The establishment of obscenity laws and censorship boards and the development of self-regulation within various film industries worked to circumscribe how much and what types of sexuality could be depicted in pictures produced for general entertainment. These attempts at regulation, though, also led to new types of marginalized filmmaking in various countries that dealt more explicitly with sex than was considered acceptable. The growth of an experimental cinema across Europe and the United States created a space for espousers of modernism and "bohemian" lifestyles (including feminism, free love, and homosexuality) to express themselves in films. French director Germaine Dulac's La souriante Madame Beudet ( The Smiling Madame Beudet , 1922) depicted a woman's lack of sexual fulfillment in a conventional middle-class heterosexual marriage. Un chien andalou ( An Andalusian Dog , 1929, France), by Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel, presented a Surrealist portrayal of the anarchic energy generated by passionate, unruly desires. Various queer artists also used avant-garde cinema to express themselves, such as James Sibley Watson (1894–1982) and Melville Webber (1871–1947) in Lot in Sodom (1933, US), Kenneth Anger (b. 1927) in Fireworks (1947, US), and Jean Genet (1910–1986) in Un chant d'amour ( A Song of Love , 1950, France).

"Stag" films were even more explicit in showing sexual intercourse. These early versions of film pornography consciously broke obscenity laws and hence were often distributed and shown surreptitiously. Working just barely within the boundaries of obscenity laws was a mode of production known as exploitation filmmaking. Made by filmmakers outside the major studios, exploitation films sold themselves by specifically discussing those topics forbidden by the Code, such as homosexuality ( Children of Loneliness , 1934), venereal disease ( Damaged Goods , 1937), interracial sex ( Race Suicide , 1937) and unwed pregnancy ( Mom and Dad , 1945). In the 1930s and 1940s, exploitation films raised these topics, but in order to warn against them in favor of heterosexual monogamy. They also usually promised more nudity and sexually explicit scenes than they actually delivered (thus keeping within the law).

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