Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"A Secret From Herself": The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1974) - Platinum Elite

Hey y'all. Is this my longest break ever? Probably. I'm back though, and with a treat of a film: the most recent installment of the Platinum Elite Collection from Video-X-Pix, Radley Metzger (nee Henry Paris)'s The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, right in time for Christmas. When I say "right in time for Christmas," I really mean it. This is a great Christmas gift for a significant other, or a friend who appreciates great x-rated films, or even great genre flicks -- this feature is fun, frivolous, fast, and smart as a whip. It's also beautifully filmed and scored.

Thanks to the fine people at VXP, I was able to see this, one of my very favourite adult films, restored to its original beauty, and with awesome extras to boot. Oh, and the Jamie Gillis rape scene is restored -- like any good nerd, I have the DVD sans rape, as well as a shoddy bootleg copy that has the rape scene intact, looking as if someone shoved damaged VHS pieces into an already-grainy transfer. Whenever there is any reference to the rape sequence, the picture quality is reduced to this:

Which has been restored to this in the Platinum Elite version:

Ok, the remaining review will include massive amounts of spoilers *from the beginning.* Normally I wouldn't bother with this explanation, but the real joy of Pamela Mann is the twisty turny nature of the narrative, playfully tricking the viewer from the outset with delightful and (gasp) thought-provoking results. Nothing is what it seems, even in the seemingly-slightest of ways. So, if you haven't seen the film, do yourself a favour and watch it, and then if you want to come back and read this review, by all means do so. If you have seen the film, buy it restored. It's worth it. And please to enjoy...


As part of my research, I have been trying to track down the infamous Canadian anti-porn documentary, Not a Love Story (1981), which so far seems to be impossible to find. I have read a lot about it, however, and I understand that it involves a series of porn clips that portray pornography as violent, misogynistic, and riddled with rape. As I was looking at its imdb page, I noticed in the "references" that a clip from Pamela Mann is included in this documentary, and as this was prior to having seen Pamela Mann, I must admit it made me a little wary. Now, I have not seen this documentary, but I am assuming the clip in question is that of the rape scene that was edited from the previous DVD release, and is now restored intact. I have to say, of all the crimes of taking things out of context, that might be the worst committed. And if the clip they used is not the rape scene...well then I have no fucking idea what they could have used. The running gag involving the secretary? My point is this: Pamela Mann is a film narratively framed from the perspective of the eponymous character, but told from the perspectives of various masculine, paternal male characters, all of whom (except Mr. Mann) end up as suckers in the role-playing shenanigans of Pamela and her husband. Patriarchal discourses, such as private investigative voyeurism and medical/psychoanalytical babble, are taken to task and spearheaded as the gynophobic, regulating discourses they are. For this reason, then, the triumphant nature of this film in terms of female subjectivity, is entirely undermined by a feminist documentary that takes a scene out of context -- regardless of which scene it actually was -- presumably with the intention of showing how women are violently degraded in service of masculine sexual fantasy. How ironic.

The film opens with GGG-favourite Eric Edwards (oh how I adore thee) as Frank, surreptitiously filming a woman blowing a man who is not her husband. Frank is a private detective (3rd generation compulsive voyeur, as he puts it) hired by suspicious husbands to film their wives in the act of adultery, after which he shows them the film evidence. The film's trickery begins immediately as the client angrily asserts, "How could he?" He? Frank (and us) figured he was peeping on the woman, as is the wont of heteroporn. Nothing in this film, however, is quite what it initially seems, and as soon as you think you've got the upper hand, Metzger pulls the rug out once again.

Frank's next client is Mr. Mann (Alan Marlow, or "Gary Cole" as I like to refer to him), who believes his wife Pamela (Barbara Bourbon) is up to something and requires Frank's services. Pamela does many things in a day: "she combines ritual and spontaneity in the most perfect and exciting way. She does social work in the slums and ghettos. She enjoys solitude, like a walk in the park, and she's at home in a crowd. She can go off by herself and read, but she gets along with people. She's political, yet a strong individual." A dynamic and independent woman, then, and one whose "morning exercises" consist of a little masturbation while gazing at herself in the mirror.

Mr. Mann believes Pamela will seek out somebody to fulfill her fantasy of deep throating, so Eric follows her to the park where she picks up Marc "10 1/2" Stevens, presumably chosen for his middle name. The filming style during these scenes is professional, but done in a way that suggests voyeurism, such as the long shots by the bridge, and the scene framed by abundant plants that fill the room while she deep throats Stevens. Yet, while you might not realize at this point in the film, Pamela drives this sexual narrative and, unbeknownst to the voyeur-cum-private investigator, he is merely a tool in capturing her escapades for the mutual pleasure of Pamela and her husband.

The subsequent scenes of philandering are exhibited for Mr. Mann after the scene has played out for us, the audience, accompanied by Frank's "expert" analysis of her behaviour, presuming Mr. Mann to be disappointed by this confirmation of her faithlessness. Pamela's lived-out deep throating fantasy, for example, demonstrates a "deep oral need which has its roots in her development being arrested about the age of..." "Consent," Mr. Mann suggests. "Oh no, much earlier," Frank asserts. Meanwhile, Pamela's sumptuous love-making with Spelvin is read as indicating "an insecurity with members of the opposite sex. A sense of inadequacy." Mr. Mann consistently suggests that perhaps Frank has it wrong, that perhaps he is missing something about the depth (or perhaps simplicity) of Pamela, but the analyses persist.

Georgina Spelvin, in a minor role as Pamela's hooker friend, threatens to steal the film with her usual magnetism. Her brief dialogue with Pamela about "the loneliness" is one of my very favourites. She also has one of the most compelling scenes, with a gay man seeking her services, services which do not include full sex. However, on discovering his inability to cum with a woman, she takes it as a challenge and joyfully provides a full service. She's been duped, though, as he isn't really gay but rather an actor preparing for a role as a gay man, as he excitedly tells his friend afterwards. Not so fast folks -- in the very next scene, Georgina laughingly relates to Pamela the fun she had fucking a guy trying to convince her that he's gay: "It seemed important to him, so I let him pull it off. I always wanted to ball him anyway." If this is what it feels like being duped by a film, then dupe me every time.

The following scene is the notorious rape, entirely orchestrated by Pamela and performed by her servants, though we do not discover this until the end. Bourbon's acting and Jamie Gillis' usual intensity (ably assisted by Darby Lloyd Rains) render this scene quite disturbing, but the film's twist ending means that repeat viewings contribute new and dynamic meanings to the scenes, most especially this one. What appears to be a typical scenario in which a woman seems to begin enjoying rape, is in fact an act of role playing controlled entirely by the female subject, Pamela. The class distinctions between the players -- a socialite woman employing her servants in living out a rape fantasy -- emphasize these inverted power dynamics even more so.

Having traced Pamela through her various sexual escapades, indulged during various social, political, and charitable events, and dutifully presenting them to Mr. Mann, Frank is growing profoundly attached to the enigmatic Pamela Mann. He just can't quite put his analytical finger on who exactly she is, and neither can we. Of course, Frank's final analysis that Pamela is "a secret from herself" and has become too attached to Frank is hilariously off base. The final sequence, where all is revealed, is a doozy, as well as beautifully depicted through careful edits. It prompts a reassessment of several moments and characters in a way that I certainly did not anticipate. It fleshes out the narrative and characters in a way that I think is particularly unexpected in a film that feels so light and refreshing. While perhaps not quite on a par with masterpieces such as The Opening of Misty Beethoven, or even my personal favourite The Ecstasy Girls, which have a darker edge and characters who you become more emotionally invested in, I believe Pamela Mann is one the greats, and is perhaps not remembered quite as vividly because the film purposefully distances you as a viewer. It requires multiple viewings, and even then you are merely the duped voyeur of some fascinating and wonderful characters. But, for me, that's the magic of it all.

Extras include interesting and lengthy interviews with both Georgina Spelvin and Eric Edwards, commentary by Radley Metzger, a softcore cut of the movie, a couple of mini-docs about the locations and "Metzgers's Manhattan," an excellent booklet of historical and production notes written by historian Benson Hurst, including a brief analysis of the film, and other treats. A hearty thank you to VXP for this labour of love, and here's to further labours of love in 2012.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Meet the Neighbours: christine makepeace of Paracinema

Hello all! This summer was a wild one for me, and blogging took a backseat unfortunately. But I’m back with a bang! Here for your reading pleasure is an interview with the delightful christine makepeace, editor of Paracinema magazine, and overlord of their various dominions. I have been a fan of christine’s magazine and blog for some time, but when she started taking an interest in pornography, well, I had to get her here for an interview. Enjoy!


Tell us about yourself! Who are you, and what has led you to this point in life/work?

This is always my least favorite part! I am co-editor of the genre film magazine, Paracinema. I dabble in podcasting and various forms of social media marketing. Mostly though, I’m a writer. Whether it be blogs or scripts, as long as I’m writing, I don’t really care about the format or subject matter. That being said, my heart belongs to film analysis.

You run the magazine, Paracinema, as well as its blog paracinema.net. What were your initial goals when you started the magazine? How has it taken shape? Where do you want to take it in the future?

Paracinema was born from a grudge. As petty as that sounds, it’s totally true! I had been doing some freelance work for a magazine and suddenly found myself getting screwed over left and right. In what has become my typical response, I thought, “I can do this better!” And just like that, organically and rather naively, Paracinema began to take shape. The format of the magazine came more from necessity than anything else. There was no way we could compete with larger niche magazines and in time we decided we didn’t want to. Our goal was to create something that transcended genres and didn’t make assumptions about “cinephiles.” I think we’ve accomplished that! Now the challenge is to get it into as many hands as possible.
I’ll do it as long as people are interested.

An exciting development with the blog is your new feature "Porn as Paracinema." Considering the majority of "mainstream" film sites/magazines/media in general act as though pornography doesn't exist or matter as a genre, what prompted you to start this series of reviews?

For exactly that reason! My knowledge of pornography remains limited. That being said, I know enough to know that there is an unnecessary stigma surrounding the genre as a whole.

The magazine’s name, Paracinema, is an academic term coined by Jeffery Sconce. His defines “paracinema” by listing off the red-headed stepchildren of film (horror, sci-fi, etc.) and goes on to add “just about every other historical manifestation of exploitation cinema from juvenile delinquency documentaries to ... pornography.”

That has always stuck with me. Pornography is vilified and treated as something that should be hidden away in the shadows. Why not treat it as just another film genre? Why not write about it as one would write about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Perhaps my initial interest came from rebellion!

You started out your reviews by covering 21st century porn parodies -- why did you decide to start out with this sub-genre, and in what direction do you plan to take the series next?

I think there are a few answers to this question. Partially, I am fascinated with the films that get parodied. Some of the first I was exposed to were
XXXorcist and Re-Penetrator, 2 Burning Angel releases. It seems so many releases are based on genre films! That excites me. It’s like this link between the 2 exists organically. It’s still something I have to wrap my head around. I feel like there is so much subtext and history surrounding pornography; I’ve barely scraped the surface.

Another reason I chose the parodies was because they were more palatable for our already established readership. Surprisingly, not all genre film fans are accepting of pornography. Introducing it slowly, with goofy and relatable titles, seemed to be a way to test the water.
Yet another reason was because I’m still so green! It was an easy way to get my feet wet. I quickly became discouraged by these modern parodies and that was my cue to start digging into the “classic” stuff. That’s really where I had been heading all along.

Since you've started exploring pornography, which of your preconceived notions (if any) have been challenged? Have any been reinforced?

Preconceived notions regarding the genre itself? Well, I expected the modern stuff to fall flat, and it did. I’m surprised by how genuinely disappointing I’ve been finding it all. So many of the modern titles aren’t just boring, but they’re not sexy. Isn’t that the point? I’m confounded by the present output and it makes me wonder about the consumer. If said consumer is happy with the product, or simply consuming because it’s the only game in town? I know there are exceptions to the apparent modern rule, but I’m not running across them.

I will say that I had no idea how filmic older, “classic” pornography could be. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for and that is what keeps me excited about further exploring the genre.

I know you're a relative newbie, but I have to ask my usual last question: what are your top 3 favourite XXX flicks and why?

I don’t know if I have 3! I spent so much time acquainting myself with films I didn’t enjoy! I did recently watch
Behind the Green Door and I loved it. That’s a film that really demolished any preconceived notions I’d been holding on to. I have The Devil in Miss Jones in the queue and I’m very much looking forward to that one. And because I am morbidly obsessed with parody films, I’ll soon be watching a Halloween spoof that’s being released by Smash Pictures. I keep holding out hope that one of these parodies will be exactly what I’m looking for; a seamless integration of sex into a pre-established universe.

So far, christine has reviewed The Official Psycho Parody, The Breakfast Club: A XXX Parody, and Behind the Green Door. Go check em out!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Porn Star Blogs

Howdy! New developments in technology and media have always been given a hefty push forward by their employment and exploitation at the hands of pornography, and social media is no exception. It seems like every porn star has a twitter, and every twitterer out there follows porn stars. Heck, they even join twitter for the sole purpose of following their favourite porn stars. This is a pretty interesting development, as prior to blogs, twitter, facebook and the like, porn stars and other sex workers had very little space to voice their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and interests. The many scholars of sex work, whether libertarian, sex radical, pro, anti, or otherwise, have been recognized (and have recognized themselves, in some cases) as speaking for a diverse population of workers when they themselves have no direct experience with the trade. "Sandy," a former sex worker interviewed for Wendy Chapkis' 1997 book Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor, comments, "You know, when I read some of the stuff written by so-called 'feminist allies,' it feels like they are fighting over our bodies....It's like prostitutes are just these bodies who are somehow connected to something bad and evil or something good and on the cutting edge of revolution. They just turn us into symbols" (127).

The same kind of binary wishful thinking can be said of attitudes toward porn stars, and all the various occupations that make up the sphere of sex work. It's an attitude that Anne McClintock argues, in her 1993 article "Maid to Order," turns the sex worker into a "ventriloquist's dummy through which (generally white, middle-class) women voice their interests, at the expense of the sex workers' needs" (8-9). Since then, the global accessibility of the internet, with its variety of spaces for self-expression has profoundly altered this picture. Sex workers of all types can now have their voices heard on any subject -- not just sexual politics, but simply who they are, what they're into, and anything else they care to share. Obviously, I think scholarly work and research on sex work is vitally important, but I feel that sex worker voices are equally vital, and these voices are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think they are crucial to each other in the effort to, among other things, destigmatize sex work/ers, improve working conditions, and move toward an end to sexist oppression.

I don't have a twitter account, but I do read blogs, so I'm thrilled that there seems to be a growing amount of porn performers who have blogs. I should note here that there are also many very important and interesting blogs written by sex workers and their allies from other spheres of the industry, but that's for another time. For now I'd like to focus specifically on porn performers. I find it interesting that when a porn star does voice themselves, people react quite predictably to what they have to say. Usually, the performer is either lying (if she talks about something negative) or she's a hero (if she talks about how much she loves cum), or vice versa if the recipient of said information is anti-sex work, or some other equally simplistic and dismissive reaction based on the reactor's personal feelings about pornography and/or sex work.

What complicates these reactions, and complicates the sex worker's voice, is that as with every line of work (and perhaps life in general) there isn't any simple track to "speaking the truth." In the case of entertainment, and arguably especially with pornography, there's your stage persona and then there's your "real life" persona -- which one is speaking? Then, there's the fact that you don't want to piss off your employer or co-workers (any public personality can attest to this risk). A third unique complication exists for sex workers, however: the inability to allude to an even slightly negative work experience without contributing to anti-sex work discourse. Sex worker and Red Thread staff worker Jo Doezema says it best: "With most jobs, if you have a shitty day or a bad client or something, people don't immediately say that's because of the kind of work you do and that you must stop right away. But with prostitution, I've always felt that if I didn't convince everybody that this work was fantastic for me and that I really loved it that they would all be on my back to quit" (120). Porn industry icon Nina Hartley reflects, "Work is work: you have good days and bad days, but my worst day at work is still better than the best day selling shoes at Kinney's" (Chapkis 34). In fact, Hartley is one of the few porn stars who have consistently spoken out about the positives, negatives, and areas that could use some improvement, yet still works in the industry.

With all that said, below are just some of the porn star blogs that I keep in my feed and check out on a regular basis. In terms of focus and tone, they run the gamut from random photos and shenanigans to journalistic efforts to updates from retirement, and frankly this is encouraging. The diversity of these blogs suggest not only a sense of off-the-clock candidness, but also an indication that these performers do not feel they have to talk about one specific thing -- it's their blog, they can do what they want with it.

This list is by no means exhaustive -- I've listed a handful of the ones I find interesting, and I know there are tons of other ones out there I haven't read. Please, if you know of a rad blog written by a porn performer that is not listed here, post a link in the comments!

Ashlynn Brooke: Ashley's Blog

Brooke started this blog a little while after she retired from the industry, so it's a fairly new, and so far has been focused on biography and various interesting anecdotes. It's clear she's not pulling any punches, and, give or take a few grammar errors, it makes for fascinating and insightful reading. I just hope she keeps it up.

Janet Mason: Diary of a Hot Wife

I first came across pro-am performer, and "shared wife," Janet Mason's blog when someone linked to a revealing post of hers that detailed why she decided to quit her brief foray into mainstream professional porn. The rest of the blog is worth reading too, predominantly photos and updates, but these updates regularly provide commentary that is honest and interesting. I enjoy her intelligent perspective as a successful self-employed performer in a sub-genre you don't tend to hear much about.

Danny Wylde: Trve West Coast Fiction

Wylde runs his blog like a regular blogger -- with articles, reviews, links, promotions, and all that jazz. He's a jack of all trades, and he's notable for being a young performer who seems to actually give a shit about pornography and sexual politics. Hurrah!

Georgina Spelvin: Georgina's World

One of my all time favourite actresses has a blog! Here you will find regular updates on Miss Puss, Spelvin's various activities, and most wonderful for a nerd like me, reports on various interactions with other XXX stars of yesteryear. Spelvin clearly loves life, and it comes through in the blog. A lovely read with lovely photos.

Kristina Rose: Life via The Real Kristina Rose

Ah, I love Kristina Rose. And I love the format of this blog -- it's effectively photo-journalism depicting a day or a few days in the life of Kristina (and of course Bootz the cat). But do not be fooled -- this isn't a tumblr of random outfits, ass shots, pot smoke, stuffed toys, and gnomes. Well, it does feature all of those things, but the wonder of the blog is in the construction and the captions. Entertaining and thoughtful stuff -- the gal's an artist.

Misti Dawn: Meow Misti Dawn

I came across this blog after someone alerted me to some bullshit Star Wars parody shenanigans. It was an interesting read, and then I found that a lot of the blog contained interesting reads. And interesting photos. And an all around interesting person.

Phoenix Marie: The Official Blog of Phoenix Marie

I've long suspected that, if I really tried, I would easily become a fan of Phoenix Marie. As is, I've only seen a couple of scenes, and listened to her episode of the Elegant Angel podcast in which she stole my heart. Seriously, she comes across as a really cool person, and her answers to the "fan sex questions" were handled with sincerity -- I learned a lot that day. Her blog is more of the same, though she doesn't post nearly as much as I would like her to. The long and thoughtful posts include a 101 on anal sex, a detailed meditation on her various romantic relationships, and a variety of porn-related stuff besides.

Jennie Ketcham (formerly Penny Flame): Becoming Jennie

This is likely the most famous porn star blog thanks to Celebrity Rehab, on which Ketchum was a guest. Following that show, she publicly reverted to her real name, started a blog, and chronicled her journey post-porn. It's interesting stuff, honest and well written, and in spite of haters asserting that she turned on the industry, I've yet to see her going around blaming porn for anything, nor slandering her former employers/co-workers. Oh, and while you're at it, check out her art site, a work in progress where she displays her paintings.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quickies: Summer's Dawn Edition

Howdy. I've been enjoying my time off (two whole days, totally off, totally lazy, before summer work started today). In betwixt substantial features, I figure some quickies will serve as a palate cleanser.


Society Affairs (Robert McCallum aka. Gary Graver, 1984)

This flick is just so-so. It's worth seeing for a late Harry Reems performance (post-legal troubles). He's in great shape, and even does some nifty wall scaling! The plot centres on Reems: he is an ex-con who is identical to some rich guy about to get married, so he partners up with Veronica Hart to steal the wedding gifts. The plot doesn't factor into the movie too much, and what's left is adequate. I was kinda waiting around for what I thought was an anticipated sex scene between Hart and Reems, but right when I thought it would happen, the film ended. According to Robert Rimmer's Guide the scene happens...so, I guess the DVD is cut. Either way, I felt cheated. Those who like their sex scenes sprinkled with R. Bolla doing an exercise routine in the background, however, should pick this up immediately.

Navy Blue (The Amero Bros., 1979)

I was pretty excited to see this one, and was bitterly disappointed once I dug in. Even actual remastered DVDs don't tend to open with some grand proclamation about their noble efforts to restore the film for your viewing pleasure. So, for a DVD that contains one of the shoddiest VHS transfers I ever laid my eyes on, the aforementioned opening brag really smarts. Shitty sound and picture quality aside, Wrangler is delightful, Payne is delightful in a wooden sort of way (as usual), and the light plot (two Navy boys are in love with each other but don't feel they can tell the other; while on leave, they get into shenanigans and eventually each other) is just fine by me. What isn't fine by me is the low "completion" rate that so often seems to happen in older gay porn movies. Maybe these expectations of proof of desire are rooted in my own heteronormative conditioning, but the expectation is there nonetheless.

A Night at the Adonis (Jack Deveau, 1978)

Another Wrangler Fest, with lots of completion this time around. So much, in fact, it was a little too much! Someone described this film to me as half-cool and half-disgusting, and I'm inclined to agree. I mean, this shit gets debauched. The plot, regarding a night in the life of the infamous Adonis Theater and its customers, eroticizes slumming, grime, and public sex in general, and I guess they succeeded in their mission. The quota of engaging young men in this is high, but as usual Jack Wrangler (and his kick ass jacket) steals the show. Still, he's given a run for his money by Jayson MacBride, who really impressed me. I have a suspicion that their scene together is trimmed though, which pissed me off.

A Taste of Money (Richard Mailer, 1988)

This is a bonafide curiosity. Most performers play themselves, as Jamie Gillis and PT attempt to get Constance Money out of retirement to make one more film. Constance Money, of course, is Misty Beethoven, and one of the most engaging and beautiful adult film stars -- all the more notable for how few films she made. Alas, this is not for fans of Money. I don't know what her deal was filming this, but she seems to have trouble with pretty much every aspect, slurring her lines and whatnot. On the other hand, the film has some should-see aspects, especially fans of Gillis. It's worth watching just for the meta quality.

Bobby Sox (Paul Thomas, 1996)

I have heard all sorts of wonderful things about this film, so I'm disappointed to have to say it didn't nearly live up to its reputation. I don't think I can fully explain the plot -- in short, Jamie Gillis plays a washed up B-movie actor in town to promote a cheesy new film. Cue Steven St. Croix getting jealous, staged kidnappings, Gillis playing drunk and depressed, and a couple other twists and turns. First of all, the film is too long. Second, I dunno, it's not very good. Still, I can't completely write it off -- Gillis wakes the film up whenever he's on screen, and there are a couple of interesting elements (the Matinee-esque promotional stunt where Gillis dressed as an alien "kidnaps" a woman; the modern-50s), but overall I found the pacing was off, and perhaps most significantly the sound recording was terrible.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Exercise in the Grotesque: Girlvert: A Porno Memoir by Oriana Small aka. Ashley Blue

Wow, it's been a while, but I'm back! And, thanks to FanGirlTastic, I was able to not only do my very first book review, but also my very first phone interview with the author, Oriana Small, otherwise known as Ashley Blue, gonzo porn star pervert extraordinaire. I must admit, I was a little apprehensive at first -- all I knew of Small before reading the book was her infamous "choke out" scene for Khan Tusion, her trademark of shoving her hand down her throat, and some dubious racial remarks on a Howard Stern show. That and some terrifyingly rough porn. I was reassured on watching the Stern show that the dubious racial remarks turned out to be out-of-context banter where she gave as good as she got on the sarcastic joke department, and...well, I didn't watch the Khan Tusion scene. Reading about it was distressing enough, and as I told Small, I felt like watching it would be contributing to something bad. She concurred with a simple, "Yeah, it was very creepy." I must admit, I also had my doubts about the book -- eve the best of us fall victim to stereotyping. Having thumbed through a few porn memoirs before, with their familiar tales of childhood problems, glitz and glamour, some degree of downfall, and a speedy retreat to legitimacy, I was expecting more of the same but with extra saliva. Well, this is not like other porn memoirs. The glamour of Jenna Jameson and Traci Lords only fleetingly appears within the pages of Girlvert, and then only to be followed by absurd tragedy, tears and tantrums, and a whole host of drug- and sex-fueled grotesqueries. In fact, Girlvert is grotesque, in the truest literary sense.

When I describe Girlvert as an exercise in "the grotesque," I am referring to the more traditional artistic grotesque features of caricature, the bizarre, and characters who elicit both empathy and disgust. When I articulated this reading of her book, Small enthusiastically embraced such a perception. In particular, the word "grimy" which continually came up for me when explaining the tone to my partner, seemed to strike Small as especially apt, who laughingly declared, "If you can feel the grime, then mission accomplished!" The "glamour" that Small found within the pages of Lords and Jameson's books, she tells me, did not appeal to her because "glamour" does not characterize her life. Rather, the seedy and gritty aspects of Jameson and Lords' books are what Small found appealing about them, and is what she centered in on while writing her memoir. She tells me she wants to "set a new standard, that you don't have to pretend it's all like fuckin' red carpets and stuff in porn. I want there to be a new standard of honesty, and be able to laugh at it too." The purpose of her book, she explains in a determined tone, is to be "a cult classic. I really hope that my book can be like a John Waters movie. Like, something really important, but in a different category -- it's weird, it's cool, and it's different. This is my cult classic."

Small demonstrates an interesting awareness of gender throughout her experiences, offering fascinating logic behind her porn career. Expecting to simply do a couple of scenes to get tickets for Coachella, Small checks every box on the "yes" list when applying to the modeling agency, reasoning that she may as well get all the money possible in a short space of time, but also because she "wanted to be as hardcore as I could be for personal reasons....I had to keep going the distance sexually for myself, too. I had to soar" (27). Small approaches sex and porn as a way of pushing her own boundaries, but the way Small explains it sounds way less cliche. Indeed, Small seems to fetishize transgressing boundaries. "Porn was attractive because I knew it was bad" (33), Small notes, "I wanted to try it simply because it would be a personal barrier I could tear down. Porno gave me plenty of opportunities to deconstruct myself and society with no emotional strings attached" (46). Of course, the amount of cocaine Small ingests on a regular basis, often not sleeping the night before a shoot, goes some way to dulling the subversive edge of it all, but not entirely. I think part of this has to do with Small's unrelenting honesty and a seeming desire to disgust. This isn't one of those memoirs that occasionally mentions drugs, and leaves you with the feeling that a lot is going unspoken. Quite the opposite, in fact -- barely a page goes by where Small isn't explaining what drugs she was taking, how much, and what she did on them. For this reason, there's little to no self-pity, and when bad things happen, you feel empathy and understanding for her situation.

Particularly memorable, and unsettling, is an early shoot with "Victor," where Small is effectively tricked into anal sex unrelated to filming -- rape with a camera. As Small puts it, "The camera made it safe, so I thought....I submitted completely to whatever Victor wanted. I was afraid not to" (48). The experience leaves Small asking herself, "I hadn't slept all night and I was high, but did I ask for this? I didn't know what normal behavior was anymore" (49). Following the incident, Small assumes that she "signed over my rights as a human being deserving respect as soon as I decided to be a porno girl" (50), and is aware that even if she did tell people what happened, they wouldn't take her seriously. Noting her awareness that she was simply part of a cycle of naive girls being abused by this "very evil sexual predator" (50) with no realistic legal recourse, I posed the idea of some sort of resource for girls new to the business so they could avoid such situations and know what is appropriate and inappropriate on a shoot. Small disagreed that there was such a need, explaining, "I chose to take risks, and that's ok too. I think there's a safe route -- I chose to not do that, like day one. So, I don't think it would be entirely helpful if there was some group trying to guide people, because I don't think it's necessary. It's ok for people to make their own mistakes." This kind of gender analysis, followed by a laissez-faire attitude, is characteristic of the book as a whole. When explaining the Khan Tusion scene, Small appears to offer some reflection on the gendered dynamics of this notorious and disturbing moment in her life, but again she never pursues this line of thinking to the point of social and institutional critique.

While Small expresses some well-deserved hostility toward specific creeps and misogynists, ultimately the only person she blames for her choices -- if she in fact regrets these choices enough to blame anyone -- is herself. Every time the narrative appears to be moving toward locating a source of her woes, whether it be the string of paternal and abusive lovers, or the complex relationship with her mother, Small is sure to shift the focus back on to herself and the fact that she is aware of her own agency and responsibilities as an adult. Following a prolonged background history of Small's relationship with her mother, Small expresses her awareness that she has become like her mother in many respects and that while "my mom definitely contributed to my drug addiction," "only her good characteristics influenced me -- gave me the balls, so to speak -- to get into porn. She showed me D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Anais Nin when I was a kid, and my sexual life, for pleasure and for work, has been my own poetry....Her FUCK YOU, DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO attitude built me to be bold enough to start doing porn, and I thank her for that" (222). In fact, this positive attitude toward her life and career is what lingers in the mind after reading the book, in spite of what seems like an unrelenting stream of horrors. Small never lets the bad get in the way of asserting that she values her experiences and is proud of her life.

As the book progresses further into Small's gradual but consistent downward spiral, thanks predominantly to cocaine, alcohol, and manipulative male influence (as well as Small's craving for validation from these same sources), but also the unrelentingly graphic and repulsive imagery, it becomes harder to read in spite of a strong vein of dark humor. My need to take breaks from the book, mostly instigated by scenarios where Small is no longer pursuing the sexual mission she started out with but is merely trying to pay the rent, is frankly high praise, and Small took it as such, exclaiming, "That makes me so happy! That's a huge compliment!" The various scenes that prompt Small to consider herself "just a piece of warm flesh for them to pummel with their cocks. I knew the role. I was good at this" (264) are distressing, certainly, but as with most of Small's reflections, the acid with which such statements are shot through render them more (or less, depending on your perspective) than simply a porn star being degraded on set. Indeed, following one such scenario Small states, "The sex wasn't what dehumanized me. It actually made me more of a human being while simultaneously connecting me deeply to an animal world. The dehumanizing happened outside of the scene, at home by the ones I loved" (265). Such an analysis would comfortably find a home in any sex radical feminist textbook.

That said, there is much here for feminist men and women to disconcertedly meditate over, and Small's attitude toward life can loosely be described as libertarian. When queried about this, Small sounded like she had never really thought about her political position too much in terms of labels, but quickly embraced my suggestion that she has libertarian leanings. And yet, the dismissive and compassionless, not to mention anti-feminist, attitude I associate with libertarianism is subverted in Small's asides that demonstrate an awareness of gender. She explains in response to my misgivings about libertarianism, she never really felt exploited as a woman in porn. "The girls get treated differently," Small admits, "but we get to work it in a way that is unique and I definitely took advantage of that when I could." In the book, she briefly threatens to fall victim to the allure of masculine sexual power. When discussing her starring role in the JM series Girlvert, Small explains that she had concerns about playing the titular character who forces girls to have anal sex, noting, "I was afraid to be in charge and get rough on the talent. The power was more intimidating than playing the victim" (291). And yet, soon enough, Small is fully investing herself in the series and gaining personal empowerment at the same time: "I was no longer breaking down and crying during my scenes. Instead, I made other girls break down....The series brought me the praise and power I craved from everyone" (294). Such an inversion of power relations is unsettling in its perpetuation of gendered abuse, and this is one of the few moments in the book where I felt uncomfortable with the lack of reflection. Significantly, these are also the films that Small is most proud of, for their creativity, her own artistic input, and the way they subverted the porn formula and inserted something new, weird, and exciting into the industry. As Small states proudly, "I will never be able to show them to my sister, but I still see them as some of my greatest achievements. I feel lucky to have been part of such a unique project. Yes, these are triple-X-rated videos, but they are more than that. Those who are open-minded will get it. They are performance art" (296). It was an experience that, Small tells me, was "total freedom -- completely reckless and disgusting, and making a complete mockery." For me, Small's attitude toward porn as art is the most invigorating and exciting aspect of the book and the area where she most brightly shines as a thinker.

Also in the hard-to-read area is the constant passive acceptance of boyfriend Tyler's abusive and manipulative behavior, which will likely have some readers wanting to grab Small and tell her to wake up, or at least critique her experiences. But in a subtle way, she does critique herself. It becomes increasingly clear as the book progresses that, with hindsight, Small understands these relationships as damaging, and recognizes the power imbalances involved with both intimate partners and industry producers. When boyfriend Tyler is attempting to push Small's boundaries to get something he wants, even something as petty as working with one of his porn idols, or further his own career, there is the constant refrain of Small's resistance, and Tyler's manipulative chorus of "'Ori, do you love me? Well, then...?'" (92). Even more unsettling is Tyler's method later in the book where it is becoming more of a struggle to persuade Small to participate in extracurricular fucking, and he resorts to accusations of Small only wanting to fuck on camera for money, never for enjoyment like they used to -- the "hooker mentality" as he puts it. Small reflects, "It always hurt my feelings when he said things like this. I wasn't really sure what I liked more, sex at home or sex in the movies. Tyler always knew where to hit me when I was feeling vulnerable. Only hookers like it more in pornos, I thought. If I like getting paid for sex more, it means I am just a prostitute" (115). Such careful meditations on the nature of sex work, even within such an abusive context, are intelligent and insightful, demonstrating Small's thoughtful consideration of what could easily have been written out as repetitive arguments and verbal abuse.

I do have a couple of nitpicky criticisms, particularly regarding the dialogue. Non-colloquial dialogue in "realistic" texts is a pet peeve of mine. It can be distracting to read dialogue that simply does not reflect how real people talk -- I'm referring to the awkward separating out of contractions and lack of inflections that render "fuckin'" "fucking." Small's prose has a certain raw style and flow to it that is interrupted by the occasionally jarring, somewhat robotic dialogue, which is a shame, but an incredibly small criticism of what is a very impressive book. Similarly, the fact that Small concludes the book in a little too tidy a fashion can be forgiven, as these minor complaints inherent to so many autobiographies are soon forgotten under the grimy hue of the book's overall impact. It's a grotesquely humorous, tragic, and disturbing book written in a blunt yet poetic style, seemingly urging you to turn away, and yet you can't. While I had to take breaks, as if periodically waking from a nightmare, I returned to the book in prolonged, intense bouts, gripped by the narrative, a curled grimace on my face throughout. This piece of literary performance art is something Small should be proud of.

As for the future, Small tells me she is unsure of her long-term plans other than she and her husband Dave's lifetime project -- a coffee table book called Old Whore. She does know that her performing career is coming to an end (though not until she's eligible for the Hall of Fame), and she plans to start work on a podcast very soon. She also asserts that "inside of my person, my soul, I'm a sculptor," adding with a laugh, "I just don't know how to sculpt yet." She is currently busy recording an audiobook of Girlvert, and the paperback is available now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Quickies! Spring 2011 Edition

Hi folks! Another round of quickies for y'all as I finish up some reading, writing, and reviewing. I haven't had much time for anything recently, even for movies, so these flicks are really all I've been able to see for the last few weeks. Sad, I know. Roll on Summer.

800 Fantasy Lane (Svetlana, 1980)

Yikes. Well, I didn't think I could go wrong with a Svetlana movie starring Jamie Gillis, but this is one of the most nauseating viewing experiences in recent memory. The editing is so off kilter that I assumed these Wildside people had chopped the film up and put it back together. Alas, I am told by a friend that this is essentially the same cut as the one available on U.S. dvd (the fisting scene is cut). The plot is thin, involving Jamie Gillis and his buddy posing as rich oil men wanting to purchase real estate from a new company run by hot actresses. Naturally, these women offer extra services to seal the deal, and these shysters are ready to take advantage. Many surreal and trippy scenes occur, including one I had seen before in Forbidden Worlds (a collection of scenes from other movies), wherein Jamie is a lion tamer and the gals are done up in impressive animal body paint. I found this scene bizarre and engaging when in isolation of the rest of the movie, but back in its context (showing up at the end) I found it as irritating as the rest of the film. Irritating in its real sense -- as in, this film was an irritant. To my eyes, my ears, and my stomach.

Odyssey: The Ultimate Trip (Gerard Damiano, 1977)

This is a film of three parts, sort of a vignette flick but more like three individual segments -- short films -- each focused on sexual dysfunction and the trippy solutions to said problems. I enjoyed this film, but ironically it's the quality of the different segments (especially the first one, featuring R. Bolla and some clever dialogue ably assisted by convincing delivery) that threaten to undo the film. I found myself wanting the first segment to continue, which is a compliment really. Nevertheless, it was ultimately unsatisfying as a result. Still, recommended.

Co-Ed Fever (Robert McCallum, 1980)

This one is just ok. It's not terrible, but it's pretty light. Annette Haven leads a sorority who are promised a magazine layout if they exclusively date men from a neighbouring fraternity and end their relationships with their current ragtag group of guys, including Jamie Gillis, John Leslie, and Jon Martin (who stands out as an ubernerd). The guys (and one gal, Samantha Fox) decide to plot a sabotage. Everyone does a fine job in their roles, and it seems as though this particular storyline would have been made many times over by Hollywood. However, ultimately the film isn't particularly engaging and it's not wholly satisfying. There are many more McCallum flicks that wowed me in ways that this title didn't nearly approach. I did enjoy watching John Leslie throw a potted plant in a swimming pool though. And the film looks pretty. I'd like to know what the source is for Wildside's releases -- everything I've seen so far looks and sounds great.

The Budding of Brie (Henri Pachard, 1980)

This film impressed me. It's essentially identical in plot and characterization to All About Eve, but references several classic Hollywood films which makes it a joyous viewing experience for film buffs. In addition, the way it adapts All About Eve into a modern porn industry setting is complex and clever. The dialogue is engaging, and the actors pull off their lines well. Hillary Summers as Brie is notably excellent -- perfectly cast. Almost too perfectly cast, in fact, as her performance as parasitic and innocent/creepy Brie threatens to overwhelm any frivolous enjoyment of the film. This is of course a wonderful thing for those who, like me, enjoy adult films that take risks.

The Bombshells 2 (William H., 2011)

I'll admit I watched this selectively, and skipped scenes that involved performers I'm not keen on. I won't bother naming names, other than those I have something positive to say about. Basically, this flick gets a thumbs up from me due to one scene. The first scene, in fact, featuring Sophia Santi and Manuel Ferrara. I found this scene so engaging, I watched it twice over in one go, and then after perusing the other scenes watched it again. The other scenes were pretty good, but I suspect you would have to be a fan of the particular performers, and there are some men and women in this release who I just can't roll with due to what I perceive to be overacting. I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Support Masturbation Documentary "Sticky"

I just found the website and trailer for this upcoming documentary, Sticky. Judging by the trailer, this needs to be made and seen. The filmmakers apparently know the go-to people to talk to about this topic (or at least who GGG would want to see in a documentary on this topic -- Nina Hartley, the authors of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders to name just a few).

The documentary still needs financial support to get marketed and distributed, and you can help by donating here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Staying Optimistic: Superman XXX: A Porn Parody

"[A]s in the movie musical, the episodic structure of the hard-core narrative is something more than a flimsy excuse for sexual numbers: it is part and parcel of the way the genre goes about resolving the often contradictory desires of its characters" (134). Linda Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible." 1989.

Thanks to FanGirlTastic, who flatteringly asked me to start reviewing XXX new releases for them, I received a glitzy DVD of Vivid's second superhero "parody" (this term is becoming meaningless), Superman XXX: A Porn Parody. Over the last couple of years (since 2008's Cry Wolf, I guess), I have witnessed feature porn deteriorate at an alarming pace, seemingly in a panic to emulate the high octane sex of gonzo, as well as separate out the plot from the sex scenes presumably in an effort to adapt to the internet. This results in feature films that do not feel like complete, integrated narratives with sex woven into the plot. In addition, performers fuck out of character, exhibiting sex tricks and demonstrating a level of experience that contradicts what we have learned about the persona thus far in the script. There are exceptions of course, but frankly I have been almost exclusively watching features from the 70s and 80s, while my modern viewing habits center around gonzo and the like, which have their own genre-specific appeal.

Then came the "parody plague," as naysayers like to call it, offering nerds such as myself the cruel glimmer of hope that perhaps some of these flicks might return to form and construct sex as part of the narrative. Alas, it was not to be. The closest I have found to an integrated porn parody, complete with decent lighting, acting, and scripting, is Batman XXX. It's not perfect by any means, but most of the time the performers attempt some level of characterization, and the film as a whole felt complete. With the success of Batman, Vivid announced a whole line of Superhero parodies. Great! I thought. With the bigger budget, the proven interest on the part of the audience (many of whom we might presume are not regular porn consumers), and Axel "Son of Lasse" Braun at the helm, things can only get better. The sex, which was semi-integrated in Batman, will become even more characterized and integral to the plot; the script and plotting will take more risks; etc etc.

So, it was with the bitterest of disappointments that, after dabbling with the FF button only 20mins into Superman, I hit STOP at about the 30min mark. Naturally, I went back and watched the rest for this review, but only because I had to. Watching Superman makes me wonder what the goal was. Save your "It's just porn!" babble. Everything's "just" something, but why not be as good as so many of us *know* it can be? I doubt the gonzo-exclusive crowd are going to be too interested in buying features, and those who are sitting down to watch a feature are clearly not looking to watch gonzo. They bought a feature. They're two different sub-genres, both valuable in their own right, both genres I am a fan of, but they are fundamentally different. I just don't get it. And it makes me sad.

Ok, enough boo-hooing. Here's the scoop, as Jimmy might say: the film opens with General Zod (Ben English) and his peeps being banished for attempting to start a "New Order" on planet Krypton that would make its citizens turn on its rulers and create general tyrrany. Subsequent to said banishment, an airliner, piloted by boozing Evan Stone and Alec Knight, is in bad weather and about to take a nosedive thanks to the sexual distractions offered by flight attendant Lexi Belle. The first scene actually involves some verbal play, as is wont with Evan Stone, and I swear I even heard some homoerotic exchanges between pilot and copilot which frankly got me all hopeful for a rollicking good time. In spite of Evan's shenanigans, the sex is just what you might expect, as if someone is checking the boxes on a list of acts that must be included for fear of the raincoater's wrath. Still, not bad, and I enjoyed the effects, what with the room teeter-tottering throughout thanks to no one being at the helm (insert "at the helm" innuendo here).

Thankfully, Clark Kent, aka. Superman (aka. crossover performer Ryan Driller), is on board and not being serviced, so he has time to go change, fly outside, pick the plane up by its wing, and escort everyone to safety. Oh, and the effects aren't terrible! I've seen many more aggravating things on the Syfy Channel.

Next up, we're introduced to the familiar newsroom where Perry (Will Ryder) is yelling at Jimmy (James Deen) about getting the "flying man" scoop, and Lois Lane (Andy San Dimas) is being a general star. GGG favourite Kristina Rose pops up as the receptionist, directing new-hire Clark Kent into the office, and the interactions work pretty well in these newsroom scenes. That is until everything comes to a screeching halt for the overlong and out-of-character sex scene between Jimmy and the receptionist. Lex Luthor (Eric Masterson) has just announced on television that he has launched a missile, bwahahaha, much to everyone's consternation, but never fear because Superman has dispelled the threat in about 8 seconds...just in time to cut to Kristina Rose sucking off James Deen in the storage room. The scene actually begins in an admirably fractured way, with Clark interrupting them while trying to find a place to change into his supersuit, and then Jimmy taking photographs out of the window of Superman saving the day. However, after these initially hopeful signs of some integration, the scene becomes just another scene from any other movie. This is not Jimmy fucking, but James Deen, and the receptionist is simply Kristina Rose. So, it's James Deen and Kristina Rose fucking, which has nothing to do with their characters. Result: boring. I skipped the second part of this scene. The interesting thing is, it's all about context (I am an uberfan of Ms. Rose, after all). This might be a hot or interesting scene if it were in the context of a different genre -- indeed, it may have played out rather differently within a different genre -- but within a feature I'm just left there scratching my head and watching the DVD timer.

The remaining plot (there is very little of it) follows the familiar 1980s route, with Lex damning his futile efforts at destroying Metropolis, Zod exacting his vengeance on Earth, and Superman booting up while simultaneously courting a frankly ravishing Lois Lane on the side (Andy San Dimas really stands out when she's given the chance -- I'm a fan). The remaining sex scenes threaten to do interesting things, especially Lois Lane's sexual assault at the hands of Zod and Co., in which Andy does a good job of staying in character at least part of the time, inflecting the scene with a certain edge. In fact, the scenes featuring San Dimas and Driller are easily the most compelling (though, again, the sex reverts back to prototype) -- during these brief moments, I thought I was about to start liking the film.

"...not to mention an extra baby wipe."

Yet, in spite of San Dimas and Driller, some interesting framing, notably good videography, and the occasional interesting or witty moment, the narrative is entirely overwhelmed by the sex. It's not even necessarily about having less sex and more plot -- sex and plot are not mutually exclusive, in my opinion. Sex is just as valuable and meaningful a signifier as any other physical act, and I've seen it used as such in hundreds of excellent films. But when you isolate the plot from the sex, that's when things start to become fractured to the point of feeling like two genres competing for dollars, and that's when things start to become boring.

Furthermore, and maybe I'm just plain wrong about this, but the sexual allure of a superhero porn flick strikes me as being rooted in seeing Lois Lane and Superman/Clark Kent uncensored, not a porn starlet/star doing what they usually do, but dressed in a costume (which usually comes off anyway). I detect an effort in this direction with Batman, and glimmers of it in Superman -- certainly, the talent is there -- but I eagerly and perhaps overly optimistically await the full package at some point in the near future. Maybe in the sequel?


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