New Market for Classic Porn
Of course, porn wasn't included in Twain's definition, and, as VCX President David Sutton says, classic porn is "the gift that's going to keep on giving."
His North Las Vegas-based company licensed the original 1972 "The Devil in Miss Jones" to Vivid Entertainment Group to package it alongside its 2005 remake starring Jenna Jameson and saw immediate results. These classics clearly are being "read."
"During 2006, 170,000 pieces of the new 'Devil In Miss Jones' were shipped. There was one of ours in every one of them, plus we did another 30,000 units on top of that," Sutton said. "I think you can count on one or one-and-a-half hands the number of titles in this business that have generated that type of sales."
Classic porn covers a wide range of titles: Notable names include the seminal "Deep Throat," the comedy about a woman whose clitoris lies in her throat, the dramatic "The Devil in Miss Jones," starring Georgina Spelvin as a frustrated spinster who commits suicide and sins sexually to earn a place in hell, and detective dramas like "Tell Them Johnny Wadd Is Here," starring John C. Holmes and directed by Bob Chinn. Extended sex scenes such as those in "Behind the Green Door" and compilations like "Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle" and "Inside Little Oral Annie" are also memorable classics.
These films were usually produced on 35mm film, using scripts with plots and performers with the ability to act well and have real sex onscreen. This sets these classics apart from modern-day porn. "There were maybe 1500 features made during that classic era, and they were spending big money to make movies," Sutton says.
Steven Morowitz, co-owner of Video-X-Pix, says it's the non-sex content that differentiates classic porn from current all-sex material. "The difference with the classics is you've got storylines," he says. "It's comedies, dramas, mysteries. If you take the sex out, you have a pretty good B movie. In some cases, an A movie. When you're watching an old classic — like Chuck Vincent's 'That Lucky Stiff,' a stupid movie about a young Randy West who operates an elevator and deposits a $3,000 check and the bank credits him $3 million — it's funny. You take the explicit stuff out, [and] it's a really funny movie."
Steve Brickman at Cinderella Distributing offers a younger classic-porn perspective, saying the difference is in the sex itself. "You get the feeling that they enjoyed doing it; it was a free love type of thing. Now you watch 'em and it feels more like an assembly line. It's a job. Let's do this and this and this and get my paycheck and let me get the hell out of here."
Sometimes the non-sex content goes too far. Steve Stevens, owner of Standard Digital, says he still can't license his film "Taboo" to cable and doesn't know if it will even be offered on pay-per-view. "I sell a ton of [copies] every other which way, but when it comes to broadcast, they're like 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, we love it.' Then they go, 'Oh, wait. Is that his mother?'"
Interest in classic porn stretches across the porn-audience demographic, and it isn't just for baby boomers on a nostalgia binge. "If we were reliant on one particular group of people, we would have dried up a long time ago," says Mike Hawk, co-founder of Smashbucks. "You're seeing the young guys crossing over into the older MILF-style woman who has natural boobs, unshaven, all the little niche points that are really big sellers. It's more across the board than people think."
Katy Zvolerin, director of public relations at Adam & Eve, agrees on the breadth of the appeal. She says young people are drawn to the vintage, "retro cool" aspect of classic porn, and that they're curious to see another side of sex. "They tend to think that they invented sex all by themselves," she says. "And it's amazing to think that our grandparents or parents were connoisseurs of this kind of thing."
Sutton remembers one young customer, whose porn collection had been stolen, who came to him looking to replenish his stash. "He was walking through my warehouse putting together his order," he says. "He saw 'Debbie Does Dallas,' 'Devil in Miss Jones,' 'Little Girls Blue 1,' 'Little Girls Blue 2,' 'Sex World,' 'Sex Boat,' 'A Dirty Western' and he's just taking 'em and he's passing over [the new stuff]."
Sutton says a producer once told him that with every new generation of college kids, a new interest in "Debbie Does Dallas" and "Little Girls Blue" develops. "That's what keeps the classics in the public eye," he says.
And that interest in classic porn translates to sales.
Zloverin says there's a definite market for classic porn, and that Adam & Eve is always looking for "newer" older porn — vintage footage from the '30s, '40s and '50s.
"Every new catalog comes out with a new vintage title, so there is a definite market for that," she says. "If you see something in the catalog more than a couple of times, you can bet that it's selling well."
David Diamond, national sales manager at Hustler/VCA, says that classics like "Café Flesh," "Opening of Misty Beethoven," "Barbara Broadcast" and "The Devil in Miss Jones" continually move and never stop.
Paul Interlandi, head of production at Las Vegas-based Arrow Productions — home of "Deep Throat," — says, "I'll bet we sell more 'Debbie Does Dallas,' 'Candy Stripers,' and 'Alice in Wonderland' every year than most new releases sell. In the last 12 months we've sold 50,000 units of 'Deep Throat.' How many features last year sold 50,000?"
And these numbers aren't just from DVD sales. Sutton says he's surprised every month at the checks he receives from video-on-demand websites. "We sell about three units on VOD for every sale of a DVD," Sutton says. "We sell a ton of Kay Parker, Seka and Dorothy LeMay titles out there on the Internet. In July 2006 we put out 'The Very Best of Kay Parker' on VOD, on Hot Movies and AEBN. They did as much on 'The Very Best of Kay Parker' the first two months as we did on the rest of our titles combined."
Often, a vintage 35mm film has to be restored before it can be digitized for DVD or VOD. Steve Stevens of Standard Video restored the "Taboo" series, and he says it can take up to a year for some films to be fully re-mastered.
Interlandi also is involved in restoration and takes it very seriously. "If it's one of our classic titles, whatever it takes to restore it, whatever it takes to make it better, [Arrow owner Raymond Pistol] is willing to pay," he says.
But Interlandi has encountered problems working with mainstream film labs. "[One mainstream studio] has made every lab in L.A. sign an agreement that if you duplicate their titles [on film], you can't do anything over NC-17. They're afraid our films will taint everything that goes through the solution, I guess. We got kicked out of another lab because somebody filed a grievance with their union. And that set us out on the street. We ended up leaving California to get our prints made."
There's a bright future for porn classics; many top titles are being re-released with new features on new formats. Interlandi says he's preparing to release "Debbie Does Dallas," "Satisfiers of Alpha Blue" and "A Dirty Western" in high-definition on HD-DVD, and is rounding up all of his titles to be stamped onto better-quality DVDs.
He says he recently cleaned out Arrow's storage vault and discovered the original negative to "Deep Throat" and several other original Arrow titles. He says he had no idea he had been sitting on these "lost treasures" and didn't specify what marketing plans, if any, he's made for them.
Morowitz says he, too, has mystery inventory that guarantees an exciting future for Video-X-Pix. "We've got stuff we haven't seen yet," he says.