Sexploitation

dorian gray

Sexploitation describes a class of independently produced, low budget feature films generally associated with the 1960s, and serving largely as a vehicle for the exhibition of non-explicit sexual situations and gratuitous nudity. Sexploitation films were generally exhibited in urban grindhouse theatres, the precursor to the adult movie theaters of the 1970s and ’80s that featured hardcore content. The term soft-core is often used to designate non-explicit sexploitation films after the general legalization of hardcore content.

A series of United States Supreme Court rulings in the late 50s and 60s had enabled increasingly explicit sex films to be distributed.There were initially three broad types; ‘nudie cuties’ such as ‘The Immoral Mr. Teas’ (1959), films set in nudist camps like ‘Daughter of the Sun’ (1962), and somewhat more ‘artistic’ foreign pictures such as ‘The Twilight Girls’ (1961). Nudie cuties were popular in the early 60s, and were a development from the nudist camp films of the 50s.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled that films set in nudist camps were exempt from the general ban on film nudity, as they were deemed to be educational. In the early 60s producing films that purported to be documentaries and were thus ‘educational’ enabled sexploitation makers to evade the censors. The obscenity laws were tested by the Swedish film ‘I Am Curious (Yellow).’ Sexploitation films were widely referred to as ‘white coaters’; in these films a doctor dressed in a white coat would give an introduction to the graphic content, thereby deeming it educational.

Nudie cuties were soon supplanted by ‘roughies,’ which commonly featured male violence against women, including kidnapping, rape and murder. ‘Lorna’ (1964) by Russ Meyer is widely considered to be the first roughie. Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman’s ‘Scum of the Earth!’ (1963) is another film which is cited as the first in this genre.

Sexploitation films initially played in grindhouse theatres and struggling independent theaters; however, by the end of the decade they were playing in established cinema chains. As the genre developed during the 60s, films began showing scenes of simulated sex. The films were opposed by religious groups, and by the MPAA, which was concerned sexploitation was damaging the profits of major film distributors. Customers who attended screenings of sexploitation films were often characterized by the mainstream media as deviant, ‘dirty old men.’ The genre rapidly declined in the early 1970s due to advertising bans, the closure of many grindhouses and drive-in theaters, and the growth of hardcore pornography in the ‘”Golden Age of Porn.’

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