YouTube channel Cinema History has posted the 1897 George Méliès film Après le bal, “FULL & UNCENSORED”, billing it as the “first adult movie”.
As you probably expected, it’s quite tame by “adult movie” standards of any later era. (The fact that the full, uncensored film can be uploaded to YouTube should have been a dead giveaway.)
Nonetheless, “adult movie” is a reasonable label. The main appeal of the film is titillation from watching the woman (played by Jeanne d’Alcy, who married Méliès thirty years later) undress and bathe. Films were mainly shown in vaudeville theatres at this time, as one “act” on the bill. Many vaudeville revues would have featured equally risqué live acts.
Cinema History’s blurb says the woman “takes a bath naked”, but she’s clearly wearing a flesh-colored leotard. And the water poured by her maid is clearly sand of some sort. Méliès was an early master of optical illusions and “special effects”, and these might be seen as low-tech, not particularly effective examples of that visual trickery.
So was Après le bal really the “first adult movie”? Identifying the “first” of anything is tricky for historians. It requires some consensus on (1) what exactly constitutes an “adult movie”, (2) whether Après le bal fits that definition, and (3) whether there are no earlier films that fit that definition.
What about The Kiss, filmed and released the previous year by Edison Studio? There’s less flesh on display, but it does depict an actual sex act of sorts, and it scandalized many at the time.
Many of Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies in the 1880s featured full-frontal nudity, both female …
… and male …
… which certainly had an erotic quality.
Muybridge made a lot of these nude male Greco-Roman wrestling motion studies. Also nude baseball, nude tennis, nude fencing and so on. Someone really should animate and post more of them. Maybe I should stop kvetching and learn how to do it myself.
Cropped detail from plate 347; see full plate at Wikimedia.