Erotism in the early days of cinema

The film industry is extremely lucrative and so is the sex. For this reason, this article is about one of the most daring genres and after reading it you will have a different approach to the history of eroticism in the cinema. It is undeniable that the web is full of adult content, some more explicit than others, but the truth is that eroticism is related to sexual passion. Generally, a person can feel desire, due to the influence of sensuality and mischievousness and cinema is a very powerful trigger for this kind of sensations.

The history of eroticism in the cinema becomes interesting, when through a screen, the libido increases. It is normal for a person to feel arousal when viewing erotic movies. In fact, that is the goal of producing this type of work. Actually, this kind of genre seeks to attract attention, through spicy images, that denote sensuality and promote sexual desire. However, these productions were not always so simple. The versatility, including eroticism, with which it is found today in almost any type of content, was not the same a few years ago. The history of eroticism in the cinema turns out to be interesting and attractive. Surely, it will be exciting to know the transformation that eroticism has had through the big screen.

It has been a long way since the first time erotism was shown through the lens of a camera. Some of the most important steps on this process are the next:

The disruptive photographer

In 1880, photographer Edward James Muggeridge included nude images in his photo gallery. This caused quite a stir in the film industry. However, the main objective of these photographs was to capture the sequence of the movement. In 1901 a small edition entitled “The Human figure in Motion” was published in London. The main purpose of the photographs was to serve as sketches for the artists. They were like an immense atlas of human and animal locomotion: 781 plates with more than 20,000 figures, in almost all phases of the movement.

The most suggestive poses that did not have the possibility of being disguised as anatomical studies were sometimes, by their daring, secretly ordered and sold. During the reign – between 1888 and 1918 – of Kaiser Wilhelm II, when male friendship was interpreted as one of the pillars of the system, there was an increase in the demand for potentially homoerotic snapshots related to Mediterranean arcadia. Forbidden pleasure was mixed with art.

Her hips didn’t lie but they were too much for her country

Coochie Cooche Dance is film from the United States, directed by James A. White and William Heise and created through its production company Edison Manufacturing Co. in 1896, showed nothing more than Fatima Djemille, the most recognized belly-dancer in the United States due to her spectacular performances at the Universal Exposition in Chicago in 1893. This small film presents the first recorded version of her show and, although more videos of dancing women emerged after this film, it became famous for being the first to be censored, due to the poor concept of belly dancing that conservative American circles had about it, misunderstood as directly related to sexual advances.

It is impossible to forget the very first kiss

Among so many millions of kisses collected throughout the history of the seventh art, the first one that showed a film took place in April 1896 in a one-minute shoot in which the kiss was given by the mustached actor John C. Rice and actress May Irwin for 16 endless seconds, in a movie titled ‘The Kiss’.

‘The Kiss’ was shot by Thomas Alva Edison using his kinetoscope, a box in which after inserting a coin and bringing two holes closer to the eyes, a brief moving image could be seen. Many Americans think that Edison was the true inventor of the cinematographer due to this invention, two years ahead of that of the Lumière brothers, but Edison’s kinetoscope, presented at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1895, was made to entertain people through an individual experience, while the invention of the French brothers was an experience created to be seen by many people at the same time.

The first femme fatale. Cleopatra, Salomé and Madame DuBarry, in a world where women where saints or whores, she decided to be the villain and even thought the puritan mind of her times tried to finish her, Theda Bara became the first woman to seduce millions of men through the lens of the camera. Women would disapprove her in public, wishing to be like her in private. “A fool there was!” (1915), it is the first film where we could see her act and became a superstar. Some may discuss she was a sex symbol created only for the pleasure of men, but Bara defended her role: “The vampire that I play is the vengeance of my sex upon its exploiters. You see, I have the face of a vampire, but the heart of a feminist”. And yes people, these words come from a woman born in 1885.

The beginning of pornography

It was in 1915, when the first tape with pornographic content, called “A free Ride”, came to light. This movie was released without synchronized sound. In it, you could see sexual images between a driver and two women. To avoid censorship, this production was presented clandestinely, in private places exclusively for gentlemen, such as brothels. However, despite not being released to the public, its premiere marked an important milestone in the history of eroticism in the cinema. Its boom was such that, years later, it was projected in the sex museum.

Due to the morality of the time, in the 1930s, the Hays Code was implemented. Its function was to restrict the content of the productions through a series of rules. With the creation of this code, there was a lot of censorship to which cinematographic works were exposed, especially those that sought to highlight the sexual essence in their stories.

However, despite the censorship of the time, the American artist, Mary Jane West, was able to take advantage of some loopholes that the restrictive system had even if all this attempts to censor films prevented the history of eroticism in cinema from evolving. However, Mae West always found a way to still denote sensuality, taking advantage of perfect figure that made her more striking in the male audience. Nevertheless, her talent was dedicated to various facets. In addition to being an actress, she was also a screenwriter and playwright. Mae West was the protagonist of a scandal that took her to prison. The arrest was carried out during the presentation of her work “Sex”, which was about the hazardous life of a prostitute. Due to its spicy and provocative style, it was classified as immoral. The bad girl of the time was known for bragging about her sensuality. Years later, it was known that her success in evading the Hays Code was based on using explicit phrases to focus the attention of the regulators, while on the other hand, she placed suggestive scripts en cachette.

Later, in the year 1933, erotic cinema underwent a significant advance when presenting “Ekstase”, where its sexual content was explicit. However, this work did not escape the restrictions of the code and was confiscated by the American authorities. There were other productions that marked the history of eroticism in the cinema. Such is the case of Sex Madness, which showed promiscuity and hints of a lesbian nature. This tape was also exposed to censorship, due to the immoral scandal that represented this type of relationship at that time.

Censorship and cinema, an impossible affaire

Perhaps it is surprising to know some of the restrictions to which the history of eroticism in cinema was exposed many years ago:

  • The stories could not show kisses lasting more than three seconds.
  • No film with promiscuous content could be presented, as this led to sin.
  • Vulgarity was not admitted on any level.
  • Films that evidenced excessive use of alcohol were censored.
  • Tapes evidencing an attack on religion were not authorized.
  • Images depicting adultery were prohibited.
  • Passionate kisses and suggestive poses were not allowed.
  • Hugs with a sensual character were not allowed.
  • Passion could not be recorded for exaggerated purposes.

The beginning of eroticism in the cinema has been influenced by a series of factors that have revolutionized productions with a sexual character. Many scandals were necessary to end the Hays Code. Some of them were starred by their own defenders, such as the case of Joseph Breen, who was the pioneer in launching the first issue of Playboy magazine with Marilyn Monroe. The lucrative nature of productions in Hollywood was especially influential in ending restrictive laws that banned erotic content. Above all, with foreign investment, and global competition.

Today, there are many options that represent sexual diversity. Even celebrities have joined the fashion of presenting intimate videos that demonstrate their sexual appetite. There are various film productions that have reached large sums of money thanks to their erotic content. That is why the history of eroticism in cinema has grown over the years, thanks to good acceptance, larger budgets and leaving censorship behind.

Alfred Hitchcock: The man who knew too much

Hitchcock made a very personal use of the Hays Code, always trying to find those strategies that were within his reach to avoid censorship, always with his own way of making movies. Among these strategies, one of the most recurring was to interrupt the action in the passion scenes, as we can see in the kiss scene from the movie “Chained” or in the kiss scene between Grace Kelly and James Stewart, which are quite similar. By doing this, what he achieved was that kisses of more than a minute in total managed to overcome the censorship by interrupting himself before reaching three seconds.

Another of the most widely used strategies in his filmography to avoid censorship was the use of metaphors, as we observed in the scene of the skies at the end of the original “Marriage”, in the fireworks of the hotel scene in “Catch a Thief” and in the closing scene of the film “With death on his heels”, the train entering an endless tunnel. All of them to represent sex scenes that could not be explicitly shown.

Some other strategies he also resorted were to use narration and innuendo instead of the images themselves especially to bypass the Code’s prohibitions of adultery and sexual perversions, as we observed in “The Paradine Case” that occurs with Mrs. Paradine, in the case of adultery, and with “André Latour”, in the case of homosexuality. Also use short shots to avoid the prohibition of integral nudity, as we see in the scene of the shower of “Psychosis” in which she uses very short shots of the woman’s body so as not to show the entire naked body and still give a sensation of nudity; or use the blur as we also see in the scene of the chest in Psychosis.

In short, Hitchcock had a very personal way of interpreting the Code, always trying to influence it as little as possible in his productions, sometimes using it to his advantage, including scenes that he knew he was clearly going to be forced to eliminate to divert the attention of those I wanted to keep. Thus, using the strategies, he managed to include scenes of adultery, passion, sex or nude in his films, without the censors doing anything to avoid it. The fact that sexuality was censored by the Hays Code did not prevent it from being present in Hitchcock’s films