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Here's How Anarchist Porn Changed Italy Forever

Carmine Amoroso's documentary "Porn to be Free" explores how Italian porn of the 1970s and 80s liberated the country.

by Niccolò Carradori
06 April 2016, 9:19am

All images courtesy of Carmine Amoroso.

This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.

Italian porn isn't what it used to be – these days, it tends to be a dreary last resort for failed TV personalities. But during the second half of the 1980s, it was a glittery industry riddled with internationally renowned porn stars like Moana Pozzi, Rocco Siffredi and Selen, acting alongside people like Ron Jeremy.

Before the late 1980s, the porn industry was already well-established but the vision behind it was completely different. At the time it exploded as a cultural phenomenon, porn wasn't necessarily glamorous but a symbol of Italian counterculture and sexual liberation.

Director Carmine Amoroso spent the last years working on an independent documentary about the Italian "pioneers who fought for freedom of speech and sexual freedom through the right to make pornography" – pioneers like pornographers Lasse Braun, Riccardo Schicchi, Ilona Staller (Cicciolina), and Giuliana Gamba.

The result is Porn to Be Free, which premiered last January at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam. I called Carmine Amoroso to talk about the genesis of Italian porn, its political impact, and how it has evolved in recent years.

VICE: How and why did you decide to make Porn to Be Free?
Carmine Amoroso: I met Riccardo Schicchi at a film premiere in 2011 – that started everything. I knew who he was from TV, but we had never met before: I found out that night that he was a wonderful man, very cultured. I wanted to make a documentary exclusively about him but then he found out he had a debilitating disease and the documentary as we had imagined it proved to be impossible. So I decided to expand the project and follow the impact porn industry had on Italian counterculture and politics from the late 1960s to the late 80s. Those years were the "political" years of porn in Italy: Porn reached its maximum impact at a time when the Catholic Church was very powerful.

Who were the central players in this revolution?
The documentary starts with an incredible character: Lasse Braun, one of the first directors to shoot what we might call "mainstream pornography" and to make it famous. He learned movie-making from a handbook and he post-produced them at his home so he wouldn't get arrested. He also created an innovative distribution system, through magazines and post office boxes. He was the first porn author to be featured at Cannes.

At the time, pornography was strictly banned: It was illegal. I mean, not just "pornography" as we see it now was illegal – nude pics, for example, were illegal. Back then, society was in turmoil: there was debate about divorce, sexual conduct, everything. Braun was the first one to catalyse the turmoil in porn. He was the Larry Flint of Italy.

Lasse Braun

Lasse Braun realised that in order to make something mainstream you have to turn it into a 'product', so you ensure its legalisation. Because if something's a commodity, the system or the mainstream will assimilate you anyway. If I think of what's left of the hippie movement, for example, the first thing that comes to my mind are models with long hair and ripped jeans.
Exactly, and the same thing happened with Schicchi. He was the first to bring porn to TV. He turned Cicciolina and Moana Pozzi into celebrities. They were so great because they were mainstream, and knew how to use their popularity. Before Braun, porn was just something catering to the rich, to people who could afford to buy illegal movies.

What can you say about 1970s porn movies?
They were ironic and very understated; There were no "porn stars" yet, as such. Everything was more pleasant and natural – aesthetically, porn movies were tied with nature. And it was very liberated: Giuliana Gamba, the first Italian female porn director, recalls in the documentary that it was that feeling of freedom started it all.

Who was the first Italian porn icon? Braun was an innovator but he wasn't that famous.
The first icon was Ilona Staller, Cicciolina. We discuss her role throughly in the documentary: She was a very well-built character, coming straight out of Schicchi's mind. She embodied his imagination. She represents Italian porn in all its facets and complexity. Cicciolina was a symbol of the natural beauty of sex.

If Braun is the founder of the Italian porn, what does that make Riccardo Schicchi?
Schicchi made the porn industry what it was. He really was the king of Italian porn.

There are a lot of interviews in your documentary with people who aren't directly part of the porn industry, who explain what porn meant for Italian counterculture. How did porn become a weapon for Italian intellectual counterculture?
Porn represented a liberation of the body. The body had to be undressed from a conceptual point of view, too. Consider, for example, the hippie festivals of Parco Lambro, in Milan – dozens of naked people in a public park. The naked body represented a revolutionary element.

What did porn represent from a political point of view?
Porn placed itself in an anarchist, left-libertarian context: It was closely related to the Radical Party, a party that in those years had a major role in the civil rights debate. Ilona Staller became a member of the Italian parliament for that party in 1987.

Given that the porn industry is now at a standstill, when do you think its decline began?
The Italian porn I am talking about, that kind of conceptual and political porn, died with Moana Pozzi in 1994. That was a moment of big change. But porn is not just a performance, it is an ever-evolving language. Porn is always ahead – the fact that there is no longer really an industry does not mean that porn is dead, it just means that we are moving forward and that the way we use it has changed.

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