Still not dead

ivorysnowOn April 12, Marilyn Ann Taylor, 56, passed away in her trailer house in somewhere in North Los Angeles County, California. Her death made some brief headlines in the American press and got a mention in the main TV channels’ news reports. Having been the face girl of 1970s Procter&Gamble’s ad campaign of Ivory Snow laundry soap, famously described by its manufacturer, as “99 and 44/100 percent pure”, and ran twice for the office of Vice President in the US presidential elections (in 2004 she received 946 votes), her actual claim to fame was movies. In 1972 she appeared, under the name of Marilyn Chambers, in a movie called “Behind the Green Door” which was, together with another 1972 release “Deep Throat”, one of the first feature length pornographic movies.

“Deep Throat” and “Behind the Green Door” started a short period of “porno chic” in New York in early 70s and subsequent, almost two decades long Golden Age of Porn that was the subject matter of 1997 movie “Boogie Nights” by Paul Thomas Anderson. Both movies were enormously successful also financially, with “Deep Throat” widely considered being the most profitable movie ever made – costing less than $50,000 to produce it has made well over $100 million even by rather conservative estimates of the FBI, and is still going strong with a screening in Dutch national TV last year that was seen by estimated 907,000 viewers. However, the importance of Marilyn Chambers and Linda Lovelace (who died in 2002) lies somewhere else. “Porn chic” movies such as Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, Devil in Miss Jones, Boys in the Sand, and Score (which featured Sylvester Stallone in a brief role as telephone repairman Mike) were important not simply because they were first full length forms of adult entertainment that so far had been a genre geared for “horn dick daddies” frequenting the XXX-rated theaters for reasons that didn’t quite require 90 minutes of screen time. With going mainstream, they were influenced by, as well as feeding into, a much broader culture of gender and sexuality – and this is why feminism has had such a torn and difficult relationship with porn ever since. On one hand, the new wave of pornography that saw Marilyn Chambers, Linda Lovelace, Traci Lords, John Leslie, Ginger Lynn, John Holmes, Kay Parker, Harry Reems and many others becoming household names among the American urban high-middle class was seen as leading into a commodification of sex and female body on an industrial scale. On the other hand, however, together with an increased availability of birth control it largely contributed to the slackening of old and not overly liberal attitudes towards female sexuality and gender roles – it was both increasingly possible as well as acceptable for women to be sexually active the same way as men.

In addition to the explicit nature of the sex scenes, Golden Age movies caused a lot of strife for breaking many other taboos and customs that were of a more broadly social nature. For instance, “Behind the Green Door” featured, for the first time, an interracial sex scene between black male and white female, which was a very difficult terrain at the time. Many of the later classic porn movies dealt with similarly controversial themes – “Taboo” series movies in 80s featuring Kay Parker caused a public outrage by depicting incestuous sex. Yet other movies, such as “The Grafenberg Spot” were openly didactic in terms of sexual practices and details that were certainly beyond the prevailing standards of “normal”.

“Deep Throat” and “Behind the Green Door” also broke some new ground in terms of adult movie aesthetics – the most famous point in the case being the 7-minute slow motion money shot at the end of 45-minute sex scene in “Behind the Green Door” – at the end of which Marilyn Chambers was said to have fainted at the set. Although certainly not overly sophisticated, they had soundtracks that featured some distinctive, very catchy and campy funk and jazz that became enormously popular. The original 1972 soundtrack of “Deep Throat” by Trunk Records has became a collector’s item that would set you back by at least $300, should you be lucky enough to find it. There still are several remastered and remixed 70s adult movie soundtrack anthologies (such as, for instance, Inside Deep Note – check out the tune called “Fuzzy Navel” for a good example for the kind of a funk track that I referred to earlier) to be found in amazon.com and iTunes Store.

For a while in early 70s there was a rather widely held belief that, at some point, adult and mainstream movie industries would merge. Although this never happened, there is a certain amount of overlap today. Somewhat explicit content (at least what would certainly have been judged as such before 1972) is now a commonplace in pretty much every Hollywood movie with a romantic theme. And the porn industry has been experimenting with productions that are edging closer to the regular fare of movie theaters. The last example of this is the recent release of Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge, that, with a production budget of $10 million is hands down the most expensive adult movie ever made. It recently caused a controversy in the USA when it was intended to be screened in University of Maryland campus. The irony of the situation is that “Deep Throat” was screened there four years ago without anyone so much as batting an eyelid. So in that sense, “Deep Throat” has managed to acquire enough cultural capital that makes it possible for people to overlook the hard core content and treat it as kind of a period piece – something that is apparently not possible with a mock Pirates of the Carribean style porn movie. And while both Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers are now dead, the legacy of their… shall we say “work”, is still very much alive and debated today.

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3 thoughts on “Still not dead

  1. Is there a reason not to call it work within capitalist economy, unless one insists on ‘service’ in the pattern of army and clergy?

  2. Well, I wasn’t referring there to work as a profession, rather than a work as an œuvre.

  3. Ah, ok, I took the recognition of an oeuvre for granted, considering closeness to the obituary genre.

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