Ron Jeremy has commented on the pay gap between women and men in the sex film industry: "The average guy gets $300 to $400 a scene, or $100 to $200 if he's new. A woman makes $100,000 to $250,000 at the end of the year." and "Girls can easily make 100K-250K per year, plus stuff on the side like strip shows and appearances. The average guy makes $40,000 a year."
In the 1980s, an outbreak of HIV led to a number of deaths of erotic actors and actresses, including John Holmes, Wade Nichols, Marc Stevens and Al Parker. This led to the creation of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, which helped set up a system in the U.S. adult film industry where erotic actors are tested for HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea every 30 days, and hepatitis, syphilis and HSV annually.
In many countries pornography is legal to distribute and to produce, however, there are some restrictions. Pornography is also banned in some countries, in particular in the Muslim world and China, but can be accessed through the Internet in some of these nations.
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