By John Harrison

For this writer, watching porn on a scratchy old reel of 8mm film, projected onto a white screen in a darkened room, will always be superior to popping a cold, all-in-one product into a VCR or DVD-player and pressing the start button (Picture: - - ).

Viewing porn today is like working on an assembly line - another blow job, another anal, all the same bodies, all the same scenarios. The illicitness of sitting in a dank, musty little cinema surrounded by strangers sweating their way through another lunch break has been somewhat destroyed by the fast-food experience of watching today's mass-produced hardcore porn.

Personally, I have always been greatly turned on by watching women whose natural beauty was their allure, and their male conquests who were mesmerizingly ugly and profusely hairy, go at it in some undisclosed location, complete with funky wallpaper and shagpile carpet. Compared to their modern day counterparts, who can only be described as Ken and Barbie on steroids, these unsung porn heroes of 8mm film still remain, at most, largely anonymous, even though their contribution to the world's then burgeoning sexuality paved the way for today's mega porn stars to reap the rewards of fame in a far more tolerant and liberated society.

Perhaps not surprisingly, hardcore films date back almost as far as when Thomas Edison perfected the movie camera in 1890 (as soon as a new medium is created, it isn't long before enterprising individuals develop its use for illicit purposes....look at the internet for the latest example). The market for adult stag movies (as they became known) really began to develop in the early-1900s, with Buenos Aires, Europe and later Mexico as the main production centers. These early stag films received no widespread distribution whatsoever, but were sold to (and often made to order for) rich private buyers in England and France, as well as to European brothels, where stag films became part of the entertainment.

By the late-1920s, film production had been refined somewhat, and many American filmmakers wanting to grab a piece of the booming Hollywood pie quickly found themselves cranking out stag films in order to pay the rent.

These early American productions were among the first to show extreme close-ups of penetration and fellatio, and included such titles as Strictly Union (1919), Slow-Fire Dentist (1920), Wonders of the Unseen World (1927) and Hycock's Dancing School (1934). American stag films from this era utilized crass, slapstick humor which pre-dated wacky teen comedies like Porky's by a good fifty years (as can be gleaned from the credits of the 1930 short Adventures Abroad: 'Seduced by A. Prick', 'Directed by Ima Cunt', 'Photographed by R. U. Hard').

While the demand for stag films continued to rise, production actually fell off during the 1940s, perhaps due to the lack of healthy young men willing to appear in them (most were off fighting the Germans, Italians and Japanese). However, the close of World War II, as well as the introduction of projection equipment at affordable prices, ushered in a massive boom in home entertainment, and with it, an increased demand for stag films.

With pornography still illegal, stag films continued being sold by clandestine means, although production facilities began to spring up all across America, including New York (from where such classic shorts as Pajama Game and Love Nest emerged), the Midwest and Detroit (whose Rank Productions produced titles like How Deep Is My Valley and The Beat Generation). Even companies like Highway Safety Films, an Ohio based firm who produced many gory, award-winning driver's ed classics (such as Mechanized Death and Highways of Agony) were rumored to be funding their films via the production of porno shorts.

As the 1960s progressed, stag films began emerging into various distinct genres, among the most popular of which were:

Extremely tame by today's standards (most would warrant nothing more than a PG rating), these quaint relics often consisted of nothing more than naked couples and groups relaxing in the outdoors at some sunny nudist camp, playing volleyball or table tennis while conveniently placed bushes covered up the genital areas. Some nudie-cuties, however, dreamt up wildly exotic plots to try and keep their audience interested, and many of these films have developed small but loyal followings, particularly those directed by such cult filmmakers as Herschell Gordon Lewis (Boin-n-g!, The Adventures of Lucky Pierre), Russ Meyer (The Immoral Mister Teas, Wild Gals of the Naked West) and Doris Wishman (who, with titles like Nude on the Moon and Blaze Starr Goes Naked, was the only known female director to be dabbling in this genre).

As the name implies, these shorts featured a pair of scantily clad women engaging in a staged catfight, usually in someone's living room. Filmed on an extremely low budget, apartment wrestling films featured no actual sexual contact (they were aimed at an audience who found the fight itself to be sexually arousing). No one ever appears to be injured in these films (the participants themselves can often be seen laughing while they grapple), and the only nudity featured is when their bikini tops are sometimes torn off during the fight. Think of these films as the forerunner to all the fights which occur amongst female guests on The Jerry Springer Show.

Another bargain basement genre as far as budget goes, split-beavers featured a naked, solo girl displaying herself, usually on a bed or living room floor. Initially sold in white boxes under the counter, adult cinemas (who up until now had only dared show nudie-cuties) began screening split-beavers as a support to the main feature, so even though some featured quite explicit close-ups, the producers had to make sure that the featured girl's hands never came into actual contact with the genital area (which would have prohibited them from being screened in public and thus limited their financial earning, although more extreme split-beavers continued to be made for private sale only).

In those shadowy few years before hardcore pornography became fully legalized in the States, filmmakers had to get their racy material past the censors by showing explicit sex acts in an 'educational context'. As a result, mock documentaries like Pornography in Denmark (1970), The Art of Marriage (1970) and Teenage Sex Fantasies (1972) reared their heads. As expected, these features were little more than standard sex films with some tacked on introduction hosted by a supposed doctor or psychologist (almost always wearing a white coat and usually spouting a European accent), who explains to the horny audience - who just want to get to the action - that what they are about to see will enrich their understanding and appreciation of the mysteries of lovemaking.

By the early-1970s, pornographers had dropped all pretence, and hardcore shorts and featurettes began screening at storefront theatres all across the US (storefront theatres were small premises, usually retail shops, which were converted into mini adult cinemas at minimal cost). When Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, two full-length hardcore features from 1972, became huge crossover hits with mainstream audiences (these were the first XXX films which couples on dates went out to see, often at mainstream cinema complexes), it opened the floodgates for a whole new industry of take home porn.

Now anyone who had a cheap 8mm projector could easily enjoy hardcore porn in his or her own home. These films (often referred to as "loops" because they would screen continually in peep booths) were produced in massive numbers and sold openly at sex shops or through ads in adult magazines. Most loops from this era were filmed in private homes, although a few companies did have tiny production facilities dotted across the Hollywood area.

Super 8mm film and equipment was so inexpensive at the time that it seemed anyone who wanted to could produce and distribute their own porno loops. For those who didn't have access to a projector, sex shops also sold a small, handheld wind-up viewers through which the films could be watched (companies who advertised in adult magazines often gave away these inexpensive viewers to readers who ordered two or more loops at once).

It was also in this era that, out of the sea of seemingly endless faces and bodies, the first real porn stars emerged. Georgina Spelvin, John Holmes, Seka, Annette Haven and others all served their time grinding out porn loops.

Unfortunately, as the '70s wore on and the introduction of videotape spread through the industry like a nasty virus, the 8mm porn loops seemed to vanish almost overnight, only to survive in the memories of certain people who, like myself, actually care about the way in which they view porn.

Watching old 8mm stag loops can be a fascinating experience, seeing people who are most likely grandparents by now indulging in all manner of hardcore sex acts, imagining what their lives are like today. From the safety of their middle-class suburban homes, do they ever think back to their days of celluloid "stardom," I wonder? Is it a dark secret which they keep from husbands and wives, sons and daughters? Or do they proudly boast of their past? How many would be aware that the films they made three decades ago are rapidly becoming sought-after collectors' items (and how many more would be horrified and haunted by this fact)?

Because of the sheer volume produced, tracking down vintage 8mm stag loops is still relatively easy. Although any which feature name stars or are particularly notorious will command top prices, general 8mm hardcore loops from the late-60s and 1970s can still be found for as little as US $5.00 each. Although the adult listings are barred in this country, the online auction site frequently has old porn films up for grabs in the general 8mm film category (one of the most consistent and reliable sellers of loops on has the user name 8martini8, so keep an eye out for his stuff: it's always top quality).

And for those who want to re-create the atmosphere of a vintage storefront adult cinema without the hassle of having to thread film through a projector, two companies in America specialize in transferring vintage 8mm porn films onto videotape. The first is Something Weird Video ( and Alpha Blue Archives ( Both outlets publish massive, often brilliantly-written and always information-packed catalogues of their mind-bogglingly massive array of titles.

Oh, and one last thing. If you ever stumble across a pile of old 8mm film reels up in granddad's attic, don't automatically assume they're harmless old Mickey Mouse cartoons.

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