Thursday, 5 November 2020

FOR SALE - John Baxter's contribution to a fascinating catalogue of literature devoted to the PROFANE

Dear Friends,

            Recently I’ve been disbursing some of my collection/s of books, photographs and ephemera accumulated over decades of writing and research.  Henry Gott of the Rare Book department of Blackwell’s in Oxford acquired many items, and has incorporated some of the more unusual and even sensational in a new catalogue devoted to the Profane in literature, film and the arts. It presents these selections, I hope you will agree, with exemplary style and wit. Here is a link to a pdf version.


            Aside from offering some attractive options for unusual Christmas gifts, I hope the catalogue provides an illuminating and diverting read.



Editor’s note: The catalogue item devoted to John’s work is set out below. The catalogue itself has illustrations.


11. Baxter (John) The original typescript for an unpublished book on Erotic Cinema, with the author’s archive of related material, including:
- 28 books, mostly first editions, used as research for the work, relating to erotic cinema and photography, and the censorship thereof (listing available on request)
- Around 220 photographs of various types intended as illustrations for the work: including lobby cards, posters, stills and production shots from various films (including multiple of Marlon Brando and Betty Page), some direct from studio, others printed from BFI archive, one of Lili St Cyr inscribed by the actress; including over 30 photographs by Kelvin Jones of Hypatia Lee, Ginger Lynn and other actresses, images from the XRCO ‘Heart-On’ awards, 1989 – the majority in the form of colour slides, with a few monochrome photographic prints

- Around 120 postcards, the majority original and from the first half of the twentieth- century; a mix of photographic and pictorial - including 2 with movable parts; mostly blank but some with contemporary messages
- 13 original photographs, no dates but circa 1920-1970, both studio and amateur; along with a few pieces of advertising material and a facsimile of a Tijuana Bible featuring Mae West
- 33 London prostitute cards, various sizes, late twentieth-century, the sort that adorned phone-boxes in the pre-internet age
- 2 issues of ‘Batteries Not Included’ (Vol I: nos 7 & 10) and 1 of ‘Screw: The Sex Review’ (Issue 154, Valentine’s Day 1972)

- An excellent letter to Baxter from William Rotsler, typed on the back of a still from a pornographic film – referring to his book Contemporary Erotic Cinema, inter alia collected circa 1987- 2004, full printed typescript for book, ‘Secret Cinema: The Rise and Fall of the Sex Film’, 229pp., along with a 3pp. recent typed note by the author explaining its origin and the reasons for it not being published (see below), various sizes and formats, the books in mixed condition ranging from fair to very good, the archive well stored overall £2,500 

A project begun in the late 1980s, when the author was resident in Los Angeles, wanting to fill a gap in the market with a book that gave the greater part of its attention to ‘commercial sex cinema’, rather than ‘with films that enjoyed pretensions to art’. The fact that, as Baxter describes in his note, ‘the pedigree of film pornography is as long as that of serious cinema - in fact, longer’, along with its surpassing of its counterpart in popularity also, meant that ‘Porn clearly merited attention. Might it also even deserve respect?’. 

The book’s opening chapter originated in an article for ‘Playboy’, published as ‘Night of the Thousand Orifices’ but here reverting to its original title of ‘In the Playpen of the Damned’, wherein the author documented the ‘Porn Oscars’ - a beginning represented in the archive in the slides from photographer Kelvin Jones. A profile of Ginger Lynn, written for ‘The Sunday Times’, also provided a chapter. Following the work’s completion in 1990, the author by now living in Paris, his agent advised strongly against its publication - suggesting he concentrate on ‘less disreputable’ subjects than the films and individuals featured here. His well-received biographies of Fellini, Woody Allen, and Robert De Niro followed, and this critical history of erotic cinema - from its early years, through to the commercial zenith of ‘Deep Throat’, and then its decline in the era of home video - never saw the light of day. 

As with his other work, collecting forms the foundation of Baxter’s research - and the material assembled here makes for a compelling group. The postcards, mostly French, depict a mix of the erotic, the bawdy, and the bizarre; some of them relate directly to the world of cinema, but in general they document cultural trends and shifting tastes - as well as the different spheres, from the amateur to the sophisticated - along a similar trajectory to that manifest in the world of moving pictures. Similarly, the cinematic material comprises everything from the exploitative to the high-minded (though the distinction isn’t always straightforward), and from ‘soft’ to ‘hard’.

Amongst the books we find earlier histories on the same or related subjects, as well as memoirs of performers and film-makers, providing a varied account of the industry; it includes multiple works on censorship, a general area of interest to the author, as well as some volumes of erotic photography by Lucien Clergue and David Hamilton (both of whom inscribe the respective books to Baxter). Though at first seeming rather tangential, the presence of the prostitute cards collected from various phone- boxes around London in fact provides a sort of coda to the whole piece: an example of a once-flourishing but now vanishing side of the sex industry, a victim of technological advances (the internet and the mobile phone) - they are a vestigial representation of an area of culture and society that has had to always adapt, but will never die. 

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