Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Year Quickies!

Hola! Boy, what a week! Started back at school (so far, so good -- I'm actually feeling motivated...gasp!) and haven't seen a single, solitary film since last Sunday. I plan on making up for lost time this weekend though. Until then, here is a quick rundown of the last batch of flicks I saw, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Raw Talent (Larry Revene, 1984)

I knew going into this that the film was cut to pieces, and that several key scenes (Jerry Butler fucking a cooked turkey, Jerry Butler raping Lisa deLeeuw over a toilet, Jerry Butler kicking ass karate style) were missing. Nevertheless, I figured watching a butchered version was better than watching no version, and happily I was right. That's not to say the edits don't ruin the film, it's just that instead of being left feeling angry, I was left feeling even more anxious to watch the complete version. This is easily one of the strangest, nastiest adult films I've (sort of) seen, and Butler's character is surprisingly unhinged.

Butler plays Eddie, a wannabe actor working as a waiter, who accompanies his buddy (Joey Silvera) to a porn shoot and winds up performing in it when Joey can't get the job done. Eddie embarks on a porn career, after being told by director Carolyn (deLeeuw) that porn won't harm his acting career, but of course his past rears its ugly head during his later mainstream success in a soap opera. I don't think there's a single likeable character in this film -- at least, no one you feel entirely sure about or comfortable with. Eddie (played brilliantly by Butler), while sympathetic, is dangerous and bitter from the get-go, and Carolyn is simply something else. If you ever get the chance to see his uncut, I implore you to do so.

Sweet Alice (Joseph F. Robertson, 1983)

I was excited to see this, seeing as it stars Kevin James (as a cowboy, no less!) and lovely Seka. Not only that, the cast boasts such GGG favourites as Jamie Gillis, Paul Thomas, and Desiree Cousteau. Turns out, it's a loop carrier, so it's low on narrative, and most of the performers don't have speaking roles. I enjoy a good loop carrier, and Kevin James was goofy enough to keep me watching, but this was ultimately a bit of a snoozefest.

Any Time, Any Place (Kirdy Stevens, 1981)

From Helene Terrie and Kirdy Stevens, the team that brought you the Taboo series, comes this neat little film. Seka is vibrant as usual as Lynn, a criminal who along with her two male partners in crime (Mike Ranger and Jesse Adams) go about burglarizing, bantering, and fucking. It's not terribly memorable, but it's fun, and while not as good as, say, Taboo II, it still offers the same light-hearted quality you would expect from a Terrie/Stevens film.

Sexcapades (Henri Pachard, 1983)

Holy shit, does it get any better than this? No matter how many times I feel like I must have reached some kind of apex of adult film, another outstanding flick seems to be just around the corner to prove me delightfully wrong. Eric Edwards cements his position in my Top 5 male performers with his role as Harry, a filmmaker gone broke who returns to his adult film roots much to the displeasure of his wife, Sharon Mitchell. What ensues is a sort of fantastical and witty, but also grittily real, descent/ascent into the world of porn and all its shenanigans, with a focus on Harry's directorial struggles, his psyche, and his sexuality. The intertextual, meta nature of the narrative is so skillfully and playfully executed, I spent the majority of the film in baffled, captivated awe. So much so, I had to watch it twice. Awesome stuff.

Great Sexpectations (Henri Pachard, 1984)

So, remember two minutes ago that whole "apex of adult film...another film proving me wrong" thing? Turns out, the very next film I watched after Sexcapades totally blew my mind. It's the sequel, and I had read that some folks think it's better than Sexcapades, but y'know, I thought it couldn't get much better. At best, it would repeat the formula and just be almost as good, but be remembered as better because it's new. Kinda like Waynes World 2. In reality, much like the Talk Dirty to Me sequel Nothing to Hide, Great Sexpectations is both entirely fresh and entirely as good, or better, than the first installment. Trying to decide which is the superior film is impossible, and unnecessary -- they belong together, and it would be a shame to have to pick just one.

Eric Edwards is back as Harry, nailing his performance in a way that rocked my world. I knew Edwards was a good actor, but this flick takes the cake. Some might say something like Firestorm is where he's at his best, but for me it's the subtly humorous and playful, but simultaneously complex and serious, performances that really test an actor, and in this film Edwards is pitch perfect. Harry is now divorced from his wife, and still making adult films. His newest endeavour stars John Leslie (playing himself) and adult star Marilyn Camp (Kelly Nichols, who also really impressed me). Marilyn is notoriously difficult to work with, but it soon becomes clear that she's a complex personality, and their multi-faceted working/personal relationship becomes the focus of the film.

For once, the DVD tagline is factual.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

AEE/AVN 2011: Reflections and Pictures

Hey folks. So, as I noted in my last post, I attended the Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) and the AVN Awards last week in Las Vegas. It was my second time, my first time being in 2008, and many of the same thoughts popped into my head while I was there this time around, predominantly to do with being a young woman at a porn fan convention. First, let me say that I was able to meet some folks I really admire that I had not anticipated meeting -- people I saw wandering the expo floor and I plucked up the courage (thank you Mr. GGG for the multiple prods) to go up to and introduce myself. But of course, even while I was nerding out, my feminist analysis hat was not far off my head, and I encountered several pretty interesting (and sometimes simply aggravating) situations, all to do with the fans.

The most noticeable thing in terms of gender and performers is that none of the male performers are signing (other than Ron Jeremy), and even though you can tell the male fans know who these performers are, they simply do not approach. Rather, they line up for the women who are signing, and then constantly eyeball the male performers who are casually hanging out all over the place. Being a woman, I can easily go and talk to these male performers without the fear of some kind of homophobic stigma. I could tell a lot of fans really wanted to go and tell these guys how much they loved their work, but I didn't see a single guy go and shake the hand of a male porn star. Of course, because I was the initiator, Mr. GGG was able to chat with the male stars along with me without fear of reproach. It's that old homosociality thing again -- with a woman as a buffer, men are able to interact in these kinds of settings. Without a woman present, the situation alters profoundly.

While Mr. GGG and myself were standing in line for Jenna Haze, a dude came and asked us if we would have her sign something for him -- the line was being cut off because Jenna had been signing for five hours straight (!) and understandably she needed to clock out. This guy was a superfan of Jenna, so he told us, and because Mr. GGG was only in line -- only in the expo, in fact -- because of me, we told him, sure. In fact, when the dude asked if he could just jump in line in place of Mr. GGG, we said that was no problem as long as Jenna and her people didn't mind. As a result, this guy kinda hung around by us and made chit-chat, and it wasn't long before he was informed that it was me, not Mr. GGG, who was the porn enthusiast. What followed was pretty aggravating, but interesting from a feminist perspective. First, the guy high-fived me (I reluctantly held out my hand -- I admit it...), and then he told Mr. GGG that he had "won the lottery." This is problematic to me in a couple of ways. First, of course, there's the idea that our relationship is rooted in some kind of draw, and that Mr. GGG as the man is the one plucking out numbered balls. I just happened to get plucked, apparently, and oh my goodness, he lucked out because I watch porn. Second, I find it really irritating that because someone is biologically male, and lives as a man, he must obviously watch and be interested in porn. The assumption made by this guy (and I can't really blame him -- he seemed nice enough, but was simply regurgitating what mainstream culture spits at us every day) was that Mr. GGG, as a dude, was already totally into porn and then met me and it was simply, "Oh sweet! She watches porn!"

Aside from the fact that I don't simply watch porn (I'm in that weird fan/scholar no-woman's-land), Mr. GGG is really just along for the ride because he loves me and takes an interest in the things I enjoy, research, and write about. Y'know, like, my career and stuff. He really only had a fleeting interest in x-rated material when I met him, and once my research took off he took an interest in that research. He made futile attempts at explaining this to our new friend, saying, "It's really not like that," and, "Well, she's also a great person," to which he assured, "Oh sure, sure." But really, I think both of us were reluctant to justify ourselves and our relationship simply because of assumptions made about our gendered viewing habits. I certainly wasn't about to explain the complexities of my interest in adult film, and Mr. GGG wasn't interested in explaining the complexities of our relationship or himself as a man. Again, I don't think this dude was a bad person, and I wasn't mad at him, per se -- it simply made me think.

Anyway, that was all pretty interesting for me and Mr. GGG, and we had a really rich discussion over some beers afterward. There were several examples during my time in Vegas of how people view gendered porn viewing, but that particular instance stood out. I had a lot of fun at the expo, and the awards experience. Thanks to all the porn folks I met for being good sports -- this really is a unique industry in terms of fan contact, and it's refreshing that so many performers, producers, and directors take an interest in feminist approaches. I think many people would be surprised at the level of engagement with feminist/queer ideas that is present within much of the "mainstream" adult industry. It's not marketed as a site for progressive ideas, like the Feminist Porn Awards for example, and yet I had about the same level of disconcertion and refreshing hope at both events.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Don't Be a Schmuck!": Angel Buns (1981)

Howdy folks! I just returned from the AEE/AVN Awards 2011 in Las Vegas. It was my second time, and certainly things have changed even in the brief three intervening years. I got to meet a bunch of people I was hoping to meet, and experienced the usual Vegas shenanigans/annoyances. Now I'm back, Christmas is over, and a new semester is about to start, I figure I should kick off the new year with my thoughts on a fun and frivolous little film, Angel Buns (Dir. Jim Clark). I requested this screener because I thought it would be a bit of fun, and I liked the picture on the front (yeah, it's that simplistic sometimes). Of course, any film starring Veronica Hart and R. Bolla should be on a porn nerd's radar anyway, and I'm happy to report that this flick was fun but also gave me something to think about in terms of gender and genre.

Angel Buns is the familiar tale of a loser, Sydney (Bolla), who is so unhappy with his lot in life as a shoe clerk who is terrible with women that he decides to commit suicide. Luckily, the folks up in heaven are on the case and determine that Angel Buns (Hart), as his guardian angel, must go to Earth and help him out. Helping him out consists of working through a list of sex acts that he has not completed, while Angel Buns guides him in the rights and wrongs of sexual conduct with women. If she completes the assignment, she earns her wings; comingle with humans, however, and she loses them.

The very first act that Sydney is treated to is a BJ from an anonymous woman who appears at Angel Buns' calling. At this point in the film, I considered that the narrative centers around the re-education of masculine desire, and assumed that the film would simply reassert a sexuality that privileges male desire, and all but ignores female desire. Sydney is a douchebag -- he hits on women in a way that creeps them out, and as a result he doesn't get any "pussy." Here, in the first scene, nothing seems to be shifting him away from this approach as he is merely supplied with the fellatio that he desires. He doesn't even need to try, and furthermore Angel Buns goes about sprinkling angel dust on women so that they desire Sydney. Because of this coercive element, and the seemingly phallocentric focus of Sydney's re-education, I was pretty much rolling my eyes and preparing myself for a flick that promised much but failed to deliver.

However, happily, things started to shift after the first scene. An undercurrent of Sydney's (and by extension, men's) insecurities and shortcomings regarding women and sex started to emerge. "You've never had a really good blowjob, have you?" Angel Buns asserts. When Sydney protests, Angel laughs and retorts, "Once? With a prostitute, and it was over before she could say, 'Don't cum in my mouth.'" Such chastisement highlights the way Sydney focuses on his own sexual desire, and demonstrates his inability to satisfy a woman as a result. In addition, throughout the film Sydney's fatal flaw is his hesitation after getting what he ostensibly wants. Women are rarely, if ever, shown to lack sexual desire; it is men who back off and shrink from women's sexual advances. Whenever Sydney hesitates, Angel appears and snaps, "Sydney, don't be a schmuck!" thereby gradually encouraging him into an assertive but still caring masculine sexuality.

When Lisa Beth and Brenda Brooks enter Sydney's shoe store chattering about their sexual demands and conquests, it becomes clear that Sydney's challenge is not to overcome women's resistance, but to overcome his own sexual fears. Admittedly, Brooks (above right, and below) is pretty terrifying in a grotesquely awesome way, and when Sydney delivers her shoes later in the day, she greets him with, "Hey there, how'd you like to sit on my face?" Sydney stutters around a bit, and she asks, "You do eat pussy don't you?" He seems taken aback, perhaps even repulsed, and Angel appears to help him out in finding the woman's clit. "I know it's here somewhere..." he muses, before diving into his first lesson in cunnilingus. This scene is notable not just for talking the talk of female sexual pleasure, but for also walking the walk with its "meat shots" of the clit, framed in much the same way as Sydney's cock during the accompanying fellatio (courtesy of Lisa Beth, before she gets distracted by George Payne). Cutting back and forth between such close-ups emphasizes that, in spite of what most porn might suggest, male and female desire can indeed be sensationally and representationally equal.

The last thing on the list for Sydney to do is anal sex, and he knows just the gal -- an old girlfriend (Tiffany Clark) who, in spite of her desire for anal sex, he dumped after classifying her as a "GU" (Geographically Undesirable -- she lived in Brooklyn, he lived in Manhattan). He calls her, she isn't sure, and Angel sprinkles her magic dust on the receiver. No sooner has the GU agreed to dinner, Sydney is panicking: "I've never fucked anyone in the ass before!" Once again, female sexual desire is not the issue, but rather male anxiety. Granted, the magic dust swayed her, but in the beginning it was she who was desirous and he who backed off. A similar situation is emulated here, and when Sydney and Angel visit Angel Dick (a typically cheeky Jerry Butler) to show Sydney how its done, the focus of the success or failure of anal sex is squarely on the man's shoulders: his penis must be "rock hard."

After dinner with his GU, Sydney starts to resist her request to break her anal virginity. Luckily for him (and her), Angel is there to tell him, "Don't be a schmuck," and soon enough they're reaching for the butter in a nod to Last Tango in Paris. "Sydney, I can't believe it," the GU asserts, "I've finally got a cock up my ass!" By announcing this, the focus on who is achieving what shifts to the GU -- she has been wanting to do this for ages, and is now finally striking it from her list much like Sydney. Her pleasure is privileged more so than usual too, as Sydney's cries of "I'm gonna pull out!" are met with her warning, "Wait for me, wait for me!" Whether he waits or not remains ambiguous, as her orgasm is not really shown (as is typical), but you have to hand it to the flick for including her demands. In ambiguous cases like this, you can always tell yourself that she climaxed. Furthermore, while Sydney is reaching climax, Angel is too -- she gets so aroused by the scene, that she sits back and masturbates herself to an orgasm that visually and aurally coincides with his.

The film concludes with the compulsory scene between the two stars, who have gradually fallen in love over the course of Sydney's exploits. Angel is reprimanded by God for getting too close to her subject, but she throws caution to the wind and fucks Sydney knowing full well she will lose her wings. I was worried for a second that the film would end with the female character sacrificing her successes and accomplishments simply for the love of a man, but instead she is given the chance to start over as a human and returns to an evidently thrilled and in love Sydney, who himself is a new man: confident, self-assured, and showered with feminine attentions. Nevertheless, he clearly couldn't give a crap about the constant flow of calls from ladies once he sees Angel walk through the door. A sweet ending to an unexpectedly thought-provoking film that sparkles, both literally and figuratively thanks to some inspired cinematography, a cheeky tone, and two inspired performers.

Available here.


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