Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 7:30pm
The Smoker: A Brief History of the Stag Film

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Presented with Inpatient Press

Buried Treasure, 1929, 16mm, 7 mins
Unidentified Stag Fragments, 1910s-40s?, 16mm, 15 mins
The Modern Magician, 1930s, 16mm, 7 mins
Half a Man Is Better than None, 1940s?, 16mm, 9 mins
The Hypnotist, 1930s, 16mm, 10 mins
Inside Story of Virginia Dare, 1940s?, 16mm, 5 mins
New York Honeymoon, late 1940s, 16mm, 10 mins
The Apple Knockers and Coke, late 1940s, 16mm, 8 mins
The Masked Bandit, ca. 1960, 16mm, 8 mins

In the popular imagination, the history of pornographic movies begins in the 1970s, with the advent of seminal feature-length theatrical releases like Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand (1971), the Mitchell Brothers’s Behind the Green Door (1972), and Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972). But in reality, the history of hardcore filmmaking goes back much further, to the earliest days of motion picture technology. From the turn of the twentieth century through the 1960s, anonymously-produced amateur sex films circulated through sub rosa networks in the Americas, Europe and Asia, despite the fact that widespread obscenity laws often made such fare highly illegal. Variously termed stag films or blue movies, these films seem to have been enjoyed exclusively by wealthy buyers at first, with forms of semi-public exhibition emerging soon after. Even before WWI, for example, brothel patrons in the red-light districts of Paris or Buenos Aires might be treated to a few ribald flicks while awaiting their turn.

Later, in North America especially, one finds the informal practice of the so-called “smoker,” wherein a men’s club, fraternity or other such organization might hire a travelling showman to screen selections of pornographic films to a rowdy all-male group. At a smoker, heterosexual desires were somewhat curiously engaged through an erotically-charged, homosocial event. “Before the public surfacing of pornography, viewing a dirty movie was for generations of American males an activity charged with the dual tensions of illegality and personal anxiety,” Al Di Lauro and Gerald Rabkin state in their 1976 history Dirty Movies, written just as stags became overshadowed by big-screen porno chic. “The men who gathered regularly in the American Legion meeting hall or fraternity house club room had to prove to their fellows that they were worthy of participating in the stag ritual. Their sexual ignorance was masked, their private needs socialized through the forced bravado of laughter and collective sexual banter. The raucous display of verbal machismo avoided the embarrassment of individual confrontation with sexual images that were all the more potent because they were forbidden.”

Esthetically, stag films bear little resemblance to post-1970s porn. Most were silent black-and-white one-reelers, made with men and women who would have had little if any prior models for how sex should appear on screen. As feminist film historian Linda Williams puts it in her groundbreaking 1989 study Hard Core, “stag films are, in a word, primitive.” Well into the mid-20th century, stags retained many signature elements of early cinema, like decorative intertitle cards, fixed-camera cinematography, pantomimed acting, and crudely articulated narratives.

For tonight’s presentation, Light Industry and Inpatient Press have assembled a sampler of erotic films from the early 20th century to the early 1960s. The lineup includes notable classics like Buried Treasure, a Fleischer Brothers style animation featuring the flexible Everready Harton, a little man with a detachable penis; The Modern Magician, in which glamorous Blondie Blondell experiences some kinky sleight-of-hand from a handsome prestidigitator; The Hypnotist, wherein the mystical Madame Cyprian prepares for a seance but ends up in a menage-a-trois; and the infamous Apple Knockers and Coke, a nudie loop starring model Arline Hunter, which circulated for years as a fake Marilyn Monroe porn, and was later appropriated by Bruce Conner to make his 1973 film MARILYN TIMES FIVE. The evening is rounded out with girl-on-girl items like the dildonic Half a Man Is Better than None and Inside Story of Virginia Dare, the latter featuring the eponymous 1940s burlesque star and some strikingly expressive camerawork; New York Honeymoon, which parodies the anodyne conventions of home movies until the couple returns to their hotel room; and The Masked Bandit, produced at the dawn of the sexual revolution, starring an impotent criminal whose sexual inabilities are played for yuks. All will be projected silently: in the spirit of smokers past, we encourage attendees to provide their own soundtracks.

Prints courtesy of Albert Steg, The Film-Makers' Cooperative, and an anonymous collector.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.