Gabriel Axel is a great director (BABETTE’S FEAST his masterpiece and HAGBARD AND SIGNE also of high quality) who I was fortunate enough to interview for Variety newspaper back in the day. I was always curious about his porno films, and SEX AND THE LAW gives us some insight into his playful approach.
Purporting to be a documentary, with a winsome femme narrator guiding us through the oddities and hypocrisies of Danish obscenity laws which supposedly got her in trouble personally, it’s a light-hearted mockumentary that’s hopelessly dated. By the time it was released in America in 1970 it was already dated, as Danish laws had freed up what was permissible and XXX explicitness (unlike the timid and even censored footage shown here) was all the rage in U.S. adult cinemas.
Nearly all in black & white (there is a very brief and pointless color interlude at the very end of the feature), SEX AND THE LAW is remarkably similar to Alex De Renzy’s breakthrough hit PORNOGRAPHY IN DENMARK. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex had seen the earlier Danish film and gotten inspiration.
Both films feature lame “man on the street” (and woman) interviews asking a cross section of Danes what they think of porn. We visit dirty book shops for very fake sequences that mock the customers, always purchasing magazines or books “for a friend”. The narrator tells of her own misadventures, working in porn and even being some sort of guidance counselor (!), which landed her in court. A sex fair in Denmark (led by the Doctors Kronhausen) is covered, just like Alex did.
The niceties of what can be shown and what can’t is of obvious historical interest, re: late ’60s standards in both Denmark and the U.S., and Axel keeps pounding away at the age-old double standard: it’s OK if it’s art (lithographs of Victorian porn and older) including the statuary and woodcuts of India, Japan, etc., but a no-no if just photos exploiting sex. By the time De Renzy treated the subject, hardcore was fine & dandy in the marketplace, but not here.
Axel is tasteful, perhaps overly so in retrospect, showing some simulated sex only in distant silhouetted fashion -very tame. By today’s standards the film’s content would be R-rated. Like De Renzy, he shows us in detail a porn shoot, in this case couples posed for still photography, including a rough s&m session. The narrator emphasizes that s&m is illegal in Denmark, but makes a convincing case for its existence, on libertarian grounds. Similarly, voyeurism is defended in a lengthy “peeping Tom” sequence, natch given the target audience!
For me the treat was Axel casting consistently impressive big-boobs actresses in the demo & cheesecake roles, a turn-on even though the footage is pretty tame. There is full frontal nudity briefly on display of both sexes but compared to other docs, Axel’s film is a class act.