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The Pleasure Principle

From Victorian voyeurism to Soho striptease: how a hidden film industry emerged to satisfy the sexual appetites of (male) viewers.

Sex and cinema have been bawdy bedfellows almost since the first flickering frames hit a screen. As early as 1896, saucy shorts were already being cranked out to titillate voyeuristic - and invariably male - Victorian viewers. Time and tastes have moved on, and taboos have been swept away, but sex remained a constant preoccupation, and filmmakers continued to explore, enact and exploit our deepest, darkest desires - often attracting the attention of the censor in the process.

This highly-combustible collection revisits and contextualises these sometimes scandalous, oft-disreputable films, incorporating 'mondo'-style exposés of Soho striptease, voyeuristic studies of British nudists and tragic tales of good girls gone bad - and much more besides.

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The Pleasure Principle

RECOMMENDED

View A Victorian Lady in Her Boudoir
A Victorian Lady in Her Boudoir
Watch for free 1 mins

A Victorian Lady in Her Boudoir 1896 Not Rated

A treat for Victorian voyeurs - and Britain's oldest erotic film?

1 mins United Kingdom

View Dream Doll
Dream Doll
Watch for free 13 mins

Dream Doll 1979 Not Rated

A relationship liable to blow up at any moment is at the heart of this animated short about a man and an inflatable sex doll

13 mins United Kingdom Director. Zlatko Grgic, Bob Godfrey

View Moment
Moment
Watch for free 13 mins

Moment 1969 Not Rated

An intimate, unusual encounter with the progressive narrative of orgasm.

13 mins United Kingdom Director. Stephen Dwoskin

View Action in Slow Motion
Action in Slow Motion
Watch for free 2 mins

Action in Slow Motion 1943

A naked woman cavorts innocently at the seaside in this 1940s nudist film, strictly for artists and students only

2 mins United Kingdom

View The Showman
The Showman
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The Showman 1970

Astonishing 1970s striptease knife-throwing act with the last of the Wild West showmen, Wally Shufflebottom Snr

28 mins United Kingdom Director. Christian Marnham

View Beauty in Brief
Beauty in Brief
Watch for free 4 mins

Beauty in Brief 1955 Not Rated

A young bride-to-be models a modish nylon nightie before a voyeuristic camera in this silent 1950s striptease film.

4 mins United Kingdom

BROWSE THE COLLECTION

View Xcitement!
Xcitement!
Watch for free 6 mins

Xcitement! 1960 Not Rated

Glamour goddess Pamela Green reveals all in a key ‘60s striptease collaboration with George Harrison Marks.

6 mins United Kingdom Director. George Harrison Marks

View Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom
HD

Peeping Tom 1960 15

Michael Powell’s dark, disturbing, once controversial tale of a shy camera technician who films women as he kills them is now rightly deemed a classic

101 mins United Kingdom Director. Michael Powell

View The Grecian Princess and the Slave Girl
The Grecian Princess and the Slave Girl
Watch for free 3 mins

The Grecian Princess and the Slave Girl 1972

Erotica doesn't get much lower budget than this musty 8mm reel made for the home movie market

3 mins United Kingdom

View Strip! Strip! Hooray!!! Or (Fun with the Sunbathers)
Strip! Strip! Hooray!!! Or (Fun with the Sunbathers)
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Strip! Strip! Hooray!!! Or (Fun with the Sunbathers) 1932 Not Rated

Stuffed-shirt party pooper Sir Hector infiltrates a sunbathing camp full of scantily clad jazz-swingers in this 1930s comedy

36 mins United Kingdom Director. Norman Lee

View Soho Striptease Clubs
Soho Striptease Clubs
Watch from £0.85 7 mins

Soho Striptease Clubs 1958

Intrepid investigative journalist Daniel Farson ventures deep into the heart of Soho to explore the hidden world of afternoon Striptease Clubs.

7 mins United Kingdom Director. John Rhodes

View Exeter School of Striptease
Exeter School of Striptease
Watch for free 5 mins

Exeter School of Striptease 1970 Not Rated

Teaching exotic dance moves has a reporter going with the flow.

5 mins United Kingdom

View Vampire
Vampire
Watch for free 8 mins

Vampire 1964 Not Rated

Soho 'glamour' filmmaker George Harrison Marks plays girl-hungry vampire Count Dracula III in this strange striptease short

8 mins United Kingdom

View Burlesque Queen
Burlesque Queen
Watch for free 5 mins

Burlesque Queen 1961 Not Rated

Tassel-spinning showgirl Tina stars in this rare 60s British burlesque stage show reel.

5 mins United Kingdom

View Off the Shoulder
Off the Shoulder
Watch for free 3 mins

Off the Shoulder 1951 Not Rated

Odd 1950s short film which simply celebrates the contours of the female upper torso

3 mins United Kingdom

View Pleasure Pill
Pleasure Pill
Watch for free 3 mins

Pleasure Pill 2002 12

In this 3 minute drama, Kath, played by Sharon Morgan, discovers the drug-enhanced delights of leeks and lamp posts.

3 mins Wales Director. Helen Grace

View Fiona Richmond at her Pleasure
Fiona Richmond at her Pleasure
Watch for free 9 mins

Fiona Richmond at her Pleasure 1970 Not Rated

Fiona Richmond is interviewed about her Men Only column and attitudes towards sex.

9 mins United Kingdom

View Dear Margery Boobs
Dear Margery Boobs
Watch for free 5 mins

Dear Margery Boobs 1977

Agony Aunt finds her romantic match in a man with increasingly complicated sex fantasies.

5 mins United Kingdom Director. Bob Godfrey

View Talent Contest (Fun Palace outtakes)
Talent Contest (Fun Palace outtakes)
Watch for free 9 mins

Talent Contest (Fun Palace outtakes) 1963

A compelling glimpse inside an unnamed East End pub in 1963 where a talent show takes place featuring singers and strippers.

9 mins United Kingdom

View Secret Rites
Secret Rites
Watch from £0.85

Secret Rites 1971 18

'King of the Witches' Alex Sanders initiates doe-eyed Penny into the ways of his coven.

47 mins United Kingdom Director. Derek Ford

View Primitive London
Primitive London
Watch from £2.98
HD

Primitive London 1965 15

Arnold Louis Miller's follow-up to London in the Raw lifts the lid on society’s decay with its sideshow spectacle of 60s London depravity.

76 mins United Kingdom Director. Arnold Louis Miller

View London in the Raw
London in the Raw
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HD

London in the Raw 1964 15

Low-budget movie mogul Arnold Louis Miller concocted this exploitation-style documentary which peers behind the grimy net curtains of British life.

47 mins United Kingdom Director. Arnold Louis Miller

View Over Exposed
Over Exposed
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Over Exposed 1977 18

Aye aye, Captain! Sex comedy hijinks on the Thames near Twickenham in this forgotten saga of a switched-on snapper

38 mins United Kingdom Director. David Grant, Dennis London

View Permissive
Permissive
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HD

Permissive 1970 18

When Suzy arrives in London to visit an old school friend, she is unwittingly plunged into the ruthless world of the ‘groupie’.

89 mins United Kingdom Director. Lindsay Shonteff

View Her Private Hell
Her Private Hell
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HD

Her Private Hell 1967 15

The cautionary tale of an innocent girl abroad who gets caught up in the sleazy world of modelling.

84 mins United Kingdom Director. Norman J. Warren

View That Kind of Girl
That Kind of Girl
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HD

That Kind of Girl 1963 12

A cautionary tale about VD and the dangers of free-love set against a backdrop of smoky jazz clubs and evocative London locations.

77 mins United Kingdom Director. Gerry O'Hara

View Union Street on a Saturday Night
Union Street on a Saturday Night
Watch for free 4 mins

Union Street on a Saturday Night 1966 Not Rated

Punters gather for a night out on Plymouth’s famed Union Street.

4 mins United Kingdom

View The Big Switch (Strip Poker)
The Big Switch (Strip Poker)
Watch from £2.98
HD

The Big Switch (Strip Poker) 1968 15

Tough gangster film directed by British exploitation stalwart Pete Walker in which a man-about-town is implicated in the murder of a blonde

68 mins United Kingdom Director. Pete Walker

View The Irresponsibles
The Irresponsibles
Watch for free

The Irresponsibles 1929

This striking female-focused silent drama muses on the long-term perils of sexually transmitted diseases

39 mins United Kingdom Director. Mary Field

View Once Upon a Sunday
Once Upon a Sunday
Watch for free 9 mins

Once Upon a Sunday 1968 Not Rated

The disappointment of youthful love, as the gritty realism of the early 1960s stands in stark contrast with the fantasies of the later 1960s.

9 mins England

View Merry Moments in France
Merry Moments in France
Watch for free 3 mins

Merry Moments in France 1907

Lively Gallic goings on in an early film sound experiment

3 mins United Kingdom

View True Romance, Etc.
True Romance, Etc.
Watch for free

True Romance, Etc. 1982

Hackney teenagers - black, white, gay and straight - talk sex, love and marriage in this compelling drama-documentary.

34 mins United Kingdom

View Nude Woman by Waterfall
Nude Woman by Waterfall
Watch for free

Nude Woman by Waterfall 1920

A model poses in and out of her diaphanous shift in this risqué experiment from British cinema pioneer Claude Friese-Greene

35 mins United Kingdom

View The Uncharted Sea
The Uncharted Sea
Watch for free

The Uncharted Sea 1928

This silent 1920s public information film warns of the dire consequences that will arise from visiting prostitutes

39 mins United Kingdom

View Passport to Shame
Passport to Shame
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HD

Passport to Shame 1958 18

Diana Dors plays a sex worker with Herbert Lom as her sleazy pimp in this fierce and fiery thriller of 1950s prostitution on the London streets.

95 mins United Kingdom Director. Alvin Rakoff

PART OF BFI PLAYER+ SUBSCRIPTION

View Rosebud
Rosebud

Rosebud 1991 15

A lesbian couple arouse the interest of their new neighbour in this erotic tale of voyeurism, power dressing and fantasy.

13 mins United Kingdom Director. Cheryl Farthing

View Prostitute
Prostitute

Prostitute 1980 18

Explicit and controversial drama. An ambitious working girl moves to London hoping to securing wealthier patrons, while her social worker friend fights to change antiquated prostitution laws.

United Kingdom Director. Tony Garnett

View Anatomy of a Pin-up
Anatomy of a Pin-up

Anatomy of a Pin-up 1971 15

This documentary explores attitudes to nude modelling in Britain - models, photographers and members of the public express their opinions.

31 mins United Kingdom Director. David Cohen

View Carousella
Carousella

Carousella 1965 15

A controversial, well-made documentary that follows the lives of three young striptease artistes working in Soho.

28 mins United Kingdom Director. John Irvin

View Strip
Strip

Strip 1966 15

Documentary about the lives of the women who work at a striptease club called The Phoenix on Old Compton Street, in the heart of Soho in the swinging sixties.

25 mins United Kingdom Director. Don Defina, Peter Davis, Staffan Lamm

View Central Bazaar
Central Bazaar

Central Bazaar 1976 18

Five strangers explore their fantasies over a period of five days in Stephen Dwoskin's remarkable experimental film.

156 mins United Kingdom Director. Stephen Dwoskin

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