It came from San Francisco
This is the first of a two-part article exploring how hard-core porn evolved through the efforts of Jim and Artie Mitchell and other pioneers, with some help from San Francisco’s vibrant counterculture. Part two appears in Bright Lights 58.
Jim Mitchell was a “porn pioneer.” The phrase cropped up repeatedly in reports of his death in July, and it wasn’t just hype. Consider the facts.
Together with his brother Artie, Jim made Behind the Green Door, one of the first blockbusters of hard-core cinema, starring one of porn’s first superstars, Marilyn Chambers. And he followed it up with another porno-chic hit, Resurrection of Eve the next year.
When strip joints were just strip joints, the Mitchell Brothers turned their theatre, the O’Farrell in San Francisco, into a decadent pleasure palace — “the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America” as Hunter S Thompson called it — with outrageous acts in imaginative settings which make today’s “gentleman’s clubs” look like glorified tittie bars.
They engaged in endless battles against the politicians, D.A.s, and vice police who tried to shut them down. . . and they fought with such wit and intelligence — not to mention a talent for publicity — that they were elevated to near-mythical status in San Francisco during the ’70s and ’80s, with many of the city’s leading citizens happy to be seen rubbing shoulders with underground activists, beats and bohemians, and exotic dancers at Mitchell Brothers’ premieres and parties.
In some ways it was one long party that lasted almost a quarter of a century — as if in one countercultural corner of the Tenderloin the sixties had never finished swinging — only coming to a tragic halt in 1991 when Jim shot and killed Artie in an incident judged involuntary homicide — an attempt at intervention to stop his brother’s rampant substance abuse that went horribly wrong.
Such is the life of a “porn pioneer.” But the word “porn” itself carries heavy connotations. Vilification by right-wing, religious, and feminist groups may have drained much of its credibility in recent years, but, despite films such as Boogie Nights (1997) and Inside Deep Throat (2005), that have presented sex films as part of recent social history, porn is still far from a recognised part of mainstream entertainment.1
In this article, through the lives of the Mitchell Brothers and others, I hope to demonstrate what being an American “porn pioneer” — from the start of hard core in the late 1960s to the mid-80s, the end of the era that celluloid sex aficionados often call porn’s “golden age” — really meant. I want to put pornographic films in the perspective of cinema history rather than seeing them as merely an interesting aberration.
I will not offer deep analysis of individual films but instead will attempt to identify the trends that move explicit sex from the preserve of grainy stag reels, shown privately or sold under the counter, and that led to porno chic in the 1970s and to the video boom of the 80s and on to today’s billion-dollar DVD and Internet porn industry.
Finally, I’ll be searching for clues as to why — despite the Mitchell Brothers, Gerard Damiano, Radley Metzger, and others developing the art of sex cinema at an incredible pace — the porno-chic-era predictions that the mainstream would be forced to go hard core never came about.
Sodom by the Sea
However inspired, however dedicated the motivators, revolutions can only occur if the circumstances are right. And San Francisco in the late 1960s provided a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of radical aesthetic, cultural, and political changes.2
The most obvious manifestation of this were the hippies who converged on the city from the mid-’60s onwards. Many of these new arrivals had fewer reservations about removing their clothes and having sex in front of a movie camera than they had about working in an office. As early porn actress Mary Rexroth, daughter of famed San Francisco poet Kenneth Rexroth, observed, it’s “less of an emotional hassle than working nine to five. . . where the boss is constantly trying to seduce you.”3
For many, free love was part of the revolution. Jefferson Poland, founder of the Sexual Freedom League, joined the exodus to the city where he organised a “nude wade in” at Aquatic Park and was frequently seen sitting naked on the San Francisco State University campus. And if public nudity was a revolutionary act, what about its replication on film?
As Mitchell Brothers contemporary Lowell Pickett put it, “Pornography was anti-establishment, another way of changing things. We were very conscious of trying to break down barriers.”4 “Sex in public has always been taboo,” Mary Rexroth told Sinema‘s authors, “which is what makes pornographic films so strange to people, because they think you’re breaking something very basic to the structure of society. Well, somebody cut off your balls and you didn’t even notice.”5
Of course, the hippies didn’t invent sexual liberation: they were merely extending a trend that had started when Kinsey’s studies of Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male(1948) and . . . Female (1953) had become bestsellers, providing the postwar generation with an academically-sanctioned excuse to read about — and even indulge in — sexual practices that would have been considered perverted or obscene not many years before.6
This feeling of revolution suffused everything from politics to music and the arts. The atmosphere of bohemian creativity even attracted the new generation of mainstream films: when Francis Ford Coppola founded American Zoetrope Studios in 1969, he sought offices in San Francisco rather than Hollywood.
Of course, as with all revolutions — and let’s not forget this was a revolution fueled by dope — some of the thinking was muddleheaded and self-indulgent. Still, there was an optimism that the time had come to change the world, whether through demonstrations or dropping acid. It was a rejection of the old, which was associated with hatred, hypocrisy and “plastic” phoniness.
It wasn’t all Haight-Ashbury hedonism, though. The Free Speech Movement had started in Berkeley in 1964 as a response to a ban on student political activities, and student radicalism had continued with anti-war demos. Meanwhile, in the less privileged areas of Oakland, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton were forming the Black Panther Party.7
Birth of the Blue Screen
As the title of John Boorman’s 1985 book states, filmmaking is Money Into Light.And, if hippiedom’s opposition to the old order was one of the factors that made the emergence of hard-core porn’s pioneers possible, it was matched by equally dramatic developments within the commercial world of the Hollywood mainstream.
Since the end of the Second World War, cinema audience numbers had been in decline and attendance patterns had changed. In 1948, the monopoly-busting “Paramount decree” had attacked the studios’ vertical integration and forced them to divest themselves of their huge theatre chains. Unfortunately for Hollywood, this coincided with both the baby boom era and the uptake of television. Young couples with children didn’t want to leave the suburbs — or even their homes — to be entertained.
All of which had a dramatic effect on the once-busy downtown entertainment centres. Many vast movie palaces that had been forcibly sold off faced a slow decline into shabby grindhouses showing reruns in double or triple bills, or “art” cinemas programming risqué foreign fare such as Ingmar Bergman’s Monika, The Story of a Bad Girl — better known to film buffs as Summer with Monika (1953).8
1953 also saw the appearance of a magazine, published out of Chicago, called Playboy. What the Kinsey reports were to the intellect, Hugh Hefner’s magazine was to promoting sexual liberation as a lifestyle, wrapping its titillation in a philosophy that reflected the growing wealth and aspirational dreams of post war America.
The only surprise about The Immoral Mr Teas (1959) was that it took a further six years for somebody to put Playboy-style pinups on the big screen. Russ Meyer, a former military cameraman who had been shooting industrial films, decided he could beat the European imports and came up with a bizarre but highly successful hybrid of Jacques Tati-esque comedy and large, lovingly photographed mammaries.
The Meyer-style “nudie cuties” and successive soft-core sub-genres provided a stay of execution for numerous Main Street movie “barns.” But they weren’t the only place that curious men could see naked flesh on celluloid. Arcade and adult bookstore owners had long operated peep shows, initially using the sort of stand-alone machines that had graced boardwalks for decades, then providing individual booths that gave the viewer a degree of privacy.
The peep shows generally contained ten minute (400′) 16mm “loops” — so called because the start and end of the film were joined to form a continuous show — with a quarter providing a minute or two of viewing before it was necessary to feed the coin mechanism again.
Most sex cinema owners must have realised that the businessmen who ducked in to spend their lunch breaks with their raincoats over their laps weren’t there for the comic antics of Mr Teas and his numerous imitators. So, sometime in 1967 an enterprising San Francisco exhibitor decided to show a dozen of the arcade loops on the big screen in a two-hour show, with music courtesy of records played over the theatre’s PA. The idea proved successful enough for others to imitate it, some even running the loops at silent speed to extend the show.9
Technology, too, played a part in the changing film scene. Sixteen millimetre stock had been introduced in 1923, intended for amateurs but widely used for combat photography in the Second World War. It gained further professional uses post-war, for shooting television news and for production and exhibition in the industrial and educational spheres.
This led to better-specified equipment being developed, which, along with improvements in film emulsion, meant that 35mm negative was no longer absolutely necessary for big-screen projection. The portability of 16mm kit and the cheaper hire or even purchase costs (especially army surplus cameras) compared with 35mm meant that the cost of making any sort of film suddenly became possible for many more people.
Sixteen millimetre helped make university and college film courses viable, producing fresh waves of would-be filmmakers with hands-on experience every year. With only limited jobs in Hollywood or even on local television stations, some looked to alternative ways to practice their craft while waiting for that first big break. Perhaps the most notable example is Francis Ford Coppola, who worked on two nudie cuties in 1962, The Bellboy and the Playgirls, in 3D, and Tonight for Sure, shot by his UCLA contemporary Jack Hill, who became one of the big names in exploitation cinema in the ’60s and ’70s.
Underground cinema — the term was coined in 1957 — provided another outlet for tyro filmmakers. These arty, personal films made on minuscule budgets often used nudity and sexual imagery to challenge the status quo — whether on purely artistic grounds or because, as generations of exploitation producers had realised, audiences would sit through the most interminably boring celluloid if there was the promise of skin.10
Portrait of the Porn Pioneer as a Young Man
The Mitchell Brothers were not San Francisco natives. Jim was born in 1943, Artie two years later, and both grew up in Antioch, a blue-collar town 45 miles east of San Francisco. Antioch’s population at that time was around 1,500, most of whom worked in the local factories or in agriculture.
Both parents had been raised in rural poverty in Arkansas and Oklahoma before following Horace Greeley’s advice to “go west.” Their father, JR, was a successful poker hustler in the bars of northern California while their mother, Georgia Mae, had married at 16 but once the boys were born became a teacher.
From JR Jim and Artie inherited a love of life as a “game” plus a healthy disregard for authority; and both parents were unceasingly supportive, even when their sons were being busted on a regular basis by vice police. As I’ve said, my aim is to consider the Mitchells in relation to the history of film, but I can’t refrain from referencing this biographical detail as it seems so strong a formative influence, shaping their approach to authority in later life.
Equally importantly, the boys were proud of their family’s dust-bowl roots, still describing themselves as “Okies” when they had become multimillionaires. This emphasis on humble origins is common to several others who made their fortunes in adult entertainment. Alabama-born soft-core mogul Dave Friedman jovially describes himself “a country boy with a shoe shine,” while hard-core historian, critic, and director Jim Holliday frequently referred to himself as “this old farm boy.”
This identification with a hard-working underclass seems to me to indicate a sense of separation from the corporate phoniness of mainstream entertainment. These men are reminding us that while they may have made millions from skin flicks, they weren’t born into Hollywood dynasties. They aren’t part of “the system.” Moreover, they offer “the real thing” — not the slick but ultimately dishonest product that tilts the camera when the couple sink to the bed. Theirs is not the high-falutin’ language of intellectuals — they speak directly to the crotch!
In 1961 Jim was convicted on a minor vandalism charge and chose to enlist rather than pay a fine. His time in the army seems to have been uneventful: he didn’t get any closer to seeing service in Vietnam than Okinawa. On his return to Antioch, determined not to become factory fodder, he enrolled at Diablo Valley College.
If Diablo Valley’s middle-class milieu was very different from Jim’s up-bringing in 1950s Antioch, his move to San Francisco State (SFS) must have been like entering an alternative universe. He majored in political science but took a minor in film, a practical as well as critical class that not only introduced him to directors like Fellini and Godard but encouraged experimentation. Cool headed and able to plan ahead, Jim showed his strengths as a line producer on his fellow students’ films.
At Diablo Valley, Jim had argued long and hard with middle-class peaceniks: his politics remained resolutely and unquestioningly those of a true-blue-collar American, and he was certainly never a nonmaterialistic hippie — when he became a millionaire he was fast to blow money on bikes, sports cars, boats, and other expensive boys’ toys. But at SFS he also came face to face with police breaking student demonstrators’ heads, which can have done little to warm him to authority.
In Kenneth Turan and Stephen F Zito’s porn history Sinema, Artie is quoted as saying, “Yeah, we wanted to make movies. But, shit, who doesn’t? That’s like saying, ‘I want to be a rock star.'” Jim adds, “We figured, ‘Let’s make movies. Why be a lawyer? Why be a dipshit?’”11
I’ve found no record of their formative cinematic influences, beyond suggestions in John Hubner’s book Bottom Feeders that their horizons didn’t extend much beyond mainstream theatre fare and the late show on TV when living in Antioch. Hubner does say that they watched a copy of the classic stag film The Nun on a friend’s 8mm projector.12
But even if Jim hadn’t first witnessed cinematic sex as a teen, he was to encounter it soon after moving to San Francisco, when he took a part-time job on the door of one of the city’s skin cinemas. It was to be every bit as enlightening as the subtitled masterpieces he was watching in class.13
David McCumber’s Mitchell Brothers bio X-Rated claims that Jim shot his first topless girl for a warmly received class project, but Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne’s book The Other Hollywood and Bottom Feeders indicate his motivation was to fast-track his filmmaking career. While earlier generations might have served out their apprenticeships working for others, here was an opportunity to hit the ground running that matched the urgency of the time.14
Certainly he quickly grasped that he should be able to turn a tiny outlay into a solid income if he started small, shooting cheesecake stills of topless girls on the beach which he sold to newsstands. From this he graduated to 16mm loops, which he sold to the New Follies and Roxie Theatres. The deal was that he had to pay the model while the theatre covered the cost of processing and possibly stock.15
With a return of at least 100 percent on costs and minimal demands regarding quality, he made easy money grinding out two or three a week, but Jim was soon looking towards the next step. He realised that while the profits were good for a few hours’ work, they were nothing compared with the money to be made exhibiting your own films.
The value of vertical integration also occurred to Alex de Renzy, probably San Francisco’s most important porn filmmaker along with the Mitchell Brothers. He opened the 50-seater Screening Room in the rough Tenderloin neighbourhood in 1968, spending $50,000 refurbishing it and seeing his weekly box office take rise from $100 to an average of $8,000 in the next two years.16
Lowell Pickett, the third major name in the development of San Francisco porn, opened the Sutter Cinema around this time. By early 1969, there were 20 to 25 places to see beaver films in San Francisco, though some were little more than bars with a projector.17
By now Jim had invited Artie, who had just finished a spell in the army, to join his skin flick crew. They could have opened yet another storefront mini-theatre, but, wanting to go one better than de Renzy, they found a former automobile salesroom on the fringes of the Tenderloin.
Everyone set about turning it into a theatre that respectable, hip people could feel comfortable in. They even offered that old art-house staple of complimentary coffee in the lobby, underlining the air of sophistication. But while the java might have flowed fee, tickets didn’t: at $4 they were twice the average for a mainstream theatre at the time.
The O’Farrell Theatre opened on July 4, 1969. In the office space there was an edit suite: in the back there was a studio (de Renzy’s Screening Room also contained shooting space). The theatre itself showed weekly programmes, changing every Tuesday, consisting of two new loops by the brothers plus four buy-ins, most supplied by a young Los Angeles porn pioneer, Bill Osco, who would make regular trips north with a suitcase filled with new product. Unlike mainstream cinema, distribution was not on a rental basis; exhibitors purchased films outright.
Competition kept all the theatre owners on the ball. At the time, most loops did not have credits and many did not even have titles. But the Mitchells would not only include them on their own productions, they even made them up to add to loops they had bought in. Artie’s wife Meredith took exceptional care choosing music to accompany the week’s programme. The intention was to present a professional show at which people could feel comfortable.
But while the trappings of showmanship were important, the main area of competition for all the exhibitors was to see how far they could go with what they put on screen. It was a game where the stakes were constantly rising: in the words of Lowell Pickett, “As the competition got hotter, so did the films.”18 Within a couple of years, the term “San Francisco loops” — or variants of it — had become a marketing buzz phrase, used across America to indicate the most explicit material available.
But the pressures of competition sometimes pushed the porn pioneers too far. In the summer of ’69 a storefront owner in the Mission showed a bestiality loop featuring a man and a pig. Eventually even the liberal San Francisco authorities — who until then had been more concerned coping with the hangover from the Summer of Love — had to take notice.
In its first week the O’Farrell theatre took $600 and by the end of the second it was near $1,000. In the third week it got busted. The police stormed in and tore the film from the projector. It was the first of many busts, and the brothers responded in the way that was to become a matter of course over the next few years — they fought it with everything they had.
Actually, they felt particularly frustrated by this first raid because they had deliberately started with a relatively soft show — an LA loop called Lessons in Love — to avoid drawing heat. But it appeared that somebody had decided to try and shut down the new theatre before it had a chance to become established.
The raid heralded a crackdown on all the sex theatres and included a new tactic of arresting their customers as well as their owners. Naturally this started to scare audiences away, so a robust response was required. The Mitchells hired a radical young attorney, Michael Kennedy, who fought the charges on 1st, 5th, and 14th Amendment grounds and won a temporary restraining order to prevent patrons being harassed. Not only was this ban upheld, but a judge ruled that police could not seize films either as this amounted to prior censorship.
The Mitchell Brothers’ battles with the law could fill an article on their own. Suffice it to say, they continued to fight every charge and Kennedy proved his worth time and time again as a fiery courtroom combatant. In one case he even commissioned research from a polling organisation to show that the California public was not greatly concerned about the “menace” of pornography that the authorities claimed to be protecting it from.
There were occasional setbacks, though. In March 1971 the brothers were found guilty over an LA loop,Glowy Flesh, which was so lacking in narrative content that it failed the Roth test — named after a famous legal precedent of 1957 — by not containing “socially redeeming material.” Though the brothers eventually won on appeal — to have failed to have done so would have been a disaster as a first prosecution counted as a misdemeanour but any subsequent ones would have been felonies with possible 5- to 15-year sentences — this impacted on their filmmaking, marking an end to basic loops and leading to the introduction of a minimal narrative context to satisfy Roth’s demands.
As well as their battles in the courtroom, the Mitchells fought for hearts and minds too. They invited journalists to the O’Farrell and charmed them with their laid-back style. In the true spirit of showmanship, they recognised that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Indeed, the king of classic exploitation, Kroger Babb, wasn’t above hiring demonstrators to join pickets outside theatres showing his birth-of-a-baby picture,Mom and Dad, during the forties and fifties.
The Mitchells’ high-profile presence in the local press and occasional stunts — including temporarily shutting down the theatre until the police guaranteed their audiences safety to watch films without risk of arrest — put them firmly in that great tradition of exploitation cinema, and it paid off as curious San Franciscans bought tickets to find out what all the ballyhoo was about.
Each time a producer-exhibitor went a bit further than their competitors they were cocking a snook at traditional coyness, pushing towards a more “honest” — or at least less dishonest — version of sexuality.
Beavers became “split beavers” became “action beavers.” Then men were introduced into the boudoirs of these formerly onanistic females, at first doing little more than indulging in passionate kissing, all the while being sure to keep any physical manifestations of pleasure concealed. But pretty soon this gave way to simulation, with only camera angles keeping the audience from seeing what was really going on.
Each time the films had gone further there had been busts but nothing so serious that the Mitchells and their competitors had backtracked. Now there was just one more barrier left to tumble.
“All Just a Case of History Repeating”
Before documenting the transition to full, explicit hard core, I would like to re-cap the path of our porn pioneers so far. And I would like to compare this with the birth of cinema itself.
Even before projection became the primary means for exhibiting films, they were shown in arcades via “peep show” machines like Edison’s Kinetoscope (1891) or the Mutoscope (1895). The prehistory of San Francisco’s sex cinemas is based in the loops shown in arcade peep shows.
The very first films were straightforward records of everyday acts, such as workers leaving a factory (1895 — Lumiere) or a street scene in Lyon (ditto) and even early “erotic” records such as The Kiss (1896 — White and Heise) and Fatima’s Couchee-Couchee Dance (ditto), possibly the first film to be censored (via black bars printed across the frame).19 Porn loops were similarly typically artless records of a girl performing a striptease or rolling around on a bed, often from a locked-off camera angle.
The first custom-built and specially converted movie theatres were nickelodeons (the word was coined in 1905 as the name of a theatre in Pittsburgh), showing programmes of short, silent films with musical accompaniment. The San Francisco porn theatres were frequently storefront operations where programmes of short, silent films were shown with musical accompaniment. While admission to the nickelodeons was within anybody’s reach, the porn barons 65 years later charged top dollar for a ticket.
Many of the first generation of movie moguls came from humble origins, often immigrants who arrived as babies (Louis B Mayer was born in Minsk, William Fox in Hungary, Carl Laemmle in Germany), but they realised the potential of the nickelodeons and started their empires at the exhibition end of the business before moving into production. The Mitchell Brothers, while not immigrants, emerged from working-class Antioch but saw an opportunity that led to them buying a theatre/studio that would become the cornerstone of their adult film empire.
The first generation of producers and theatre owners even faced problems with the authorities who, alarmed at this form of new technology that allowed the poor and often illiterate to gather together to enjoy themselves, came up with everything from fire and health scares to concerns over morality to try and control the nickelodeons. And for those exhibitors who did not submit to Edison’s patent demands, there was a constant battle to stay one step ahead of the Trust’s lawyers. For well over a decade, cinema was not considered a respectable form of entertainment.
Distribution in the early days of cinema consisted of selling prints to other theatre owners: the same with porn in the late ’60s. For the first filmmakers, production and exhibition were on a hand-to-mouth basis, trying to come up with fresh ideas as they ground out films to feed the public’s insatiable appetite for new titles without them getting bored. So it was for the San Francisco loop makers, constantly in a state of flux, pushing the envelope of what they could show.
But while those early 20th-century pioneers quickly diversified from scenes of trains leaving stations and discovered their audiences’ hunger for slapstick (L’Arroseur Arrosé, aka The Waterer Watered, 1895, Lumiere); fantasy (L’Hallucination de L’Alchimiste, 1897, Melies); and high drama (The Life of an American Fireman, 1903, Porter), the only development that seemed to interest the majority of porngoers was that films should become increasingly explicit.
Nor did the porn pioneers need to invent the language of film in the way that D. W. Griffith and others had. But they were making aesthetic experiments. They do not seem to have felt drawn towards a Hollywood style of storytelling, even if they had had the money or resources to match it. Instead, as we shall see when the Mitchell Brothers became more ambitious and branched out into longer productions, they were closer to the ethos of underground filmmakers, trying to find a new screen language of lust.
To be continued next issue.
Two biographies of the Mitchell Brothers were published following the death of Artie: David McCumber’s X-Rated (New York: Pinnacle, 1992) and John Hubner’s Bottom Feeders (New York: Doubleday, 1992). Both are well researched — the former runs to around 530 pages, the latter to around 400 — and each has its own strengths. It’s useful to compare the two narratives — and heartening to discover very few occasions on which they differ.
The Mitchell Brothers were also interviewed for two books that appeared at the start of the porno chic era: William Rotsler’s Contemporary Erotic Cinema (New York: Penthouse/Ballantine, New York, 1973) and Kenneth Turan and Stephen F. Zito’s Sinema (New York: Praeger, 1974). In their interview in the latter they seem somewhat hostile and out-of-sorts; with Rotsler they seem more relaxed, maybe because he was himself a skin flick maker (among many other talents — William Rotsler deserves a study of his own). Both books not only provide a tremendous picture of what was happening in the early ’70s, but also reflect the excitement that porn was a whole new genre that would revolutionise cinema.
The recent oral history of porn cinema, Les McNeil and Jennifer Osborne’s The Other Hollywood (New York: Regan Books, 2005), is disappointingly short on material about the Mitchells, dealing with the very start of their career and then Artie’s death (it’s stronger on the New York scene in the early ’70s though). Finally, anybody fascinated by an earlier generation of adults-only filmmakers should read David F Friedman’s A Youth in Babylon, (New York: Prometheus, 1990), an often hilarious, incredibly vital and always vivid account of a career spent selling the sizzle, not the steak.
- Not many, if any, porn film producers would wish to be invited into polite society. Adults-only cinema benefits from its outsider status and the promise that it will show things that cannot be seen elsewhere; the title of the 1927 stag film Wonders of the Unseen World says it all. [↩]
- San Francisco’s tradition of tolerance for hedonistic living stretched back to the days of the gold rush when gambling halls and whores waited to relieve miners of their wealth as they returned from their claims. The city’s laissez faire, Barbary Coast attitude became a proud part of its identity. In 1964 dancer Carol Doda performed topless at the Condor Club on North Beach at a time when Los Angeles go-go dancers still wore bikinis. When the first beaver loops appeared in its northern neighbor, Hollywood’s smut cinemas were still restricted to topless. And right into the eighties, Hollywood porn crews often travelled north to make films because the LAPD’s vice used every means possible to bust locations — even advertising in the L.A. Free Press for snitches — while shooting in SF was safe. Of course New York also had its own reputation for licentious fare on 42nd Street, but the city was also associated with grime, crime, clip-joints, hustle, and sleaze. [↩]
- Turan and Zito, Sinema, 104. [↩]
- John Hubner, Bottom Feeders (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 61. [↩]
- Turan and Zito, Sinema, 223. [↩]
- The personal upheaval caused by WWII should never be underestimated. It forced large groups of men together — men who would otherwise probably never have met but who now shared stories, dirty jokes, and visits to bars and brothels — in circumstances where every minute could be their last. And it had taken them to foreign countries with more liberal customs. No wonder, then, that many who returned home ready to settle down and raise families in comfort and safety were also questioning the old verities which they had been raised with before 1941. [↩]
- Radical lawyer Michael Kennedy who successfully defended the Mitchell Brothers in countless trials, used the money they paid to keep him on a retainer to help support his pro-bono work. This included defending Newton, who would later become an occasional member of the brothers’ inner circle at the O’Farrell. [↩]
- David F. Friedman recalls the unlikely tale of how Bergman’s early classic gained its initial release in the States courtesy of exploitation genius Kroger Babb, who played up the titillating promise of a skinny-dipping scene. Friedman, A Youth in Babylon, pp. 100ff. [↩]
- My source for this is Sinema (77), but if the loops were meant for peep shows I’m surprised they weren’t shot at silent speed. Sinema also claims these were beaver loops, but the Mitchell Brothers biographies indicate that the first loops Jim Mitchell sold were topless. In Contemporary Erotic Cinema, (206), Lowell Pickett says that prior to himself and the other San Francisco pioneers making product, all the loops originated in LA, which may well have meant that they were only topless. [↩]
- Warhol praised loops: their primitive, locked-off camera style, recording everything without artifice or even intervention, matches his own anti-cinema style. For a while, Times Square’s exploitation moguls realised the promise of the word “underground.” Vapors, set in a New York gay bathhouse, was described as being “Filmed by the New Leader in underground filmmaking — ANDY MILLIGAN” when released by Chelly Wilson. Veteran avant-gardist Joseph Marzano made a bizarre adaptation of Venus in Furs that was distributed by Harry Novak’s Box Office International. Even the high priest of the East Village underground, Jonas Mekas, had an uncredited cameo in Joe Sarno’s The Love Merchant. [↩]
- Turan and Zito, Sinema, 168. [↩]
- Hubner, Bottom Feeders, 34. [↩]
- X-Rated (38) says Jim worked at the Follies to help support himself. The Other Hollywood (81) quotes him saying it was the Roxie, in order to research the product before venturing into shooting his own. Whichever, I’m struck that this pioneer of hard core started work at a theatre showing loops, a symbol of the old order he was to help make redundant within only five years. [↩]
- Russ Meyer had shot industrials; in New York Mike Findlay and John and Lem Amero worked as film editors at ABC TV; even Jim Mitchell’s SF contemporary Alex de Renzy worked in the commercial sphere. [↩]
- In Contemporary Erotic Cinema (206), Lowell Pickett says the going rate was $250 for a 600-foot film. The Other Hollywood (82) offers an alternative deal in which the filmmaker paid for processing: the total cost to make came to $100 — stock was around $40 — but the sale cost was $200 minimum. Bottom Feeders (54) says the filmmaker would receive $100 for a loop but that processing and stock were paid for by the house. The $25 model fee seems to be agreed by all sources. [↩]
- “Sex Trip,” Time magazine, July 20, 1970. [↩]
- The Expo 69 on Kearney Street advertised with the words, “Pornography for the price of cocktails. Why pay more?” Bottom Feeders (80-81). [↩]
- Contemporary Erotic Cinema, 208. [↩]
- The use of saucy situations in these late 19th-century peep show machines — other sub-60 second snatches of titillation from White and Heis include Seminary Girls and Pillow Fight, both 1897 — demonstrate that sex in the cinema is as old as the medium. As Dave Friedman is fond of saying: “Five minutes after they invented the motion picture camera, somebody had put a naked girl in front of it.” [↩]