The urge to observe the sex act is probably an un-displaceable mainstay in the human animal, and the 1960s, ushering in revolutions in so many different arenas, also featured a noticeable mainstreaming of the X-rated movie. Interest in sexual subjects was brewing in the period just prior to that, for sure. In the mid-1950s Nabokov’s novel Lolita had been banned in England and France; while the U.S. authorities took no official action against the book, publishers were leery of offering it. Eventually Putnam took it on and it rapidly made the bestseller list.
Porn movies saw a somewhat similar evolution. At the start of the 1960s they were “unmentionable.” By 1970 they were a common topic of conversation among sophisticated adults, and there was even talk, which seems hopelessly quixotic today, of the existence of sex movies that would exist alongside foreign movies, documentaries, etc. as a respectable genre. By 1980 the initial impulse of curiosity had given way to a well-organized industry, and (as Boogie Nights taught us all) the advent of video threatened to do away with brick-and-mortar porn cinemas, and with them would go the amusing and/or startling X-rated poster.
Russ Meyer was obviously a dominant figure in this evolution, especially in the 1960s, and his playful obsession with large mammaries led him to direct several masterpieces of titillation, including The Immoral Mr. Teas, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Motorpsycho, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
If you take anything from the 1950s and 1960s, whether it be TV commercials or matchbook covers or LP cover design or living room sets, it often elicits a powerful appreciation in us, partially out of reasons of nostalgia but also due to obvious aesthetic appeal. The same is true of X-rated posters, it turns out. The need to hide and yet reveal what the movie is about nudged graphic designers to get inventive with the imagery, and as a result the entire genre appears to us today to be simultaneously crass and innocent.
Reel Art Press has a marvelous volume coming out soon celebrating the graphic design of the X-rated poster from the classic age of porno, titled X-Rated: Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s (edited by Tony Nourmand, designed by Graham Marsh). Featuring an introduction by Peter Doggett, author of respected tomes about the Beatles and Lou Reed, the book is jammed with pictorial marvels that are a feast for the eyes. We’ve selected a few sample posters to whet your appetite but the book has dozens more as well as helpful context for many of them.
The Immoral Mr. Teas, 1959
Eve and the Handyman, 1961
The Orgy at Lil’s Place, 1963
Many more posters after the jump…..