"Notes from a 'Nasty Ebert': The Best of '70s and '80s Porn"
by Rene Chun
The mother lode of pornography isn't stashed at Al Goldstein's basement. It's
in San Francisco, at a scholarly place called the Institute for Advanced Study
of Human Sexuality (IASHS). Composed of more than three million pieces of
cataloged ribaldry, this hoard of naughtiness qualifies as the largest
"erotology" library in the world, dwarfing the combined porn holdings of both
the Kinsey Institute and the Library of Congress. Ted McIlvenna, president of
the IASHS, has watched much of the collection's film and video archives.
Closely. From that intimate knowledge, he has compiled a top-ten list of skin
flicks. His picks are all from the golden age of hardcore (1971 to 1987), a
period of unbridled creativity in which production values were high, scripts
contained plots, and the stars were true thespians. Each of these films is, in
its own special way, an artistic triumph worth seeing. After all, every
gentleman could use a little more art in his life, wouldn't you say?
(1) THE CANTERBURY TALES (1987:) Authentic costumes, stunning
cinematography, and a literary pedigree courtesy of Chaucer makes this the last
great porn epic. "More than a sex film," says McIlvenna, "this is a very erotic and
entertaining depiction of English life in the Middle Ages."
(2) THE RESURRECTION OF EVE (1973): Not only Marilyn Chambers's best work,
it's thought to have one of the best porn plots ever conceived -- a complex
story that chronicles her psychological and physical resurrection, not to
mention her fornication habits. "A powerful statement for women's rights,"
says McIlvenna. "A rare combination of kink and political correctness."
(3) THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN (1976): On every critic's top-ten list,
the Citizen Kane of porn is essentially a Pygmalion with penetration that
McIlvenna calls "the best-edited sex film ever." Despite that, it's not one of
his favorites -- though, he says, "you have to include it just for the opening
orgy, which is the most famous scene in porndom."
(4) NIGHT DREAMS (1981): "Voodoo music, avant-garde images, chase scenes...
people either love it or hate it," McIlvenna says of this psychological
thriller with Hollywood-style production values. It ambitiously attempted to
marry smut and art, and it succeeded: Cineasts have been known to mistake it
for a Godard film, and the anilingus footage proved to be every bit as
portentous as Linda Lovelace's fellatio technique.
(5) PRISONER OF PARADISE (1978): No top-ten porn list is complete without a
Johnny Wadd film, and this comedic tour de force, in which John Holmes
portrays a sailor shipwrecked on a deserted island, is by far his best.
"Obviously inspired by Gilligan, says McIlvenna. "Utterly preposterous, even
for a sex film -- all these naked women appear out of nowhere. It's something
of a guilty pleasure."
(6) THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1973): This film not only out-grossed every porn
movie except Deep Throat, it impressed critics. (Penthouse gave it a
hundred points on its Peter Meter.) It's also notable for the performances of
Georgina Spelvin, who manages to plumb the range of human emotion with the
same gusto with which she copulates. "Georgina is more than a porno star,
she's a great actress," says McIlvenna. "This girl could have made it in
Hollywood if she didn't like sex so much."
(7) INSATIABLE (1980): It includes European locations and big-budget
helicopter shots, but it's the scene in which Marilyn Chambers spies on a
cojoined Jessie St. James and John Leslie that thrills the art crowd. "This
voyeuristic mise-en-scene is an homage to Japanese erotic art," says
McIlvenna. And if that's not enough, the soundtrack includes a rendition of
"Shame on Me," sung by Chambers herself.
(8) TALK DIRTY TO ME (1980): Jessie St. James -- a standout in the film's
cavalcade of porn stars -- plays the sexually frustrated housewife to
perfection, and the script is so good that some insist William Goldman ghosted
it, though, with its inside references to mainstream Hollywood and, says
McIlvenna, "the most clever dialogue ever written for a pornographic film," it
could have been written by Tarantino.
(9) TRASHY LADY (1985): A great year for Bordeaux and Harry Reems, who, with
the confidence of an actor in full control of his instrument, plays a gangster
in 1930s Chicago. Despite his conspicuous presence, this is really a woman's
picture in which two brainy broads (Ginger and Amber Lynn) become sex slaves
to please their men. "This isn't on a lot of critics' lists," confesses
McIlvenna. "I just like it because I'm a sucker for period pieces."
(10) SEX WORLD (1978): This Screw magazine adult film of the year stars Sharon
Thorpe, whose romp with Johnnie Keyes is still the benchmark to which all
jungle-fever episodes aspire. "The cast," says McIlvenna, "consists of the
most attractive porn stars ever assembled. People had so much sex in this
movie that they wore themselves out."
- Esquire, November 1997.
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