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Sizing up YBCA's retro porn fest

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Michael Stabile's Smut Capital of America documents the Tenderloin sex scene of the 1970s

culture@sfbg.com

LUST FOR LIFE In 1969, San Francisco became the first American city to legalize screening hardcore pornography. In honor of director Michael Stabile's documentary-in-progress Smut Capital of America, which chronicles the 1969 event and SF's ensuing pivotal role in the adult film industry during the early 1970s, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is sponsoring a festival from July 14-Aug. 24 that will screen Stabile's project and seven vintage porn films.

The festival kicks off with an evening featuring Smut Capital, a post-screening Q&A, rare vintage porn clips, and a discussion between Stabile and YBCA film and video curator Joel Shepard on SF sex culture in the 1960s and '70s. After seeing the 16 minute-excerpt of the film, I 'm already intrigued, entertained, and offended.

Smut Capital does more than give a blow-by-blow (sorry for the pun) porn history. It is also one of the few existing histories of sex work and queerness in the 1970s Tenderloin district. There is some pretty transphobic and sexist language in the footage (said by interviewees, not the filmmaker), and its treatment of street sex work and survival sex feels weirdly lighthearted. But because documenting the Tenderloin's importance to queer and sex cultures is rare, I'm glad this film is in the works. I'm interested to see what other footage Stabile has for us down the road.

YBCA is also screening good old-fashioned smut — a passel of 1960s and '70s blue shorts and full-lengths are on the schedule. And for another take on the era, a perspective piece from right in the thick of things, look to director Alex De Renzy's Pornography in Denmark (1969), a controversial (at the time — but then, what wasn't?) documentary he made during the first Danish adult trade expo to shoot its load after the country rescinded many of its anti-sex laws. De Renzy went on to direct such gems as 1989's Bring on the Virgins and 1997's Trashy Ass Deliquents, so you can probably guess where he stands on matters of sexual freedom.

Pornography in Denmark is far more interesting as a historical document than as a documentary or a porn film. As far as docs go, it's slow; as far as porn goes, well, there's nudity and sex, but they're not very arousing. The film is a bit dry and long-winded, with the narrator earnestly explaining the history of porn in Denmark, right down to reciting the national average of production costs.

The interviews with sex industry workers are interesting, though, and some of the dialogue is priceless. I was having giggle fits over lines like "Probably not many men carry a vibrator in their attaché case"; "A tourist's raincoat has deep pockets"; and "Making a pornographic film can raise a sharp appetite!"

All in all, these events are definitely worth checking out. I'll be at "Smut Capital" — see you there?

SMUT CAPITAL OF AMERICA: SAN FRANCISCO'S SEX FILM REVOLUTION

Smut Capital , Thurs/14, 7:30 p.m., $6–$8

Pornography in Denmark , July 21, 7:30 p.m., $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

www.ybca.org

 

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