Way back in the early Seventies, a movie was released from Sweden entitled I Am Curious- Yellow. Shortly thereafter came its sequel, I Am Curious-Blue. Blue and yellow are the colors in the Swedish flag. Get it? The curiosity centered around sex, naked people having intercourse. I remember going to the Rose Bowl Drive-in to see it. The Rose Bowl had an incredibly cool sign, red neon roses. The sign was the most memorable aspect of every excursion to the The Rose Bowl. Watching this “fine” Swedish import was no exception. Viewing Porn was just beginning to go mainstream in the Seventies, for better or for worse. Visual, cinematic pornography is now ubiquitous. But in the Seventies, you had to go out of your way to see porn. It was an excursion into some seedy, sketchy places. Porn still existed on the periphery and The Rose Bowl sat on that edge.
The Rose Bowl was on Rte 1, the “Number One Highway”, as it was known then. Near it was the Wigwam Motel, a tourist court of small one room cabins, spaced in a semi-circle around a larger building that served as office and restaurant. There was a wooden representation of a “tipi”, that comprised the roof. Hence the name “wigwam” could be justified. Further up Rte 1 was the Jamaica Country Club, a swimming pool for African-Americans in the days of segregation. Simply put, it was a different world. The Rose Bowl is gone, as is The Wigwam. The Jamaica Country Club remains, at least physically, if not as a business. The area is giving way to suburban commercial encroachment, a Sonic Drive-in, Taco Bell, Arby’s, several mini-storage places, antique shops galore.
There were other venues for porn back then. A fraternity house would acquire some “stag” films and show them to male collegians, for a fee. They were black and white, silent films with various sex acts (never sexual activity between males, however) depicted. The college boys (yes definitely boys!) would watch and make comments, predictably as juvenile, immature and sexist as the films, location and context would inspire. I watched, because I was curious. Here was sex depicted, mysterious, daunting, powerful. The filmmakers were not Henry Millers or Anais Nins or Joyces. There was no thought to “art” in these grubby, grainy shorts. Yet they were, in their way, art. The films were forgettable, except for one which featured two women who were having penetrative sex with a double headed dildo. It must be said that the performers were not silicon- enhanced “stars”, but rather ordinary women, not particularly attractive, not ugly either.
The main location for “X-rated ” films in Richmond in the 70’s and 80’s was a movie house near Virginia Commonwealth University called the Lee Art Theater, later called the Lee “X” Theater. The films were from Essex or Caballero and starred Seka, Vanessa del Rio, John Holmes, John Leslie, the usual suspects. I remember going on slow business afternoons, the theater incredibly dark, the smell of Pine-Sol in the air. Occasionally there were “strippers”, usually female porn stars, like Vanessa del Rio, Annie Sprenkle, and Juliet Anderson, aka “Aunt Peg”. I vaguely recall Vanessa being busted for cocaine possession during her visit to Richmond, but I could be mistaken. She took off her costume to the song She’s A Latin From Manhattan. Gathering up the pieces of her freshly discarded outfit was “Dirt Woman”, a transgendered individual, notable for his obesity and a crude similarity to the late Divine (aka Harris Glen Milstead), the John Waters “superstar”. He did this for all the travelling performers. Annie Sprenkle did her show against a back drop of slides, one of which featured a Renault Le Car. She was working on her doctorate at this time. The announcer mispronounced her name, calling her Annie “Sprinkles”. When Juliet Anderson appeared, she stripped down, put on some kind of cover-up, then sat down for a Q & A with the audience. She did ask that the audience members not smoke. She had a second hand smoke issue. She shared that the porn business was rough; women had to buy their own underwear. I asked her if her parents knew she was in the adult film business. She said they did. All in all, she was representative of everybody’s sexually liberated individual living in San Francisco. This was before AIDS, before porn was shot direct to video; when adult films were still marginal. Eventually VCU bought the building and uses it for something other than showing sleazy movies.
With the advent of the VCR, “Adult” cable channels and finally the internet, porn went mainstream and arguably ubiquitous. Now I have seen it all. I am no longer compelled by a perverse curiosity. Yet I still yearn for the erotic, for love expressed through sexuality. The sexual drama lives, as it always has, between my ears.