One of the most fascinating phenomena of 1960s film culture is the emergence of American sexploitation films—salacious indies made on the margins of Hollywood. Hundreds of such films were produced and shown on both urban and small-town screens over the course of the decade. Yet despite their vital importance to the film scene, and though they are now understood as a gateway to the emergence of publicly exhibited hardcore pornography in the early 1970s, these films have been largely overlooked by scholars.
Defined by low budgets, quick production times, unknown actors, strategic uses of nudity, and a sensationalist obsession with unbridled female sexuality, sexploitation films provide a unique window into a tumultuous period in American culture and sexual politics. In Lewd Looks, Elena Gorfinkel examines the social and legal developments that made sexploitation films possible: their aesthetics, their regulation, and their audiences. Gorfinkel explores the ways sexploitation films changed how spectators encountered and made sense of the sexualized body and set the stage for the adult film industry of today.
Lewd Looks recovers a lost chapter in the history of independent cinema and American culture—a subject that will engross readers interested in media, sexuality, gender, and the 1960s. Gorfinkel investigates the films and their contexts with scholarly depth and vivid storytelling, producing a new account of the obscene image, screen sex, and adult film and media.
About the Author
Elena Gorfinkel is senior lecturer in film studies at King’s College London. She is coeditor of Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image (Minnesota, 2011).
"Sex sells, but it also speaks, and few have listened more attentively than Elena Gorfinkel. In Lewd Looks, she untangles the dense, complicated looking relations of the sexploitation film cycle that most have brushed off as a speed bump on the race to hardcore, revealing it instead as a staging of the fundamental American ambivalence and anxiety regarding sex. Full of recovered moments of previously-lost film history and piercing analytical insights, this brilliant book peers avidly into the cinematic gutter, seeing the truths of our culture floating there."—Whitney Strub, author of Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right
"Groundbreaking and exquisitely presented. With a fearless dedication to archival research, Elena Gorfinkel forges an original research trajectory that can be productively extended to other under-researched media forms as well as mainstream media."—Constance Penley, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Lewd Looks is at once enlightening and fascinating."—Choice
"Lewd Looks usefully leans into the contradictions of censorship and gender representation that extend beyond the tease of sexploitation into the hypervisible world of pornography today."—Film Quarterly
"Gorfinkel's book, while it focuses on the 1960s, feels relevant to the experience of being a woman in 2018."—Cineaste
"Elena Gorfinkel’s Lewd Looks: American Sexploitation Cinema in the 1960s is an important entry into the porn studies field not only for its robust scholarship but also for its call to arms. The reluctance to address sexually explicit, simulated films is a limitation to porn studies as a whole in as much as excluding the study of softcore provides an incomplete picture of pornographic media over the decades."—New Review of Film and Television
"Lewd Looks brings a feminist perspective to this cultural history, from investigations of female erotic looking and erotic spectacle to women's labor, female audiences, and questions of modern womanhood. Rather than a knee-jerk condemnation of the spectacularization of women's bodies, Gorfinkel displays a genuine interest in the films, allowing her to discover the more complex cultural work they were doing and take seriously the labor of the women who worked both in front of and behind the camera … Lewd Looks has laid a crucial foundation for scholarship on American sexploitation cinema, as well as legal and cultural negotiations over sex and obscenity in the 1960s. Extensive research allows Gorfinkel to describe this complex cultural terrain with new detail and accuracy while also pointing to the ways these films shift our understandings of film form, spectatorship, and sexual representation. The book will be of great interest to scholars, instructors, and students of gender and sexuality in media, film history, and American cultural studies."—Journal of Cinema and Media Studies