Vintage Porn Provides Evergreen Profit
LOS ANGELES — They may go by different names —“vintage,” “classic” “Golden Age,” or even “obscure” — but porn of yesteryear is not only evergreen but it’s finding a new generation of fans that in some experts’ minds are tired of today’s extreme and reality adult films and are seeking older “comfort” types of movies with recognizable stars and even story lines.
Three major players in the burgeoning market — Arrow Productions and ShopDeepThroat.com's Scott, self-described “porn archeologist” Dimitrios Otis, and 25-year sexploitation purveyor Cinefear.com owner Keith J, Crocker all have different approaches to the genre, but all agree that the rebirth shows no signs of waning anytime soon.
And all three market their vintage porn in unique ways — once again demonstrating how the adult industry — even those on the fringe — continually reinvent themselves and find ways of profiting.
Scott says the company’s catalog of classic films is growing, not surprisingly because of the timeless appeal of “Deep Throat” and recent Linda Lovelace biopic that’s introduced the film once again into pop, must-see culture. And the baby boomers that saw “Deep Throat” originally have returned to their erotic roots with increased exposure via cable and broadcast TV.
“These films reflect what was hot and sexy, in the moment they were made. There was a natural quality about the films, as well as a snapshot into the culture of the era and locale where the films were created. These were the best of the best, as measured by viewership worldwide. Media viewer ages are split between the 55+ genre of original viewers watching the films again and the 20+ genre of new viewers eager to see what all the fuss is about,” Scott explains.
The new breed of classic porn enthusiasts know that “Deep Throat” and other classics were the first porn films seen by their parents, aunts, uncles, etc., even when viewing a porn film took real effort, such as a visit to a porn theater or finding a friend with both a projector and a 16mm reel of erotic thrills. Scott says that in 1972, the average consumer didn’t have erotic film viewing capacity from home as they do today which makes vintage porn a novel addition to today’s porn experience.
Old porn's resurgence has actually led to classifications of the types of films. Crocker explains that “classics” are feature length films that achieved fairly broad distribution, like “Deep Throat,” “The Devil and Miss Jones,” “Behind the Green Door,” “Candy Stripers” and others. “Vintage” is any film that was made for showing in a porn theater, and doesn't require production value (often called “one-day wonders”) or a film shot over the course of a weekend. “Porn like this was grinded out in order to fulfill the growing need for product. Very often these films were spoofs of current blockbuster movies playing in the mainstream movie theaters at the time,” Crocker says.
“Obscure” titles relate to content that was lost or never had a release to video or DVD, which best describes the 8mm loops that were shot for home consumption. “Early on in the days of video some companies actually did string together 8mm loops and release them on video, but that quickly changed once production turned over to VHS,” Crocker says. The genre can also include a niche movie that caters to a specific sexual theme or interest or fetish [e.g. “Sexcula”]. Scott says a prime example of where the two flavors intersect is the film “Lialeh” that focuses on Black women, which is timeless and was the first commercial hardcore film that brought the ebony genre into pop culture.
So what is that has sparked the resurgence of interest for these companies and individuals besides some nostalgic appeal? Not surprisingly, it’s profit.
Scott says that although he was promoting a wide array erotica for nearly 15 years, he didn’t see the value in classic porn until he met Ray Pistol at Arrow Productions, Steven Toushin at Bijou Video and other top classic porn curators who embraced the titles and brands. The genre also clicked when Scott did an analysis of the search engine keyword data associated with classic erotica and found a virtual goldmine. “I was hooked,” he says.
Crocker also explains that unlike older porn, today’s films “lack charm and imagination” and are very much based in fetish without a story to tell, no fantasy to engage, no build up, no foreplay, no tease, and nothing to stimulate the imagination. “Plain and simple, it's large, grotesque close-ups of genitals that once seen, and jerked off to, give you very little to remember it by,” he believes.
Porn from the ‘70's and early ‘80’s engaged the viewer by creating characters that viewers could relate to in Crocker’s estimation, thus the appeal then and now. “They presented women that looked like real women, they were very accessible. The sex portrayed on screen lasted a more realistic five to 10 minutes versus the current take on the subject where by one scene can last up to an hour,” Crocker says.
He also pointed out that old films often jammed as much sex into their hour-long running time as they could. And they had a star system with porn actresses and actors that could actually be followed like Georgina Spelvin, Seka, Jessie St. James, Rene Bond, Jamie Gillis, John Leslie, John Holmes, Rick Lutza and Ken Cotton — all legends in their time.
Older porn, especially porn shot on film, whether it was 8mm, 16mm or 35mm, also has a look that was lost when video became the medium of choice. Video is an electronic image that is flat, Crocker explains, where film is a photographic image that has depth.
Most classic porn was shot on film to be played in movie theaters on a big screen — a venue that required better quality.
Crocker believes that there is always someone looking for a new thrill and the Internet has helped these types of people get together and let their voices be heard. “Hence it's easier to find a target audience these days,” he says.
Cinefear existed as a collector’s only site and specialized in transferring films that never made it to the home video market. Its specialty was horror and exploitation films and eschewed hardcore porn until the mid ‘90’s. But the Internet gave new life to the company.
“We started getting requests from customers whose video stores were going out of business and they no longer had access to the older porn films that they had been renting. Hence we started to offer out-of-print porn. From there we moved to transferring old 8mm loops or 16mm one-day wonders to video (now DVD). Some folks rely on us to uncover 8mm loops they saw years ago but thought they'd never see again,” Crocker says.
It was this kind of restoration and demand that compelled Ontario, Canada-based Otis — who’s resurrected “Sexcula” the first Canadian horror porn film, and lost Ed Wood movies including “The Young Marrieds” — to enter the game.
“I was excited by any old or historic or rare film that was originally seen on a big screen being projected now as it was back in time. Then I slowly realized Vancouver was a time capsule of old porn — there was an original film loop peepshow arcade still in operation (as it is yet today) and the fact that you could step into a booth, drop a quarter in the slot and see some obscure 16mm sex reel was fascinating to me. Then I discovered the opposite end of the spectrum — a still-running 35mm adult movie cinema,” Otis recalls.
The porn historian believes that younger digital generation have gravitated to classic porn because they are “exemplary in their research, their resources to acquire material, and their fetish to learn all about what went into the creation of these movies.”
“Young people are fascinated to know that at one time you could pay an admission at a public cinema, walk in, and watch hardcore sex on the big screen and amongst the general public (of adult age),” Otis says. And they want to see the original material.
The Canadian curator is banking on the success of “Sexcula” —which was shot entirely in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1973 and was given a 100 percent tax write-off by the Canadian government. Otis says the producer didn't bother to distribute it since he already made a profit. Fortunately the Canadian archives kept a copy in pristine storage conditions at the National Library and Otis was able to release a quality DVD (by arrangement with Impulse Pictures). “It actually sold really well, so they are going to do a Blu-ray release now with extra features. Meanwhile, I have toured the film around cinemas and it has been a hit with big-screen audiences too. The lead actor showed up out of the blue at the Vancouver show,” he notes.
Otis also hopes the lost Ed Wood films — including “The Young Marrieds” — is equally profitable. It’s being screened at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City in September.
Crocker says his biggest sellers are 8mm loop transfers because they are so rare, and especially because it's difficult to find so many on one collection. The films are transferred onto one or two discs and set for easy viewing.
“We love to compile loops into specific themes. The most popular subject we offer is interracial porn loops. These black and white couplings seem to be of continued interest, along with specific loops that feature name stars. My John Holmes compilations, featuring his 8mm output, has also done very well. So it's a combination of specific themes and specific actors or actresses that really sell. Another part of the charm is that we don't try to clean these loops up, they kind of look the way they did when they were projected, hence you really get the feeling that you are watching something shot on film unfold courtesy of projection. It's a real throwback experience. Don't clean up things that weren't meant to be cleaned up,” Crocker says.
Scott agrees that the Internet has played a major role in the resurgence and has not only helped direct sales, but also reinforces brand awareness. He notes that people may see a film they had not thought about for decades mentioned on cable pay-per-view and then buy it online, whether as a DVD collectible or as a digital stream for their computer or mobile device. “In our case we see the opposite being true as well. Content should be available however people want to view it. For us, that means we still sell a few VHS tapes from time to time, along with DVDs, digital and cable streams, plus licenses.”
Crocker says he’s still acquiring and transferring newly found 8mm and super 8mm loops to DVD. “Whenever I'm lucky enough to uncover a 16mm one-day, or weekend one-shot wonder, you bet I grab it right up. Sometimes you have to take your chances and plunge in without knowing what the material is. You have to treat this like you are an archeologist, searching for ancient ruins. You need to treat each film like it's the last of its era. Nothing should be discarded. What we love to look for are loops that have a plot or theme, as those were always geared to specific audiences looking for a certain thrill. Some people like their sex films to feature monsters or ghosts. Some folks like B&D. Others like their sex romantic and well shot. We look for specific subjects and we compile as many as possible onto one DVD.”
And the classics show no sign of losing momentum. Scott says to be on the lookout for content ubiquity and greater diversity of use of the “Deep Throat” brand. “Our movies have always impacted pop culture and 2015 shall be no different. If there is a fun way for consumers to revisit or enjoy the great sexual films of the past from the Arrow Productions library, we want to be sure the fans enjoy our works as they wish.”
Otis is looking for original porn posters from the past and is also researching the Canadian skin magazine industry for new gems.
The more personalized porn became, the less compelling the subject became, according to Crocker who believes that now that everyone has seen it all, many folks are interested in looking back at what once was, and why it seemed so hot and even taboo at the time.
Whether it’s just adult film buffs’ natural fascination with history or a different thrill than what’s available, there’s money to be made. As Crocker says, “What's old is new again.”