Pornography has been a staple of the cinema from the year dot. At no time, however, was it so respectable as in the America of the early 70s. Hardcore porn was then shown in respectable mainstream cinemas, and respectable couples did not care a jot if anyone saw them going in or coming out.
Now such films, or the much more sleazy and slapdash modern equivalents, are relegated to backstreet porno houses and the pay-TV channels you get in foreign hotels. Have we progressed or declined? It isn’t my job to answer that question. But I can say that there were breakthrough porno movies that deserved at least some of the limelight they were once afforded.
Two directors who were pioneers were Gerard Damiano (Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones) and the Mitchell brothers, who made Behind the Green Door. This was the most stylish, and some say the most erotic, of all of these movies.
One reason for the success of Behind the Green Door, always slaughtered by the censor in this country, was the fact that Marilyn Chambers, its star, who is pleasured by nuns, a well-known boxer and three trapeze artists in the film, was also the “99.44% pure Ivory Snow girl” of advertising fame at the time.
She became an instant celebrity, was invited on to talk shows, and behaved like a Hollywood star. Serious critics reviewed the film, while it raced up the list of the most popular movies as if nothing untoward were happening at all.
It was Damiano’s Deep Throat, a rather messy endeavour that concentrated on fellatio, that made porn fashionable in the first place, with Linda Lovelace becoming a household name. But while Damiano urged his women on to ever more extreme sexual gymnastics, the Mitchells opted for “art” and a semblance of respectability, and were delighted that women were the bedrock of their audience. There were as many female commentators who approved of the film as disapproved, since it was about a woman totally liberated by experiences that had previously been part of her private and unattainable fantasies.
I have to say that the climax of the film, which lasts for several minutes and has one of the trapeze artists ejaculating into the heroine’s mouth in extreme slow motion, reworked over and over again with special effects, now seems more hilarious than arty. But the film does have a charge that you can’t deny, Chambers is certainly some sort of an actress, and the Mitchells could at least claim some imagination in making it.
As for Chambers, she was well paid for her pains and received a cut of the film’s profits that made her rich as well as famous.