San Francisco Hosts Porn History Film Series

Jul 12, 2011 3:00 PM PST

SAN FRANCISCO — Think the San Fernando Valley gave birth to porn?  Think again.

In 1969 San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. to legalize hardcore (explicitly depicting penetration), and is debuting a series of film shorts and documentaries called "Smut Capital of America" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that chronicles the early days of late '60s and '70's San Francisco porn.

The series will kick off with director Michael Stabile's film of the same name, "Smut Capital of America."  He told the San Francisco Chronicle, "San Francisco birthed this entire industry." 

Home to porn pioneers like the Mitchell brothers, Lowell Pickett and Alex de Renzy —  who made more story-driven, highbrow films — San Francisco’s libertine history dating back to the hedonism of the Barbary Coast, coupled with its red light Tenderloin District made it the perfect breeding ground for porn.

The city also supplied adult filmmakers with plenty of independent labs that had no problem pumping out porn films.

Although hardcore porn was available in adult theaters in the ‘60s, there was always the specter of being busted by the cops for obscenity.

But things changed in 1969 when San Francisco director de Renzy's explicit documentary film "Pornography in Denmark: A New Approach" won a landmark court case where the judge found the hardcore movie had “redeeming social value” in keeping with the Supreme Court’s stand on what separates free speech and obscenity.

The low-budget ($15,000) film went on to gross $22 million, according to the Chronicle.

In the free love atmosphere of the '60s, San Francisco became a hotbed of available model talent and cops rarely busted productions. "It became like a Gold Rush. I think that San Francisco in 1970 was probably sort of like how San Francisco was for tech in 1996," Stabile said.

With the advent of VHS and home distribution, porn producers realized that viewers would fast forward to the sex and were no longer tied to making script-driven theater films. They packed up and moved to Los Angeles where real estate and production was cheaper.

But the city's film series highlights porn's golden era.

Amateur vintage porn historian Joe Rubin has a collection of San Francisco porn shorts from 1969-1981 that will also be shown during the event.

"This really has been my life's work," Rubin said.

For more information and tickets for the series contact the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at (415) 978-2787 or click here.

More Adult Industry News »
About / Contact