Of the 11,000 adult films released in the United States each year, a select few can be considered the Citizen Kanes of the porn industry, groundbreaking in terms of their plot, character development and portrayal of women. Searah Deysach, owner of Chicago-based feminist sex toy store Early to Bed, offered up insight on landmark adult films of the past few decades, as well as a few of her personal favorites.
Behind the Green Door (1972)
Along with Deep Throat, this hyped cinematic release became one of the great landmark porn films, where playful, plot-heavy romps achieved high visibility in the pre-AIDS era. Behind the Green Door, which follows a curious chef named Gloria as she learns the secret of the “green door,” was one of the superior pornographies that “collectively pushed the boundaries and set the bar pretty high,” says Searah.
Debbie does Dallas (1978)
This campy classic is regarded as one of the most important contributions to the “Golden Age of Porn” in the late ‘70s and early ’80s. Searah says, “There’s something in that era of porn that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s just people having sex and having fun. And it has a story, which really got lost in the ’80s.”
Hot Rackets (1979)
“Something you’ll see is real boobs and mustaches [pubic hair]!” Searah raves. This movie, which Searah describes simply as “a lot of people playing naked tennis with each other,” highlights a time “before women became these packaged, fake-looking bodies” and comes highly recommended “for people who just want to have fun and want to have a good time.”
Candida Royalle, a former adult actor who has won praise for her unique approach to erotica, directed this landmark film. Royalle took the perspective that women wanted to watch porn, and accordingly strove to produce films that could engage both female and male viewers. Produced by Femme Productions, Royalle’s company, Femme strayed from conventions of the genre. It instead presented its audience with attractive men, full-body shots and women actually receiving pleasure from sexual activity.
Suburban Dykes (1990)
Nina Hartley, whom Searah calls the “face of porn,” stars in this lesbian romp about a suburban female couple who use a phone sex service — and later a lesbian escort — to spice up their sex lives. Searah raves about Hartley’s portrayal (“she’s very charming and hot”) and recommends other movies by this pornography veteran, which includes erotica instructional videos that offer up real sex to “people who get confused with porn about what actual sex is supposed to look like.”
Annie Sprinkle’s Herstory of Porn (1999)
Annie Sprinkle, the self-titled “first porn star to ever receive a Ph.D,” graced Northwestern with her presence two years ago, giving a presentation titled “My Life As A Feminist Porn Activist” and, at one point, whipped out her breasts in Leverone Hall to perform a “breast ballet.” Herstory of Porn is a microcosm of her lectures; this documentary runs viewers through over 150 vintage sex scenes, photos and footage from her one-woman shows. Sprinkle is famous for transcending the typical pornographic role of a man and woman; Herstory features her work with little people, transsexuals, amputated actors and other feminist activists. Searah praises Sprinkle for doing “a fantastic job of making porn seem like it’s something that can be fantastic and fun, and not harmful and creepy.”
Tristan Taormino, a nationally renown author and sex educator, produces this series, which throws seven porn stars together into a house and follows their exploits (and sexploits) for a weekend. Real World with a “perv cam,” these videos began a trend that made porn “less about story, less about content, and more about people having sex.”
Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge (2008)
Groundbreaking in their large-scale production value, the two Pirates films turned the tide in terms of how we view pornographic cinema. Pirates II features a catalog of high-profile adult actors in a fairly intricate plot, involving sea monsters, evil sorceresses and a scantily clad first mate. The film was even deemed engaging enough to merit its own R-rated DVD release. Although this writer would not recommend a screening of Pirates-sans porn, the film’s focus on plot does reflect a discernible trend. It indicates porn’s shift towards a potentially woman-friendly, cinematic experience, rather than a “super-nasty” genre with a niche market. Searah commented, “What I like about Pirates is—the sex in it is fine, it’s porn sex—but it made itself popular and really amped up the ante in terms of production value.”