Susie Bright Tells Us How to Read a Dirty Movie

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The irrepressible Susie Bright
Traditionally, bringing your brain to a porn movie has been thought of as a classic example of Missing the Point: Dirty movies, allegedly, are strictly entertainment for the little head. Start to think about what you're, um, "processing," and it's like that moment when Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes realizes that he's standing on thin air and immediately plummets to the bottom of a 1,000-foot cliff.

Susie Bright will tell you that's bullshit. Her body of work over the past 25 years is dedicated to the idea that intellect is as much a part of good sex as keeping the naughty bits in working order. To her, people who think of erotic film as artless are the ones missing the point: "There is no passion, no drama, without subtext," she says. "And porn has plenty of both."

Bright explores those subtexts and the history of porn Saturday at the Victoria Theater when she kicks off the Good Vibrations Indie Erotic Film Festival with her clip show How to Read a Dirty Movie. We recently spoke with Bright on the subject.

What is there about porn that we need to "read"?
Independent erotic movies have far, far, more variety of human subject than anything you've ever seen in Hollywood. Stereotypes are exploded left and right. There's a sense of risk and intimate directness that you don't see on any Top 40 chart. The outliers and the outlaws made these movies, and it's hard to understand America without them.

What kind of clips will you show?
For those who follow the legendary names, you'll see work by William Higgins, Old Reliable, Veronika Rocket, the young John Stagliano, Roger Watkins, Vanessa Del Rio, Christopher Rage, Irving Klaw, the early lesbian burlesque shows, the first G-spot ejaculation movie, the original and unequaled How to Enlarge Your Penis, the hilarious romance-novel-porn hybrids of the 1980s... oh it's a jam-packed affair. 

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Does that rock say what we think it says?
You started doing this presentation in the early 1990s, when the feminist porn wars were in full swing. What's the difference between the presentation now and then?
I started in 1987, actually. The clips are the same, it's what I have to say about them that's changed. Many of the figures in these films became legends and passed on, leaving legacies no one could imagine when they were working in almost total anonymity in their early years. I'm not 28, I'm 53 -- it's a trip to go through the scrapbook and see what I was once blind to. And yet, in my rehearsals for this show, I have to tell you, I've been blown away all over again. 

What was so "golden" about the Golden Age of Porn, and how much of it is still relevant to modern audiences?
It refers to several things. On one hand it was the breakdown of the studio system, the beginning of independent 35mm filmmaking. "Erotica," blue movies as we know them, were some of the first gunshots -- it was a revolution. You had directors, directors-of-photography, and actors who were classically trained and were bucking the system. On the other hand, as video arrived, as computers became popular, it was the porno version of the Arab Spring ... all the young punks and queers and rebels had something new to say, and they finally could afford to get a wedge in. It was really an exciting time.

Does the Internet make it easier for people to learn how to read dirty movies?
The Internet makes it fairly easy to access text info, vignettes, and still photography related to all kinds of sexuality. But that's not the same as "watching a movie," a feature length experience. It's like the difference between reading a billboard and reading a book.

In that sense, I'd say yes! Netflix has broadened people's horizons a lot. Many classic erotic films that no one would have bothered to hunt down before (Belle de Jour, Last Tango, Realm of the Senses) are now at your fingertips. I think you see that renewed interest in places like the Criterion Collection, which has produced fantastic new collections of ground-breaking erotic movies.

After we know how to read a dirty movie, where do we go? 
Make your own, obviously!  

Susie Bright hosts How to Read a Dirty Movie on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St. (at Capp), S.F. Admission is $12.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
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