Peep Shows (2012) – By Joshua Samford

I can’t rightfully claim to be an expert on erotic cinema, nor can I claim that I have always been a fan of sexploitation, but I will say that I have always had an obsession with strange subcultures and obscured facets of American society. When it comes to cinema, erotica can serve many different purposes, but the most common is either simple titillation or commenting on sexual relationships in some form or another. Simple titillation would best be equated to the thirty minute gonzo sex clips that can easily be streamed on the net which feature no plot and lots of hardcore sex. Dealing with the other classification, we find a wide variety of interesting cinematic tidbits that push the envelope in terms of societal graces. This is where my interests come into play (though who doesn’t enjoy the former as well?), and this is also the area that is most explicitly explored within Peep Shows. A book released by Alterimage and edited by Xavier Mendik, Peep Shows is a compilation of 21 articles that cover erotic cinema from the gleefully perverse hardcore scene to the artistic and posh world of soft core. Featuring a litany of very talented writers that delve into numerous topics, this book is sure to open your eyes to numerous new and interesting sub-genres within the world of erotic cult cinema.

Compiled as a series of academic articles on "sex cinema," Peep Shows finds its strengths in both the capable writing of its contributors and the very eclectic topics that they manage to delve into. The topics are varied, but many of the authors approach their subjects while preparing the reader to keep an open mind. If one were to approach the book without an open mind, it is unlikely that they would make it very far past the foreword. The level of writing is very high within the book and the editorial skills of Mr. Xavier Mendik certainly seem to be on-point, because the book is compiled in a seamless and intriguing fashion. Each chapter seems to fade together with the next and the authors all seem to have such a similar sensibility that the work truly seems to be cohesive. For some readers, however, I am sure that the book will come across as being a bit dry. Although some of the contributors do slightly deviate away from the scholarly approach in order to give some levity to their contributions, for the most part this is an academic piece. So, readers can expect some very deep examinations on films that probably didn’t intend to say as much as the author would have us believe. Continuing on discussing these contributors, it should certainly be noted that the book features interviews with hardcore icon Seka and foreign import Christina Lindberg, as well as a foreword by Veronica Hart. Certainly, this book packs a decent number of famous contributors for a very polished piece of academia.

The most entertaining aspect of Peep Shows, for myself as a reader, has to be the variety of topics that the book brings to the table. From one chapter to the next, readers will likely discover a new and very peculiar aspect of sex cinema. From the more obvious and popular world of Bettie Page’s early pinup days to the more obscure topic of Stephen Sayadian’s Night Dreams and Cafe Flesh. Indeed, the article on Night Dreams and Cafe Flesh was a standout for me and marked the moment where I knew that I was completely hooked on this book. I had never heard of Stephen Sayadian, but Peep Shows gives a very solid recount of his career working for Hustler magazine and his reticent entry into the world of pornographic films. He and his band of artists then created two very surreal pornographic films that are the antithesis of quick stimulation. Post apocalyptic Eraserhead-inspired porn would never seem like a fabulous way to make money, but these gents went out on a limb in order to try and create something artistic – and in some ways it seems that it paid off. This fabulous little article, written by Jacob Smith, is just one of several very engaging articles about obscure facets within the wild world of erotica.

While the book generally hops around in numerous areas, including porn spoofs and the work of Italian exploitation/porn mastermind Joe D’Amato, the book can’t cover everything. It would have been nice to see some broader international coverage, including a look at the pinku market of Japan or the CAT III world of Hong Kong cinema, but for what it is Peep Shows is a resounding success in every way. Continually entertaining and always a learning experience, the book asks for its audience to enter with an open mind and it rewards them with a wealth of knowledge along the way. While it surely isn’t for every person’s taste, Peep Shows is the expected result of a world no longer wholly ashamed of their craving of erotic cinema. With the advance of the internet, it now seems common knowledge that nearly the entire computing populace partakes in pornography of some sort. Peep Shows simply takes a look with a wholly objective eye and tries to associate all of the topics of our sexual culture and align them in a cohesive fashion. I highly recommend the book, and if you’re interested you can read more about it and order it here.