Complex Pleasures: Selections from the Erotic Film Collection

The Bonham Centre’s Sexual Representation Collection presents
Complex Pleasures: Selections from the Erotic Film Collection
August 11 – September 30, 2022
5th floor
Claude T. Bissell Building
140 St. George Street, Toronto
Building hours: Monday – Friday, 8:30 am – 6:30 pm

From the exhibition organizers:

The exhibit features selections from one of Canada’s largest peepshow and erotic film collections, spanning the entire pre-home video era, now available for research at the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. Donated by media archivist Albert Steg and the George Eastman Museum, The Erotic Film Collection consists of a diverse range of hardcore and softcore pornographic film and ephemera, including 1,824 8mm films, 863 16mm films, 203 super8 reels, 302 paper pamphlets, 20 books, 7 card decks, 1 box of peepshow stills, and 1 box of assorted correspondence.

Highlights from the collection include two prints of El satario, the world’s oldest extant pornographic film, silent era stag films, pre-war hardcore films, coin-op peepshow films, and films from Latin America, East and Southeast Asia, the United States, and Canada. The collection includes examples of the major modes of pornographic film production, exhibition, and distribution of the era, including peepshow films, (originally) illicit stag films, feature-length films shown at grindhouses, and mass-produced, commercially sold 8mm films aimed at the home market. Documenting the transformation of sexual mores throughout the 20th century, the collection charts the entire evolution of the peepshow format from its “softcore” roots to “hardcore” genre. The collection also traces the history of stag film from its professional and semi-professional 35mm origins to amateur and prosumer 16mm formats. The preservation of such a wide range of ephemeral, amateur, and orphan histories enables researchers to better understand the history of film and media, sex work, gender, race, pleasure, sexuality, media consumption, and global sexual commerce.

Administered by the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, an academic unit within the University of Toronto, the Sexual Representation Collection is Canada’s largest collection of sex work history and adult film history. With a particular focus on feminist, queer, trans, and kink sexual cultures, the collection contains tens of thousands of photographs and negatives, thousands of 8mm and 16mm films, thousands of AIDS-era VHS, thousands of magazines, and more than 300 linear feet of personal papers, reports, art, kink objects, and unique ephemera dating from 1907 to the present. Among its many highlights, the SRC contains silent era stag films, pre-war hardcore films, coin-op peepshow films, beefcake photographs, and commercially produced VHS tapes from East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, the United States, and Canada. In addition, it contains the personal papers of journalists, activists, sex workers, adult film producers, adult film studio executives, and sex shop owners related to the global history of sex work and the legal regulation of obscenity in Canada. Learn more and discover our finding aids:

Curated by Faculty of Information doctoral students  and KMDI community members Camille Intson and Maggie Macdonald.

Supported by University of Toronto Libraries, Knowledge Media Design Institute, SSHRC-CRSH, and Cinema Studies Institute