Three days ago, I ran a piece in which Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, described thinking she had experienced an earthquake.
She later noticed that one of the ‘Likes’ on that blog was from an anonymous other blogger who mentioned bookstores and Baltimore.
“I hoped for a minute,” she told me, “that it was film director John Waters… But no, it doesn’t appear to be him. In a recent Globe and Mail article, Waters was lamenting the demise of the porn cinema – He is hosting a series showing ten classic porn films.
“He observed that when people went (to a cinema) to view porn films it used to be a social activity whereas now, although there is a limitless variety of subject matter available, it has become a solitary experience. Having danced in porn cinemas on three continents I have to say that I am also sad to see them go. John Waters said that most of the ones in the U.S.A. have been turned into churches.”
Now, I have been around an awfully long time and I do remember old-style porn cinemas, but I don’t think I was ever in one.
Actually, that may not be true: I may have bizarrely seen a screening of BBC TV’s then-banned documentary The War Game in a porn cinema near Piccadilly Circus.
There were only ever two porn films which appealed to me.
One was She Lost Her You-Know-What because it was billed as ‘based on a story by Alexandre Dumas’, which I found intriguing. I can find no trace of this movie at all, but I swear-to-god I saw it advertised when I was reviewing films for (I think at that time) the International Times.
The other porn film which appealed to me certainly exists: a 1973 UK/German short called Snow White and the Seven Perverts (Schneeflittchen unter die Sieben Bergen – which Google Translate confusingly reckons literally means Snow Hussy Among The Seven Mountains).
My understanding is that the Walt Disney company threatened to sue the film-makers, rather dubiously claiming copyright on the title Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (surely a Brothers Grimm original?), so the producers then re-titled their magnum opus Some Day My Prince Will Come.
I thought: These producers are creatively interesting.
Anyway, the concept of having live dancers perform in a porn cinema sounded to me unnecessarily spendthrift for presumably very financial sensible porn cinema entrepreneurs. So I asked Anna Smith for her expert knowledge on the subject.
“It was around the time when VCRs first appeared.” she told me. “For the first time, people could watch porn movies at home. So the porn cinemas were desperate to get their audiences back and brought in live dancers, who were billed as ‘feature acts’.
“I first danced in cinemas in Toronto and really enjoyed it… It was the first time I got to dance in a place where there was no smoking. Also, it was a theatre setting rather than a nightclub, so the audiences were not drunk and were more attentive. Our pictures appeared in newspaper ads, our names were on the marquees and some places even had graphic artists who painted our names on lobby cards.”
So there you have it: a little-remembered part of social history involving porn cinemas.