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I’ve watched a lot of vintage ’60s and ’70s porn in my day, but until this book crossed my desk, I’d never actually read a heavy tome about the history of pornography. And yet Jack Stevenson’s exhaustive and fascinating study of Scandinavian porn was hard to put down. Any serious vintage porn fan has probably already seen several of the Danish or Swedish gems of this era, and would appreciate learning a bit more about the social and political climate that allowed these films to be made. And what better way to end a porn-themed month than with some deep academic reading?

Hotspot of the wild and permissive

Denmark and Sweden were once the international hotspots of free love, wild permissive attitudes, and of course, pornography. At least, that’s the impression one might get based on the wide array of fun porn titles that came out of Scandinavia in the 1960s and “˜70s. In the late 1960s, Denmark became the first country in the world to legalize pornography. In America, the prevailing suspicion was that loose and overly liberal attitudes about sex in Scandinavia made it a haven for dirty perverts of all sorts. In reality, there was a lot more to the erotic cinema of these nations than just, well, humping, as Stevenson’s delightful book, Scandinavian Blue: The Erotic Cinema of Sweden and Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s , reveals.

An exhaustive and highly engaging study of an intriguing period in film history, and a timely social and political essay as well, the book spends equal time on classics of the era (such as the literary adaptation Without a Stitch and its sequel,   Between the Sheets , which starred Danish beauty Birte Tove) and lesser known titles (such as Paul Nyrup’s mid-“˜60s trilogy of Danish sex/crime films, Days of Sin and Nights of Nymphomania , Copenhagen Call-Girls and   City Street Heroes ).

Tracing the development of Scandinavian erotic cinema from the early days (such as the Swedish naturalist film One Summer of Happiness ) to groundbreakers such as I am Curious (Yellow) and eventually, straight-up hardcore porn, Scandinavian Blue is full of interesting tangents and diversions that any porn lover would be undoubtedly captivated by.

Can ‘free love’ be a self-fulfilling prophecy?

In the minds of the rest of the world, Denmark and Sweden were wildly sexually liberated places during a time when the rest of the world was suitably shocked by the very concept of “˜free love’. Soon enough, the reputation became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as sex shops, live sex shows and a lot of pornographic material started to gush out of the icy north. In this fascinating study of that development, Jack Stevenson delves into the forgotten corners of cinema history, delivering a detailed chronicle of erotica.

Scandinavian Blue is quite in-depth and serious about its subject, but the style isn’t overly academic, which is a relief (who wants to read a deadly dry tome about pornography, after all). Stevenson digresses here and there to travel down the trashier alleys of cinematic history, and this makes the book all the more interesting. The analysis does yield some interesting insights into the nature of freedom, censorship and sex (as a private and public endeavor) but thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Reverberating into now

Stevenson also connects the heyday of Scandinavian sex films with current trends, acknowledging films like Jans Jørgen Thorson’s   Quiet Days in Clichy (based on the Henry Miller book by the same name), the aforementioned I Am Curious (Yellow) and Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt’s Weekend   as influences on Lars von Trier, whose Zentropa Productions has a subsidiary called Puzzy Power which has produced several films including Constance and Pink Prison ““ the only examples of hardcore pornography to ever be produced by mainstream film production companies. As a historical study, the book is fascinating, but it’s great to also learn about the present day impact and reverberations of those heady days.

Scandinavian Blue is definitely worth perusing for the fascinating history, the nearly 100 sexy black and white stills, and of course, as a massive list of recommendations if you’re looking to expand your experience with the genre. Get the book, read it, then make a list and seek out these awesome films.

Toronto Film Scene is turning up the heat for the month of July and looking at Pornography as a Legitimate Art Form. Don’t miss our scintillating coverage on everything from soft to hard core films, including a look at the  Feminist Porn awards,  what makes a truly classic porno,  erotica translated from book to screenand the  golden age of geek porn.

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