129 Records to Date

First Obscene Gesture

What we may think of today as "flipping off" is of very old origin, about 2,500 years old in fact. Known to the Romans as the digitus infamis ("notorious finger"), its meaning hasn't changed at all in the intervening years. Aristophanes uses it in The Clouds (423 BC) as a literary device. In the following excerpt, Strepsiades, while talking to Socrates, deliberately confuses the obscene daktylos (Greek for "finger") with the poetic dactyl:

 

SOCRATES: Polite society will accept you if you can discriminate, say, between the anapest and common dactylic—sometimes vulgarly called "finger rhythm."
STREPSIADES: Finger rhythm. I know that.
SOCRATES: Define it then.
STREPSIADES [Extending his middle finger in an obscene gesture]: Why, it's tapping time with this finger. Of course, when I was a boy [holding up his penis], I used to make rhythm with this one.

That Strep, what a character. Biblical scholars point to Isaiah 58:9-10, which seems to indicate that the gesture was known to the ancient Israelites: "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the point of the finger, and speaking wickedness….then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday." Either way, it's a rich testament to the adage that actions speak louder than words.



Pornography

Largest Collection
The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (a fully accredited graduate school, let me assure you) holds the largest pornography collection ever. The institute is packed, floor to ceiling, with sundry erogenous wares: erotic posters, dirty playing cards, 75,000 books, 150,000 magazines and pamphlets, 50,000 videotapes, 200,000 films, and more than 900,000 photographs and slides—enough to fill eight warehouses throughout San Francisco. The collection is divided among 15 specialty libraries and is currently being cataloged with their new computer system. Ted McIlvenna, founder and president of the institute, has been trying to unload the collection on some archive for years, and has since been turned down by the Library of Congress.

Runner ups: the Kinsey Institute possesses the second largest library of erotica in the world, comprised of 12,000 books, 50,000 photographs, 25,000 pieces of flat art, 3,700 films and 1,300 art objects. The British Museum in London once held 20,000 volumes in its famous "Private Case" collection, but theft, vandalism, and other causes have reduced it to somewhere between 1,800 and 5,000 volumes.

Largest Producer (National)
It may come as no surprise that pornography is Big Business in America, though you may be amazed at the scope of the industry.  Some amazing factoids on the world's leading producer of smut, from Adult Video News, a trade publication:

In 2002, Americans spent an estimated 10 billion dollars on hard-core videos, computer porn, sex magazines, live sex acts, and adult cable programming, an amount much larger than all of Hollywood's domestic box-office receipts combined.

A survey of 5,000 video stores showed a total of 801 million rentals of adult tapes in 2002, up from 75 million in 1985.  That represents an average growth of about 19% a year.  

American released a record 11,303 adult videos in 2002, three quarters of which are produced in California.

The enormity of all of these films has had a measurable impact on other industries.  Mail order and related shipping in California generates so much revenue that following the UPS strike, the U.S. Postal Service assigned a special sales staff to encourage the adult industry to keep using the USPS system.



Erotic Films

Oldest
In the late 1880s, when Thomas Edison was struggling to perfect a method to record and project action, he bought a series of 90 sequential-action photographic plates from rogue photographer Eadweard Muybridge. A scruffy, otherwise affable man with an apparent weakness for polysyllabic names, Muybridge was instrumental in his early pioneering work with sequential photographs. Starting in 1883 he began a study of animal locomotion as part of scientific research conducted under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Amid Disneyesque scenes of trotting deer and flying eagles were images of completely nude men and women in a variety of activities. As Robert Conot in his Edison bio, Streak of Luck, puts it:

 

But, very much aware that there are a great deal more marketable when spice, Muybridge concentrated on animals that were human, and as naked as their counterparts in nature. Of the 733 plates he offered, 219 were of animals and birds; 211 of men, of whom 205 were mostly or entirely unclothed; and 303 of women, of whom 243 were totally or transparently nude. They included a naked baseball player and a naked cricketeer taking batting practice; naked boxers and jujitsu combatants; naked fencers; a naked tumbler; a diaphanous-gowned fan dancer; innumerable bare, buxom women performing a variety of tasks; two nudes frolicking in their Saturday night bath; and a mostly unclad mother receiving a bouquet of flowers from her naked daughter.

When the plates were used in conjunction with Muybridge's "zoopraxiscope" (I warned you about those names), the motion was quite remarkable; in fact, when the first "motion picture" systems arrived in 1896 most felt they were of inferior quality, being monochrome and jerky. Amazingly, the plates are still around, preserved at London's South Kensington Museum.

You may object: That's a freaking filmstrip! I want a MOVIE. Fine, split hairs. The oldest surviving film explicitly showing sex is the Argentina’s classic El Sartorio (1907). The plot, if you could call it that, goes like this: Three women frolic in a river and start fondling one another. A man dressed as a devil with a tail, horns and false whiskers (if this sounds corny, that’s because it is), emerges out of the foliage and captures one woman. Oral sex ensues, followed by a 69, and then penetration. Every few seconds the action is intermingled with close-up shots of his penis pushing inside her. As the woman dismounts from the "devil," sperm falls out of her vagina. The end. Notice the verite auteurship, the subtly vexing juxtaposition between innocence and debauchery, the refreshingly arbitrary use of Dadaistic principles to convey an underlying revisionist conceit. Today, it's just porn. Back then, it was ART.

Most Prolific Actor
According to the June 15, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone, John C. Holmes (a.k.a. Johnny Wadd) had a total career output of 2,274 films, including such cinema classics as Let Me Count the Lays (1980) and Whore of the Worlds (1985). John, alas, is unable to relish the laudation conferred by this prestigious award: he died from complications of AIDS in March 1988.

The Internet Adult Film Database credits Tom Byron with a total of 2,061 films as of 2002, the highest number for any living actor.

Most Prolific Actress
Actress Sharon Kane has starred in 859 pornographic movies as of the end of 2002, the highest amount for any living actress.

Most Expensive Film
Most adult films today are strictly low-budget affairs, do to the saturation of the market by pornmongers hawking similar products, and, besides, its not like digitally enhanced breasts or high-fidelity orgasmic shrieks are going to draw in larger crowds. But it wasn't always so. Caligula (1980), an X-rated Roman epic about Emperor Caligula's debauchery, cost a reported $17 million to create. Directed by Tinto Brass and produced by Bob Guccione (publisher of Penthouse magazine), the film was critically reviled at the time—Rex Reed's acerbic comparison of it to "rotten swill" was typical—but the buying public has since enshrined Caligula as one of the best-selling adult titles of all time.

If you want to include NC-17 mainstream movies too, then Showgirls (1995), with a total expenditure of $84 million to produce, promote and distribute, would be the most expensive. Mark my words, in this new era of sky-high budgets and cautionary restraint thrown to the wind, its only a manner of time before some entrepreneurial producer comes out with Tit-tanic.*

*A kind reader recently sent me this missive: "Well, I work for Erotic Discount Centre. It's a chain of 48 sex shops in Europe, mostly located in the Netherlands and Belgium. About a year ago we did in fact receive a movie, called Tittanic. It's not a big-budget movie, but I just wanted to let you know, it exists."  See? Even my jokes contain profound insight.   Clearly I have a bright future in investment counseling. 

Most Profitable Film
Deep Throat, the bawdy 1972 flick credited with launching the modern porn industry, raked in at least $100 million following its release. With a total production cost of only $22,000 the film is believed to have the highest budget to box office ratio for an X-rated film in the world: 1:4,546.

Longest Title
After an admittedly cursory search through several adult film archives, the longest I've found so far would be Buttman's double adventure: Buttman goes Hawaiian & Rio orgies (1993), directed by John Stagliano and distributed by Evil Angel.

Shortest Title
I guess would be F (1980) featuring actress Seka in her usual routine. I'm sure we can all guess what the "F" stands for, can't we?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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