LOS ANGELES — Adult film pioneer Lasse Braun passed away on Feb. 16 at his home in Rome, Italy, due to complications from diabetes, his son Axel Braun confirmed. Braun was 78.
“He lived a full, exciting, unapologetic life, and he did it on his terms, which is one of the biggest accomplishments a man could ever hope to achieve” said Axel, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became arguably the most celebrated adult director of his generation. "He was a rebel, a fighter, an adventurer, and by far the most intelligent person I have ever met."
Lasse Braun, who started directing and distributing adult movies in Europe in 1961, fought and won a precedent-setting obscenity case in Denmark in 1969 that led to porn becoming legal in the country. Two years later, Lasse came to the U.S. and partnered with fellow porn pioneer Reuben Sturman on what became known as peepshow machines that showed his 8mm loops.
At the height of their success there were more than 60,000 peepshow machines in the U.S.
After returning to Italy in 2001 to enjoy semi-retirement, Braun had been writing successful erotic fiction books that were published in numerous countries, including an autobiography and the best-seller "Lady Caligula,” which was translated in 16 languages.
“He was obsessed with details,” remembers Axel. “A trait he definitely passed on to me, whether genetically or simply by exposure. And he wasn’t afraid to point out his mistakes, which is an interesting quality in a father, especially one with an ego as large as his. He was always eager to teach, but even more eager to learn. He would learn something from anybody, on any given day, and I always felt he knew everything about everything."
In addition to producing and directing scores of 8mm loops, Braun helmed some major productions from the early '80s to the late '90s for studios such as Caballero Home Video, Vidco, Videorama, Gentlemen’s Gourmet Video, Sin City and VCA.
Axel said of all his father’s movies that “American Desire,” a 1981 release from Caballero that starred Veronica Hart, was his favorite even though “Sensations” (Caballero, 1975) was his “most celebrated.”
“It just struck a chord with me,” Braun said. “It showed his maturity as a filmmaker. ‘Sensations’ was more of an acid trip, American Desire was more of a movie."
Lasse was also notoriously very interested in the psychological aspect of sex. "He always told me no matter what happens, no matter what the scene requires, you always have to ask yourself, ‘why are these two people having sex?’”
Just last month, Axel spoke at length about his father's journey and influence on him during his keynote address at the XBIZ 360 Adult Film Conference at the Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood, Calif. Axel noted that his grandfather was an Italian consul in Germany so Lasse had a diplomatic passport and with that came diplomatic immunity.
"He met some guys in Belgium who were printing pornographic magazines out of their garage and offered him to smuggle them all over Europe to create a large distribution network," Axel said on Jan. 14. "So custom officials could not search him.”
Within a few months these guys had purchased a whole new printing building to respond to the incredible demand for porn from the large distribution network he created.
"At that point my father thought, 'there’s obviously great interest in pornography. What about movies?' There was nobody making movies."
So Lasse decided to take out a small ad in the classified section of a prominent Italian newspaper, that read “High quality Adult movies from Sweden, for catalog please send (whatever the equivalent of $20 today would be), to a P.O. Box in Stockholm.
"A few weeks go by and he calls the P.O. Box to see if he got the mail and they were screaming at him, 'you've got to come here, we’ve got two shopping carts full of mail for you and you only paid for a small box. If you’re not here by the end of the week I will incinerate everything,'" Axel recalled.
"So he goes up to Sweden and picks up just about 2,000 envelopes full of 20-dollar bills. It was an outrageous amount of money back then, and of course the problem was that there was no catalog, but most importantly there were no movies."
Braun continued, "So he took this money, bought some camera equipment and shot his first porn film, a parody of 'Madame Butterfly.' The actors were he and his girlfriend at the time. Within a year from that first movie he had purchased a 21-bedroom castle in Breda, Holland, where he had a full 24-7 production company."
Axel said that his father not only was a visionary filmmaker, he also was ahead of his time in marketing his product.
"He made sure every one of his releases was a huge deal, the marketing was incredible, and the box covers were amazing," Axel noted. "There was his signature on the back where he personally guaranteed these were the best movies you would ever see. People went crazy, and he could barely keep up with the staggering demand. But the problem was that it was still illegal. So he decided to try and challenge the establishment by creating a case that he could defend in court."
Lasse published a magazine in Denmark with a big picture of a nicely shaved vagina on the cover, and the title “shaved and horny.” The local authorities immediately seized all the copies and he got indicted for obscenity. He was prosecuted, chose to defend himself, argued the definition of “obscene,” and in the middle of a very public and controversial trial produced the full-size negative of the incriminated picture…which was not a vagina, but an armpit. That was 1969 and a few months later Denmark became the first country in the world to legalize pornography."
The three-time XBIZ Director of the Year said on Feb. 16 his father had a profound impact not only on his career but on the adult entertainment industry as a whole.
“I think the word pioneer is the one that fits him best,” he said. “Literally, there was no industry when he started and he had the vision to produce, distribute, expand, and verticalize. He always had a big, broad vision. He built an empire with a good idea and some careful planning, and I think his legacy is really in having had the foresight and the determination to do that.”