Joe Swanberg's Porn Collection
When I met Joe Swanberg at the launch party for this festival a few months back, I was really fascinated to hear him talk about his private collection of 8mm stag films, collected over many years. I was so inspired that for a brief, awkward couple of days I was pushing to host the festival at one of the last XXX theaters left in New York, out in Elmhurst. We settled on a less tawdry venue, but Swanberg will still be flying in to screen his collection during the festival. Here’s a short essay he wrote about it.
In 2016 I started collecting 8mm stag films from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. An academic had convinced me that the early-adopter nature of porn, as well as the illegality of the films (they carried the threat of prison sentences for people caught making, selling, or possessing them) forced their makers indoors, and subsequently made them some of the earliest filmed records of the inside of regular people’s homes. Most films at the time were made on studio sets, and home movies were only just becoming a thing, so the people who covertly made stag films were also, by accident, capturing the clothes, hairstyles, appliances, and furniture of the time period in a way Hollywood wasn’t.
Aside from the more high-minded archival mission, I was also fascinated to see, with my own eyes, my grandparent’s generation fucking just like we were—having hot, fun, exciting sex. Gay, bi, interracial, experimental, kinky—you name it, they were doing it on camera, back at a time when I assumed everyone was living a sterile, bland, conformist existence. I’m now convinced that they were actually considerably wilder than we are, and that if any generation is living a bland, corporate, risk-averse existence, it’s ours.
I am excited to present some of the more interesting discoveries from my years of hunting down boxes of XXX movies, discovered in the backs of closets by kids, grandkids, neighbors, or cleaning crews when grandpa (or grandma) kicked the bucket and left a very special record of the times. Because these films are silent, they will be paired with a DJ set to create the soundtrack these renegades and rebels must have heard in their minds, decades before their work became legal.