42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection, Volume 1 DVD Review: Show Some Respect for Your Elders

When I first spun this disc up, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I always had this impression of a “peep show” as being opposing urges separated by a pane of glass — someone stripping while the other watches and gets off on it. Instead, this DVD acts as a snapshot of scenes of ’70s porn, featuring stars like Annie Sprinkle, Susan Nero, and Lisa DeLeeuw. Admittedly, I didn’t recognize them, but I’m probably not quite old enough to be expected to. All the stereotypes you would expect are here — feathery ‘dos and man-perms, bold mustaches, torpedo boobs (all real, no fakes), robust pubes, low budgets, and uninspired set designs and production values. My initial reaction was to groan a bit, being fully aware that this was from the era when I was born, making me think of my parents. Eww.

As I skimmed through the 15 scenes — totaling about two hours and available to view in Play-All fashion, or looping an individual scene — hearing nothing but the rattle of the 8mm camera feed in the background, my mind wandered to the full HD glory that is modern internet porn that often costs nothing, and wondered why anyone would want to pay upwards of $20 for this DVD, let alone the other four volumes, all releasing between March and October 2014. I told myself that maybe if you were in your prime when this stuff was hitting the streets and there was a nostalgia factor, it would be appealing. However, that was part of the whole point — this material was recorded and distributed during a time when it was considered illegal. As Robin Bougie illustrates in the DVD liner notes, these films came out when Hollywood wasn’t allowed to show bare breasts in movies and nobody could curse. It wasn’t “distributed” in the modern sense. It wasn’t even a matter of going behind the curtain at the local sleazy video store. The stuff was traded behind the scenes the way drugs are today and alcohol was during Prohibition.

I realized that if these people hadn’t “lived in some mid-world between crime and art,” as Norman Mailer put it in the 2009 documentary Inside Deep Throat, we wouldn’t have made what progress we have on social acceptance of sexuality. The porn of today wouldn’t be so freely distributed and consumed and such a huge industry on the Internet — there would be no Brazzers or PornHub or sites promoting positive views on sexuality, for both genders. We wouldn’t be having Supreme Court cases centered around women’s rights to birth control. We still have a ways to go, but these people boldly went to new and adventurous and risky places so that one day we might be able to talk openly about what everyone already does behind closed doors.

Or maybe they aren’t heroes and heroines of social justice and equality. Maybe they just wanted to get their bang on. Whichever.

The 15 scenes are divided into three categories: Boy/Girl, Three or More, and Lesbians. Gay men, this collection apparently is not for you. It’s all transferred from the original grainy, low-res film, maintaining the dust and hairs impressed across the aged exposure, giving it that authentically old, low budget, seedy look.

The DVDs are available on Amazon and have IMDB entries, but if you’re going to look them up, search carefully. 42nd Street Forever, Volume 1 from 2005 is nothing like 42nd Street Forever, Peep Show Collection, Volume 1, though the former comes up much more often when searching.

All in all, I can’t say this style of material was particularly titillating to me, but again, that probably speaks primarily to my age and that I first took an interest in this sort of thing almost two decades after these films were originally shot. Those nostalgic for the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s may get a kick out of it. Anyone else who wants to own a piece of X-rated history may find it worth the Andrew Jackson it’ll cost to open the curtains and peer through the looking glass for themselves.

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Mark Buckingham

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