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Showing a leg

There is nothing new about fetishism on film, explains archivist Jenny Hammerton

Are you familiar with Leg Sex? You can find it on the top shelf, usually next to Leg Tease. I bought a copy (for research purposes you understand) and was amused to find myself the recipient of a dirty look from the newsagent. I'm not sure how many women buy porn mags in this part of leafy Buckinghamshire.

Leg Sex has tits and bums on show as per other top-shelf titles, but it focuses (as you might expect) on the pins and feet of lovely ladies. Endless variations on pussy in pantyhose and toe-sucking antics fill the pages and some of the contortions have to be seen to be believed. Particularly impressive this month is Lauren's ability to smoke a cigarette which is held between her piggies.

The fetishisation of a particular part of the body is nothing new. Sigmund Freud and Krafft-Ebing knew all about it and Havelock Ellis published a thorough investigation of foot fetishism in 1922. I became interested in the subject when I realised that the early film collection I was working on was infused with an obsessive attention to women's legs, ankles and feet. Shown in cinemas all over Britain in the 1920s and early 1930s, Eve's Film Review was a weekly cinemagazine which formed part of the supporting programme offered alongside the main feature. The films were supposedly made for the women in the audience, the subject matter was mostly fashion and beauty and over one thousand of the films survive in the British Pathe vaults. They are real eye-openers.

The men that made these films knew full well that their counterparts in the audience would enjoy the films as much as, if not more than, the women they were ostensibly created for. 'Incidentally', said Frederick Watts, driving force behind the cinemagazine, in 1928, 'we know Adam has more than a sneaking regard for Eve's tantalising subjects that pass all too swiftly across the screen'. Tantalising is an appropriate word - there is a great deal to tantalise in these films, especially for viewers of the same disposition as readers of Leg Sex.

The Eve's Film Review cameramen used any excuse to focus on a shapely calf. Shoes, boots, gaiters, ankle tattoos, embroidered hosiery, garters and button-up rubber stocking protectors all feature strongly in these films. The latest in foot and legwear is modelled by sexy, flirtatious women who smile at the camera. They acknowledge the voyeuristic spectator as they daintily unzip their boots and fold back the flaps to display the lining, or lift their skirts a fraction higher to show off their fur garters. It is early porn.

Of course, from almost the moment moving pictures hit the screen the medium was being exploited for the purposes of showing women in various states of undress. But the difference between the Stag Film (shown at private men's clubs) and Eve's Film Review is that the latter was shown weekly at a cinema near you. All your average leg fetishist had to do was buy a ticket for the latest Rudolph Valentino or Clara Bow movie, and as an added bonus there was a skin flick for free. Imagine the illicit pleasure, sitting in the dark with pair after pair of luscious legs parading past in glorious black and white, and no need to get embarrassed at the newsagents.

The British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) was established in 1913 and originally only had two rules - no nudity and no depictions of the figure of Christ. By 1917 the president of the Board had outlined 43 banned subjects. These included prostitution and extramarital sex, sexual perversion, incest, seduction, venereal disease, orgies, swearing, abortion, and brothels. By the 1920s scripts submitted to the BBFC had scenes cut if they were set in a woman's bedroom or bathroom. Shots of women in 'alluring attitudes' were to be kept to an absolute minimum and the 'provocative and sensual exposure of a girl's legs' was frowned upon.

Luckily for us, Eve's Film Review was not subject to the censorship inflicted on feature films of the same period because it was classed as 'news film'. Thus audiences could sit and watch three minutes of women crossing and uncrossing their legs in an extremely sexy fashion for no other reason than that it looked nice (oh, and of course because they wanted to see the latest shoes). Unfortunately, as censorship tightened its grip in the early 1930s, the sensuousness and eroticism found in these short films gradually disappeared from British screens.

Production of Eve's Film Review ceased in 1933 and the films have been 'resting their legs' in their vaults ever since. They are currently being given a new lease of life with screenings around the country. The films look quaint to modern eyes. The girls are coy and their poses fairly chaste with a hint of naughtiness, but they aren't really too far from Leg Sex in method and intention. There have always been leg fetishists and there always will be.

For those whose particular peccadillo is the legs of women who were alive in the 1920s, I'm glad to say that the films are being preserved and well cared for in the Pathe vaults for the benefit of future generations of leg fanciers. If you are interested in seeing examples of these films (for research purposes of course) please contact me at pathepinewood@enterprise.net

'Peaches on the beaches', Eve's Film Review, circa 1923

Reproduced from LM issue 120, May 1999

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