Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bright Desire: Smart Porn for Women and Men

Hi all! I recently had the pleasure of reviewing a XXX website - my very first review of this sort, and many thanks to Ms. Naughty for the opportunity! Ms. Naughty's new site is Bright Desire a porn site that describes itself as "new wave" - which I take to be a variant of what can only be described as a movement in porn. Call it queer, call it ethical, call it feminist, call it "post porn" -- clearly, porn consumers are asking for something different from mainstream fare, yet also not soft focus, not necessarily traditionally plot-driven, and (critically, in my opinion) not simply standard, mainstream porn packaged as "for couples." (Might I also add that it thrilled me to see "quality erotic fiction" listed on the welcome page?)

Lovely Adrianna Nicole in "Phone Sex"
Ms. Naughty describes her site in these terms:

This site offers a new and different kind of porn – new wave, smart porn. The aim is to move beyond the old cliches, boundaries and negativity of standard, old-style pornography and to offer something fresh, inclusive and intelligent.

Bright Desire is a celebration of sex. It’s a deliberate attempt to show all the good stuff that we love about sex – intimacy, laughter, connection and real pleasure. It’s also about enhancing and exploring fantasy – because our brains are just as important to our sex lives as our genitals. I want to make 'thinking porn' – erotic material that engages your mind as well as your heart and your libido. I also want to create 'grateful porn', sexy videos that inspire joy and happiness.

"Who's Been a Bad Girl?"
Sounds awesome to me. And honestly, it is. There is a real diversity here that offers a little bit of everything, but it all feels fresh. So, I guess if you are committed to a certain aesthetic currently provided by mainstream output you might not be interested. However, in my experience there are constantly people who watch mainstream output, and enjoy it, yet are open about settling for things that they could do without. A lot of the time, from "regular" porn fans, I hear a desire for less fakeness, less focus on hard&fast, or, if they like hard&fast to have it be more organic. I think that's the word for it: organic. At least, that's what I look for, whether it's a Hollywood-esque XXX feature film from the 70s, or a Penthouse Letter, I want to feel a fluidity, an organic quality to that product. A product that doesn't seem to be adhering to a stale, predictable mould. I felt like I got that at Bright Desire.

Ms. Naughty explains in her blog post about the site launch, "Bright Desire currently features scenes with real life heterosexual couples as well as male and female solo masturbation scenes. I’m going to expand this as I go along and include all orientations and genders, although I do want to focus on hetero sex because that’s where I’m personally at. And it’s also an area that’s still neglected, despite the explosion of queer and feminist porn. Straight sex is still stuck in the realm of porny cliche and I want to go beyond that." She goes on to explain, "I’ve taken a risk by including male solo scenes amid the couples and solo women. Porn dogma insists that this sort of content should be segregated, labelled as 'gay' and kept safely away from straight men lest they somehow 'catch the gay' or turn into zombies or something like that. I’m not buying into that." I don't buy into that either. The inclusion of male solo scenes is a pleasing deviation from the typical refusal to focus on the male body as sexually desirable. Whenever this happens, it's called "gay" even when there is no male-male contact. This is rather telling of who we presume to be doing the gazing...

"Fucking is the Only Prayer"
The categories available are: Movies, Stories, Reviews, and Columns. You can also add content to your "Likes" page making it simple to access your favourites. The movies are divided into a few sub-sections: Couples, Solo Men, Solo Women, Extended Scenes, Short Films, Extras, Interviews, and Film Festival, but they have many more tags to click on besides, including animation, BDSM, real life couples, pegging, and more. (I *love* the fact they have a tag for "laughter" - there really needs to be more laughter and joy in sex media). This gives a pretty good idea of the range of content available on the site, as well as the degree to which Bright Desire presumes you to be interested in the erotic arts in general; a presumption I find to be gratifying.

At the moment, Ms. Naughty is still adding content (it is brand spanking new), but from the looks of it the site is going to be really exciting and dynamic. I'm excited to see where it goes. Recommended.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

“I Want to Get to Know You”: Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle (1982)


I'm continuing my foray into the representation of female sexual agency in porn, this time by looking at the Platinum Elite edition of 1982's Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle. The "docu-porn" is rapidly becoming the most popular genre of gonzo today thanks mostly to the output of Elegant Angel, particularly their contracted director Mason who has created the popular eponymous porn series, Asa Akira is Insatiable, Buttwoman, Slutwoman, and individual spotlight features such as Dani, Celeste, and Remy. All of these films involve extensive narrative segments between sex scenes that touch on the performers life and sexuality, and the sex scenes themselves are created collaboratively between Mason and the performer. The format goes back to the early 1970s, with the various Inside and Deep Inside films, establishing the porn film that claims to go behind the scenes and reveal the woman behind the porn star. (Interestingly, I read an article recently that stated Linda Lovelace established the trend of using pornography to represent authentic female desire through the many interviews and writings she did claiming lack of distance between herself and her porn star persona. In reality, while Linda Lovelace may have cemented the trend in film, it goes back centuries in literature). Some of these films simply recut scenes from other films, while others such as Insatiable (1980) and perhaps most notably Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle made concerted efforts to create dynamic and original feature films that blurred (or illuminated?) the lines between fantasy and reality, subject and object. 

Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle is notable because Sprinkle created the project with feminist intentions of presenting her true sexual persuasions. As Sprinkle explains, “After making about a hundred porn movies, written, produced and directed all by men, I felt like I wanted to make something of my own. Something from a woman’s point of view” (Hardcore from the Heart 51). Sprinkle wrote the script, and had a high level of creative control. The film was the second highest grossing hardcore film of 1982, and instigated, as Annie Sprinkle puts it, “the beginning of a new era, pornography made by women” (Hardcore from the Heart 51). The significance of this lies in how the most popular current gonzo format amongst male consumers reflects and is rooted in this film, which was also one of the most popular films with male consumers in its day. Evidently, female sexual pleasure, female sexual desire, and the journey from girlhood to womanhood in terms of sexuality is highly desirous as a pornographic subject, and indicates a complicated attitude toward female sexual agency, as well as a paradoxical tendency to both blur and illuminate the lines between fantasy and reality.

Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle opens with Annie speaking directly to camera – a format that has, in recent years, died out in favour of the interview format. She explains that her goal is one of mutual intimacy between performer and spectator: “I’m really glad that you came to see me because, well, I want to get to know you and I want you to get to know me and I want us to become very very close and very very intimate. Would you like that? I would.” Annie creates the illusion of mutual intimacy, when in reality it is impossible that Annie would get to know the spectator when the communication is only one way. Only the spectator can get to know Annie, and not the other way around. Yet what appears to be a one-way communication is in fact more complicated. First, it could be argued that Annie gets to know her spectators through the medium of pornography and the catering to male pornographic desires; and second, Annie’s rhetoric is suggestive of her own dictation of those male pornographic desires. A sort of re-education of desire, or at least guidance of these desires. Even as Annie asks the question, “Would you like that?” she is answering, “I would,” as if this is all the answer necessary, and she continues to use this style of question and answer throughout the film. 

Annie’s introduction of photos from her childhood is unusual, and likely would not be included in current porn due to increased self-regulation (thanks to external pressure) of content within the industry. Perhaps it is this recent context that makes the introduction of the photos feel subversive, but aside from context there is something transgressive about exposing the human being – a woman who was once a baby, a girl, a teenager; a woman who has a family; a woman who has a real name, “Ellen” – behind the porn star. In addition, the close ups that include Annie’s lacquered nails as she directs our gaze, contribute to a sense of authorship on Annie’s part. 

I love the fact that the first scene is one that privileges the heterosexual female gaze. The object? Two naked hunks arm-wrestling. Annie explains how she used to work on a construction site, and loved to watch the muscly guys and flirt with them. The subsequent scene focuses on how a woman might enjoy ravishing/being ravished by two men. This is not exactly an unfamiliar concept, but what is unfamiliar is the way the two men are positioned as sexual objects, and the homoeroticism of the arm-wrestling is represented as erotic to women. Thus, Annie's authorship of the sex scenes subtly transforms the gaze of the porn spectator. In spite of all the well-documented increase in female porn consumption, and alleged marketing to heterosexual women and couples, I cannot think of any mainstream "straight" porn today that would dare position the male body as object of lust in quite the same way, and I think that's revealing.

Annie continues to play with the lines between reality and fantasy, on screen and off screen, most particularly in the sequence where she has sex with theater-goers watching one of Annie’s films.
You know, I am a real exhibitionist. And I love to have sex in very public places. Sometimes, if I see one of my movies is playing, I’ll go in and sit down and start watching myself sucking and fucking on that big screen and that makes me very very horny. So, I get carried away and I start doing all the guys around me. It’s really nice. So don’t be surprised if you’re ever in a movie theater and I come in, and I sit right next to you.
The subsequent scene blends the film on screen in the cinema with the film on screen that we are watching, that is presented as reality. It exposes the difference between on-screen action and off-screen action through the patrons’ shock – “Oh my god! You’re Annie Sprinkles!”– and yet the “real” Annie Sprinkle is still the on-screen Annie Sprinkle, just a screen once removed. The cinema patron’s off-screen reality is our on-screen fantasy, and Annie’s knowing smile in our direction at the end of the scene reinforces this sense of playful, and pleasurable, complication of the separation of reality and fantasy. 

I understand why there is so much concern over the way pornographic representations of sexuality are received as "true" or "authentic," and why the increased blurring of reality/fantasy in the internet age is discussed as a problem (see Cindy Gallop's Make Love Not Porn). Yet, I also understand the resentment some people have toward society's scapegoating of porn; the way porn is held accountable for sex education. Addressing the complex ways in which pornography has and continues to interrogate the “truth” of female sexuality can open up new avenues of discussion that connect histories of literature and film, avoid class-based dismissal of certain mediums and genres, and encourage a more nuanced approach to current trends in porn that are too often dismissed as meaningless or even dangerous, and maligned by scholars invested in eras and mediums deemed superior to the alleged “trash” being consumed on the internet today. 

Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle is a lovely film. Annie exudes charisma and sweetness at the same time as she is authentically lusty, a combination that I personally find magnetic and inspirational. Clearly I am not alone, as her dynamic career post-porn demonstrates. The Platinum Elite edition of this film is simply beautiful, and the DVD comes with a wealth of extras, including a commentary by Annie, astoundingly awesome liner notes, and an adorable cut-out finger puppet of Annie. If you already own this film, like I did, I urge you to "double dip" on this one. If you have never seen it before, do yourself a favour and buy this edition. If you're interested in Annie's career - her art, her porn, her performance, and writings, visit her website. I heartily recommend the DVD Herstory of Porn and her dazzling book, Post Porn Modernist.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Are You Afraid of Me?": Joy (1977)


Hi folks! Recently, I've been interested in pornography's attitude toward female sexual agency and desire. Yeah, a pretty massive topic, I know. But, more specifically, I've been interested in how pornography (the texts, the filmmakers, the consumers) reveals its conflicted attitude toward female sexual agency in its many films that focus on a female sexual journey of some kind. These films range from The Devil in Miss Jones, to Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle, to Tori Black is Pretty Filthy, to today's focus, Joy (1977). Joy is an unusual film in terms of its plot, yet it also illuminates generic patterns in pornography (film and literature), and hence is a neat little example of what I have found to be true of much pornographic film and literature: desire for active female sexuality at the same time as conflict/dis-ease regarding the nature and extent of this desire.

The popularity of female sexual protagonists in pornography suggests there is great pleasure to be had in seeing a woman transgress the sexual social norms of her gender; sexual journeys in heterosexual pornography are most typically run through the body of a woman because such sexual adventure is more transgressive for a woman. In this way, pornography’s obsessive attention to pushing female sexual limits and the female epiphany via sexual violence or exploitation can be viewed and understood in more complicated terms than simply “men get off watching women being raped.” In Joy (1977), originally titled The Female Rapists, a young woman named Joy (Sharon Mitchell) refuses to have sex with her boyfriend, who then breaks up with her. She is later raped in her home, but has an epiphany midway through her sexual assault, demanding, “I want more!” 

She then goes about New York City on a rape spree, which causes a series of copycat rapes perpetrated by women, and Joy is eventually arrested but set free. The film is a unique example of the rape-themed pornographic sexual journey, yet representative of the genre in its conflicted attitude toward female sexual agency. This attitude is conveyed through three key moments in the film: 1) Joy’s initial rape and subsequent rape of her ex-boyfriend, 2) the police chief’s discovery of his wife’s adultery and subsequent crackdown on the female rapists, and 3) the final police action against Joy, where she is raped into submission by order of the angry and hypocritical Lt. Handcock (Jake Teague), arrested, and eventually released thanks to the sexual favours she performs on him.

In the initial scene, when Joy asks for “more” from her rapist, he leaves in bewildered fear, and Joy immediately departs and breaks into her ex-boyfriend Ricky’s apartment, where he is showering, and rapes him. This first sequence is significant in that the male aggressors are sexually turned off by Joy’s sexual aggression, and her ex-boyfriend Ricky is essentially in the same victim role as Joy: his private space is invaded while he is vulnerable and flaccid. His initial reaction is shock and disapproval. Joy has already stripped naked, and pulls the shower curtain back, prompting Ricky to cover his soft penis. “Joy! What are you doing here?” Ricky says, startled. There is a pause, in which Ricky looks at Joy carefully, shifts into indignation and disapproval, and points his finger at her: “You’re naked!”
"You're naked!"

The fellatio scene that follows tracks Ricky’s transition from disapproval of Joy’s unfeminine desire for sex to bewildered ecstasy and climax. His disapproval, in spite of his earlier cajoling of Joy, exposes the double standard held to women in terms of their sexual activity. Earlier, Ricky had tried to pressure Joy into sex, noting his primary concern is that he is “the laughing stock of the whole basketball team,” and yet in this scenario he is put off by Joy’s brazen sexual assertiveness. Not only does Ricky want Joy to be sexually desirous on his terms (in other words, in traditionally gendered terms), but also his desire for sex is entwined with his desire to please his homosocial community of the basketball team. In this way, this opening sequence demonstrates a tension on the part of male pornographic producer and consumer regarding the transgression of gender norms. This tension is further exposed when, after Ricky has ejaculated and his penis gone limp, Joy looks up at Ricky disappointed, asking, “what happened, it’s gone away!” “I need more, Ricky,” Joy explains hurriedly, “Right now. I – I can’t wait.” Joy’s disappointment is rooted in a naiveté regarding the male penis. Specifically, the penis’s inability to live up to the perpetually hard pornographic penis. Joy must have multiple penises in place of an individual penis that cannot fulfill pornographic expectations. Joy demands of men what men are traditionally supposed to demand of the pornographic woman.

Joy’s rape victims express pleasure and relief, yet nevertheless report the crime to police. This confusing plot move, and resulting contradictory impulses to celebrate the female rape spree but also investigate it as a crime, reveals an uneasiness regarding Joy and her copycat rapists. While men are indeed relieved, and violent crime rates go down, there is concern connected to the fact that women now roam the streets like zombies, and people are copulating all over the sidewalks and on peoples’ lawns.

A major turning point occurs in the film when Lt. Handcock comes home to discover his wife having sex with Phil the plumber on the kitchen table. Staring in horror, he mutters, “Oh Joy, you’re gonna get yours.” Women putting out is all well and good – up until this point, Handcock had been criticizing the rape victims for not getting Joy’s number – but when it comes to wives cheating on their husbands a line must be drawn. The female rapist spree is a positive experience until the shake-up of traditional gender roles and sexual activity becomes too transgressive. In other words, when the women start to stray from institutionalized, patriarchal, heteronormative couplings, something needs to be done. As a side note, I realized the significance of this scene – in fact, this line of dialogue – when I missed it the first time I watched the film, and came away with quite a different idea of who we as viewers were supposed to identify with. The second time I watched the film, I heard this low-spoken line of dialogue quite clearly, and instantly understood that we are meant to identify with Joy and regard Lt. Handcock as a hypocritical, sexist, and spiteful old man.

The solution to the “problems” caused by Joy, confusingly, is to rape Joy. How can the woman who wants “more, more, more” be raped? The film’s answer to this perplexing question is to invoke race. The police chief selects the black police officer, who dutifully exposes his “weapon” for the police chief to inspect and promises, “I’ll put that cunt in her place.” In a disturbing scene, he rapes Joy in a rage, calling her “Freak!...Fucking slut!,” and then arrests her. Joy avoids being charged, however, as, she seduces the hypocritical police chief while at gunpoint, asking him provocatively, “Are you afraid of me?” 
"Are you afraid of me?"
It is a question that could be asked of all the men in regard to all the women of pornography; perhaps all women in general. The film ends with Joy, banished from NYC, standing uncertainly in an airport, gazing at two sailors. Her facial expression transforms from uncertain to determined, and her pursuit of these sailors (and the other men in the bathroom) provides a sense of Joy’s intention to pursue her desires unabashed. Yet the narrative is not entirely coherent. Joy as a character is pushed and pulled in different directions throughout the film, the film unable to settle on a coherent desire between on-screen female sexuality and off-screen male visual desire. For me, this final scene was a sort of triumph for Joy; a “fuck you” to the man/men who tried to hold her down. Yet, it is still a form of defiance quite palatable to those men involved, and thus does not quite eradicate the sense that Joy has been unable to truly exercise sexual agency outside of gender norms.

All in all, if it were not immediately obvious, I found this film to be fascinating, unique, and beautifully shot. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Porno Runway: My Favourite XXX Fashions

To celebrate the return of my favourite television show, Project Runway, I present to you my favourite fashion statements in XXX cinema. This is not some kind of ironic, "laugh at the silly 70s porno fashions" celebration, but a sincere nod to the many "wow moments," as Tim Gunn would put it, that I have discovered in my porn watching career. True fashion statements, often worn by performers (such as Eric Edwards and Jesie St. James) who seem to have made an x-rated career out of making it work. I must note, however, that one of my very favourites is absent from the list below: Wade Nichols' wonderful shirt and slacks in Take Off (1978). The person I loaned my DVD to has not yet returned it. :( I can picture it though, and trust me, it is magnificent.

First up, perhaps the most iconic outfit in porn history, Johnnie Keyes' white peephole jump suit. First worn in the 1972 classic, Behind the Green Door, this costume is homaged in 1977's Sex World (pictured), 1981's The Seven Seductions (worn by Annette Haven no less), and to an extent in 1973's Resurrection of Eve (Keyes wears the necklace in one of the scenes - see below). Legendary and awesome.






Speaking of Resurrection of Eve, Keyes can't hold a candle to the many, many gob-smacking fashions worn by Matthew Armon, as DJ Frank Paradise. It's this Davy Crockett coat (yes, it has a raccoon tail hanging off the back of the collar!) that lingers in the memory, yet I really could have plucked any of the several epic outfits he dons. However, Frank has a habit of overdoing it, and some of these looks border on horror.





 
Like this shirt and pants combo he wears while musing over his white male anxiety...













...an outfit that really needs to be seen from the back.














 Marilyn Chambers also starred in Resurrection and while her clothes are awesome in that film, it's Insatiable (1980) that stands out in my mind thanks to this knotted yellow Ferrari shirt and ultra-skint-tight black pants (with a chain, naturally) which she wears while taking advantage of Richard Pacheco during her kick-ass drive around the countryside. Damn cool.






 I mentioned Eric Edwards above, and I want to make a claim: Eric Edwards is the best tailored porn star ever. Really. Every movie, he is just so sharp, so charming and dapper. This blue suit, with lavender shirt and tie from The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, is a particular favourite of mine.




Jesie St. James is the female fashion counterpart to Edwards, in my humble opinion. She mixes sportswear and gowns like it's nothing, and carries off both looks with her muscular, yet elegant, figure. She's a true class act. Like Edwards, I could have picked from many movies, but it's this jogging outfit, with red striped tube socks, from the opening scene of Anthony Spinelli's Easy that goes down as my very favourite.





Finally, of course there is Jack Wrangler, the man who made a deal to have someone provide his clothing in return for a film credit. Without a doubt, my favourite of his looks is this audacious yet somehow slick pairing of black leather pants and half-unzipped yellow/black leather jacket with no shirt from A Night at the Adonis. This outfit features in the trailer, and this may sound like hyperbole, but it sealed the deal on my buying the film. I kid you not.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Porn on the Fourth of July

For this year's celebration of the United States day of independence from my homeland, why not delve into some XXX that provides a taste of Americana? Now, I could simply list all the "4th of July" themed/named porno flicks out there, but instead I'm providing a list of movies that offer up a complex cross-section of American culture, through the lens of one of its most defining media forms.

Enjoy! And feel free to name your own suggestions in the comments.







Taboo: American Style 1-4 (1985)

Henri Pachard's four part XXX miniseries provides a glimpse into the perversions of the upper middle class American psyche, revealing a rather large quantity of family troubles, incest, and blackmail/emotional manipulation. Sparkling dialogue and performances, this series belongs squarely to the magnificent Raven, who is so fantastically evil and conniving, you cannot look away (not that you'd want to). 




Operation Desert Stormy (2007)

Perhaps the most recent American wars are not as glamorous or popular as the nostalgia for the American Revolution, but American Sweetheart, writer, director, star Stormy Daniels' satirical take on the Gulf War(s) is a blast, and easily Daniels' crowning achievement (so far). Daniels is an administrative assistant who, along with her husband (Steven St Croix) and a couple of buffoonish British agents, must defeat evil terrorist Hussein and save the world. Shenanigans ensue.




Honorable Discharge (1993) 

Commemorate our LGBTQ military history with this award-winning flick, in which director Jerry Douglas explores straight guys who fuck men in the Marines, a phenomenon he himself could not understand and thus made a movie about it. As Douglas put it, "I never understood why. This is my thought on it: The Marines are the most macho American image in existence, and if you have any doubts about your sexuality, that's where you go to prove you're a man."





Debbie Does New Orleans (1999)

Forget Dallas, though that is undoubtedly the most iconic city Debbie has done. The Big Easy is the great American city, representative of so much that is unique and special about U.S. culture. In this kooky installment, Debbie heads off to Saints territory, but is kidnapped by sex fiends and is carted off to a swamp-set sex club where she must perform on stage in order to save her fiancee from being raped. Yes, you read that right. An odd movie, well worth watching, especially if you are a New Orleanian.





The Spirit of Seventy-Sex (1976)

I couldn't not list this: a Revolution era porn flick, made in 1976? It's hard to resist. Essentially a vignette film, Seventy-Sex takes you through a series of fully-costumed historical sequences, telling the real story of the founding fathers. Spoiler alert: they were perverts.











Saturday, June 23, 2012

Revenge of the Petites (2012)


Hi folks. It's been quite a while since I wrote anything substantial about a new movie, and to be honest when I heard that AMKingdom were making a feature with the goal of replicating the fully integrated adult films of the golden age, I was highly skeptical. Even when I read reviews that highlighted, "it's a real film!" I still braced myself for a feature that had good intentions but, alas, fell foul of the demands of the gonzo crowd and internet watch-by-scene. But what a treat this film is. I actually kept telling myself, “Don’t get your hopes up…” for a full hour before I felt I could sit back, relax, and accept that, yes, this really is what you think it is: a fully integrated x-rated feature.

Petites follows Skin (Skin Diamond) and Marie (Marie McCray) as they start college and attempt to join the Theta House, a sorority full of tall, hot young women who mock Skin and Marie's diminutive stature. In the world of Petites, being a petite is tantamount to being a nerd in Revenge of the Nerds (a central conceit that gets a lot of mileage in the laughs department), and the film chronicles Skin and Marie's efforts to fit in, before embracing who they are and taking revenge on the Thetas. A simple plot, but one that is tons of fun for film fans, as well as allowing for sex scenes that don't feel forced. The sex is already implicit in the source texts Petites is riffing on; ATK just had to flesh it out, so to speak. A wise move for a first feature, and one that attempts (and succeeds) in fully integrated sex and plot.


Petites does a few things that reminded me of what drew me to adult film originally, as a film fan and a feminist:

It shows women in protagonist roles – roles that are typically male roles in mainstream. If the Bechdel Test were applied to hardcore features and Hollywood, I wonder which would win out? In Petites there is nary a man to be seen. Meanwhile, there are tons of women and they all have, like, relationships of different kinds and stuff. Nothing groundbreaking, sure, but a breath of fresh air for someone who breaths a sigh of relief when a woman is not the male hero's trophy at the end of a Hollywood narrative. Some could legitimately point out that while women do get to play protagonist roles usually reserved for men, they also have to fuck in order to earn this privilege, but it is also important to note that the x-rated feature is one of the only spaces where women are not punished for actively pursuing sex. Indeed, it is encouraged. Of course, this is not true of every porn film, as in all genres of porn there are films that most definitely punish women for being sexually active, all for the pleasure of the voyeuristic viewer (the recent series Pornstar Punishment is only the most literal manifestation of this). But this applies to all media, and when taken as a whole, pornography has consistently provided me with representations of women as sexual subjects unashamed of their sexuality.

Part of being a protagonist means owning the gaze in some way. Petites does this in a manner that reminded me of how the pornographic male sexual object/subject is shown in a naked, erect manner that simply is not seen in the mainstream sphere. The Hollywood double standard of showing female nudity but not male is leveled in porn, and replaced with a different double standard (that of male pleasure over female, yet even this is nowhere near as uniformly employed as the double standard of Hollywood nudity). One Petites scene in particular inverts the famous Fast Times at Ridegmont High scene in which Judge Reinhold masturbates and fantasizes Phoebe Cates emerging from a pool, removing her bikini top. In Petites, it is a girl masturbating, and a boy emerging shirtless from the pool. In a heterosexual porn flick, this feels somewhat radical. This in turn reminded me of what fun, and how subversive, porn can be when it parodies mainstream media in a meaningful way.



Essentially, Petites demonstrates how good porn can be when they take risks, such as fully integrated sex, fractured sex scenes that cut back and forth, and sex used to tell a story. Even in scenes that are “regular” scenes, such as the one between GGG-favourite Celeste Star and Vanessa Cage do not feel out of place. The performers don’t constantly act like their characters, nor do they try too hard to narrativize the sex; it’s just a good sex scene, performed well, doesn't stray outside the boundaries of their characters (i.e. they perform sex acts that seem feasible for the characters we have come to know), and – critically – it’s not too long. 

It’s interesting to note that there is an extra disc in this package that has extended sex scenes for those who want them. I have no problem with this whatsoever. Not only is it a good business move to appeal to the raincoat crowd, but I also respect what the raincoat crowd is after. Let’s not forget, a lot of people who watch features are sometimes in the mood for raincoat fare, depending on the circumstances, and I won't belittle those desires. I should imagine a lot of people (most?) will watch the feature in full, and then perhaps watch the extended cuts of the scenes that particularly tickled their fancy. 

Enjoy the trailer (which provides a taste of the original soundtrack - did I mention that original songs in porn is one of my very favourite things?) and buy the movie.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kickstopped: Misty Beethoven and the Porn Nerd's Burden


Recently, in anticipation of the Platinum Elite release of Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven, the gang at Distribpix set up a Kickstarter account to raise $10,000 for a Blu-ray release of this beloved film. The response was overwhelming (dare I say, heartwarming?), and before the week was out they had raised just a couple thousand short of their target goal. I’ve long thought Kickstarter is a site to be cherished in that it really allows the little guy/gal to find their audience—often a very small audience, tucked away somewhere, not to be found until they had an easy way to be a part of grass roots support of independent art. I have pledged before (to the Chuck Holmes documentary), and I happily pledged as much as I could to this project, seeing as it dealt with one of my very favourite films.

However, this week, Distribpix CEO Steven Morowitz was informed that the project had to be removed from Kickstarter because “our community guidelines specify that projects cannot involve pornography or inappropriate content.” After some email exchanges, in which Morowitz defended the artistic integrity of the film, and explained how the film differs from what the masses (or Kickstarter) might consider “pornography,” the Distribpix team were told that yes, indeed, "‘pornography’ is a notoriously subjective term that means different things to different people and is a difficult line to draw. We do, however, feel like Misty Beethoven firmly resides on the other side of that line and violates our guidelines.”

Before going any further, I want to make it clear that this is not an article bashing Kickstarter nor a call to arms. Don’t withdraw money from worthy projects funded through Kickstarter, nor go about crying about censorship and freedom of speech. It sucks, sure, but Kickstarter has the right to do whatever they want with their company, whether I like it or not. What I can do though, as you will see below, is address some of the issues connected to sexual representation, censorship, and media that the Kickstarter decision brings up; some thoughts that I have been meaning to put down in writing for a very long time now. The Misty debacle simply pushed these issues to the front of my mind. That said, I do encourage you to pledge (or re-pledge) your $$ to the newly-formed Misty Beethoven site, created to replace the defunct Kickstarter account. Did I mention a Misty Beethoven martini glass is one of the rewards up for grabs?

In his 1987 history of the term “pornography,” The Secret Museum, Walter Kendrick argues that with each landmark obscenity case, with each slight refining of the definition of “obscenity,” the category of “art” has broadened, while the category of “porn” has narrowed. Literature, for example, is rarely actually considered “porn”; if it is, then apparently it can skyrocket to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, and be discussed openly at parties, even with the family. Not so with moving image porn. Thanks to a consistent cultural disdain for pornographic materials, a common reaction to the dismissal of particularly excellent examples of the genre is to champion a text as “more than” porn; as “more than” just sexual arousal. It’s a reaction seen in both anti-porn activists who support erotica (“good” porn), as well as those who champion porn and its cultural importance. Such a reaction is inevitable (I would say even unavoidable) when you’re constantly being told that an entire category of art is worthless, that “porn” means “void of meaning,” and I have found myself resorting to this type of explanation many times ("Oh, it's not just fucking, it's actually like a real film!"). Sexually explicit material can be art, it seems, but just so long as it doesn’t appear to be trying too hard to get you off. A good example of this tendency to defend good or interesting porn as “more than porn” is Neil Gaiman’s review of Alan Moore’s porno-graphic novel Lost Girls. Moore has emphatically stated time and again that the novel is indeed “pornography,” yet because Gaiman liked the novel, he was evidently uncomfortable with the designation pornography. After explaining the subjective, class-based distinction between “porn” and “erotica,” and admitting that yes, the novel is sexually explicit, Gaiman resorts to creating a new term: “pure pornography.”

It is one of the tropes of pure pornography that events are without consequence. No babies, no STDs, no trauma, no memories best left unexamined. Lost Girls, however, is all about consequences. It's also about more things than sex – war, music, love, lust, repression and time, to pick a handful of subjects (I could pick more). It's the kind of smut that would have no difficulty in demonstrating to an overzealous prosecutor that it has unquestionable artistic validity beyond its simple first amendment right to exist.

In this way, Gaiman demonstrates the need for art to tell us about more than “just sex,” that base act that anybody can do and holds no meaning. I have nothing against sexual representations that involve consequences and “more things than sex”; my point is that there is very little porn that could be argued to be “just sex.” To assert such would be tantamount to declaring pornography an unmediated reality; not a representation at all. And that, furthermore, sexual activity itself is meaningless. How depressing!

The Kickstarter situation also got me to thinking about the concept of “mainstreaming,” a term I find bewildering in its vagueness, as well as in the fact that people use the term so frequently and for so many different purposes. I respond to such observations by querying what exactly it means—not only the phrase, but what “mainstream” means and what “porn” means and what exactly they are referring to when they make such claims. Buttman’s Stretch Class airing at 7pm ET? My local cinema screening the latest Wicked feature one auditorium along from Battleship? Or, perhaps, the fact that Jenna Jameson had a billboard in Times Square? This latter example is often used as evidence of the mainstreaming of porn, the idea that “mainstream” culture is chock full of porn, more so than ever before. This is to some extent true. Certainly, Jenna Jameson did appear on a Times Square billboard, and advertising and other media have appropriated cliché pornographic tropes such as the money shot/facial. Yet, where exactly is the porn? All I see are carefully selected images and concepts designed to construct a particular mainstream pornness that can titillate/outrage citizens, while keeping the actual texts at arm’s length. The mainstream appropriation of porn says more about the mainstream’s quite particular construction of gender, race, class, and sexuality than it does about porn’s. That porn (not angelic by any stretch) is both more diverse and more interesting to me than the majority of mainstream fare says a lot.

Which brings me back to Misty Beethoven. If it is to be believed that a single complaint caused the removal of the project, then this is disconcerting, especially considering several sexually explicit projects remain on the Kickstarter site. The fear of being associated with or supporting “pornography” is apparently still powerful enough to prompt a company to reverse a prior decision well into the twilight stages of fundraising. This doesn’t feel mainstream to me. Try finding an x-rated film on imdb.com without an account, and without changing your settings; to the average surfer on imdb, porn simply does not exist. Meanwhile, google your preferences and a host of torrents pop up for you to access. In other words, porn is not treated as film or art; it is treated as disposable trash, handed out for free under the table. Other examples abound. It is only sexually explicit, unsimulated material that is treated in such a way; treated as “not-art,” simply a masturbatory tool. And what if a text is predominantly a masturbatory tool? Are the jumps and scares, tears and wallowing self-pity, or adrenaline rushes of other genre films to be celebrated as meaningful responses, while genital/sexual arousal is not? And let’s not forget that these worthy “non-pornographic” films regularly invoke sexual arousal, along with other, more socially acceptable bodily spasms.

Of all the pornographic films that could be isolated as valueless smut, it’s ironic that Misty Beethoven has garnered the spotlight in this way. I don’t want to say, “It’s more than porn!” or “It’s erotica!”, though that would no doubt be easier; I do want to say that Misty Beethoven is a film to be treasured as a film. A porn film, an erotic film, call it whatever you want. It’s a fucking great film. Not only is the film treasured by fans, and commonly regarded as the greatest porn film ever made; not only is Radley Metzger a celebrated filmmaker outside of hardcore; but Misty has been “recovered” time and again by academics such as Linda Williams and Peter Lehman (Williams and Lehman even cited Misty as their favourite porn film in an interview for Velvet Light Trap). This is not to say that academic approval is necessary to a determination of a text’s worth (indeed, some might say it’s the other way around), but it does go some way in demonstrating the far reach of Misty. Furthermore, I find it laughable that the Kickstarter reps claimed to understand the subjectivity of the term “porn” and recognized the value of sexuality in media and life, yet found Misty Beethoven to fall “firmly” on the pornographic side of things. I firmly believe that none of the people making this judgment have seen the film.

So all of this leaves me with some questions: why is art that is designed to sexually arouse deemed valueless? What if Misty Beethoven is indeed designed, in part, to sexually excite? Is it any less of a masterpiece? Isn’t the graphic, sexually arousing content in Misty—the pornography—as much a part of the film’s magic as the wit and drama? Put another way, can we really separate out the wit and drama from the sexual excitement? And what would it mean to the rest of porn and its consumers if this led us to surmise that no porno is ever solely designed to sexually arouse? That gonzo, too, is clearly designed to incite laughter, disgust, awe, and myriad other complex emotions that could fall under the category of “arousal.” I think we need to query just what it is we feel is so very dangerous about pornographic representations of sex. This does not mean accusing those uncomfortable with pornography of being prudes—porn is not sex; it is a carefully constructed representation of sex—nor bestowing the mantles of “revolutionary” or “liberated” to those who enjoy watching/making pornography (though certainly revolutionaries exist in porn). I do think this means that discourse on sex-themed art must incorporate an honest appraisal of the value of sexual arousal as a response to art. This recent debacle has simply demonstrated that the dialogues on pornography raging in the nineteenth-century are alive and well today, that Justice Potter’s infamous definition of hardcore—“I know it when I see it”—is in full practice at Kickstarter and elsewhere, and that arguments we’re told are antiquated and derailing the “real” conversation are very much still relevant and profoundly impact all media and discourse, pornographic or otherwise.

On a brighter note, the project continues, and along with provoking my brain cells, the Kickstarter decision has merely emphasized what passion folks have regarding this film, and the woefully under-celebrated genre of x-rated film in general. You can still pledge your $$, the DVD will still come out (restored to perfection and full of exciting extras, as is the wont of VXP’s Platinum Elite line), and we can still continue to celebrate this beautiful film. Who knows? Maybe Kickstarter did us a favour.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Eat Me: Food and Pornography

Hello all! I'm sure everyone out there has at some time or another considered the proximity of food and sex. Whether due to aphrodisiacs such as oysters or chocolate, the way food is pornographically on TV screens and the pages of cookbooks seemingly designed to inspire the tummy-rumbling equivalent of genital arousal, or hot young chefs posing semi-nude or in provocative lay-outs, the rampant food industry has harnessed sex as a core component of its appeal. No wonder -- food has always been sexual. Aside from the obvious fact that sex and food deal in orifices, sexual terminology -- desires, body parts, and sexual acts -- relies on the evocation of food: beef curtains, meat, flesh, the myriad penis-shaped foods used to refer to the penis, racially-coded uses of "dark meat," "tacos," and "sushi," gendered associations of "fish," "red meat" and the "meat" that is to be "eaten," sexual "hunger," wanting to "eat" or be "eaten out," and the juicy, creamy, batter-like substances that are treated to food-themed euphemisms, and even entire porn genres (see Cum Shot Cocktails and the various movies that feature omelets and burritos formed from semen).

These associations are centuries old, and have been theorized as part of the "carnivalesque" and "grotesque" by Mikhail Bakhtin in his famous study, Rabelais and His World. In this book, Bakhtin discusses the subversive nature of the carnivalesque and the grotesque -- cultural features that upturn the rules of dominant culture, if only temporarily, and involve the transgression of bodily propriety. A large part of this involves food and drink. As Bakhtin notes, "Eating and drinking are one of the most significant manifestations of the grotesque body. The distinctive character of this body is its open unfinished nature, its interaction with the world. These traits are most fully and concretely revealed in the act of eating; the body transgresses here its own limits." The grotesque body revels in the "lower stratum" which includes organs associated with consumption and expulsion, the blurring of the line between human and animal, and an exaggeration of bodily matter that transgresses the societal line drawn between exterior and interior; corporeal and spiritual. In this way, the grotesque body not only revels in orifices such as the mouth, anus, and vagina, but also "that which protrudes from the body, all that seeks to go out beyond the body's confines." As Bakhtin explains, "the artistic logic of the grotesque image ignores the closed, smooth, and impenetrable surface of the body and retains only its excrescences...and orifices, only that which leads beyond the body's limited space or into the body's depths." The grotesque body refuses to adhere to societal rules that strictly separate mind/body, spiritual/corporeal, interior/exterior, private/public.

It is fairly unsurprising that this theory of the carnivalesque and the grotesque body has been employed in order to analyze what pornography is "doing" -- essays such as Emily Shelton's "A Star is Porn," and Constance Penley's "Crackers and Whackers" utilize Bakhtin's theory as a way of showing that pornography is a subversive art form. Meanwhile, others have argued that pornography cannot be considered carnivalesque because carnival entails a leveling and equalizing of society, while pornography is sexist. In this view, sexism means pornography cannot be considered carnivalesque. I believe that pornography is frequently, perhaps even inherently, grotesque, if not carnivalesque, and the pervasive use of food in porn to connote various sexual meanings is testament to this.

Some of you may know from my past posts on the flaccid penis in porn that I keep lists of porn film moments based around a theme, ranging from the generic (representations of drugs, masks, queer moments, and stuffed toys) to the esoteric (Sylvester Stallone references). It is significant that these lists began with food -- the very first list I started was about uses of food in porn, and this list has now grown to four different lists in two different notebooks. As a result, I have included quite a number of examples in this post, and I will certainly be providing sequels to account for the myriad uses of foods in porn. It should also be noted that some of the foods in the following films make perfect and erotic sense, while others are gloriously baffling and truly grotesque. Perhaps the latter, in their disgustingness, are the truly "pornographic" -- the true carnivalesque transgressors -- and should be applauded for their perhaps anti-erotic qualities rather than condemned.

---
The Devil in Miss Jones (Gerard Damiano, 1973)

I start with this entry, not only because it's one of the most famous porn films ever made, but also as an example of the way fruit is commonly used to connote certain things about sexuality. Apples, especially, harken back to discourses around the Garden of Eden, temptation, and (sexual) knowledge. Furthermore, these connotations are gendered -- to pursue sexual knowledge is particularly damning for women. In TDIMJ, however, Justine Jones is condemned to hell for committing suicide, so her sexual exploration (which she denied herself in life) is not tainted with the condemnation typically expressed in Western culture. In this scene, Justine masturbates with various fruits -- the apple being the fruit she actively reaches for. Significantly, this use of fruit is followed by the famous scene with the snake -- another reference to Eden, yet Justine is depicted as encouraging, even seducing the snake. It's a neat way of inverting the typical sexual expectations of women, as Justine owns her sexual subjectivity and actively courts "sin" in a way that is not tainted by shame.


Dracula Exotica (Shaun Costello, 1980)

More fruit, and again an apple. Prior to this moment, Ron Jeremy (during a bawdy, rapey orgy) pushes a cherry into the vagina of the woman on whom he is performing cunnilingus. It is the apple that stands out, however, and serves as a tool for a highly queer and homosocial/homoerotic scene. Jeremy cums on an apple, which is then bitten into by the wench he has been copulating with; in turn, she thrusts the apple into our Count Dracula's mouth (played by Jamie Gillis) who grimaces and angrily rejects said apple, muttering "Get away, whore."


Lialeh (Barron Bercovichy, 1974)

The very first film I entered on my food list, and thus the very first film I entered period, is this bizarre find. After a brief battle between self-professed "brown belt" secretary and "black belt" pimp (lame joke alert), the pimp gives up - she's too much for him. "You're not gonna rape me?" she asks. For some reason, the pimp decides the next logical move in such an unexpected scenario is to roughly grab the nearby mustard-coated wiener out of its bun, and push it into the young lady's vagina. Her groans, and cries of "deeper," would suggest a pleasurable feeling that frankly (pun intended) contradicts the logic of the concept (mustard? floppy wiener?). This is borne out by the pimp's encouraging but somewhat futile utterances of "open up." Sir, the problem is not with the openness of your lady friend; the problem lies in your wiener. 


Foxy Lady (Jack Genero, 1977)

Liked the hot dog? Well, there's more. In this film, John Leslie's wife is abducted and repeatedly raped while being held hostage. While in the kitchen, she is offered food by one of her captors but she says she isn't hungry. He tells her, "I'm gonna give you a weiner to eat." She protests that there are no more wieners. Au contraire: "You're wrong honey -- there's one more, and it's a big one. Want mustard?" He proceeds to put his own wiener inside a hot dog bun, smear it with mustard, and force it in the captive woman's mouth. **Trivia fact: I have tried to watch this film twice, as it comes highly recommended and stars John Leslie, but both times I turned it off before the end as it exceeded  my rape threshold.


Tigresses (Joe Sarno, 1979)

A double whammy in this vignette flick. First up, Jill Munroe brings a random man back to her place for Sunday brunch -- salmon, to be specific. He's quite taken with it, opening up the paper and peering at the pink flesh. He squeezes it a little, making it pulsate slightly, and exclaims, "Jesus Christ, kinda reminds me of Linda Ponecowie of Samoa. Boy, did she have the prettiest cunt ever." He compares the salmon to a couple of other "cunts" before Munroe comes into the room and initiates some lovin. 



Later in the film, Vanessa Del Rio brings a couple of couples back to her place for what ends up being a nest of voyeuristic group sex. During all these shenanigans, the maid is squeezing oranges for juice, but can't help pausing every now and again to listen and, presumably, become aroused. Eventually, she gives up on the juicing, climbs atop the work surface, and masturbates amongst the oranges.







The Resurrection of Eve (Mitchell Bros., 1973)

Eve is at a swingers party, reluctantly, but at the persistent request of her insecure husband. His persistence ultimately destroys their marriage, in spite of Eve's attempts to keep it together, and the use of food and drink in this scene -- a Greek orgy party, in which guests chit-chat while eating a fried chicken leg (see pic), fruit, and drink wine -- can be seen as a way of connoting indulgence and mild disgust mixed with excitement, much as Eve would perceive it at this point in the narrative.



Sounds of Sex (Chris Warfield, 1985)

Mrs Honeycut likes to record peoples' sex sounds and masturbate/fuck. In this scene, Honeycut is listening in on two female friends putting away groceries and gossiping about a woman at the store who had been showing off her body. The conversation subsequently turns the women on, and they use the conveniently-just-purchased banana as a fuck tool. This scene is notable as perhaps the most successful hardcore banana fucking in all of pornography. At least that I have seen.




Every Inch a Lady (The Amero Bros., 1975)

Harry Reems and Darby Lloyd Rains are a couple so good at sexually pleasing people that, having established an escort service, they decide to expand and make more cash providing specialty kinky services. This story eventually takes a bizarre turn, but before that there is this bizarre sex scene in which, after Jamie Gillis pushes anal beads in Harry's ass and roughly pulls them out, Harry indignantly leaves and returns with a carrot -- he fucks Jamie's ass with the  carrot while Jamie is fucking Darby. Got that? While this is obviously simulated, it is nonetheless queer as fuck. Also, significantly, the music becomes carnivalesque during the carrot fucking and this part of the scene is played for laughs as well as coded as comedically aggressive. As is common in ostensibly-hetero texts, the homoerotic aspects must be deflected by comedy and/or violence.


Babylon Pink (Henri Pachard, 1979)

What a beautiful film this is. Vanessa Del Rio is a housewife who fantasizes a man standing behind her in the mirror munching on a slice of melon. He actually takes a bite out of the slice of melon as one might a carrot -- rind and all. Del Rio seems quite aroused by such munching, and a dreamlike, visually/aurally-stunning scene ensues.







Mouth (David Stanley, 2007)

Kirsten Price goes undercover to discover the truth behind the mysterious cult "rumored to be connected to strange food addictions and oral sex." Eric Masterson is a cult leader who used to be fat because he loved to eat so much but develops healthy food that doesn't taste like crap in the form of burgers. Side effects include a rampant desire to perform fellatio. This film, and the one following, are porn flicks that center the mouth and consumption as themes, conflating or connecting food and sex in more explicit ways than the preceding titles.


Gluttony (Wash West, 2001)

Another film centered around consumption, this is a very good, very interesting adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, a homoerotic novel that, amongst other things, deals with indulgence of the senses. This movie focuses greed and sensory indulgence, as Dorian, a beautiful physique model cum porn star cum award-winning chef/champion pickle eater/food-themed porn director, goes through the ages indulging a seemingly unquenchable sexual desire. Food is used in this film to explicitly connote sex; it goes as far as to equate food consumption with sexual consumption.




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