Cute!: Animals in Porn

I have written previously about my "book of lists"--notebooks filled with time-stamped tropes of an unusual nature in adult film. My general rule is that the trope be "unexpected" in some way vis a vis our expectations of porn, yet as the word "trope" suggests, these images and incidents are not actually that unheard of. Thus the lists constitute lab notebooks (thanks to my buddy, alphadachs, for pointing this out) that highlight the diversity of porn and the myriad ways in which it defies the monolith it is reputed to be. In the past, I have written up a couple of these lists, most popularly the one on flaccid dicks--so popular in fact, I wrote a sequel. I also wrote up my list of food in porn (eww).

Today, I take on animals in porn. No, not bestiality, you sickos. My list exclusively documents animals in non-sexual situations. Sexual interaction between human and animal is taboo in Western society, illegal to depict on film in most countries, and thus holds special sexual power. The appearance of an animal in a porn flick generates a combination of amusement and titillation similar to the appearance of animals on America's Funniest Home Videos. Animals generally do whatever they want to do, and in low budget genres there is unlikely to be a handler, creating a sense of risk. In amateur productions, the animal is likely not even supposed to be there. Moreover, the appearance of the animal offers a taboo invasion of the generic pornotopia. Essentially, we say "holy shit, look! An animal!" We laugh, we feel a little shocked. Indeed, an entire blog is devoted to indifferent cats in amateur porn suggesting another kind of appeal: we find sex fascinating, while animals are generally indifferent to the humping of two human bodies. Sex between humans is nothing to them, except perhaps an inconvenience or a curiosity worthy of a quick investigation. Below, I document a variety of narrative uses of animals, some of which certainly encroach on the sexual but which primarily serve a non-genital function in the film.

NB. I have excluded cat appearances--I'm saving them for an all-cat extravaganza.


Ultra Flesh (Dir. Svetlana, 1980)
It makes sense to kick this off with a snake--apparently the non-human animal that people are most comfortable watching sexually interact with a human on film. I mean, Georgina Spelvin cavorts with one in the beloved classic The Devil in Miss Jones. There's even a scene in Fantasy World where a stage performer plays Eve and the snake licks her clit. I guess snakes are so reptilian, so unlike a human, and perhaps phallic in some way that audiences are comfortable seeing them in sexual situations? Regardless, in this XXX sci-fi classic, the snake is used by two little people as a weapon designed to terrify a woman (Lisa DeLeeuw) into submitting to sexual assault. "Just keep it away, just keep that snake away--I'll do anything!" she cries, as they taunt her with the python. Curiously, the scene cuts away before anything sexual occurs.

The Switch is On (Dir. John Travis, 1985)
Jeff is about to leave home for The Big City, but prior to embarking on his super hot bisexual adventures he must tearfully say goodbye to his mother--and more importantly, his dog Taylor. This is one of my favourite animal appearances in porn. Jeff rough houses, cuddles, and kisses Taylor in a scene designed to demonstrate the gravity of this naive, good-natured country boy going out into the world and leaving his boyhood behind. There's nothing sinister in the scene--it's just really sweet. Considering the special status of dogs in a certain variety of porn, it's always notable when they appear in a non-sexual role in adult film.

Bimbo: Hot Blood Part I (Dir. J. Angel Martine, 1985)
Oof, this is a travesty of a film, especially for the Stallone enthusiasts amongst us. Nevertheless, Bimbo does feature an unusual animal appearance that will please the rat enthusiasts amongst us. It's not every day you see rats in porn, and as a proud former member of the UK National Fancy Rat Society, I was pretty stoked to see them featured here. In the context of this film, rats are used to signal the dire and lonesome conditions of the POW camp. Think The Green Mile or even Castaway. Lonesome men in dire conditions seek out whatever companionship they can find. In this case, however, the rat is cruelly discarded in favour of a blowjob...or perhaps a pork chop? The captor asks, "What would you do for a pork chop?" The POW, rattie in hand, answers, "Anything, anything." In the blink of an eye, his rodent companion is nowhere to be seen and the captor is sucking his cock. Talk about a fair weather friend.


Virgin Dreams (Dir. Zebedy Colt, 1977)
Notorious oddball genius, Zebedy Colt, shows up in a few lists (most notably flaccid dick, though I have yet to include any in blog posts--the flaccid dick list is long).  Nancy (the incredible Jean Jennings) is dreaming. The dream opens with her father (Colt) petting a macaw. The camera pans down to his shorts-clad crotch, as the hand of Nancy's mother (Gloria Leonard) snakes around to fondle his package, leading to a blowjob. Colt is notorious for disrupting pornographic pleasure, to the point where this strange introduction to fellatio (part of their daughter's dream, no less) is almost par for the course with Colt fare. (There's nothing about Wade Nichols naked on a motorcycle that disrupts pornographic pleasure, though. Thanks, Zebedy.)


Babyface (Dir. Alex DeRenzy, 1977)
Another director known for bizarre and taboo content, here DeRenzy uses bunny rabbits as part of the opening scene in which Dan, a construction worker, seduces a schoolgirl. Persuading her to come to his shack in the middle of a construction site to let him treat a scrape on her knee, he soon employs his cute white bunny rabbits (plural!) in his designs. "Cute little bunny. You like bunnies [...] don't you, you little girl?" he coos, gripping her waist. So begins the seduction that ultimately leads Dan to hide out in a male brothel catering to rich women. This scene is essentially a variation on the older creep offering to show a group of underagers his puppies...but with rabbits. On a construction site.


This piglet has been drinking milk.
The Resurrection of Eve (Dir. Jon Fontana, Artie Mitchell, 1973)
The orgy sequence from Eve makes an appearance on another blog post--the one about food, as a woman is shown hanging out while nibbling on a fried chicken drumstick. Also in this elaborate orgy sequence, a man is hanging out with a piglet in his arms. An oiled up swingers orgy ensues, and post cum-shot(s) the piglet is shown once again, this time cradled in the arms of a woman. Is the piglet (and its squeals) designed to connote gluttony and indulgence? or is it merely a symptom of how bat shit crazy the 70s were? I imagine it's a little of both.


Lost and Found (Dir. Eddie Powell, 2011)
Here is a movie that actually revolves around a dog--a super cute Boston Terrier named Boz who belongs to the super cute Allie Haze. Xander Corvus has a crush on Allie, so naturally he and his roommates steal Boz so Allie and Xander can fall in love while searching for the dog. While the pup in question is never shown in a sexual light, he is ostensibly the reason why the two protagonists fuck. I mean, he is on the cover of the movie for gawd's sake (in a somewhat questionable pose, too).


Naked Came the Stranger (Dir. Radley Metzger, 1975)
I could write a whole article about this film, focusing exclusively on the flaccid dicks. Seriously, there are a lot. However, also of interest is a bowl of oblivious little goldfish used as a backdrop to Phyllis (Mary Stuart) breaking up with her love bunny in a voice over "dear john." Why Metzger lingers on said goldfish during the break up, I can't say for sure, but it's a super cool shot.


Hanky Panky (Dir. Svetlana, David I. Frazer, 1984)
Another Svetlana title, and perhaps the only instance of an owl in porn. Considering how hip they are, you'd think they might show up a little more, but I suppose it's pretty hard to track one down for a porn shoot. Especially in an era of amateur porn, it's not like owls just fly into shot or accidentally appear in the background in the same way as cats. And, moreover, what sexual symbolism can owls offer pornography? Wisdom? In this context, the owl signals deepest nighttime, hoo-hooing from its tree and seemingly gazing in judgmental fashion as Jamie Gillis creeps up on the sleeping girls he is about to prey on. 

"Who Runs This Damn Place?": Anthony Spinelli's Sex World (1977).


Hi folks! I'm tackling a big one today--one of my favourite adult films and a classic by any standard, beautifully restored by Vinegar Syndrome and put out on DVD and Bluray: SexWorld (Dir. Anthony Spinelli, 1977). I've seen SexWorld a number of times but haven't put pen to paper regarding my thoughts on this complex, highly erotic masterpiece. For one thing, I had trouble articulating my thoughts on the racial aspects of the film. Thanks to two excellent books, Mireille Miller-Young's A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography (Duke UP, 2014) and Jennifer C. Nash's The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography (Duke UP, 2014), both of which have sections devoted to SexWorld, I have been able to work through and articulate my thoughts on the film more clearly. Race and gender are at the heart of SexWorld (and arguably all of American pornography). In particular, conflict--between sexes and races, as well as with and between our own desires--is the focus of the film. Based loosely on the 1973 film, Westworld, SexWorld takes place at a theme park where guests can live out their sexual fantasies. We are offered each of the principal players' back story complete with illustrative sex scene, their interview from which technicians ascertain the appropriate fantasy, and the sex scene in which the guest lives out the fantasy. These scenes are diverse not only in terms of the sexual script requested by the guest, but also in terms of the guest's expectations and fulfillment. Some of the guests receive an exact replica of the fantasy they desire; others have more ambiguous wants and the controllers must decide for the guest what they really need, sometimes to the initial reluctance of the guest.

Annette Haven as Dale.
There is a pattern, however: women, the film suggests, are more sexually literate and self-aware than men. The women also experience greater levels of shame and difficulty verbalizing their desires. However, they are clear in their own minds regarding what they want and need; they just have to overcome the obstacle of shame and embarrassment that women are raised to internalize. For example, Leslie Bovee plays Joan. Joan is married to Jerry (the wonderful Kent Hall), and from all appearances they have a healthy, passionate relationship. Indeed, unlike all the other back stories theirs shows two people deeply in love, happy, with an active and reciprocal sex life. However, something is amiss. It is clearly Joan who desires to visit SexWorld, leaving an ad out for Jerry to see. Rather than make this request directly, however, Joan passively prompts the idea and leaves Jerry to actually suggest it.

Joan (Leslie Bovee) explains her fantasy.
Likewise, in her interview at SexWorld Joan struggles painfully to articulate what she wants. The counselor assures her, "think of it, Joan, here--this weekend--you have a chance for your wildest dreams to come true, and no one will ever know." At this last part--"no one will ever know"--Joan looks up. The promise of discretion allows her to articulate her desire for her female neighbour, Marian (Abigail Clayton), though she is unable to look up during her explanation and keeps her eyes closed for the most part. During the fantasy, too, Joan must be encouraged and made to feel safe by the Marian bot. At one point Joan, seemingly ashamed of her sparse clothing, hurriedly says she will get changed. Marian stops her, reassuring her, "No, don't. I like what you're wearing." The film suggests sexual double standards and sexist hypocrisy lie at the root of such shame and embarrassment when Jerry, having already fulfilled his own fantasy, attempts to dissuade Joan of her own, pleading, "Joan, I don't want you to go." Joan retorts, "Was it good?" before leaving to embark on her own sexual adventure.

Ralph (Jack Wright) fulfills what he thinks is his fantasy.
Men are less self-aware, but more confident in articulating desires. Many men do get exactly what they ask for (Jerry being the clearest example), but there are two notable characters who must be coerced into realizing what they really want: Ralph and Roger (more on Roger later). Ralph (Jack Wright), an impotent, infantilized, emasculated man obsessed with his mother, desires to play the role of a cuckold, secretly watching his wife Milly (Kay Parker) play out her rape fantasy. He watches in distress, tears coming to his eyes.
Ralph is led away to experience what he really needs.
 An uninvited bot leads him away, telling him, "Don't torture yourself. They've only just begun. You can't change anything. Come with me." Ralph, refusing to look away, says, "But I can't. I--I have to stay." Eventually, Ralph allows himself to be led to a different room, where he tells the bot in a defeated tone, "I'm just wasting your time. I can't do it...myself. I...need help. Will you be my mama?" In a gesture that appears to restore Ralph's masculinity, the bot responds sharply, "Your mama is dead, Ralph. Do I look like your mama?" Ralph is able to achieve erection, and they fuck. When Ralph is reunited with Milly, he is playing the part of alpha male--the man "with balls" that Milly desired--and all is right.

Sex World bot comes to consciousness.
Women in general have sexual sovereignty. They are self-possessed and assured of what they need sexually; they also tend to have a dominant and controlling role and are invested with subjectivity on three different levels: the guests, the robots, and the controllers. In one eerie sequence, for example, the film complicates consent by offering a moment of ambiguous subjectivity to a robot. It is the only moment where a bot is shown awakening to consciousness at the command of the technicians. The subsequent fantasy sequence--Jerry's--is much more clearly a construct, controlled by technicians, than other sequences. Most notably, the technicians are shown adjusting the sequence after they recognize Jerry is becoming put off by the lack of attention paid to him, and that they're "losing him." The technicians alter the sequence, and the bots comically jump on Jerry and unbutton his pants in a manner reminiscent of the overly enthusiastic porn star hungry for cock. Moments such as this highlight the way the film exposes (male) fantasy constructs as predictable, repetitive, and sometimes in need of intervention.

The technicians analyze Roger (John Leslie).
Then there are the technicians and counselors themselves. Counselors interview the guests while the technicians observe via CCTV. Technicians then analyze the guest's desires and initiate the fantasy according to their conclusions. While there are male technicians, only the female technicians are shown discussing the guests and initiating the fantasies. The technicians do not simply replicate the guest's request; they analyze and construct the fantasy, sharing ideas and giving each other meaningful glances.

Women literally have their finger on the button.
As mentioned above, SexWorld has received a lot of attention in terms of race. Indeed, race factors into the resolution of sexual neurosis in three fantasy scenes: Dale (Annette Haven) gets over the trauma of a break up with her girlfriend by fucking a latino man; Roger (John Leslie) gets over his racism (as well as himself) by being coerced into sex with a black woman; Lisa (Sharon Thorpe) works through her abject loneliness and shame by indulging in her fantasy of Johnnie Keyes from Behind the Green Door.

Jill (Desiree West) seduces Roger (John Leslie).
"It just smells like ass. Go on, smell it."
The most provocative scene is that between two guests, Jill (Desiree West) and Roger (John Leslie). Roger is a racist, as well as being a cocky little prick. When the guests are riding the bus to SexWorld, Jill smiles and pouts at Roger, thoroughly unnerving him. Later, faced with Roger's particularly enigmatic desires, the technicians decide "it should be someone he hates." "He got turned off by that girl on the bus," one technician recalls. Smiling mischievously, the other technician initiates the fantasy. The subsequent scene is highly racialized, with shockingly racist dialogue. Jill--a guest and thus presumably living out her own fantasy of seducing a racist--performs a knowing, "hyperbolic racialized performance" (Nash 93). Assuming Jill is the help, Roger snaps, "Well, if you're gonna clean up, clean up!" Jill smirks, hand on hip, and drawls in affected dialect, "Clean your wet cock when we's done, sir." Realization dawning, Roger responds, "Oh no, you can't be my trick." "Surprise, honey!" Jill retorts.

Jill smiles at desperate Roger as she departs.
 Throughout the remaining sequence, Jill cajoles, coerces, and dominates, performing blackness in a way designed to unnerve and tantalize the racist Roger, ultimately captivating him. As Nash explains, "SexWorld thus illustrates that the racialized labor of converting Roger also serves as a tool for Jill's own arousal, with the trappings of hypersexual and hyperbolic blackness working as a vocabulary with which Jill can voice her own longings and pleasures" (93-94). Yet, Jill is the only SexWorld guest with no back story. This lack of story arguably reduces Jill's subjectivity. However, Spinelli and West foreground Jill's subjectivity through a combination of dynamic performance and carefully constructed shots of Jill's knowing facial expressions. The lack of a back story merely emphasizes the joke that we are all in on, but Roger is not. Indeed, at the very end of the film Roger is shown trying to bribe a SexWorld worker into letting him go through the park one more time ("this could be serious!"). Roger appears to think Jill is a bot, provided for his pleasure, and thus available for him to experience a second time. However, while he tries to bribe the worker, Jill can be seen in the distance leaving the park. As she gets on the bus, she turns and grins at Roger's desperation. This leaves me wondering, who exactly was the trick here?

Sharon Thorpe as Lisa playing "Cindy."
The other highly racialized scene is that between Lisa (the magnificent Sharon Thorpe, turning in a truly heartbreaking performance) and Johnnie Keyes, reprising his Green Door role. Lisa, like all of the women at SexWorld, knows exactly what she wants but her desires are tinged with shame and she struggles to articulate them. While she wants "somebody to like me, somebody to notice me, somebody to talk to me and be kind to me," Lisa requests a fictional, mute image to satisfy her: "Well, there's this film. Behind the Green Door. And there's a black man it it...all dressed in white. Except...down there. The crotch is...cut out, cut away. His...his...." At this point, the film shifts away and embarks on Lisa's fantasy. Lisa's fantasy is "culturally implemented" (thanks to my colleague, "U," for suggesting this phrase)--a reflection of societal baggage concerning race, gender, and sexuality. Lisa is a tortured soul and desperately lonely. She is also a woman living two lives: the socially awkward 9-5 worker of a dull job, and the XXX-rated theater goer/phone sex exhibitionist. Lisa's narrative deals in cinematic imagery specifically. She lives out her desires through performance, exhibition, and spectatorship. Her sexual desires are explicitly fantastical.

Johnnie Keyes as "Johnnie Keyes."
In her first scene--her back story--Lisa constructs her own image as that of a sexy blonde, putting on a wig, make up, and clothing to emulate and embody an ideal, cinematic male fantasy. Lisa role plays as "Cindy" (to my mind replicating Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills (1977) right down to borrowing her name, though I haven't been able to confirm whether the dates line up). Performing this role, she calls a stranger and mutually masturbates with him to a shared orgasm. Immediately following orgasm, however, she reacts with horror, hanging up the phone, pulling off the wig, and sobbing. In her SexWorld fantasy, she requests another cinematic fantasy figure: Johnnie Keyes from Behind the Green Door. Keyes doesn't speak; he is, as Nash observes, "exclusively an instrument of pleasure" (103). He is a fictional, iconic image--one that represents the transgression of miscegenation taboos and who has become iconic as an object of lust for the transgressive and desirous white woman. Lisa has appropriated white male racialized iconography for her own sexual purposes, even daring to enter XXX movie houses and scouring "men's" magazines for numbers to call and mutually masturbate with strangers. In this way, Lisa represents the female appropriation of male spaces, imagery, and fantasy.

Black female technician calling the shots.
The final shot of the film is key to working through the film's navigation of race and gender. The film alludes ambiguously to the manager of SexWorld through guest queries and evasive responses from hosts. When Roger calls the front desk to complain about his jungle-themed room, for example, he angrily asks, "Whaddya mean there's no manager? [...] Who runs this damn place?" The last shot of the film appears to answer this question. After all of the guests have left, only the control room remains populated. The technicians are busily working, when suddenly they all freeze. They are robots--however, one technician is still moving. It is the black woman--the only woman of colour working the control room (third from the right, lit in orange). She removes her name tag, and exits the room. The entire theme park--the sexual fantasies--are being constructed and controlled by a woman of colour. Sex World is her creation...possibly her fantasy. Is the control room, where she interacts with co-workers of her own creation, her very own fantasy space? Are the guests' fantasies offered up for her own voyeuristic delight?

The final shot.
While the limited edition Blu is completely sold out, you can still get the DVD from Vinegar Syndrome which looks and sounds fantastic. Indeed, the stills in this article are taken from the DVD release and as you can see it looks beautiful. Needless to say, this film (particularly this release) has my highest recommendation. Sex World is quite simply one of the greatest adult films ever made, and one of the most erotically charged films in existence, period.

Book Review: Graphic Thrills: American XXX Movie Posters 1970 to 1985 (Robin Bougie)

When I received Robin Bougie's recent FAB Press publication, Graphic Thrills: American XXX Movie Posters 1970 to 1985, I opened the beautifully-illustrated cover expecting a page or two of background information painted in broad strokes for those readers unfamiliar with the impact of Deep Throat, before a hundred or so pages of glossy poster reprints. A breezy, picturesque trek through XXX poster art. As such, I was excited. I already own a copy of Sexytime, and imagined it would be similar, though with Bougie's trademark rhetorical stylings.

What I didn't expect was an in-depth and eye-opening 13,000 word introduction, and a further god-knows-how-many words of sidebar trivia accompanying each glossy poster reproduction. As I delved into the prose, I braced my academic self...and was delighted to realise that I was dealing with someone who, like myself, believes that books for the masses need not be dumbed down, and that an academic approach can be done in a witty and stylish manner.

Courtesy of Robin Bougie.

Bougie also includes information that rarely makes it into the porn history books. Having read the majority of these books, I tend to approach porn overviews with a discrete yawn, willing to re-read the usual information in slightly different language. What a breath of fresh air, then, is Bougie's introduction. Sure, he has the Deep Throats and the Miller Tests--if he didn't, I would question his authority of the subject. He also approaches the subject matter chronologically, providing overviews of each era according to the relationship between politics, technology, and pornographic content. This is smart and familiar for a reason. What makes Bougie's writing special is his careful weaving of diverse pornographies (Paul Johnson's photography, for example), socio-political cultural contexts (not just legal cases but significant historical milestones that some people may believe to have nothing to do with pornography--they are wrong), and Bougie's own commentary on the sexual politics of our recent culture. Any sex radical feminist will be on board with his musings about societal hypocrisy and slut-shaming. Bougie provides a multitude of interconnecting texts and cultural moments that produce gradual change, as opposed to suggesting that one milestone film changed pornography as we know it--BOOM--as so many other authors have done. I know firsthand how difficult such interweavings are, and Bougie does it with a graceful touch. The work is both intellectually rigorous and playful; accessible and thorough.
Courtesy of Robin Bougie.

When I spoke to Bougie, I was most interested to learn about the process of putting something like this together. Where does one start when it comes to gathering the images? Bougie tells me, "FAB Press and I spent quite a bit of time tracking all the posters down. They came from various collectors around the world, and everything had to be mailed to FAB in the UK to be scanned one one of those giant flatbed scanners. Many of the posters were damaged from years of being displayed, so they had to be restored digitally. I worked for years as a photo retoucher at a photography studio here in Vancouver, taking pimples off graduation photos, so I had the training to do that. The trick is fixing the damage without altering the art in any way. It was like those art restorers who fix ancient frescos, but with dirty smut instead! It was a blast. Hundreds of hours of work, but really rewarding seeing the posters coming back to life. I'm really proud of how they look." As well he should. The images are sumptuous and the pictures alone would have made this book worth a purchase.

Courtesy of Robin Bougie.
The explanation of the process of gathering images also reveals a little more about the book's biggest omission: gay male porn. I admit, I approached the book with a slightly cynical attitude, as I tend to do with commercial porn books as they routinely behave as if gay porn doesn't exist. The very first thing I did was to flip through the pages scouting for gay porn posters. None! Harrumph. However, Bougie is careful to explain this absence and this explanation in itself is of great interest. Bougie wanted to include gay films, "but it turned out to be an exercise in frustration. Very few posters were even made for XXX gay films, with producers mostly relying on small black and white newspaper ads for promotion. The few full colour posters that do exist are exceedingly rare, and unlike the majority of straight film advertising, when they run up in online auctions they end up commanding extraordinary amounts of money that simply price them out of our grasp" (16). This outpricing signals the way in which many gay culture enthusiasts handle gay pornographic legacy--as an important part of cultural visibility, artistic heritage, and radical sexual politics. When I asked Bougie about his desire to include gay porn, he noted, "it's part of the story, if you're talking about the history of adult films, and I want to tell the story. The gay pictures may not have been as prevalent, but they're a key part of what was going on back then. It's a real shame more writers don't to go there. I wanted to do more to focus on them, but yeah, I had to shelve that idea once I realized that there wouldn't be any images to display." Bougie's efforts are to be admired. One can only hope that some day a gay male porn project of that sort can be realised.
Courtesy of Robin Bougie.

Bougie has achieved a difficult feat. His rhetoric may not be to all peoples' tastes--not for those who may recoil at euphemisms such as "man-crumpets" and "milking the pearl-sack" (8). Even if you are the sort who wrinkles their nose at such language (and I might be), don't let that put you off picking up a copy of this book. Because far outweighing the pearl-sacks are reams of thoughtful analysis, insights drawn from a combination of first-hand interviews, academic research, and personal observations. Indeed, Bougie told me, "My main thing was being honest to myself and my writing and art, and expressing where I am and what's going on with me through that. Making my writing about film be as much about me as it is about the movies. I don't think enough writers do that, either because they're scared to get naked and go out on that limb, or because they've been told that it's not a legitimate and academic way to be a journalist. Personally, I find it's been a big help and very rewarding." I agree with Bougie. It is a risky approach, but Bougie's commitment to such an approach is as engaging as it is disarming.

Bougie with a perplexed Marvin. Courtesy of Robin Bougie.
Oh, and those gorgeous works of art that Bougie compliments with surprising and wildly diverse nuggets of information. Bougie has gone to great lengths, interviewing the stars as well as drawing on contemporary and current texts, to provide new and interesting details that enrich our understanding of the films and the era. Each page is a new gem--in terms of the visuals and the text. Bougie tells me that he "wanted to make each page somewhat unpredictable," and it works wonderfully.

Whether you are a stone cold porn nerd, a casual smut dabbler, or someone interested in culture as a whole, you should pick up a copy of this. It's a real treat. And if you want to make that treat extra sweet, buy a special signed and doodled copy from Bougie directly.

Renaissance Woman: An Interview With Dana Vespoli


Courtesy of Dana Vespoli
Reading Jack Halberstam's Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (2012) this summer, it only took a couple of pages for me to start thinking of the many queer and feminist XXX icons so routinely left out of feminist history. Gaga feminism, Halberstam explains, is an emerging feminism "invested in innovative deployments of femininity" that "strives to wrap itself around performances of excess; crazy, unreadable appearances of wild genders; and social experimentation" (xiii). Moreover, this formulation of feminism "is simultaneously a monstrous outgrowth of the unstable concept of 'woman' in feminist theory, a celebration of the joining of femininity to artifice, and a refusal of the mushy sentimentalism that has been siphoned into the category of womanhood" (xii-xiii). Dana Vespoli (the woman and the work) embodies a lot of what I believe Halberstam is getting at here.

For several years, I have been aware of Dana Vespoli the performer--known for her beautiful butt (beautiful everything), engaged and enthusiastic performances, and for being married to Manuel Ferrara. More recently, Dana has steamrolled onto my radar as an exciting new director for Evil Angel and Sweetheart Video, producing impressive vignette and feature films such as Girl/Boy and Hollywood Babylon. I was introduced to her directorial efforts via She's Come Undone. Casually browsing threads online, I found someone talking about the film, specifically a flashback scene in what I had formerly assumed to be generic gonzo content produced by Evil Angel. Flashbacks? Editing? I was sold. Since that time, I have followed Dana's work and been consistently impressed with her aesthetic. There is something about the way she crafts a film that feels simultaneously gonzo and feature, elegant and hardcore, with a healthy dose of queer sensibility and punk rock feminist attitude thrown in for good measure.

I was intrigued and wanted to sit down with Dana and pick her brain about her life, her cinematic and pornographic influences, sexual politics, and the futures of her career and porn more generally. Thanks to Dana and Adult DVD Talk, I was lucky enough to to do just that.

Enjoy!

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How would you characterize your upbringing? Where did you grow up? What sort of childhood did you have?
I traveled a lot as a small child. I lived in a lot of different places because my father, who was from Thailand, flew in the service and then did commercial flying. I was born in the United States and then at one month old was living in Iran. My mother came to the States to give birth to me and then took me out of the country as soon as she could. But I guess my formative years were in Oregon, where I lived for elementary through high school, and went to university in the Bay Area.

It was a very chaotic childhood, and I would say my junior high school years were a lot more settled, a lot more calm. I went to school with a lot of out gays and lesbians and a lot of free and open progressive people. I went to a very serious performing arts school. People took what they did very seriously and were very committed. You’re around a lot of people who are very open-minded and encouraging you to express yourself and be who you are and be non-judgmental and stuff. I’d say my junior high and high school years were quite happy.

Had you watched porn prior to working in it?
I was exposed to adult entertainment at a very young age, probably too young really. It was just cable television. At the time there was a cable television channel called ONTV and at 8pm they started showing really graphic porn. Nothing terrible—it was all Caballero feature movies. I always had a fondness for those—Sharon Mitchell, Ron Jeremy, and John Leslie.

Can you remember specific titles?
There was Hot Dreams (1983), with Sharon Mitchell. There was Heaven’s Touch (1983)… The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)…there was also another that was a take off on Some Like It Hot
Courtesy of Dana Vespoli

Was it Sex Boat (1980)?
Yes! They sort of stayed in my memory banks, and then all through high school I would go to the adult video arcade—it was in my neighborhood—and watch loops. And then in college, I would rent or buy movies, following the careers of TT Boy and Christy Canyon. Because those were all the Vivid movies—I couldn’t find Caballero. They just weren’t putting out the movies that they used to. Then it was all Vivid stuff, which was dull but I was intrigued by certain performers like Christy Canyon and TT Boy who were really solid despite these cheesy storylines.

I just really enjoyed watching them have sex, and the way they had sex, because I believed them. I would see Christy in scene, and I believed her, and would see other people and would either not believe them or be bored by them. I was just drawn to certain people. I was drawn to TT Boy, which is funny because he seems sort of contrary to a lot of the stuff I’m drawn to now. I was drawn to him because he was having sex in a way that I wasn’t used to experiencing so I was sort of fascinated by him. He was incredibly aggressive, and it was interesting to me. I liked watching him. I also liked Randy West, Randy Spears…I loved John Leslie, Jon Dough, Mark Davis. I was just a fan of porn.

My boyfriend after college was also a fan of porn, so he would find stuff for me that he thought I would like, like Seymour Butts, and that was my first introduction to actual gonzo. After that I discovered John Stagliano and Joey Silvera and other people.

When did you first start getting involved in adult entertainment/sex work?

That happened right after college, right in the year after I graduated in ’96.

I had a friend who confided in me that she was working as a stripper at Mitchell Bros. I had no judgment about it—it was like, oh this is interesting, tell me about it. And then after graduating, I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for graduate school. I was exhausted from working two jobs through college, and my student loan debt was quite a bit. I was writing lease proposals in the financial district in San Francisco. I hated my job, I wasn’t making a lot of money, my boss was a jerk—I quit my job at the office and became a dancer. I found it very liberating and I was happy.
I met a lot of the features—Nina Hartley came through, and Kylie Ireland. And Marilyn Chambers—it was amazing. I was beside myself. I remember bringing home Behind the Green Door (1972) and watching it with friends and we were just blown away by Marilyn Chambers.

So, that happened a few times and a few of the girls were also doing porn. They would pass through town, and down to the club, and I would say, “Have you worked with TT Boy?” [laughs] Then I ended up moving to L.A. I was doing some mainstream commercial work, and still dancing at Mitchell Bros., and then SAG went on strike. This was the second time SAG had gone on strike and it was eating through my savings. I was doing second AD work for softcore and a couple of people said, “Why don’t you try [hardcore]? You seem to enjoy the movies, you’re somebody who would probably actually enjoy it.” At that point I was 31 and thought, “I’m gonna try this,” and that’s how it started.

So between graduating from college and getting into porn at 31 you had been dancing and doing commercial work?
Well, there was a year where I coached novice rowers, because I rowed crew in college. At night I would work at Mitchell Bros. and a couple of times a week in the morning I would be coaching high school girls. And I did some ads and things like that. So I had some formal acting training. I did some commercial work…it was a very bohemian existence I was living. I was still trying to decide about graduate school but I had friends who were dropping out of law school, burned out. My boyfriend at the time said, “You have to think about what you really want to do and stop thinking about what it is that your mom wanted for you, and what you think you’re supposed to do,” because then you end up $100,000 in debt, with no law degree…

The one consistent thing was: creating stories and porn. The things that made me happy.

Did you know if you wanted to perform on camera?
Yeah, and at Mitchell Bros. I would do girl-girl sex shows. I had no problem having sex in front of other people. So, it wasn’t a huge jump. I knew I wanted to make this stuff, but I didn’t know about performing on camera until it was proposed to me by some of the talent on the softcore shows. I think one of the first people [to propose it] was Aria. Part of me was curious about it because it was exciting, and the other part of me understood that sometimes the easiest way into making the product is through performing. Joey Silvera was a performer, John Leslie…that’s how a lot of people started out. So that’s what led me to going in and talking to Jim South.

So, you already had an eye on creating films?
Absolutely. I remember watching all of Catherine Breillat’s movies and realizing I had a better chance of making a movie like that as a XXX vs. something mainstream.

What was first porn movie you performed in? How was the experience?
It was really, really amateur. I went into World Modeling because as a porn aficionado I knew all about Jim South. I didn’t know anything about LA Direct or [Mark] Spiegler or anything. The name that I remembered was Jim South and so I looked him up. The first thing I ever did was for Ed Powers, which was super duper amateur. He did Dirty Debutantes. The first thing I did was called “research & development.” It was a thing he would do with people who were still trying to figure out what they were doing. So I’d do a little solo masturbation, and then I did some girl-girl with a girl who, like me, had never done anything before. It was just him with a camera and a tripod and me with a girl. And then I did a couple more very amateur lesbian scenes for Rob Spallone, and I said, “Ok, I’ve got this down.” I wanted to start with girl-girl because I wanted to make sure I didn’t freak out and at the end of a boy-girl scene suddenly say, “Oh my god! I’m having buyer’s remorse! I can’t do this!” With girl-girl, I’d done so many lesbian shows at Mitchell Bros., I was like, it’s a live sex show; it’s just going to be recorded. So, I felt good about it. Seeing as I knew Ed, I said “Ok, I’ll do my first boy-girl with Ed Powers.”

It was really super easy. He’s so easy. And from there, Randy West…and with Randy West and TT Boy, it was so super exciting. I was embarrassed, like, “I’m having sex with you!” I was super excited because I had grown up watching their stuff.

And then the productions gradually got more and more elaborate. All of a sudden I was doing features for VCA, Adam & Eve and stuff like that.

How fast did you become successful?

You know, I don’t know. It’s one of those things where I would get booked to do scenes and was just working constantly. I’m not sure. I guess I got successful almost immediately, as soon as I started doing boy-girl. I mean, I was turning down jobs. I think I had the appeal of having a really big butt and also being half-Asian. I had that weird rubber face of looking Asian, looking Hispanic, looking Indian, looking like so many different kinds of ethnicity that fulfilled all these niche markets. So, pretty quickly I worked constantly until I took a break. After about eight months, I stopped doing scenes for a little bit and then came back in 2005 to perform again.

What prompted that break?
Courtesy of Dana Vespoli
It was two things. One of the things was, I was tired. My body was tired. I’m also a very sensitive person and I had [been] very enthusiastic about trying different things, but then I did a scene for a title called Rough Sex for JM Productions. I mean, I liked everyone on set, I really liked Jim Powers, and I was working with Ben English who was also my agent. Nice guy, but it was a very hard scene and my mouth started to bleed during the fellatio, and blood was coming out of my mouth and I didn’t realize it. The director said, “Ok, cut. Your mouth is bleeding, are you ok?” I said I was fine, and he said, “You need to let me know if it’s going too far.” I said, “I don’t know anymore when it’s too far,” and that scared me.

There are two times where I cried on set because I was unhappy. The first time was when my vagina swelled up because I was allergic to the lube, and I was just frustrated, and the second time was after that scene [with JM Productions]. I said [to myself], I need to take a break because I’m losing my sense of personal boundaries in the scene. I don’t want to hurt myself. It also meant I was dissociating.

At that point I had also started dating Manuel Ferrara, and he was very vocal about being uncomfortable with me working with guys, which is typical of these guys [laughs]. They’re like, “I can do it, but I don’t like it when you do it!” It just so happened that at that moment I said, “I need to take a break indefinitely.” So I stopped, and it was the right thing to do. I was just running myself ragged. There was just such a high volume of work during that period of time, 2002-2005. If you were a girl doing well in the business, you could work twice a day every day if you wanted to.

And there were quite a lot of elaborate gangbangs and larger scale, higher budget gonzo.
Oh yeah. It was a period when really, really rough sex was the thing. Everybody wanted that style and that’s a lot of what I was doing. I was doing so much extreme stuff and it’s hard on the body, it’s hard on the soul. I’m all for that stuff, I just feel like…well, John Leslie put it really well. John Leslie was like a mentor to me. Drop Sex (1997) was hugely influential for me; I just loved him. He shot me a lot, and was very kind, and he said, “Don’t let this business tell you when to leave. You decide when to leave.” He also said, “Back when I was a performer, you worked maybe five times a month. Now, you’ve got these girls who get chewed up. And what’s with beating these girls up? I don’t understand. Where do you go from here?” He was just really perplexed.

How long did you take a break for?
About a year and a half.

What made you return to the industry?
I was ready to come back. That was August of 2005. I came back and performed for about five months and then started directing. I worked a lot for New Sensations. I really loved Scott Taylor. Jonni Darkko was directing there for a little bit before he went to Evil Angel, and Darkko said to me, “I was in Scott Taylor’s office and he mentioned that he’s looking for people to shoot stuff,” and so I immediately emailed him and said, “Hey I’d like a chance.” I should mention that when I came back to performing, about a month into it I went and I bought a camera and I started practicing shooting. I sent [Scott] a concept—five psychosexual vignettes. He liked them, and I said, “I have a camera and I’ll shoot it myself,” and he gave me a budget. So, in January/February of 2006 I shot Cock Starved.

Did you feel you were bringing something distinct to the table as a female director?
I don’t know. I didn’t really think about it. I just wanted to direct really badly, and when I came into the industry there was Mason shooting camera and I think Francesca Le was also shooting camera, so I saw that you could. I knew it was different, just being a female and shooting camera and communicating with the girls, which is something I would always see Joey [Silvera] do.

There seems to be more female directors now than ever, I think, whereas in Hollywood there’s nobody really—maybe one or two...
Yeah. There’s like, Kathryn Bigelow…Sofia Coppola…

Right. Yet it seems like in porn, people are really ready and ok with having female directors, and they’re quite sought after. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be the case?
I don’t know. When I first started, there was nothing that really stood in the way. There was no resistance. I just assumed that there weren’t that many females who had any interest in directing besides Francesca Le and Mason. Maybe it’s just that there are more visible women like Mason, and women who are producing content that’s interesting, so it sparks an interest and an impulse, and [they’re producing] material that resonates with women.

To my eyes, your work is clearly influenced by queer and feminist porn. How did you first start getting interested in that aspect of porn?
I’m a huge movie nerd. The authors and filmmakers I’m most influenced by are Mary Gaitskill, and Joyce Carol Oates, and obviously Catherine Breillat had a huge, profound effect on me with her representation of female sexuality, and the challenges that women face with female desire. In Romance (1999), there’s a scene where she’s divided; the lower part of her body, they’re running a train on her, and the top part of her body, she’s this nurturing mother. You’re not allowed to be sexually voracious. If you are this makes you a slut, and if you’re not then you’re a prude.

When I got to Evil Angel [as a director], John [Stagliano] said, “Do what you want.” It was just a crazy experience, like, “I can do whatever I want, within reason. This is amazing.” So I just made stories that reflected a little bit of what was going on in my life. John said, “Why don’t you make a horror movie, something scary, because some of the vignette stuff you did for Combat Zone was a bit scary,” so I did Forsaken (2013). It’s kind of an existential nightmare about being faced with death, the regrets that we have, and missing the sensuality of being alive. And with Descent (2013), it was about an anatomy of a marriage and sexual jealousy. A lot of what I do has to do with things that resonate with me in my own life.

I identify as a feminist, so that’s going to inform my work, but I don’t identify as a feminist pornographer. I identify as a pornographer who happens to be a feminist. The feminist movement isn’t why I make porn; I make porn to tell stories and I make porn to work through shit. I’m really interested in things like gender transgression and power transgression and I’m happy when it resonates with people and they can identify with it and be moved by it. Girl/Boy (2013) came about because of Jiz [Lee]. I wanted to do a feature but couldn’t afford to do it. It was going to be about identity and how we self-identify. Do we allow society to tell us who we are or do we make those rules ourselves? In it, I wanted to have a scene where there’s a lesbian who likes to have sex with men sometimes and comes under fire from within her own community; and a man who’s really racist who goes to rape a black woman and she turns the tables and rapes him, and he wants to be her slave; and a sort of Ozzie and Harriet couple where at night he wears a dress and she wears a suit. It was going to be a Robert Altman, Short Cuts, type thing where all these groups bump up against each other.

So I was talking to Jiz about it, and I really wanted to shoot Jiz in a scene, and I knew I couldn’t wait until I had the money to shoot that project, so Girl/Boy came about. I want to do another one before the end of the year.

I hope so. It felt groundbreaking in a way, possibly because of the context; people were expecting a particular format for gonzo from Evil Angel. Do you think there is something more transgressive about making these kinds of films at Evil Angel?
Possibly. It’s funny because I wonder sometimes if they get lost. So much of what I do is…sensitive. And by “sensitive” I mean there is a context that’s more gentle. You think of Evil Angel, and you think of big gaping assholes and really voluptuous women and aggressive sex. Sometimes I wonder if movies like She’s Come Undone get lost at Evil Angel. It probably would have worked better at a place like Girlfriends [Films]. So I don’t know sometimes. There’s some stuff that works really well [at Evil], and certainly Stagliano’s happy to have these things come out at Evil Angel because it’s different and he appreciates that. [Consumers] mostly know Mike Adriano or Jonni Darkko, but the same time, I think the transgressive nature of the stuff I do makes sense at a place like Evil Angel.

What I love about John is that he believes so much in pornography. He is a true pornographer. He was willing to go to prison for something that wasn’t his title. He would take the bullet for any one of his directors. There are companies who would just throw their directors under the bus. The thing I love about Evil, and why I wanted to be there, was that [Evil Angel content] had this integrity to it and the directors seemed to love what they were doing.

When I show some people the Evil Angel homepage, they’re shocked. They think of Evil Angel as the big mainstream gonzo company, and yet it comes across as quite queer.
It is very queer. I think about that. Earlier, I was talking to somebody about the first TS movie I’d ever seen and it was by Nacho Vidal, and the box cover art had Belladonna with her head shaved holding onto Nacho’s erection, and holding onto the TS girl’s erection. I don’t think [Belladonna] even had make up on, and I just loved it.

What strikes me is that they don’t categorize the trans and strap stuff away from the more standard boy/girl stuff, so it’s all there running before your eyes. It seems almost more radical to put it all on there together.
Yeah. I don’t think it occurs to John to [categorize]. I really think his mind just doesn’t work that way. Which I really think is cool.

Courtesy of Dana Vespoli
You recently directed and performed in TS, I Love You for Evil Angel. Do you have plans to continue to produce trans content?
Absolutely. In fact, in Fluid 2 which comes out next month there’s a scene with Vaniity. It’s a blowbang with Vaniity, Wolf Hudson, Chad Diamond, and me wearing a strap on, and Adriana Chechik. It’s not like a traditional blowbang. I wanted everyone to kiss Chechik and connect with her, and we all connect with each other, so we’re all involved. It’s not just all these penises coming at Chechik’s face. It was really amazing. We were all just in tune with each other. So often with blowbangs, it can feel like this onslaught of aggression at the face.


It seems like what you’ve done involves more subjectivity, including for the guys. The guys often are just dicks.
Exactly, and I like to see everybody having sex, and that was one of my problems early on, watching porn—I couldn’t see the guys. Sometimes my interest is not just in watching the woman’s reaction to what’s happening, but it’s also the man’s. I like to see the connection between two people, not just a girl getting railed. So, when I shoot I like to show the guys reacting also. Seeing the guys enjoying what’s happening, and seeing her making eye contact, that for me is what makes it sexy.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s refreshing when people dare to show the man’s face, feeling something. I wonder if you’ve met any resistance from either Evil Angel or from fans in terms of daring to show male response.
You know, nobody’s said anything to me about it. I wonder if it’s one of those things where they’re not aware that it’s happening, but maybe their perspective has changed and they don’t know why. Sometimes I wonder if the fans even notice. Are we making a decision about what the fans want, and we’re not really giving them the option? I’m providing the option, and there doesn’t seem to be any resistance to it. So I wonder if, subtly, it’s a new way. I also think some people think it’s too homoerotic to see the man enjoying himself. I don’t necessarily think it’s homoerotic, and if the guy’s getting turned on by another guy, who cares?

What are the next steps in your career? What are your goals?
I would like to shoot more trans stuff, but I also really like blending. I know sometimes for marketing it’s challenging, because where do you put Fluid if there’s a trans scene in it? It’s not just, “Let’s do something shocking; let’s put Vaniity in a regular boy/girl movie.” I like to shoot movies where maybe there’s one lesbian scene, there’s one trans scene. I’d like to do more blending of different genres and niches.

Are there any directors or companies that you think are exciting or that you’re keeping an eye on?
I love Nica [Noelle], especially what she has done with gay porn. Her movie, about the boy’s prep school [His Mother’s Lover (2012)], made me think of Pedro Almodovar. I see her as a pioneer. She brought back the romantic seduction movies.

Is that something you could see yourself doing? Directing gay porn?
I would love to! I’ve been trying. [laughs] I told Stagliano, “I want to make a gay movie.” He said, “We don’t do that.” Not because of any resistance—that would just have to be it’s own film company. But, that’s something I’ll probably do for internet. I came very close to shooting something, and it just fell through.

But [Nica] did that, and it’s something where you just realize the possibilities. I was really moved by it, affected by it. She’s incredibly encouraging; she said, “You should shoot gay movies!” It’s something that’s definitely right there, and I have gay performers who I absolutely admire and would love to shoot…so it might be that I end up having a gay scene in a feature. You know what? I’m talking to you right now and I think I’m going to do that.

Do it! It’s baffling to me that when Nica came out with gay porn, some people were asking, “Do women watch gay porn?” And I was like, “When haven’t they watched gay porn?”
I always have to use myself as a barometer, and I think I watch it, I’d watch it.

All that to say, Nica has been hugely influential, and Mason just sets the bar for beautifully shot [content]. She’s like the Dave LaChappelle of porn in a lot of ways. Her stuff looks fucking fantastic.

Being innovative, and not underestimating the audience, seems to be a way of making money in a business that is really struggling. For a long time people have been saying porn is dead, that torrents and tube sites are killing it—do you think it’s over? Does it have a future? and if so, what is that future?
I think that porn is going through a kind of renaissance. I don’t think it’s dead, and I don’t think it’s over. I think people will always want it. I think that right now everyone is jockeying for position. I think what’s exciting about porn right now is that, back when I came in anybody could be a porn star. You look good, you don’t even have to do a good scene and you’ll get a contract. You don’t have to have any integrity or believe in what you’re doing. You just have to have a camera, a couch, and two people and you become a millionaire. And now, you have to love it to be able to sustain in this industry and that’s who’s left. The porn stars we have now are people with huge personalities who are smart: Asa Akira, Lisa Ann (who’s this solid, smart businesswoman), Stoya, Dane Cross. You have people who are multi-faceted, who write articles for The New York Times, who are vocal in the face of all this conservative opposition. You have people who care about what they’re doing.

I feel like the future of the industry is made up of smart, together, really progressive people that believe in this. So, there’s this high turnover of people who come in and they’re like, “Oh! I have to work, and I have to diversify,” and then they leave! So I feel like what we have are these people who are going to take this industry into its next phase. It’s smaller, and it’s a little more difficult, but it’s made up of people who have gumption. It’s scary, and we’re on this new frontier, but I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be with these people. I’m proud to be among these people. It is an uncertain time, but I believe in this industry, and I feel like I’m standing strong because there are other people who believe in it.

You can follow Dana on Twitter @danavespoli.
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