Thursday, May 21, 2009

PART 3B: CHANGES IN THE AGE OF AQUARIUS

Jack Wrangler became one of the first gay pornstars and idols
The 1960’s and 70’s saw a relaxing of what was deemed obscene. To meet the needs of a public whose attitudes and tastes were changing, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) adopted a film rating system to replace the Hays Motion Picture Production Code, thereby opening up doors previously closed to filmmakers and allowing them to produce content that had long been forbidden under the heavy hand of the censorship bureau. Simultaneously, some old movie houses that had lost audiences to television began exhibiting the new films that had been given an X rating. Pornographers had finally found themselves being granted permission to film sex. And they were offered venues in which they could exhibit their films, along with distributors and theatre managers who were anxious for content.

Advances in technology had already made it possible for high-end consumer-grade 16mm movie cameras to incorporate sound on film. Eventually Super 8mm cameras would also record sound, but still most film processing labs would refuse to return films that contained nudity or sexual content, thereby keeping all home movie-makers on the righteous path to moral decency. However pornographers knew where they could get their content processed and have it screened, and this gave the industry the exclusivity it needed to finally become successful. Studios remained loyal to the 16mm format for filming and theatrical screening, and released their movies in the 8mm and Super 8 format for the ever-growing home audience, thereby achieving something Hollywood would only later fully embrace: the simultaneous penetration of both home and theatre audiences.

With the new rating system, new venues to exhibit their films, new public attitudes toward sex coupled with a hunger for more explicit content, and new technology at hand, gay pornographers took on the role of independent filmmakers and went wild producing movies that told stories in the course of which a lot of explicit sex took place. Grass-roots gay porn studios found the ability to reach their audience at long last, and several became the production powerhouses of gay sexual content. Companies with names like Falcon, Mustang, Nova, Laguna Pacific, Colt, and Magnum Griffin became household words throughout the gay culture. Some directors, like William Higgins, Joe Gage, and Fred Halsted became legendary almost overnight. A new breed of performer exploded into being (literally): the Porn Star. Never before had anyone been considered a "star" in pornography, but the gay porn studios of the 70’s made sexual superstars of Al Parker, Jack Wrangler, Kip Noll, Buster, ‘Leo (Ford) and Lance’, Richard Locke, Dick Fisk, Eric Ryan, Clint Lockner, Bruno, Giorgio Canali (aka Rocco Rizzoli), and many others.

And just when the industry thought things couldn’t get any better along came the videocam. As the 80’s rolled in, 16mm film quickly lost favor to video. With video the pornographer could eliminate the long-term cost of the film lab by investing up-front capital in video equipment. The camera equipment was big and bulky compared to the 16mm cameras, but the images it produced were sharper and the colors more true most of the time. The poor little film splicer, a staple of film editing for decades, gave up its ubiquitous status to the big bulky editing machine and duplicating machines. Despite the initial inconvenience, pretty much everyone in the business found the switchover from film to video to be a worthwhile investment. Video proved to be more error-proof (it couldn’t accidentally be ruined by exposure to light), convenient, cost-efficient, and user friendly. It also opened the door to more artistic editing techniques.

On the home front, video proved to be much more convenient than projecting movies. Video eliminated the need for a projector, a screen, and a darkened room to enjoy. And the popularity of porn on video helped make the VHS system the popular choice in the US over the Betamax. Newer gay porn companies, the likes of HIS, Vivid, Huge, and Jocks began showing up on the scene. A burgeoning interest in ethnic performers brought about the creation of specialty studios like Altomar and others. Videotape made the production of porn more achievable to the masses than it had ever been. But video also crippled the XXX Theatre business severely as porn videos found a greater success on the small screens in video arcades and at home.

Through the 90’s the nature of video changed. Cameras went from using VHS cassettes to 8mm video cassettes to mini DV cassettes. The size of the cameras got smaller and more lightweight, and the prices of equipment came down. Digital media did away with the need for editing equipment as the home computer could now handle the job. Suddenly everything changed. Digital technology found its way into the hands of the general population. Anyone with a modest budget could now film, edit, upload, and distribute porn from his own home – his own bedroom – and distribute it to millions of people through the internet without being restricted by the Comstock Act. More ambitious amateurs set up little porn studios in their spare rooms, garages, and basements, or wired webcams in every room of their house. Others found ways to put their content on DVDs and market them to a sex-hungry public. And most of them came into it because they saw how easy it could be to try to get a piece of the porn pie.

Faced with less control over the regulation and distribution of adult content, the US government played its hand at creating a new roadblock: the 2257 record-keeping law. Initially devised as a means of putting an end to child pornography and the exploitation of minors, the laws which were adopted under Clinton were again revisited and reworked under the Bush administration in a conservative effort to seriously wound the industry as a whole. Billed as a ramping-up of child exploitation protections, the 2257 revisions created by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales were a thinly cloaked attack on adult entertainment and did not do anything new to protect children. The law is still being challenged in court for its unconstitutional provisions at the behest of the Free Speech Coalition.

Even with the 2257 laws as they stand, the industry is still growing. New studios are cropping up everywhere in the US and abroad. With all of the changes that technology has brought to pornography, the hardest part in making porn these days is, perhaps, finding the performers.

Once upon a time, pornography was the domain of the most daring photographers of their day, a handful of individuals who had the vision to create intimate images of the naked human body – images that had the power to stimulate some, seriously offend others, and result in a jail sentence simply for having been taken. And while technology has pushed the art along and given it exposure to whole new realms and greater audiences, technology has also brought with it a menace, commonly known as the mass consumer.

Up next: A Critical Mass of Mass Consumerism.

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