The Bootleg Files: El Sartorio

BOOTLEG FILES 706: “El Sartorio” (1907 Argentine porn film).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: I have no idea – maybe in an anthology of old smut flicks.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The underground nature of early 20th century porn resulted in endless bootlegging.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not as a standalone, and probably not in a documentary on Argentine cinema.

The most widely seen film produced in Argentina was not one of Leopoldo Torre-Nilson’s political dramas or the Oscar-winning gems “The Official Story” and “The Secret in Their Eyes.” Instead, it is a smutty silent short of a mysterious origin that has gained contemporary notability for being among the oldest surviving examples of pornographic cinema.

Porn films can be traced back to the beginning of the motion picture industry. These short flicks full of clothing-free people were presented in clandestine screenings in private clubs, brothels, and other colorful nontheatrical venues.

The first film made in Argentina was 1896’s “Vistas de Palermo” made by the German-born Fred Figner. The overwhelming majority of films made in Argentina during the silent film era are considered lost, most notably Quirino Cristiani’s 1917 “El Apóstol,” the world’s first feature-length animated production. Among the few surviving works of this period is “El Sartorio,” a four-and-a-half-minute work that film historians trace to 1907. No information is available on the film’s creators or cast, although some sources put its creation in the Argentine city of Rosario.

So, how did one of the earliest works of pornography wind up being produced in Argentina? According to journalist and film historian Paco Gisbert, Argentina became a pioneering epicenter of pornographic film production after French censorship laws passed in 1905 made the creation of such works difficult in that country. French pornographers arrived in Argentina to churn out their erotic movies, which would be shipped overseas for audiences that wanted something a bit more arousing than “The Great Train Robbery.”

“El Sartorio” opens in a forest clearing where six naked women are enjoying a picnic. After consuming their meal, they begin to frolic about and form a dance circle. Everything seems copacetic until a hideous being comes lurking down a hill. He has horns, an oversized beak nose and wild white hair and whiskers. The women spot him and become terrified – can you blame them? – while he becomes aroused over the sexy sextet. The intertitle on the surviving American print of the film has the women proclaiming “It’s the Devil!” – but one could assume the intruder might have been an oversexed satyr, hence the wobbly title which might have originally been “El Sátiro” before getting mangled in translation.

In any event, the horned one chases the women and captures one who collapses during the pursuit. He carries her to an isolated spot and disrobes. She awakens to find her captor is beginning to sexually overpower her. However, she doesn’t see this as such a bad thing. In fact, she begins to perform oral sex, and the couple engage in a variety of sexual positions and activities. This goes on for roughly two minutes before the other women return to rescue their comrade and chase the now-naked intruder back into the woods.

The unknown director of “El Sartorio” clearly understood how to shoot a film. For a production that is dated to 1907, it has a surprisingly large number of shots, including close-ups of the sex acts that are edited into an effective montage. The quality of the filmmaking has led some film historians to speculate that “El Sartorio” could have been made much later than 1907 and by someone with genuine talent. Joseph Slade, a former professor at Ohio University, once noted there was a theory that “El Sartorio” was shot in Mexico by Sergei Eisenstein when he was created his ill-fated “Que Viva Mexico.”

It is not likely that “El Sartorio” was the first film to feature graphic sex, but it is the earliest film with that content that has come down through the years in an extant state. Alas, it is not in a pristine state – films of this genre were routinely bootlegged, and the version that exists today looks like it a fifth-generation dupe. The full copy can be found on YouTube with a modern score by David Heiss fastened to its slightly blurry images.

“El Sartorio” is a silly bit of X-rated fun that offers a cartoonish carnal footnote in the development of Latin American films. And if this is what survives from the dawn of the blue movies, one can only rue over the now-lost other pieces of early 20th century salacious entertainment were made.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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