San Francisco’s Blue Period

We once had a friend who lived in a loft inside the Mitchell Brothers’ porn warehouse near Civic Center. On her wall was a poster that looked like a political cartoon of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein. The mayor’s skirt was the City Hall rotunda. From underneath it scurried bunches of tiny police officers, chasing owners of adult bookstores and theaters. Feinstein today might be an enemy of the right wing in Washington, but anyone who has been around here long enough will tell you she was an enemy of the left in San Francisco because of her strong antismut stance (not to mention her opposition to gay bathhouses) and her high-profile busts of adult establishments. Alas, the wave was too big for Feinstein and her backers, as San Francisco had become the nation’s boomtown for porn. Michael Stabile explains why in his in-progress documentary, Smut Capital of America. In it, we’re reminded that Northern California was already central in the sexual revolution and the Free Speech Movement. Jim and Artie Mitchell were hometown heroes who’d opened an adult theater and, educated in filmmaking at SF State, were among the first in the modern day to put explicit sex in a motion picture. This attracted directors from New York and Los Angeles, where making adult movies was still illegal. They had vast talent pools in young hippies who treated overt sex as a form of political activism and rebellion. Added to this was economic reality — many theater owners faced losing their businesses because Hollywood was simply not producing enough movies, so they were more than willing to screen adult films, which had become wildly popular among young men as well as women. Some of the theater owners and filmmakers from the time are interviewed in Smut Capital, which Stabile hopes to make into a feature-length documentary. A discussion with him follows the screening.
Thu., July 14, 7:30 p.m., 2011

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