A Short History of Modern Adult Film

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Tony Comstock, who pops in here from time to time, is blogging over at Fallows' place. Here's an interesting piece on how X-Rated became X-Rated:


Deep Throat was produced for a reported $25,000. A Clockwork Orange had a budget on the order of $2.2 million. In 1973, when A Clockwork Orange was resubmitted to the MPAA, the amount of material removed to garner an R-rating could be measured in seconds. Were Deep Throat or The Devil in Miss Jones to be similarly reduced, the remainder would be a very short film, and not noteworthy in any way. For all the excitement about "Porno Chic", the most celebrated films of the era are at their core, cheaply produced, sexually explicit "actualities" padded by not very engaging low budget films. 

And these actualities suffer from the problems that actualities have always suffered from. Once the novelty wears off, unless you have a particular interest in the subject matter, they're boring. What this means, is that for every Deep Throat or The Devil in Miss Jones there are dozens of less notable films. For the most part, any sort of plot, or pretense of narrative is merely employed prophylactically against the threat of obscenity prosecution. 1973 will see Hollywood's last attempt at an X-rated film. 

The dour and downbeat Last Tango in Paris will observe all the literary conventions for the exploration of sexuality to be taken seriously, i.e. "Whilst in many places somewhat emetic, nowhere is it aphrodisiac." (See also: US v Ulysses) After 1973 various independent attempts are made to rehabilitate the meaning of X-rated. Emmanuelle (1974) features the tag line "X was never like this." Mannequin (1974) tries "X has finally come of age." The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976) tries an "X" inscribed in a "Q", with the tag: "A quality adult film." 

 But it's too little too late. No one wants the X-rating. Not Hollywood, not art film producers, not sexploitation producers, not newspapers or theater landlords. Slide #16 is a copy of the poster for Mannequin ("X has finally come of age") where all instances of the letter X have been inked out by hand.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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