An uncritical documentary on the Italian porn industry from the 1960s to the 1980s.
‘Pornography should be entirely liberated!’ enthuses Bernardo Bertolucci in footage inserted into this documentary about the ‘tumescent’ rise of pornography in the Italian cinema of the 1960s–1980s. This period of counter-cultural aspiration has been the subject of several hagiographic and frequently mythologising accounts of the assorted social and political liberations – gay, straight, psychotropic – which bestrode the period. Indeed an entire nostalgic consumerist retro-movement in material and cultural matter revolves around it to this day. The very appellation attached to its origins, ‘The Swinging Sixties’, bears testimony to this.
Through the literal and metaphorical rose-coloured testimonial lens of the aptly named director, Carmine Amoroso (carmine indicating red and amoroso indicating amorous and loving; though in light of the present subject matter one might well ask, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’), this documentary traces the growth of Italy’s porn industry from the tentative ‘let’s push the boundaries’ spirit of the 1960s to the ‘let it all hang out’ zeitgeist of the 1970s onwards. It features interviews with pornographers such as Riccardo Schicchi (kicked out of high school, it is said, for spying on girls’ toilets, and having served a prison term for prostitution offences) and touches on issues such as censorship, sexual revolution and the popularisation of some of its stars, such as Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina, who was elected to the Italian parliament in 1987 and married to the ‘artist’ Jeff Koons for two years before embarking on a 14-year custody case over their son, Ludwig… these facts being germane in considering the documentary’s unproblematic thesis.
In matters sexual, Amoroso has previous form as the writer and director of Come mi vuoi (1996), considered to be the first Italian film delving into issues of the transgender community, and Cover Boy: Last Revolution (2006), a story of two male cultures clashing.
In Porno e Libertà, a voice-over narration accompanies and contexualises the account in an attempt to historicise and revise Italian porn history. But the main polemical aim is to celebrate and legitimise the enterprise by using techniques of narrative and visual persuasion to turn the porn business into a great carnivalesque affair, unconcerned with capital gain and pre-occupied with sexual liberation. It’s an erotic carnival where no one is exploited, no disease, suicide or drug habits are present and profits are not greedily grabbed by producers and distributors; an egalitarian universe where performers ‘do it’ largely for the cause of freedom and hey, just plain fun. It has to be noted that a brief feminist perspective is introduced into the film but serves little balancing purpose to the overall thesis.
This is a documentary that is made unproblematic with regard to the darker issues of pornography and as such is simply a lively romp through a particular cinematic history for which few visual essays have been made. Taking advantage of the contemporary retro taste for porn of an earlier age – vintage porn videos fetch good prices on online auction sites – this celebratory (certainly not masturbatory) documentary is a journey to a lost continent. A seemingly innocent and Arcadian continent where women actually have – can you believe it? – pubic hair! Never has so much hirsute pudenda been spotted since the late 1980s. Porno e Libertà, while historically irresistible, is critically irresponsible.
James B. Evans
Watch the trailer: