Debbie Does ASCII (an ASCII Pr0n from a 1981 BBS)

Debbie Does ASCII (an ASCII Pr0n from a 1981 BBS) | 1982 / 2007 | ASCII Animation | 1:20


An ASCII animation of a scene from Jim Clark’s famous 1978 pornographic film Debbie Does Dallas. In the days before Web 2.0, many people used images like these as a substitute for “actual” pornography.

Critical Discourse

Porn from code

Péter Lichter, “Pornó kódból,” Prizma Film & Kult (October 17, 2014).

Canadian Clint Enns is a master of the imaginative avant-garde film form. Film historians would call his work radical (hardcore) structuralist films, but he himself calls his method “fun formalism.”

One of Enns’s most widely screened and popular films is Debbie Does ASCII, a picture-by-picture transcription and animation of an old porn film in ASCII code. Wikipedia says this about this code system: “ASCII, abbreviated from American Standard Code for Information Interchange, is a character encoding standard for electronic communication. ASCII codes represent text in computers, telecommunications equipment, and other devices. Because of technical limitations of computer systems at the time it was invented, ASCII has just 128 code points, of which only 95 are printable characters, which severely limited its scope.”

Focus on FOUND FOOTAGE: An Interview with Clint Enns

Théo Deliyannis, “Focus on FOUND FOOTAGE: An Interview with Clint Enns,” Collectif Jeune Cinema (October 3, 2013).

In Debbie Does Ascii (an ASCII pr0n from a 1981 BBS) (2007), which will be screened the October 13, 2013 in a Found Footage film program at the Shakirail, Enns’ (re)discovers Internet’s first steps with an ironical look, when pornography was already important but crypted with computer characters. In this way, cinema is reinterpreted in its essential components : light, which signification is given by movement. Working in a binary way as the computer language, shadows are filled with characters, and lights by empty spaces. Thus, cinema and also pornography become cold machines automated by series of codes.

Théo Deliyannis: Could you explain what is “ASCII” and what we refer to ASCII art ? 

Clint Enns: ASCII is an acronym for “American Standard Code for Information Interchange.” ASCII art is a form of graphic design that uses ASCII to create pictures originally used on computer bulletin board systems (BBS) of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the days of the BBS, many people actually used images like these as a substitute for “actual” pornography.

TD: How did you make Debbie Does ASCII? I assume it wasn’t done manually. Did you made the program by yourself, or did you used one already made?

CE: Debbie Does Ascii was made by converting an edited sequence extracted from Jim Clark’s famous 1978 pornographic film Debbie Does Dallas into JPGs, converting each JPG into an ASCII image and then converting those files into an animation. Of course, I did this using a batch process. I wrote most of my own code in order to be able to perform other experiments, however, there are free ASCII convertors available like Ascgen 2.0. 

TD: What’s your relation to ASCII art : are you using it ironically or do you consider it as proper art? More generally, what is you relation to the old computer culture? 

CE: I hope people enjoy the work, I never intend to make art proper. After making Debbie Does ASCII, I made another ASCII film titled The Death of Natural Language (2007) which I believe/hope is a more sophisticated/poetic use of this technique. In The Death of Natural Language I was visually exploring the cultural shift from written literacy to a visual literacy and what may be lost/gained from this shift.

TD: Were you aware of “ASCII pr0n” before doing this movie?

CE: I was aware of ASCII pr0n, however, when I made Debbie Does ASCII I wasn’t aware of Deep ASCII (1998) by Vuk Ćosić, a full length conversion of the classic porno film Deep Throat (1972), which amounts to 55 minutes of pure mute ASCII porn. Since Debbie Does ASCII is only two minutes it might better suit the attention span of a generation raised on the internet. Plus Debbie Does ASCII is a far better title.

TD: Do you always work with low quality images?

CE: I would consider my work lofi. I have never been able to afford high tech equipment, that is, I work with whatever equipment is available. Fortunately, at this point, I am not really interested in making work that is High Definition.

TD: How do you generally work with images? Does the idea comes first, and then do you find the images, or is it the opposite (or an other process)?

CE: For Debbie Does ASCII it was the process that came first. Sometimes, I experiment with process and then try to think of moving images to apply the process to. With Self Improvement, I found the VHS tape first and thought about how to re-work the images. It really depends on the work. 

TD: Do you avoid some copyright issues by re-encoding the movies you use? 

CE: I don’t really worry about legal copyright issues. I intend to create new artworks by placing old images in a new context and feel that my artistic work should legally be protected under “fair dealings” or “fair use” regardless of the current copy-right laws. 

TD: How do you want your films/videos shown?  Is it meant for the theatre or is it meant to be screened on a TV, computer, etc. ?

CE: I think different screening environments induce different experiences for the viewer. At a microcinema or theatre, the work is watched with other audience members.  It is a shared experience.  In addition, the work is seen in a dark space and given the viewers full attention. The cinema is also a durational space, that is, it is impossible to scan through a work in the cinema…you must experience time.  When work is watched on the internet, it is watched with other windows open and other distractions.  With that being said, most of my work is short, usually under 5 minutes.  I can’t watch a video online that is over 5 minutes without scanning through it.  I spend a lot of time at cinemas and microcinemas, however, I also enjoy discovering work on Vimeo and YouTube.  

TD: Do you have any upcoming projects (especially involving found footage)?

CE: I am always looking at found strange instruction/self help VHS tapes for source material.  My photography practice also involves an aspect of found footage as well:  I am always shooting on/developing found rolls of 35mm film (often creating a double exposed image with my own shot and the previous camera owners).  My photographs can be found here

Unfortunately, my most recent film project involves some found footage, however, I shot most of it myself. It involves VHS and hand-processed 16mm and is titled Invasive Species


October 13, 2013. Found Footage, Festival des Cinémas Différents et Expérimentaux de Paris, Paris, France. Curated by Derek Woolfenden.

May 25, 2013. New Experimental Works (N.E.W.), Other Cinema, San Francisco, California.

February 14, 2013. Smutty Winnipeg Shorts, Open City Cinema, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Curated by Alison Davis.

February 15, 2012. Avant Erotica, Experimental Response Cinema, Austin, Texas. Curated by Scott Stark.

July 28, 2011. Pornography and its Discontents, MisALT Screening Series, San Francisco, California.