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.


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