Monday, April 26, 2010

Malice in Lalaland finally arrives!!!

Yippee! Y'all have no idea how long I have been waiting for this to be released: it's an Alice adaptation, it's a feature (gasp!), and it's.....shot on film! What's film, I hear you say? It's this oldey folksy way of creating movies that makes them look warm and fuzzy and sophisticated and inviting, and quite frankly can shine a turd into a diamond. I anticipate this to be at shiny diamond-status anyway, just with the able assistance of 35mm. Goodness me, I'm excited. Don't wanna get my hopes up too much...but heck, why not?

So, here is the box description:

"An innovative film shot on 35mm, based on the books by Lewis Carroll 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking Glass'.

A strange world with strange characters, Malice manages to escape from the asylum with the help of Rabbit. During her escape from Queenie and Jabbowski, she has the most sexiest adventures ever.

Innovative packaging too, this comes as a 40 page booklet with DVD enclosed."

Also, check out that cast! Sasha Grey, Andy San Dimas, Keni Styles (last seen in Pure), the obligatory Ron Jeremy, and I know Kristina Rose is tucked away in there somewhere because I saw this adorable pic of her on their facebook fan page:

Oh, and did I mention they used storyboards? That's exciting, and they're apparently included in the 40-page booklet that comes with the DVD. So, clearly, this is one to purchase - no rentals (or thieving, for those of you who do that kind of thing) for me. I want the whole package.

You can currently purchase this at Your Choice (a European site), but I ordered from there before and it arrived very promptly. You also get the added excitement of paying in Euros.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feminist Porn Awards 2010: Reflections and Photos!

Hola! I'm back from my wonderful trip to the equally wonderful Toronto. What a fabulous city. I was very sad to leave, but also broke. Eight bucks for a beer that takes half an hour to arrive is a little much for me, but cest la vie.

I attended two feminist porn events - Public.Provocative.Porn. (a cinema screening of scenes from some of the nominated films, followed by a Q&A), and the awards ceremony itself. When I travelled out to Toronto, I was aware of the political difficulties in defining "feminist porn," and indeed some would argue that it doesn't exist (I'm not one of them). One difficulty is in which relationship you center for your definition: does the production itself, and the experiences of the sex workers, have to be feminist? Do the representations have to be feminist? And what if these two areas do not reconcile? In other words, what if the representation is feminist, but the performer doesn't get off? Or, conversely, what if the performer gets off, but the representation appears to be misogynistic? These are questions I mulled over during the preceding weeks, and questions I think all feminist porn watchers might do well to consider.

First of all, here is the definition of feminist porn according to the event organizers themselves:

In order to be considered for a Feminist Porn Award, the movie/short/website/whatever! must meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) A woman had a hand in the production, writing, direction, etc. of the work.
2) It depicts genuine female pleasure
3) It expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film and challenges stereotypes that are often found in mainstream porn.

And of course, it has to be hot!

Overall, Feminist Porn Award winners tend to show movies that consider a female viewer from start to finish. This means that you are more likely to see active desire and consent, real orgasms, and women taking control of their own fantasies (even when that fantasy is to hand over that control).

Fair enough, but even with this handy definition, I found myself growing frustrated with some of the conversations I overheard, as well as some of the comments made more publicly about what is "not feminist." This is all par for the course with feminism, of course, and the reason why it's such a dynamic discourse - ever changing, always in dialogue - so I'm sure I'm not offending anyone by raising some questions.

One thing that really struck me was how easily "feminist porn" was conflated or used interchangeably with "queer porn," which led me to ponder what the difference was, and whether the inevitable continuation of feminism is into queer theory and queer politics. I think it's important that these two areas of study and thought are distinct, while we also acknowledge where they overlap. Clearly, feminism and queer theory are both committed to challenging gender norms, so this is where the overlap at the Feminist Porn Awards derives from. But still, overhearing angry conversations amongst guests about how a film "isn't queer" and therefore somehow not valid was disconcerting to me, and left me wondering if there is a space for a feminist heterosexual identity that does not appear to diverge from gender norms. Put another way, is there a space for heteronormativity in feminist porn? Is there such a thing as a radical heteronormativity?

On a different note, but still related, my experience of the cinema screening was very strange, and I know a couple of other folks felt similarly from comments they made on reflection. The first scene they showed was from Nica Noelle's The Deviant, which I reviewed briefly a couple of weeks back. The scene they showed was between Manuel Ferrara and Elexis Monroe - a steamy scene that has a little plot set-up, followed by Ferrara's trademark French whispering and giant uncircumcised penis. The giggling was immediate, with seemingly forced nervous laughter during the pre-sex narrative sequence. Ok, it was pretty funny, and Manuel is adorable, so I figured they would all settle down once they got over that. Well, they didn't. The giggling and laughter persisted throughout, and when that cock was revealed, there was an audible gasp, followed by various forms of verbal articulation and laughter at the rather intense fucking action and multiple female orgasms. Were they laughing because they were nervous? I suspect they might have been shocked by the pretty straightforward, hot heterosexual sex, especially as the much queerer scenes that followed were met with far more moments of silent pondering and applause. Maybe it's simply because it was the first scene, but as I nipped out to go to the "washroom" (as they call it in Toronto), I heard the tail end of a cinema worker derisively calling the scene "vanilla," by which I assume she means "straight." I think that, ironically, this scene challenged the audience in ways that the other, queerer scenes did not, and probably made some people unexpectedly uncomfortable.

So, after that interesting, thought-provoking experience, the awards ceremony was the next night, and instead of my fancy dress, I did the unthinkable... I wore the very same jeans and shirt outfit I wore to the cinema screening. Shame on me, but it was snowing, and I didn't want to overdress. The awards show was a lot of fun, and once again, Mr. GGG and I were front and center with our VIP tickets, sitting amongst the stars. This meant that we were able to share silly jokes and comments with our porno neighbors during the ceremony, and a lot of giggles were shared by all. There were dance performances, tearful speeches, comedy routines from the host, and much more besides. I think CoCo la Creme may have stolen the show with her Baptist-church-gospel-singer-turned-stripper routine, to the tunes of Jesus Walks, but there were a lot of highlights to remember. For example, it was fun to be offered work by a nominated director (must have been my killer shoes) which I turned down. She even tried to persuade me by promising to pair me with a performer that I had drooled over in a conversation with her moments before - my heart all a-flutter, I explained that tempting as the offer was, I will forever be a commentator and fan of this fascinating industry, rather than an active participant.

Notable female industry figures were not nominated - Belladonna and Mason, most obviously - but that's because they didn't submit work, even though Belladonna was asked to do so. I wonder, is it an issue of politics? Publicity? Mainstream v. Indie? Either way, I think Belladonna and Mason have a lot to say regarding feminism, and I hope they become part of the equation at some stage, adding further diversity and dialogue to this important event.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

5th Annual Feminist Porn Awards

As some of you may know, the 5th annual Feminist Porn Awards, organized by Good For Her in Toronto, Canada, are coming up. April 9th to be precise, with a special screening of clips from the nominated movies on April 8th. And I'm going! I've got my tickets, my plane and hotel are booked, and I'm working my way through a handful of the nominated flicks.

You can find a list of the nominees here, but you will also be treated to mini-reviews courtesy of moi, every day up until the awards. Yippee!

The films I decided to buy (with my very limited budget - I want some spending money for my trip too y'know) are as follows:

Tristan Taormino's Guide to Anal Pleasure for Men
Tristan Taormino's Guide to Rough Sex
Apocalypse Angels (Dir. Katie Coxxx)
Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality (Dir. Madison Young)
Fluid: Women Redefining Sexuality (Dir. Madison Young)
Victorian Love Letters (Dir. Nica Noelle)
A Man With a Maid: Tales of Victorian Lust (Dir. Nica Noelle)
River Rock Women's Prison (Dir. Kathryn Annelle, already reviewed here)

Should be a fun trip, and I've never been to Toronto before. I'm also looking forward to meeting some of the amazing feminist women who work in the adult industry. Hopefully I'll have some cool stories to tell.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"For the Man Who Has Everything": 2040 (2009)

Thanks to Daniel at Roads to Moscow for sending this my way (and a very fine DVD package it is, I might add - 4 discs, in very impressive packaging). I have owed this review to him and the peeps at Wicked for a long, long time. Better late than never though, I hope, and right in time for the 2010 XRCO Awards which are taking place April 29th. 2040 is nominated for three awards, including Best Epic, and Brad Armstrong is nominated for best director of the year (y'all know I would have been rooting for Stormy, but she ain't even nominated for best director - wtf?).

This film got a lot of hype building up to its release, touted as "a high-tech step into the world of tomorrow featuring authentic props and sets from some of today's finest A-budget sci-fi flicks." Crikey! Wicked are really proud of this one, and in a lot of ways they should be. Of course, being a feature made in 2009, I had some issues, but more on that later. Lets get down to business.

The concept behind this film intrigued me -- it's the year 2040, and an STD epidemic has rendered sex between humans obsolete. Masturbation is the only form of sex, so inevitably pornography is thriving, but using "anabots" rather than humans. Smaller porno companies have shut down due to a "porn tax" and "government intrusion," and corporate porn dominates. Our focus is the underground porn scene, run by rebels. This is rather ironic, being a Wicked pic and all, but a neat prediction of the future nonetheless.

I must admit, as the the film developed over the first half hour or so, I started getting a creepy feeling that the gender politics underpinning the plot were not exactly kosher. The opening scene, featuring Alexis Texas as your run-of-the-mill anabot, and a human - Randy Spears' son (played by Randy Spears) - starts off with a sensual blow job, which I was pleased about considering the dearth of anything other than aggressive and slobbering BJs these days, but I soon discovered the reason: the anabot is just warming up, and pretty soon we have your standard New Millenium BJ. With that said, it was refreshing to see narrative and sex integrated, and Alexis is always a joy. What started giving me a sicky feeling is the moment when the anabot malfunctions and basically drops dead. Randy sighs, noting, "They're not built for this," to which the director responds, "That's all they're built for." They prop her lifeless body up, and Randy fucks her in the mouth until he cums.

The scene is emblematic of an underlying concern in pornography - that women are merely holes to be fucked, and subhuman at best. At this point in the film, I was still unsure as to what the film was trying to say about this issue it had consciously raised, but certainly at this early point, Armstrong is prompting some important questions: are these anabots the dream porn star? They're not human, don't have any feelings to worry about, and you can use them like pieces of meat. In addition, the film seems to be questioning porn performance and the "artifice" of sexuality in these films. Finally, I wondered why Armstrong chose to have the lead male porn star be a human - perhaps the suggestion that male sexuality, and male sexual performance, could be improved by technology hit a little too close to home?

The majority of my questions were answered later in this 3hr+ epic, so more on that later. Marcus London plays an anabot designer who used to work for the Big Company, RDI, but got fired when he started insisting the anabots were learning to become more human by themselves. So, he started his own indie company and developed a prototype, Mira (Alektra Blue), who is more lifelike and human than any other anabot. She sweats, her skin responds to touch, she self-lubricates, and her vaginal diameter is adjustable "for that perfect fit." Again, I'm thinking, "Oh lord...the perfect woman. Sigh." Anyway, plotwise, Brad Armstrong, CEO of RDI, thinks he is entitled to rights over this new anabot, and will do anything to get them, but Marcus is putting up a fight.

Things get more interesting when it turns out that male anabots are also being developed (significantly by female scientists, Kirsten Price for Marcus' company, and Mikayla Mendez for the corporate RDI). Naturally, they test out their product, and the inkling that these models might be in development causes a degree of anxiety for the human males in the film. As Kirsten smirks to Randy, "Getting a little nervous?" This certainly resolves some of the conflicts I had earlier, but still the focus of the narrative is on a "real" man and an "improved" woman - one for "the man who has everything."

jessica drake's character - RDI's right-hand woman, but also friend and lover of Marcus, not to mention distant sympathizer of the dehumanized anabots - engenders the most complex and progressive elements of the plot. Talking with Mikayla, the "resident Gepetto" of RDI, jessica admits that Mikayla's predecessor was fired for believing the anabots were starting to think and feel like humans. Mikayla has noticed this too, but jessica explains, RDI wanted a doll that was "lifelike on the outside, but on the inside, they wanted a simple machine," one that is "easy to control." It's not a stretch to think about this as analogous to the situation of female porn performers in the real world. This conversation, significantly between two women who work for a corporate porn-supplying company, highlights an attitude often devoid of empathy toward workers who use their bodies. The film seems to suggest, in fact, that we destigmatize and rehumanize women sex workers.

Still, it's a little more ambiguous than this. Mira is the anabot that causes all of these conversations to take place, and it is she who catches Randy's eye and heart. Randy dismissively comments earlier on in the film, "You fuck one mecha, you've fucked them all. Kinda like a toaster," but clearly Mira is more to him than a mere toaster; she's something different, more advanced, and perhaps more worthy of our empathy. At one point in the film, towards the end, Mira is waiting for Kirsten in a heavily-mirrored bathroom, and starts to become disorientated. She starts spinning around, tapping at her reflections, muttering, "Too many. Too many." It's as if Mira is faced with the grim reality that she is mass-producable, capable of being copied and traded out for another body that is exactly the same. In effect, she is expendable and easily replaceable. This scenario for real-life, objectified women, the film suggests, should not be the case. These anabots are special and unique just like any other physical performer.

Yet, at the same time, Mira's exceptional status simultaneously hints that only the special "anabots," the high-class "anabots," who are more advanced and talented than their peers earn the right to be treated with such empathy. If this is the case, what does this suggest about the "toasters" such as Alexis Texas' anabot in the beginning of the film? Are these women more easily disposable? Also, Mira's ability, later in her evolution, to tell the difference between mere droid sex and making love elevates her to some kind of ideal feminine position. I'm still thinking these implications through, but at the moment I wonder if this is something associated with the "Madonna/Whore" dichotomy that so unfairly and destructively shapes women's sexual selves. Mira's sense of shame and unhappiness about her mechanical sex work, and the goodies' desire to "save" her from corporate porn, would seem to corroborate this.

Ultimately, 2040 has a lot to say about sex and porn, and a lot of it is confusing and contradictory. This means there is a lot to think about though, which is refreshing, and I'm happy to be able to say that the film made me think about some pretty serious feminist issues, at the same time as providing an ending that celebrates female camaraderie and strength (something that is pitifully rare). Even if the loose ends and ideas didn't quite tie up neatly in my mind, I guess it's a compliment to the film that I will be mulling this one over for some time.


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