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Bernard Natan - Father of Vintage Gay Porn

By Eliot Rifkin

By Eliot Rifkin

Ever wondered how long porn films have really been around or who made the first porn films? 

Nowadays, with the internet they’re pervasive. Well, for decades sexual depiction in films remained underground because of obscenity laws, and gay films were evidence of violations under sodomy laws; purchasing or possessing it was a criminal offence punishable by jail.  Well guess what, in spite of that, homo-eroticism has been present in the film industry since its inception. It’s nothing new, it's just more readily available.

In fact, one of the first commercially shown films was 'The Kiss' (1896) in Canada! Although, it's not porn or gay, this film short caused a fuming uproar calling for police action.  Here’s the link, judge for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q690-IexNB4

However, the first known pornographic film of any kind appears to have been made in Europe. ‘Films de Bordel’ (stag films) were legally shown in French brothels. And the earliest known film to depict hardcore gay (and bisexual) sex was ‘Le Menage Moderne Du Madame Butterfly’ (1920).  At this point, I’d like to introduce the actor and producer and French film industry pioneer – Mr. Bernard Natan. 

Natan produced nearly all French pornographic films from this period both bisexual and gay. Back in the 20s, the mutually exclusive categories of hetero and gay were not distinct. So, the first “gay” porn movie was actually a “Bi” porn movie that revolved around bisexual and homosexual oral and anal intercourse, beginning the new wave of vintage gay porn. Natan is also known for having introduced masochism into French pornographic film.

Before Natan went on to establish his own studio, Rapid Film, where he made his mark as a producer, writer, director and actor.  It is disputed that he may have engaged in sex scenes on screen in as many as 20 films, notably ‘Le Menage Moderne Du Madame Butterfly’. 

Remember, this was 1920 France, not a 2012 Falcon video with 3 muscle hunks yelling ‘Do it’.  However, this Madame Butterfly’s plot is still smutty. This silent film is based on the opera Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini and is an introduction of gay sex to straight (and curious) men. It was of the highest production value available at that time (lavish and exquisite) and of historical significance today. Unlike many porno flicks today, check out the lengthy and complex plot of this flick:

"Lt. Pinkerton" a beefy muscular American sailor is on leave in Japan and marries the young "Madame Butterfly. Then has wild sex with her while Butterfly's maid, watches and masturbates. 

Pinkerton then abandons Butterfly. A new character, "the servant boy" (Bernard Natan), spies on Butterfly and her maid engaging in lesbian sex. So, he masturbates while watching them.

Pinkerton returns, and has oral and anal homosexual sex with the "servant boy", Natan's character. Pinkerton then engages in oral, anal and vaginal sex with the maid. 

Later, "Mr. Sharpless" meets with Butterfly and performs various sex acts with her. Afterwards, he tells Butterfly that Pinkerton is actually married to an American woman.

Then Pinkerton, the maid and the "servant boy" enter. An angry Butterfly accuses Pinkerton, but cannot resist his charms. So, all five individuals break into an orgy. The "servant boy" engages in receptive anal intercourse with Pinkerton and Sharpless while performing cunnilingus on the women. While having vaginal and anal sex with the women, the "servant boy" also gives Pinkerton and Sharpless blowjobs.

Pretty out there for 1920. All three of the men in the film engage in homosexual acts with Bernard Nathan as the power bottom. Bernard Nathan clearly has adult masculine features, so the men having sex with him can’t use the excuse that he was a substitute for a woman. 

Having more men in the film than women is odd for bisexual films. Even though the film's plot is a convenient excuse to show it in mostly straight brothels, the two male rivals end up having sex with the servant boy (Bernard Nathan). 

The final sex scene is very revolutionary. It shows gay anal sex as being just as sexually satisfying even when vaginal sex is readily available. 

A few years later after his adult film career, Bernard Natan, astonishingly, went legit, moving into mainstream cinema. His ‘Rapid Film’ company eventually grew into a major film producer and distributor.  So, in late February 1929, Bernard Natan acquired Pathé, (the then largest French motion picture company), and merged it with his own studio, renaming the new company Pathé-Natan. 

 Even though Natan had the bad luck to take charge of the studio just as French economy convulsed during the Great 1929 Depression, The new company performed well under his guidance. He pushed Pathé into the sound film era. Between 1930 and 1935, his company still made profits, and matched major American studios at the time in production. He also funded the research on the anamorphic camera lens, the technology that later led to CinemaScope and widescreen in common use today. As well as resurrecting Pathé News newsreels, 

Unfortunately the depression deepened, and tragedy befell, Natan.  Pathé began to lose more money than it could bring in, collapsing in 1935; Natan was then convicted of fraud. Additionally, there was evidence he may have paid bribes for many years to co-workers and journalists to conceal his pornographic past.  Natan was imprisoned in 1939. 

 But unbelievably, worse was to come... Although given a short prison sentence, the Nazis just conquered France. 

 The prison authorities released Natan ? directly into the hands of the occupying Nazis, who shipped him to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he perished.  Talk about having bad days!

 Astonishingly, there’s MORE. After the Second World War, Natan’s trial record was looked at more closely, and investigators concluded that there was no real evidence against him in the first place. He was innocent of fraud and shouldn’t have been convicted.

Besides, Natan being one of the first, and certainly the most prominent, filmmaker to include bisexuality and homosexuality in his films, he can’t be under-estimated. He laid the foundation for the modern film industry in France and helped revolutionize film technology around the world. 

 

 

 

Comments

Bertrand Natan

Where is the evidence for your sweeping statements abot M Natan's role in French pornographic film? He is certainly not the actor you refer to because one has ear lobes and the other does not. Please seek out "Natan", a film screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival for an evidence based assessment. It should also be pointed out that Prof Slade who is one of the prime movers in this fiction never went to France to check out his facts. Anti-semitism was rife in the late 30s in France. 

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