For a generation for whom unlimited free porn is available at the click of a mouse, the world of ‘adult cinema’ must be difficult to comprehend. But in the 60s and 70s, areas such as Soho and Times Square were littered with such seedy establishments and the seedier characters who ran them. Back then, screen-based titillation required a personal visit to a specialist cinema frequented by, as cliché has it, the ‘dirty mac brigade’.
Along with the makers of such films, and those who appeared in them, graphic designers, art directors and copywriters also played a role in sustaining the smut industry of the time. The posters and print ads they produced are documented in X-Rated: Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s (published by Reel Art Press).
Over 350 images are included for films with such lurid titles as Appetites and Sex Odyssey. The art direction was in a similar vein – as Peter Doggett says in his excellent introduction, when it came to adult movie posters “subtlety was rarely on the artists’ agenda”.
The introduction, and the posters themselves, walk the reader through the changing nature of the adult cinema industry as it became more hardcore, but also more mainstream. Doggett, for example, cites one ‘blue’ cinema in Philadelphia which “delighted in filling the pages of the local newspaper” with its ads for movies promising to reveal “the real sordid world of the hippies”.
“For connoisseurs of the film poster, porn cinema offers an alternative history of the 1960s and 1970s,” Doggett claims. Though, as Doggett says, these posters’ frequently crass design “required no decoding” he goes on to point out that, nevertheless, there were times when the adult film poster reflected the graphic trends of the time. The influence of Saul Bass, Warhol and comic art can all be seen here, as can the use of pastiche and the send-ups of mainstream movies that have long been a staple of the porn industry.
Flicking through the pages, particularly the earlier examples, it’s tempting to view these works with an indulgent chuckle. A lot of the language and graphic treatments appear comically over the top today: many descend into high camp.
With hindsight we can view these posters as harmless fun, but as the likes of Marilyn Chambers and Linda Lovelace would later testify, the adult movie world of the 70s at least was far from benign. Which makes viewing its graphic output problematic, a fact that Doggett does not shy away from in the text. Everyone featured in these posters was a person with their own story, many of which didn’t end happily. As Doggett writes in his conclusion, “beneath the excess and decadence lies another layer of exploitation, which makes willing accomplices of us all”.
X-Rated: Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s, by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh (£29.95) is published by Reel Art Press