16

The first movie, longer than a few seconds, the famous "Arrival of the train" was made in 1885. The first erotic movie, "Le Coucher de la Mariée" was made barely a year later (you can watch it here - by current standards its perfectly SFW). The first real nude movies were made less than a decade later and by 1908 (probably even earlier) viewers could watch a "proper", hardcore pornography, for example, "An L'Ecu d'Or ou la bonne auberge" (censored version also available on YouTube).

But the problem with movies is that they require professional equipment - you need to buy a projector and probably a screen, you need to obtain a certain technical knowledge - in other words, it's not easy (or cheap) to get it on your own. Producing such movie is also not cheap - you need to pay for film, cameras and "actors".

Wikipedia provides a bit information about the history of this medium, but there is not much information about USA and UK in the pre-war period.

So, lets say that I am a middle-class man who wants to watch a "stag film" in New York or London and I'm not a stranger to paid love - how difficult it would be for me to do so? Do I have to "know people who know people" and go to a little know place in a shady part of the town? Maybe to a respected Gentlemen's Club? Or maybe it is advertised by every street urchin who gets a few pennies from a local brothel?

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    Wow, that's surprisingly difficult to research and while most "histories" skip the timeframe just entirely, this might give a start for Buenos Aires & Berlin (online eng exc). – LаngLаngС Jul 24 at 12:04
  • This is going to have a very local flavor, at least in the US, which makes it difficult to research. – C Monsour Jul 24 at 13:15
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    I'm old enough to remember that renting 8mm film and projectors was A Thing, as were Stag Films. However, not quite old enough to have known how one went about finding them. (My dad would know, but I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be discussing this with him) Presumably it was underground knowledge, like the locations of speakeasies during prohibition. – T.E.D. Jul 24 at 13:36
  • Pre-war middle class and their lifestyle was very different what you consider now middle class. I would guess that visiting a brothel and buy the real thing was considerably easier in most countries. – Greg Jul 24 at 14:19
  • I saw some in about 1960, 8mm B&W. It was 98% imagination ; Like "what was that ? , I think it was ...." – blacksmith37 Jul 24 at 15:59
10

Note: this answer relates to the Unites States unless otherwise stated.

Porn (stag) movies could be seen in brothels, and were also shown by secret societies, fraternities, American Legion chapters and at private parties. There were also other, sometimes less obvious, venues such as firehouses. Stag films were most commonly seen by groups - sometimes very large groups - rather than by individuals.

It would have been easy enough to see one if a man was a member of one these societies or groups which hired a projectionist / filmmaker with such 'material'. However, given that this type of entertainment was unquestionably illegal, a man would probably have found it difficult to see a stag film with knowing someone who trusted him. Failing that, his best bet would probably be a brothel but it cannot be assumed that all brothels had such movies (nor that a first time visitor would be trusted).


The Secret Cinema, run by a film-collector, is a project devoted to exposing "new audiences to neglected films of all kinds". The preamble to three presentations (at different venues in Philadelphia) of Stag Movie Night: Vintage Porno from the 1920s, 30s And 40s has this information:

The classic stag movies were distributed through a covert network of all-male screenings at lodges, bachelor parties, and fraternities. Seeing these forbidden films was nonetheless a fairly common rite of passage for the American male back then, as the surviving reels of film testify.

...The introduction of 16mm film in 1923 really opened the floodgates of stag production, and a standard format was established. Virtually all stag films are black and white, one reel in length (10 to 15 minutes), and silent -- assuring compatibility with the relatively low-cost home movie projectors that were rented along with a night's worth of programming.

That many American men saw a stag film at one time or another seems evident from the well-sourced article in the journal History and Technology (Vol. 22, 2006), Eroticism and Technological Regression: The Stag Film:

By the early 1930s, almost half the adult American male population belonged to at least one of 800 active secret societies (Odd Fellows, Owls, Knights of Columbus, and so on), and these made up a limited, clandestine market for the stag filmmaker....Male audiences for stags watched in groups, and the groups were predominantly middle aged and middle-class....The man who produced the films was frequently the exhibitor, who rented himself, his projector, and his films as a package to the fraternity or American Legion chapter.

However, the supply side was not at all organized and stag films may simply not have been available in some areas at certain times:

..stags were not mass-produced, at least not by the standards of contemporary mass media; a truly demotic form of expression, they were shot by anonymous camerapersons using equally anonymous performers, although they did tend to run in series....so far as is known, few of them knew each other, let alone competed. Widely scattered individuals simply produced stags for audiences close to home. A single filmmaker might make as many as a dozen, and use the same fanciful name (e.g., Peter Pecker Productions) to identify his products, but there was no company, no records, no taxes, and if he were both careful and lucky, no trace of himself.

The groups of men who viewed these films could be very large. For example, in New York, there was (according to a 1912 edition of the New York Times)

a police raid on a make-shift auditorium in Harlem, where 1000 men were observed watching what were delicately referred to as lascivious and immoral films.

The blurb which (with minor variations) appears on quite a few sites selling or reviewing videos (including IMDB) for the video Forbidden Cinema Presents Vintage Smokers of the 1920s & 1930s largely echoes the above. Below is part of what appears on Amazon:

...the increased censorship of the 1920s meant that these raunchy pictures had to be watched wherever people could find a closed door -- brothels, gentlemen's clubs, firehouses, basements. Now illegal, they were called stag films, blue movies, or "smokers." Even the processing of these films had to be kept secret, with many of them developed in bathtubs that once were used to make bootleg gin. If you were lucky, you might meet a traveling salesman who had one of these racy shockers in their possession. But if you were caught watching them, you could end up in jail!

Brothels or bordellos were also venues for such films, and not just in the US. Sexual firsts: a brief history of sex & sexuality in cinema has this snippet on France for 1908 (and, presumably, a number of years following):

...pornography was illegal at this time, and any and all copies were seized and destroyed in police raids on brothels, where such “nudies” were featured...

The article Homosociality in the Classical American Stag Film: Off-Screen, On-Screen, in summarizing the main sources on early pornographic film availability, notes that the evidence available for Europe and Latin America is 'skimpy' but implies that brothels were more important there and that they were

more tolerant of diversity, with a price and room for every fetish and perversion that could pay, multiplexes before their time.

Other than the above, there is little information that includes the UK, but this was not a case of 'No Sex Please, We're British'. Porn films were certainly being made in 1930s UK.

-1

Some help: In the mid '70s , I saw a film titled " History of a (the) Blue Movie (film?)" . It was in a regular theater but there were some explicit scenes . I don't remember specifics but it was as titled; showing movie clips starting about 1900 up to the 1970's with a "voice over" regarding the history.

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    Could you provide some information from this film? It doesn't really answer the question since all you basically say is "I've heard something about it a while ago". – Yasskier Jul 24 at 21:26
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    @TomasBy Saying "Google the answer" is kind of against the whole point of this site. Also, it is a bit rude. Not mentioning, that the link you've provided just says what movie is about, not showing how it answers the original question – Yasskier Jul 24 at 21:59
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    @TomasBy Then it is a rather poor answer, don't you think? Hence I've asked for adding more details to the answer. Besides, (at least for now) I can't see how this movie provides the answer to my question. – Yasskier Jul 24 at 22:12
-4

Very difficult. This is looking to the past with the knowledge and technology we are accustomed to today.

When I was a lad, video was something new. Most x rated venues - not many - showed short super 8 movies. X rated venues were back then relatively new. They were legalized not that long before. Somewhere in the 60's, in my country (Holland).

You are going back in time quite a bit: before WW2. Yes, there were porn movies. Not a lot though. Making such a movie, participating in it or making it available to the public was back then highly illegal. With the police actively prosecuting offenders.

So yes, there were porn movies, they did exist. But the general public had to buy magazines, and buy them 'under the counter' as they were (highly) illegal as well.

As a middle class man you would probably not want to watch a porn movie, because for all practical purposes they didn't exist for you. You wouldn't miss it, just as you wouldn't miss the Internet back then. Supposing you felt the urge, you'd go to a shop where they sold those mags, discreetly inquire if they had any, and buy a magazine. Perhaps with a roll of toilet paper, for I think tissues and wipes weren't invented either.

Look at the movie Deep Throat. When it came out it was a shocker. I saw it a couple of years ago on Dutch public TV ... Only a few people objected to it. Times have changed.


I can only speak for what I know. X rated cinema's did exist when I was a boy, we had 1 in the 3rd largest town in The Netherlands. (Iow: very few of them.) Just after I obtained legal age it closed down. I have no experience with brothels. Very likely some would have had a few x rated movies, but not a lot. The question is about US/UK, where at least publicly, 'high moral' standards applied.

So, yes porn movies were available. But only to a very limited extend in (I think) high class bordellos. The average middle class US/UK male would have very limited access to them. (Very limited = almost none)

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    Hmm, thanks for your answer (even if it wasn't a "yes"/"no" question). Wiki says that in Austria there were public viewings in regular cinemas for men only and that some brothels would play such movies. Are you saying that in US/UK there wouldn't be access to brothels with porn movies? – Yasskier Jul 25 at 4:14
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    Hmmmm, I think WWII started before 1940 or so. Can you try to focus on that era? And just because it was or was not illegal, that doesn't mean didn't non-existent. – axsvl77 Jul 25 at 9:38

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