Herb Shellenberger

Radical Sex Education Films from San Francisco's Multi-Media Resource Center
August 12, 2014
Light Industry
Brooklyn, NY, US

In 1968, at the height of the Sexual Revolution, members of an ecumenical youth group in San Francisco founded the National Sex Forum, originally based at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. Its mission was to educate the public on matters of human sexuality, using 16mm films as a central part of its ministry. To this end, the NSF worked under a variety of monikers and programs over the years, including the Sexual Attitude Restructuring series, the National Sex and Drug Forum, the Exodus Trust, Multi-Focus, Inc., and the Multi-Media Resource Center, which served as the distribution arm of the organization.

But films distributed by the Multi-Media Resource Center weren’t merely the clinical documentaries typically associated with sex education. Their catalog included many titles that took a much more radical approach to composition: psychedelic sex-trips, erotic cartoons, feminist counter-cinema. Works by experimental filmmakers like Scott Bartlett, James Broughton, Barbara Hammer, Gunvor Nelson, and Michael Wallin were featured, as were numerous young artists and inventive amateurs.

“The NSF is producing an ever-growing number of films and videotapes in the areas of human sexuality used by over eight thousand colleges, universities, social service agencies, churches, and state and federal institutions,” Amos Vogel observed in 1982. “To the repressed (and therefore censorious), the NSF catalogue must appear as provocative (and, of course, a source of illicit pleasure). Its range is astonishing and explicit; the NSF filmmakers include well-known independents and even avant-garde artists.”

Tonight, curator Herb Shellenberger presents a selection of formally adventurous works originally distributed by the NSF during its Aquarian-Age years, such as Near the Big Chakra, Anne Severson’s seldom-screened classic of women’s cinema. “Rarely are experimental films ascribed any sort of utilitarian function,” Shellenberger has noted, “so the act of reassigning films that at best were only tangentially created with any type of sex education or therapy purpose was a move that required considerable creativity.”

Eyetoon, Jerry Abrams, 1968, US, 16mm, 8'
Unfolding, Constance Beeson, 1969, US, 16mm, 17'
The Now, Constance Beeson, 1972, US, 16mm, 16'
Desire Pie, Lisa Crafts, 1976, US, 16mm, 5'
Near the Big Chakra, Alice Anne Parker (fka Anne Severson), 1972, US, 16mm, 17'