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Koch Vision presents
Pornography: The Secret History of Civilisation (2000)

"From the dawn of civilization, mankind has found a way to record sexual experience."
- narrator (Marilyn Milgrom)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: March 07, 2006

Stars: Marilyn Milgrom
Director: Fenton Bailey, Chris Rodley, Dev Varma, Kate Williams

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexual situations and drug use)
Run Time: 05h:12m:00s
Release Date: March 07, 2006
UPC: 741952635291
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

You might expect a documentary about pornography would be a lurid, sleazy and titillating journey, using the concept as nothing more than an excuse for frivolous nudity and rampant sexuality. Perhaps if this were an MTV production, that would be the case, but here it's a smart, six-part documentary from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the directors of Inside Deep Throat, a doc that explored what is probably the most famous adult film of all time. Fenton and Bailey serve as series producers here (with Fenton also directing Episode 5—Sex Lives On Videotape), and while the presentation is understandably heavy on nudity and graphic discussions of sexuality (the subject demands it), the material never seems like a cheap excuse just to show off some bared breasts.

The skin and sex are essential as Fenton and Barbato attempt to tell a 2,000 year history of porn in 5 hours. This two-disc set carries all six episodes (three per disc) of this British-made series, and it begins with the discovery of some graphically unsettling relics (unsettling to 18th century Victorian England, that is) in the ruins of Pompeii on through the whole digital porn revolution that came via the internet. In between those two extremes, Fenton and Barbato daisychain the advent of the printing press, cameras, magazines, the birth of adult cinemas, and the explosion of the home video market as proof of what is apparently a timeless human need to capture, distribute, and view sexually explicit material. An assortment of art historians, film historians, sexuality experts, and even a few sex performers (Marilyn Chambers, John Leslie) offer interview segments that build on Fenton and Barbato's argument, that porn is not some recent creation of the 20th century.

The fact that pornography is a billion dollar global business proves more than just a couple of dirty old men are looking at it, and all the uptight worries of those repressed Victorians and their concerns about a wave of constant masturbation seem eerily familiar to the critiques of the far right today. Hiding away sexually explicit Pompeii artwork in a secret museum like it never existed is ridiculously immature, and even if the particularly graphic statue of Pan having sex with a goat repulses you, one has to step back and admire the impressive level of detail. It is shown here in great closeup, and the historians' explanations of its purpose and meaning shed a broader light on what life was really like in Pompeii, and just how important the prominent display of sexually explicit materials was.

The thing about porn is that it can mean different things to different people, and the segment on a company like Totally Tasteless Home Video (which distribute titles that feature everything from elderly women to midgets to the insertion of the "butt cam") reinforces the notion that, yes, there's some really nasty stuff out there. But it sells. To someone. And maybe to someone you know. Fenton and Barbato avoid being judgmental, and a subject like pornography pushes a lot of hot buttons for a lot of people. Sexually-explicit material has been around seemingly forever—it seems to drive most new entertainment technologies, no matter how primitive—and this documentary series is an honest look at its history.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: All six episodes are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. There's a variety of source material used throughout, and the quality does vary. Image detail is decent and within the range of the standard documentary, but there are some grain issues evident on some of the newer segments. Koch Vision does get brownie points for the anamorphic treatment on this one.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio comes via an evenly-mixed 2.0 surround track that delivers deep accents to the music bed and presents Marilyn Milgrom's narration cleanly and clearly. Simple and effective.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 72 cues and remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Intimacy, Vacuuming Completely Nude In Paradise
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only extras are a couple of Koch Vision trailers. Each episode is divided into 12 chapters.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Here's a doc that suggests, perhaps, that what you consider your dirty little secret maybe isn't so dirty, and hardly a secret. It's a record of historical porn through the centuries, presented in six episodes spread across two discs, from the days of Pompeii to the age of the internet, and it explores the subject with clinical honesty and no trace of judgement.

Highly recommended.


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