Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

The Saturn Film Production Company (1906-1910): From Austrian Film History to European Cultural Heritage

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

The Saturn Film Production Company (1906-1910): From Austrian Film History to European Cultural Heritage

Article excerpt

Historical Column

An examination of the media history of erotic films and pornography reveals interesting trends in the world of film. Since the era of silent film, pornographic films have not only produced genuine successful titles, but have also imitated the concepts, logics, and narratives of wellknown mainstream films. These kinds of imitations play out as a form of interrelationship which in turn affects so-called "adult remakes". This effect would also be true for the films of the Austrian production company Saturn Rim, which were linked to some extent to similar French productions of that period. All the preserved titles of the Saturn film company have recently been restored and released on DVD with an accompanying book by Filmarchiv Austria. The whole collection will also be made availabe through the online portal EFG - The European Film Gateway (www. and the umbrella portal EUROPEANA (www.

Saturn: A Historic Example

Between 1906 and 1910, Saturn, a Vienna-based company, produced a number of erotic films, which were the first fiction films produced in a continuous manner in the Habsburg Empire. Saturn produced films with erotic content only - and that was how it advertised itself in different trade publications, publicizing its films in a printed catalogue, very similar to the French Pathé productions, which Saturn sometimes remade in an adult manner.

Shows of an erotic and pornographic nature were already popular in shadow theatres, magic lantern shows, and peepshows, and later in panoramas and mechanical and animated panóptica. There is proof that in the so-called "pre-cinema" era there were numerous images, sketches, and photographs of an erotic and pornographic nature. Travelling cinemas took advantage of the audience's interest in these specific spectacles. Entrepreneurs were in a way torn between concealing the existence of their shows and advertising them; so they set about dealing with this matter in a lateral manner, rather than openly publishing the programme of their evening shows. What is certain is that these shows generated a lot of money for their organizers. In Italy, for instance, screenings of this nature were known as "serate nere" ("black evenings"); in Austria and Germany they were known as "Herrenabende" ("evenings for gentlemen" - although, as recent research proves, a high percentage of the audience was female).

Screenings like this had already started in Austria by 1897. Mr. Josef Stiller, an owner of a cinema in the Viennese Prater, was one of the most important people to establish this kind of programme. Stiller was also partly responsible for coining the term "Herrenabende". He obtained three films by the French surgeon Eugène-Louis Doyen, who documented his surgical operations for educational purposes. These films, also containing the depiction of nude female corpses were banned in 1903 by the police of the German Empire - and, based on this decision, also banned in the Habsburg Empire. But Stiller still wanted to screen these films, and after a number of attempts he was granted permission to show them - on condition that the words "Nur für Herren" ("For Gentlemen Only") were stamped on the advertising posters. This rather dubious recreational disregard for erotic or pornographic subject matter implies that on one hand the "Herrenabende" arose in part out of scientific purposes, sanctioned by the police - on the other hand, this re-established a connection between medicine and pornography via the female body, something that could already be found in early modern times and in the anatomical theatres of the period.

In Vienna, these shows and films were all the rage; movie houses were very keen on this subject, and it was not uncommon to find advertisements requesting films for so-called "special events" and the already-mentioned "Herrenabende". Around 1907, according to the local trade press, many more cinemas were running regular adult evenings. …

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