For my first director profile, I have picked someone who initiated a major transition in my life, and has taught me an incredible amount about gender, sexuality, and viewing relations. Mason, or Sam No as she sometimes goes by, is a female director specializing in rough gonzo, yet with a remarkable ability to cast and shoot her movies in a manner that is truly electric, beautiful, and often strangely romantic. Her films literally shine, through outstanding framing and production values, and occasionally oil on asses.
There really isn't that much information on Mason's upbringing; what there is can be found in a chapter she wrote for Carly Milne's edited collection, Naked Ambition: Women Who Are Changing Pornography (2005). This was where I first heard of Mason, and I read her chapter with great interest - she was obviously an extremely intelligent woman who was dedicated to exploring female sexuality - and more particularly, her own sexuality - through her films.
Turned off by certain aspects of porn, predominantly what she perceived to be degrading treatment and representation of women, Mason nevertheless found herself "drawn to it out of sexual curiosity" and after taking some courses in feminist theory at college, she reconsidered her initial assumptions about the genre: "I started to consider that the issues I had with pornography were simply reflections of the way society treats women generally. I started to feel that all of the guilt I felt when viewing porn was predicated on my own discomfort with being a sexual woman."
With that, Mason "actively sought out the porn industry," working first as a camera operator for Rodney Moore, then as an intern for Andre Madness, and finally as a director for Elegant Angel. Her directorial debut was Lady Fellatio (2002) which effectively kickstarted the common belief (outside of the industry) that Mason is a patriarchal creation - simply a woman who hates women. Her subsequent films did not help this reputation, in particular the Dirty Trixxx series (2002) which sparked a significant degree of controversy. In spite of Masons' perspective that Dirty Trixxx is "an explanation of my sexuality" she nevertheless encountered massive public criticism (alongside rave reviews from within the industry). Dirty Trixxx 2 furthered the criticisms and praise, and for Mason was "the sexual awakening I had always yearned for. It was the most intense and aggressive movie I had ever shot." This was also the shoot on which she met her muse, Julie Night, and The Hottest Man in Porn Manuel Ferrara, both of whom she would work with consistently throughout her career.
After leaving Elegant Angel in 2003 to work for Platinum X Pictures, Mason directed Riot Sluts and Riot Sluts 2, the second of which was my first exposure to Mason's filmmaking. I was terrified to watch it, and was only doing so in order to write a paper. Little did I know the film would change my life, and I would become a devotee to Mason. I had not anticipated the passion and intensity that I now know is a staple of Mason's directorial style. I also didn't realize the extent to which Mason herself would be a presence in the film. You never see her in the films - indeed she spent a portion of her career appearing in public in a burka to make a statement about female sexuality - but you hear her voice, occasionally see a shadow or a hand, and feel her involvement with the scene. Mason says of her early camerawork for Rodney Moore, "For some reason, my presence behind the camera made everything less of a performance and more of a real human experience for them." This is what makes Mason stand out from the rest.
Now that Mason is back with Elegant Angel, she often directs under her big-ass-loving alter ego, Sam No, producing classics such as the Massive Asses series, Curvy Girls, and Pornstar Workout, and I can honestly say that her work is consistently impressive, as well as crafted in a dazzling manner. Mason is known for her excellent casting choices, and is insistent in interviews that her selection of men and women for her movies is carefully thought out; Mason even encourages her performers to pick out who they want to perform with. This kind of care and consideration is palpable in her scenes, with performers who are clearly into each other, environments that feel passionate yet safe, and all filmed with Mason's trademark style which is both simple and striking. There really is no other director whose work I anticipate on this level, other than perhaps Stormy's big budget efforts.
It's hard to pin down one film to recommend for this profile. Riot Sluts 2 stands out as the one that started it all for me, and certainly the opening scene with Katrina Kraven and Kimberley Kane is one of the most impressive gonzo scenes I have witnessed, but for newcomers I would suggest one of her recent entries, either Alexis Texas is Buttwoman (co-directed by William H., 2008), Kristina Rose: Dirty Girl (2008), or any of the Massive Asses series (2008-9).