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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Sexuality > Media > Censorship > Pornography – The Secret History Of Civilisation (Documentary)

Pornography – The Secret History Of Civilisation (Documentary)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Episodes: B+



Can sex and sexual material be discussed without giggles?  A recent cycle of programs about XXX material and human sexuality has been underway for a few years now and the programs have been very impressive so far.  From the directing/producing team of Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, responsible for some of the best mature documentary programs of the last few decades, comes the longest and most ambitious project yet.  Pornography – The Secret History Of Civilisation (1999) is a European TV mini-series taking on no less than the rise and rollercoaster ride of visually sexual material.


The Road To Ruin shows how the lost 18th Century city of Pompeii was discovered with shocking images abounding of sexuality all over the place.  Instead of the supposed reasons the city collapsed (homosexuality, mass murder, mass suicide, some lack of morality); it was a volcano that abruptly ended their lives en masse.  When the city was dug up, the materials were restricted to a secret, highly restrictive museum!


The Sacred & Profane is the oddest installment showing the odd ways some civilizations dealt with sexual representation in art and their various societies.  As in the case of the previous episode, various scholars explain in excellent detail with great historical context what was really going on.  It helps this section, which is the most bizarre in the series.


The Mechanical Eye shows how still photography began a permanent revival of sexual imagery as photochemical image capture became the graven image that would not go away.  Sometimes the images are charming, others look simply amateur, but all are historic and the new aggressive censorship is the result.


Twentieth Century-Foxy covers how the softcore skin film movement developed into the hardcore XXX industry of the 1970s and how it eventually imploded for more reasons than Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights ever showed.  An increasingly lost history that needs recorded for its interesting parallels to Hollywood, the counterculture and American filmmaking, all climbing to an excess that would peak by 1980.


Sex Lives On Videotape goes from the fall of XXX cinema to amateur XXX on cheap analog video.  More than neo-conservatism, AIDS or even the XXX film industries own excesses, VHS and other home video formats were the ultimate juggernaut that ended the XXX moviehouse era; a peak long since gone.  Further ruined by the AIDS crisis, the industry was never the same again and expansion turns out to water down and thin out an already repetitious as profits increase and a new version of the industry expands.


Pornotopia brings in the cyber-age of PC, Internet and other digital representations that were unimaginable.  Even more than the VHS-era, this shows the industry growing by leaps and bounds, but as Boogie Nights reminds us without the energy or political empowerment that made XXX cinema the peak of the history covered here.


Overall, this is surprisingly thorough with excellent interviews in each segment and though some of the participants were more full of it than expected, the series goes beyond the U.S. (and Europe where it was produced) to look at other influences and exchanges of materials after rediscovered civilizations.  I should say that it is still incomplete (Radley Metzger is skipped) in some of the international XXX history it covers, but offers clips and interviews you will see nowhere else.  Pornography – The Secret History Of Civilisation lives up to its name and is highly recommended.



The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1/16 X 9 image originates on digital High Definition, but detail is sometimes an issue here and there.  On the other hand, the footage of XXX classics like Deep Throat, Behind The Green Door, Insatiable and The Devil In Miss Jones comes from surprisingly good film elements likely embarrassing actual video copies currently on the market of them all.  Interview footage is not badly shot and editing is smart throughout.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is also not bad, though fidelity can vary like the picture since this is a documentary.  There are no extras, but this all runs over 5 hours and is a mature must-see.


Among the many must-see programs covering this territory, we have the following for your consideration:

















-   Nicholas Sheffo


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