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Lot in Sodom & Vintage Queer Porn was a rare treat

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A scene from the 1933 experimental film Lot in Sodom.

This was a rare treat! The Queer Film Festival somehow got their hands on a few vintage silent porn shorts from the 20s and 30s, providing a fascinating look at what people found arousing and/or funny back in the day!

Add to that some excellent live musical accompaniment by contemporary ensemble Diving for Rocks, and it was a fantastic evening that tickled the funny bone and perked up any history nerd.  But hot?  Not really, but that’s okay.

What’s the World Coming To?

A scene from the What's This World Coming To?, a 1926 farce about changing gender roles

A scene from the What’s This World Coming To?, a 1926 farce about changing gender roles

We start off with a 1926 farce about changing gender roles. Not pornographic at all, but it does provide some delightfully old-fashioned laughs.

In the next 100 years, the opening reel tells us—so, pretty much now—men will become a lot more like women, women a lot more like men, and marriage will be a quaint old custom observed by very few. Not surprisingly we start with a 21st century wedding where the blushing groom looks mincing but radiant in his frilly suit and ridiculous giant hat, ready to be given away by his weeping father. The bride is dressed very plainly, with short hair and minimal makeup, and a rather severe suit and skirt. There’s a bit of slapstick when the bride loses the wedding ring in the groom’s giant poofy sleeves, and while looking for it rips off almost half his suit.

More slapstick follows when, after the honeymoon, the poor househusband suspects his domineering (of course) wife of cheating on him. Chasing a mouse that ran up his trousers, fun with guns (a very long gun wielded by the wife) and to cap it all off, the groom getting a blueberry pie dropped from a passing blimp right in the face. Because whatever century this is you’ll always have pies in the face, and everyone knows blimps are the only way to travel in the future.

Sure, the issues are played for cheap laughs, but it’s the context that makes it interesting: the movie dates from the height of the Roaring Twenties, a time when society was rapidly changing and a lot of traditions, including gender roles and marriage, really were being threatened. Whether the public really believed men’s and women’s roles would be inverted in generations to come, it was part of the zeitgeist, enough that you could make a whole short reel laughing about it.

Exclusive Sailor

A captain’s secretary and a sailor have a little fun in the captain’s cabin in this 1924 film. They’re discovered by the captain, who joins in. The secretary gets fucked by both men, and the sailor sucks the captain and gets fucked by him. This was all very explicit, with nothing left to the imagination. Having previously watched a few gay shorts from around that era here was never any explicit sex or even full frontal nudity but here everybody was letting it all hang out, except curiously the men kept their shirts on.  Were male chests more risqué than female ones? Did they want the viewers to focus on the woman, which raises the question of who was this film’s audience? Or maybe they wanted to keep the visual cues for the men’s roles (in this case, their uniforms)?

The sex here was not equal. Sure, as the title cards explain, the sailor got fucked as revenge and to restore honour because he was messing around in his captain’s bed, but the relative statuses of each character meant the fucking couldn’t have gone any other way. As the ranking officer, the captain was the alpha male and it was his prerogative to fuck all the holes available. The sailor got to fuck the secretary but he couldn’t have turned around and fucked his captain.

Buried Treasure

A scene from the 925 animated film Buried Treasure.

A scene from the 925 animated film Buried Treasure.

In this 1925 animated film, we follow the misadventures of Eveready Harton, a guy with a humorously gigantic dick. As you’d expect, the animation quality is not that great, but it’s a lot of silly fun. Not really queer, though, except for the part where Eveready accidentally butt-fucks a guy while aiming for the lady this guy was fucking.

A Late Visitor

This physique short is pretty typical of the genre, with no sex and no full frontal nudity; the actors wear those little flesh-coloured banana hammock contraptions to hide their genitals.

A young man living by himself in an apartment makes a late-night date with a friend. No, don’t worry, they’re just friends, and it’s totally not that kind of date! They’re just stripping down for a bit of wrestling, weight lifting and taking a bath together. Totally innocent! And it stayed totally innocent when the landlord came in, finding the visitor hiding under the bed and spanked both men with a hairbrush.

The film quality was very good, which suggests it was more recent, and raises the question: why is it less explicit than other films a decade older? But they may have been meant for different audiences. Late Visitor and movies like it might have been intended for more public venues, and therefore more vulnerable to censorship.

Context is everything, isn’t it? Who was watching these shows, and where, and when? That’s what I’d love to know more about.

Le ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly

Check it out, we’ve got bisexual porn fanfic! Yes, before Harry/Ron, before Kirk/Spock, it looks like porn writers used opera as their source material. Inspiration is where you find it, after all. And now I’m imagining whole fields of research studying porn spinoffs of popular culture. Or is that already a thing? It totally should be.

If you’re familiar with the opera you know that it starts with Pinkerton, a US naval officer, marrying a young Japanese girl (Butterfly), then going away for three years. What happened in those three years? If you believe this 1920 French film, Butterfly missed her husband terribly, but was comforted by her maid. And by “comfort” I mean “cunnilingus”.

Pinkerton, while at sea, gets seduced by his manservant, who’d wanted him for a long time. There’s a bit of sucking and fucking, with Pinkerton, as the higher-status male, only getting sucked and does all the fucking.

They go back to Japan, and Pinkerton has a threesome with the two Japanese girls, with his manservant watching and jerking off. This may be one of the oldest money shots in the history of cinema.  The men still don’t take their shirts off.

Interestingly this film has a page on Wikipedia, which describes a longer story with one more character, which may indicate the version we watched was incomplete.

Lot in Sodom

Oh boy, this is a weird one! A couple more viewings may be necessary to really unpack it, but here goes:

Briefly, this 1933 film is a retelling of the story of Lot in Sodom: meeting the angel—just one in this film—confronting the mob and escaping Sodom’s destruction. The people of Sodom are all beautiful smooth shirtless young men, who spend much of their time wrestling with each other and lounging around, while Lot looks like a stereotypical Jew, with a large nose, and extremely fake dark hair and beard. The angel is equally beautiful, but tends to cover up with a black cloak. This didn’t stop him from being lusted after by the scary, predatory-looking Sodomites.

The mob scene was interesting using double and triple exposures to simulate a crowd. It looked very surreal; people back in the day really had to work to suspend their disbelief although to be fair it was probably pretty experimental for its time. A similar effect was used to show Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt: in addition to the expected fade-in, we saw a several small transparent salt pillars swirling around her, foreshadowing the transformation.

Interspersed through the action near the end were several odd Bible verses, plus some imagery that had nothing to do with the story of Sodom.

So here’s the rub: what was this movie’s purpose? Was it a Bible-based lecture on the evils of homosexuality, paired with a lesson on how the love of a woman is so much more awesome than gay sex, or perhaps a huge satire of Biblical fundamentalism?  In the end we’re not quite sure, but it does need to be judged as a product of its time.

(A version of this movie review first appeared on http://www.npdemers.net)

Nicolas DemersNicolas Demers

Nicolas Demers is a web developer and blogger living in Vancouver’s West End. In his spare time he enjoys science-fiction, photography, and is actively involved with the Vancouver Gay Volleyball Association.

Follow Nicolas on Twitter or visit him online at http://www.npdemers.net.

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