A large peepshow and erotic film collection – including rare surviving versions of El satario, one of the world’s earliest pornographic films – is now accessible through the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto.
While the collection itself is not available for viewing online, information about its content can be searched on the Bonham Centre’s website through an archival finding aid and people can then request to see the materials in a private viewing room.
“We see this as scholarly material and historical artefacts. I’m really excited about this and hope that scholars will come and use it,” says Patrick Keilty, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information and Archives Director of the Sexual Representation Collection. What makes this new collection especially notable, he says, is the amount of rare material from the early decades of the 20th century.
El satario is the most prominent example. The tale of a satyr who has sex with nymphs, it is widely believed to have been produced in Argentina between 1907 and 1912. To celebrate the arrival in Toronto of two new and different prints of the film, a panel discussion was held in May 2021. Keilty moderated while three scholars of early Latin American cinema and visual culture examined the film’s social, cultural, and technical context, and the mysterious circumstances of its production, circulation, and reception.
While almost none of the erotic film collection has been digitized, due to prohibitively high costs, El satario was an exception and was digitized right away because of its historical importance. The bulk of the collection, which was donated by media archivist Albert Steg and the George Eastman Museum, is located at the University of Toronto Libraries’ facilities at Downsview which has the environmentally controlled storage necessary to house fragile films and other content.
Although the University hasn’t always supported collecting erotica and adult media, Keilty says attitudes have shifted over the years as they have at other universities. But he adds, “what universities collect depends on a variety of factors at different times.”
Over the years, there have also been restrictions on how the Bonham Centre’s collections must be handled, including strict rules for transporting material from one location to another and committees ruling on who had valid scholarly reasons to view the collections . “Part of the paradox of pornography is that it’s both ubiquitous and something about which we have to take enormous precautions,” says Keilty. “It’s both central to society and on the margins of society.”
Most of the criticism Keilty now attracts comes from outside the academy, on social media. The main difficulty he faces is raising the funds to process collections, which he has so far done by getting grants that allow for the hiring of student assistants and cover other expenses.The recently completed collection took a year to process and comprises:
- 1,824 8mm films
- 863 16mm films
- 203 super8 reels
- 302 paper pamphlets
- 20 books
- 7 card decks
- 1 box of peepshow stills
- 1 box of assorted correspondence.