Pornography - The Secret History of Civilisation

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Take a  fast-paced anthropology lesson in this engaging six-part series produced for British television in 1999, it would seem that for most of civilization, pornography hasn't been such a secret after all. The six lively episodes take playful account of that which is on more people's minds than will easily admit, and which has been an important, if often vilified part of world culture since humans could think about such things.

 This two-disc set is a stylish and tidy chronological account of erotic imagery that the episodes categorize from earliest recorded history to the latest (as of the end of the 20th century) prospects afforded by the Internet and virtual technology. An array of interview subjects from scholars to porn stars talk about everything from the graphic images discovered amongst the ruins of Pompeii and the one-of-a-kind erotica traded among high-class Europeans, to what it's like for individuals to make and distribute their own adult encounters through the facility of their own bedroom camcorders. Before it was demonized and censored when the printing press brought porn to the masses, it seems erotic drawings were a lot of jolly good fun that was not at all stigmatized. (One of the most amusing sequences is an interview with a prestigious, septuagenarian and erotic art historian who is interviewed about his specialty while reclining nude under the gaze of a woman sketching his portrait.) Once the church became involved, deeming the depictions of man, woman, and beast doing what came naturally as obscene--a relatively modern classification--it moved into the shadows of sociological study. The episodes on photography, including still and moving pictures and the impact "modern" technology had in creating a porn industry are interesting, but not entirely enlightening for most people who have even a passing knowledge of the development of erotica from French postcards to adult home video. There's nothing too outrageous for the prurient-minded to go ga-ga over, although there is a fair amount of explicit imagery (this is British TV, after all). By and large, as the five-plus hours go by, the episodes become a witty chamber piece for the open-minded who will find themselves well entertained by the precision and depth of this secret history's artful telling. There are no special features included, just a lot of old-fashioned lessons about our lengthy fascination with looking at birds and bees that are not our own.

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