Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Scandinavian Blue: A Review

Scandinavian Blue
by Jack Stevenson
McFarland (1-800-253-2187)

For most of cinema’s first seventy years, sex on the screen was separated into two distinct and immiscible categories—mainstream, commercial films and pornography.

The mainstream films played at the established movie houses, while porn was relegated to the smoky back rooms of mens’ clubs (hence the moniker, “smokers”). In the mainstream films, sex was slightly circumspect at first, then later—with the advent of the Hayes Code—virtually eliminated.

During the fifties and sixties, things started loosening up. More and more nudity appeared on screen, but sex was still held in abeyance, shown only in shadows or over-the-shoulder close-ups. The camera still wouldn’t go “down there.”

Then everything changed, so the mythology goes, with the release of Deep Throat, and the emergence of porno chic. But as Jack Stevenson points out in his wonderful new book, Scandinavian Blue, the seeds of this movement started elsewhere. While America was still wrestling with its puritan past, the films of Denmark and Sweden were becoming incrementally more daring. Mr. Stevenson charts the course of this sexual revolution in cinema from its roots in 1966 to its eventual disappearance during the Reagan era.

Jack Stevenson lives in Denmark, so there is, naturally enough, a bias toward Denmark over the rest of Scandinavia, but it was, after all, the changes in attitudes toward pornography in Denmark that are primarily responsible what happened next in America. While American sleazemongers were content to maintain the thin pink line between sexploitation naughtiness and forensic, hardcore porn, the Danes had no such inhibitions. In 1967, restrictions to pornography were lifted in Denmark. In 1969, San Francisco-based filmmaker, Alex DeRenzy went to Copenhagen to attend the sex expo and report on the subject. His film, Pornography in Denmark: a New Approach, was a milestone in film history. Several snippets of truly hardcore footage are included in the film, but because of its structure as a documentary, the courts ended up wrestling over whether this constituted porn or legitimate reporting, and the doors of censorship were opened just a little bit further.

As with his previous books (e.g., Land of a Thousand Balconies, Dogme Uncut), Stevenson’s research is thorough and comprehensive. While a few films are giving shorter shrift than they deserve, most of the important films are discussed in such detail that I find myself wondering if Mr. Stevenson hired a private detective to dig up information.

This is a McFarland publication. McFarland primarily caters to the academic and library markets, which means the price for the book is a little steeper than the average mass-market paperback ($49.95), but the pay-back is substantial. There is simply no better or more comprehensive book on this subject. It is a must-have for any student of film censorship or erotic cinema.

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