Pornhub restores, colorizes and posts century-old erotic films

Some are far less chaste than you might expect from porn of yore, and definitely not safe for work.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
3 min read
vintage porn shot

In Surprised by the Guard, from 1930, a woman doing laundry outside gets interrupted by a soldier with more than clean clothes on his mind. 

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

If your idea of good porn involves a randy dandy macking on matrons of the local haberdashery, loosen your bow ties and unfasten your corsets. Things are about to get steamy in the drawing room.   

For its new Remastered project (warning: link leads to NSFW images), adult streaming-video website Pornhub has, with the help of AI, restored and colorized a series of vintage erotic films, some going back more than 100 years, and posted them online. 

"These films show us that human sexuality was alive and well in the early 1900s," Pornhub says.  

It's a fascinating romp through erotic history that's by turns charming, funny, artful and eye-opening. 

The collection of 20 films spans the late 19th century to the 1940s. Some of the earlier offerings are pretty chaste. For example, in The Undressing, from 1896, a Victorian woman dares to show her naked feet. In The Hairdresser, from 1905, a woman styles her tresses, topless, looking like a classical painting come to life. 

But later films are far less restrained than one might expect of ye olde sexy times -- and definitely not safe for (most) work. As early as the 1920s, the films show voyeurism, bondage, spanking and cosplay. There are sex toys, same-sex interludes, threesomes, foursomes and more-somes. 

Long before the sexual revolution, it turns out, porn stars in petticoats engaged in a lot of the familiar erotic endeavors you'd see in adult films film today. "People don't often consider the prevalence of erotic films back then, but they were quite the commodity," Pornhub says. 

woman in vintage porn film

In flagrante delicto, in the last century. 

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Still, the footage is unmistakably vintage, with jumpy cuts and very little narrative structure. These short films, mostly from France, get straight to business. 

In The Horny Haberdashery, from 1921, a male customer is hardly in the door before he drops his neatly pressed trousers to join two female workers engaged in maneuvers that would greatly concern today's HR. 

In Surprised by the Guard, from 1930, a French farm girl is doing laundry outside when a soldier suddenly saunters up through the trees. It's immediately clear he's interested in more than having his coat cleaned. So is the next soldier who shows up to, well, enlist. 

Adult movies date back to the beginning of motion pictures, when porn films were mostly anonymously produced and known as "stags." The earliest surviving porn movie is believed to be 1896 French film Le Coucher de la Mariée. It stars Louise Willy doing a tame striptease for her new husband as he slyly peeks and giggles from behind a dressing divider. Pornhub includes that early film in its Remastered series, renaming it Bedtime for the Bride. 

Almost all stag productions were silent and black and white, even as the film industry adopted sound and color. 

"This stylistic device contributed to the films' explicit allure," explains New York's Museum of Sex, "suggesting the reality of the sex acts being performed, as well as the underground and illicit nature of the pornographic film industry itself." 

Since standard deep-learning models are trained using safe-for-work images, PornHub turned its AI on its library of 100,000 adult videos and images for a lesson in detecting body parts that take top billing in erotic films. Once the AI had colorized the black-and-white films, the team increased image stabilization, reduced flicker and increased the speed of the film to 60 frames per second. They added audio tracks, like player piano music typical of silent movies, that crescendo in all the right places.  

"We thought it was important to not only preserve but modernize these films," Pornhub said. The relics will likely be a turn-on to porn and history buffs alike. 


In 1896 French film Le Coucher de la Mariée, which Pornhub renamed Bedtime for the Bride, the groom gets a striptease on his wedding night.  

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET