Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Marquis de Porn: An Interview with Danny Wylde

 
Thanks to ADT, I recently had the privilege of speaking with porn star, novelist, musician, blogger, activist, scholar (I could go on), Danny Wylde. Danny is one of my "go-to" performers in modern porn. There's something about his intelligence and obvious civic engagement that infuse his performances with a tangible human presence that I don't find in many other male performers. Yes, I find civic engagement sexy. Don't you? He has also emerged as an icon within feminist, ethical, and queer porn circles thanks to his consistent written and spoken work on the politics of porn, sexuality, and gender and bringing this consciousness to his performances. He recently became a published scholar of porn himself with the release of The Feminist Porn Book (2013) in which he has an article, "Our Pornography." Oh, and he makes great porn. We sat down to talk about sexual politics, alt porn, subcultures, porn studies, and a whole lot more. Enjoy!

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GGG: Hi, it’s nice to meet you!

DW: You too.

GGG: I know next to nothing about your background. Where did you grow up and what was your upbringing like?

DW: I grew up in a small town in northern California, it’s called Grass Valley. It’s not even a suburb, it’s a very small old mining town, very touristy, and a lot of people from the San Francisco/Bay Area ended up moving there when they got older. So, it’s a lot of kids of hippies.

GGG: Was your childhood the hippie culture you were talking about?

DW: No, not at all. I think my parents were both reformed hippies. My dad has a little bit more of that vibe still, but in a much more conservative way. My mom actually ended up becoming a fundamentalist Christian. I don’t want to say that in a bad way, or to demean her, even though that’s not my belief system. I don’t believe she was overtly harsh on me, or critical of me for any of the choices I’ve made. However, Christianity was a pretty big thing in my face, especially at a younger age.

Once I got into high school I was pretty open with my mom about being interested in sexuality. I don’t think I was a big slut or anything. I don’t think I had the opportunity to be. It was more like I wish I could have been. But no, she wasn’t telling me I can’t. The idea was that you should wait until you’re married, but I think she knew my ideological stance differed quite a bit from her by the time I was twelve.

GGG: So you had a dialogue.

DW: Yeah, I had a dialogue with my mother. I think when you tell people, “I have a fundamentalist Christian mother,” they think you were just put in this hole and you couldn’t do anything, but it wasn’t like that at all. She was actually really cool and she drove my friends and I to concerts all the time when we were in middle school. We had a dialogue and we still do to this day. She’s at least able to have conversations about it, even if she disagrees with it.

GGG: So she respects your career choices?

DW: Yeah. I mean, to the greatest possible degree that she is able to.

GGG: Were you aware of pornography when you were growing up? Did you have any kind of relationship with it?

DW: I was aware of it. I don’t think it was a big deal other than watching the TFP sites.

GGG: What is that?

DW: So, when I was younger, we didn’t have tube sites. There were those websites in the early 2000s and late 90s where internet porn was starting to get huge and they’d have little tiny thumbnails of thousands of sites and you could go to each one, but I didn’t actually pay for any of it because they had those ten second preview clips. So I just put those on repeat, the ones that I really liked. I could watch like 10 seconds of a porn clip over and over again. Then Kazaa came out, and you could download it all for free. But it wasn’t something that was in my mind like, “I’m gonna do this when I grow up!”

GGG: At what point did you start thinking about possibly working in pornography?

DW: It seemed to happen relatively quickly. I had gone to community college prior to going to university so that I could transfer in, and I was living in Santa Cruz for about six months prior to going to University of California, Santa Cruz. My mom had loaned me money to last a month or two to get on my feet. The idea was that I needed to get a job. I was like any 19-year-old kid, like, “Ok, I’ll go to the coffee shop,” or Trader Joe’s, or whatever the fuck stores are around. I applied and literally for a couple of months no one was getting back to me. So I started going on craigslist to look at the gigs section and I found these weird jobs where people, mostly gay photographers, wanted to take pictures of naked guys and will pay you $50-100 or something for the day. I started doing that here and there but that’s still not really a substantial income, so I found this ad that was for Kink.com (they used to be called Cybernet back then) and they were looking for men to do femdom stuff. Like, get beat up by girls and fucked in the ass. I wouldn’t say I was a part of the BDSM community but it was very interesting to me. I was like, “That would be cool to try out,” and I thought as far as porn goes, that if I did something that seemed to be very marginalized then my parents probably wouldn’t find it [laughs]. So I applied, and they got back to me the next day. I went there and they were so nice to me. It was really different from what I imagined porn would be.

GGG: What did you expect porn to be?

DW: I think I was like most people. I expected it to be kind of sleazy. It’s hard to look back because so much has happened but I’m pretty sure I had a pretty stereotypical view of porn.

GGG: Did you recognize that that the San Francisco identity might maybe set it apart?

DW: Not at all. I had no idea what that was. Kink.com wasn’t a big brand. It was just this weird ad on the internet.

GGG: Were you worried about the stigma of femdom stuff?

DW: No, I knew nothing about the politics of porn. I really was completely naïve to all of that shit at that point.

GGG: That’s nice though. I mean, if you have no regrets then that’s kind of a nice way of going into it.

DW: I agree, it was cool. I think it’s an unusual way to get started but at the same time I don’t think it would have happened for me otherwise.

GGG: Since then, have any of the stereotypes of pornography been either challenged or turned out to be accurate?

DW: Here’s the thing with porn. In the beginning, I met the coolest people in porn. I met kink.com, one of the most professional, sex positive companies. Then I met my ex-girlfriend up there who introduced me to people in L.A. I don’t know if you know Dana DeArmond?

GGG: Yeah, of course!

DW: We dated for, like, three years. She’s really responsible for breaking me into mainstream porn [editor’s note: thank you Dana!]. She introduced me to Eon MacKai and the Vivid Alt crew. So when I heard about that I was like here are these people making this stylistic punk rock porno, and I grew up listening to hardcore and metal and was really into that scene, and so I was like “This is something cool” and I could actually be proud of doing something like this. So that was my second step. Then I realized porn is really hard and I’m not that good at it. I moved to Los Angeles thinking I could work my way through school doing porn. Then I fucked up a lot in that first year, and I got this weird contract that I think really helped get my ego to the point where I thought I could do this for a living.

GGG: Who was the contract with?

DW: It was a company called Hush Hush.

GGG: Was that a good experience for you?

DW: Yeah, because it was really easy gonzo stuff. I was contracted to a website called MILF Invaders. At the time they were looking for a brand new guy who could be the face of this site, and act like an idiot all the time. This essentially allowed me to do whatever I wanted to. They paid me above my rate now and allowed me to work with my school schedule. It was perfect.

GGG: That’s awesome. What did you graduate in?
DW: Cinematic Arts, at USC.

GGG: How do you feel about the alt porn label? or even what it’s become compared to what it was?

DW: It’s not that important to me as a label anymore. I love Joanna. I think what she does is awesome. She’s one of the females who have stayed through the industry and been very supportive of all the talent she’s hired. She’s really cool to me. Back when I was with Vivid Alt, she was in a feud with both Dana and Eon MacKai so I wasn’t able to work with her [laughs]. But I think Vivid Alt is something that kind of came and went. Eon, particularly, was making something akin to indie film that was really based on music subcultures. He straight up had Wolves in the Throne Room, which is one of my favorite black metal bands, in a porno. You don’t see that anywhere else.

GGG: Do you see alt porn as a commercialized product that’s exploiting subculture? or do you see it as a valuable aspect of what is always going to be a product anyway?

DW: I think a little bit of the latter. You can say anything, when it becomes popular, exploits subculture. At the same time, the director, Eon, came from that. He even spoke about being really ambivalent about joining with Vivid. But the thing is there was no budget to bring all these people on board. You could bring all this subcultural stuff on board and not pay people, and is that more or less exploitative? It may be good to have a corporation behind you that can pay all these people. I don’t know in the long run if it actually made that much money because I think when you start to appeal to youth subculture in something like porn, or anything really, it looks awesome but you’re appealing to younger people who steal everything. No one these days is taking the time or artistry to make movies that incorporate that style which I think was very specific to Vivid Alt. They really felt like they came from that movement.

GGG: So, you went straight to Kink.com, and you were interested in alt porn. Were you always into subcultures and alternative culture?

DW: Yeah, pretty early on in life, by the time I was in middle school, I got interested in hardcore and metalcore, and then later got into more extreme forms like death and black metal. I played in metal bands throughout high school. I actually have formed one, Chiildren. So, it’s a pretty big part of my life. Although I probably go to less shows now. You’ve got to make a living, and get up in the morning, and be less pissed off 100% of the time.

GGG: You also wrote a novel, Come to My Brother. Do you see those projects as extensions of the work you’re already doing in porn?

DW: When I first started both of them, especially this first novel, and the beginnings of this next music project, I didn’t really think of them as having to do with porn. But the longer I go in porn, it becomes a bigger part of my life and therefore certain aspects of my other art projects draw on those experiences. I think certainly in the future I’ll blend those sorts of things together. I’m trying to no longer differentiate my personas. I think that has always had a negative effect on people. I mean, everyone knows—my family, my friends. I feel like the best route to go is to develop a synergy around all of the stuff that I’m doing.

My next [novel] that will hopefully come out in the next couple of years has a lot to do with my experiences in porn. Growing up with metal, I think there’s a certain element of incorporating fear or negativity in your work. I just like violence as an aesthetic. It’s a powerful metaphor for a lot of things. I think that when you look at pieces of my art there’s a different approach that maybe doesn’t always feel positive.

GGG: It seems like you’re interested in the horror-sex hybrid. People seem to be surprised when a horror-porn movie comes out but it goes way back. You can go back to the Marquis de Sade. That’s a hybrid genre you’re interested in specifically?

DW: Yeah. I made a little super indie porn that I sell on my blog called This is Love, which was actually my first foray into that stuff. I wasn’t able to sell it except for in exchange for Amazon gift cards because of the content. Not that it’s really that overtly explicit, it’s just that it dealt with themes of sexual violence in a relationship. You can’t market that unless you make it an art film. If you call it pornography, basically no credit card companies will work with you.

GGG: Pornography seems like a special case where very rarely until the internet (other than the 70s when all kinds of crazy stuff was being made) violence in porn is a no-no but you can have extreme violence in all other kinds of film.

DW: Right.

GGG: What are your thoughts on that? Do you think pornography is a special case? or do you think people should have completely free license?

DW: I think it’s all about context. And here’s the problem, because when you make a porn film that has the aesthetics of most porn, and it looks essentially like there’s someone in a room with a camera, when you don’t put a context around that and it’s just like someone’s being raped or killed or something like that, I don’t know what I feel about that. I feel a bit ambivalent about it. I’m all for free speech and so forth but if you put that out into the world, I don’t know what effect that has on viewers. Like, who are the kinds of people consuming that?

However, I started reading the Marquis de Sade when I was fifteen; I’m really into the author Dennis Cooper, who writes predominantly about necrophilia and youthful ideas about falling in love with people and suicide and death as a metaphor for unattainability, and growing up. I think you can, in an artistic way, pursue depictions that exist outside of your moral reality.

So, pornography that can be really hot in a fantasy way and look really transgressive has always interested me. I’d like to do stuff like that; I don’t really know how far I can go with that and call it porn, so I think especially in my fiction and music videos and stuff like that I can explore those ideas a little bit more.

GGG: So, your book is about vampires?

DW: Yeah. I wrote it when I was 20, before Twilight and all that. I’m proud of it. It’s a lot younger in style than what I do now, so I hope people keep that in mind.

GGG: If you wrote it when you were twenty, that’s a prime time for vampire angst.

DW: Yeah, totally.

GGG: Do you see vampires as an embodiment of a certain type of sexuality?

DW: I don’t know that I thought about it that much. I was really just trying to write about my experiences at that point in my life and make it a high concept horror book also. At the time it didn’t seem like anyone was doing that shit especially when it involved a queer sexuality and pornography, especially a first-hand account of pornography.

GGG: I saw you’re scheduled to speak at CatalystCon West. There’s a real boom in porn studies, really since the 90s, but especially now. What are your views on the academic study of pornography?

DW: The first time I heard anything about porn studies was, I think, a professor of mine called Ed O’Neill. I took a queer film class with him and he showed me some early Bruce LaBruce movies. Super 8 1/2 and Hustler White and stuff like that. I had never heard of queercore or homocore or anything like that. It was this very punk rock aesthetic but with people actually having sex. Not in full pornography scenes, but you saw hard cocks and dudes jerking off on Mein Kampf. It was very intense. I didn’t hear about [porn studies] until after that, when I met Tristan Taormino, who got me involved in The Feminist Porn Book. I think it’s cool. I’m really supportive. Feelings about pornography are entirely culturally relevant. It’s one of the most consumed forms of media on the planet and that has implications no matter what you think, so to be able to study that as a genre, as a medium, I think is incredibly important.

GGG: It’s only fairly recently that sex workers speaking for themselves has been taken seriously. The Feminist Porn Book is really the first book that brought academics and sex workers as scholars together in one space.

DW: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right and it’s still weird for me to look at it as that groundbreaking. It’s like, I just know these people. They’re my friends or at least good acquaintances. But when I look at that objectively I think it’s pretty important.

GGG: You’re also on MakeLoveNotPorn, the Cindy Gallop site. What is your view of that as a company or a movement?

DW: I think it’s gotten a lot of flack from people in porn because of the title. And I think if I were to just read the title without having met her first, I’d be a little standoffish. Cindy approached me a long time ago, before the video portion of her site went live. She explained to me the concept, which didn’t seem to be antiporn at all, and she comes from the advertising world and she’s smart. MakeLoveNotPorn is a slogan that gets people talking. Even people who think pornography is problematic are willing to have her talk about it and she usually does a good job of explaining that her site is not antiporn, it’s about knowing the difference between porn and real sex. But since then, I’ve written about it on my blog and said you know, you can still show realistic depictions of sexuality in porn. It’s not impossible.

I don’t think you can even really say [MLNP] is not porn. It’s videos of people having sex, which I think by and large you can call porn, but it’s curated in such a way that it eliminates most porn tropes. So, Cindy asked me to be a part of it. My ex-girlfriend and I were in the midst of our relationship and we submitted two videos, and I think they did quite well. I have no regrets. I think it’s awesome.

GGG: In feminist, queer porn and MakeLoveNotPorn, authenticity seems to be valued. It’s as if porn is responsible for showing us “real sex” not fantasy “porny” sex. What are your thoughts on that?

DW: I’m glad that the movement has brought that to the foreground, and I think that’s certainly something that needs to be there. But I’m all about the other type of porn too. I wrote a little piece for Medium.com called Context, to try to differentiate some of the things we do, and I was like, listen, I do the MakeLoveNotPorn stuff, I do feminist porn, but I also participate in Kink.com’s hardcore gangbang on a very regular basis, and some of them aren’t really that fun to be in, to be completely honest. They’re a lot of hard work, and sometimes if we’ve had a lot of technical problems and we still have to get a certain amount of footage, no one really wants to continue, but we have to. This is what we’re getting paid for. At the end of the day, it’s a fantasy. I don’t gangbang anyone in real life. And usually the set-up is totally non-consensual other than the interview at the beginning, or they have these fantasy scenarios. You can’t really argue with what your brain thinks is hot, and in the same way that I was talking about the art stuff earlier, sometimes things that just don’t seem to be morally ok turn you on. It obviously works for some people to watch and I have no problem with that as long as you can differentiate that this is a fantasy.

I think that’s another really important part of porn studies. People need to have some sort of media literacy when it comes to pornography. Because it happens in every other form of art.

GGG: What about anti-porn feminism? That has enjoyed a similarly huge resurgence in probably the last five years.

DW: I tried in the beginning to be conscious of that too, to investigate it. It’s obvious some people enter porn because they have no other options in life, and this is something that can make them a substantial amount of income, at least in the beginning. And maybe they’re doing things they don’t want to do, and that’s sad. That’s sad in any person’s life to have to go through that experience. But it’s very obvious at this point in time that there are people doing it for the exact opposite reasons. They enjoy sex, or maybe they like making money and like having sex. I think you can link most of those arguments to any industry. I think it’s really demeaning to women to tell them you don’t have any agency. I think that’s completely fucked up and demeaning to women to say that they don’t have a choice in the matter.

GGG: People seem to think there are two mutually exclusive views. To me, you can create space for that agency and still acknowledge that misogyny exists.

DW: Yes. I’m not going to sit here and say all porn is amazing and people aren’t exploited. They are. That’s a fact of capitalist society. I’m aware that happens; it’s happened to me. Early on, after working for Kink, I ended up in some guy’s living room letting him such my cock for money that I didn’t agree to, and I felt really shitty about it afterwards. It didn’t ruin my life though. I went home and decided maybe I should be a bit more self-aware when I get into situations like that and say no. I was young and naïve and made mistakes and I let someone exploit me. It sucks, but I think that happens in any sector of society and to blame an entire industry, I don’t think you can make that kind of distinction.

GGG: I think it’s easier for people to just pick one really small area to focus all the misogyny, racism, classism, capitalist exploitation, and just put it all in one space so we don’t have to deal with the overwhelming fact that it permeates every single aspect of our culture. Porn gets scapegoated. No one’s going to stand up for it. But you have stood up for it. You’ve been politically involved in the Measure B stuff, attending the meetings. Is that something you still think is important?

DW: Yes, I did go to those meetings, I was very vocal about it. Things have been getting much more complicated in this past year and it’s hard for me to have as straightforward an opinion on all that stuff. With all politics it’s hard to figure out peoples’ real motivations. The thing is, I don’t know what would happen if we started to use condoms. If you have companies fighting tooth and nail not to use condoms because they feel like they’ll go under financially speaking, I tend to base that on some reality. We rely on those companies to pay us. Particularly in the past, my stance was that there’s a certain risk you take being a sex worker to contract STIs. We have a testing policy in place. It’s not perfect but it’s been pretty good at keeping out potentially deadly STIs. At the end of the day, this is a career, people are trying to make money, and we’re doing things that most people aren’t capable of or don’t have the opportunity to do and that’s why they watch it. It’s a novelty, and it’s really kind of hard to do once you start incorporating more and more safety measures.
GGG: They could increase the safety measures on the testing side.

DW: Yes, and I think in the last several months we’ve been starting to do that. But in the last couple of months a lot of really bad fucking stuff has happened, so at this point what is my responsibility? What is a producer’s responsibility? I’m a little ambivalent about it. I don’t know what to say anymore.

GGG: What do you feel about the inconsistency between gay porn and straight porn testing (or non-testing)? I really resent the homophobic attitude toward crossover stars, but there is that disconnect.

DW: Yeah. I have been pretty open about having done gay porn in the past and before we had this crazy resurgence of STI exposures about three years ago I was like, you know what? I seem to be a fairly established performer, a lot of gay fans really like me, and my friend Wolf Hudson asked me to do a bisexual scene with him and another woman. I went ahead and did it, then about two weeks after it was released Derrick Burts contracted HIV, the industry went on a fucking crossover witch hunt, and my old agency wrote an email to every agency in the industry saying that I was an HIV risk. I’ve since been blacklisted from working with any of their girls. It was really scary for me for about a year. Since then, I think people have realized that I’m fairly responsible, I hope. They trust me enough that I’m not fucking peddling HIV everywhere. But my decision since then has been that I’m not going to do gay porn or bi porn because it’s going to fucking destroy my career. No one’s going to want to work with me. And a lot of that, when I listen to people talk on set, has to do very specifically with homophobia. You work on a gangbang, and you’ve been DPing a girl and rubbing your cocks together inside a girl and then they’re all sitting there talking about faggots? “Oh that’s a health risk.” Um, what is more bisexual? Me rubbing my cock on a guy inside a girl or me sucking a cock while I’m with a girl? Like, what is more gay? You know what I mean? It’s completely stupid.

However, I have to acknowledge the reality of my situation. There is a reality of pos guys working in gay porn. And, you guys don’t test all the time, and I know they have condoms on most sets but condoms break, and people are getting HIV in gay porn. But there’s also a history in the gay community with HIV and from what I understand they try to keep the positive performers together and the negative performers together. A lot of companies have begun to test. I think men.com tests, I think Cocky Boys tests, and some other companies test. It’s just too inconsistent. So there’s two things going on there; there’s an intense degree of homophobia, but the reality of porn is you just have to pick a side if you’re a guy. But I would just like to reiterate that sexual orientation is not a risk. It’s behavior.

GGG: You were in The Canyons. What was that like?

DW: Oh man. The Canyons was funny. I’m not trying to get a mainstream acting career. I grew up reading Brett Easton Ellis; I fucking loved his books in high school. Paul Schrader I didn’t really associate by name, but I’d seen Taxi Driver and American Gigolo and I those are fucking really good movies. My roommate [Chad], who’s also in my band, called me up and he goes, “I’m friends with the casting director for The Canyons and they’re trying to fill these two roles.” He spoke about one role in particular. They needed someone to get naked. More than that, there’s this scene in the movie where a guy makes out with James Deen and then pretends to go down on him, and Chad is 100% straight but asked if I would be into it, and I was like fuck yeah, why not?

At the same time, when speaking to the producer, it occurred to me that James Deen might not be ok with that. So I texted him, “Hey James they’re asking me to do this movie, but they want me to play this role. I don’t know if you’re comfortable with that.” He texted me back, “Dude, we DP girls together. I don’t want to think about making out with you.” So, they came back with this other role. You also et naked and in this one you kiss Lindsay Lohan. And I was like, “Yes! Of course I’ll do it.”

I play this guy who they find off this weird app on the internet that’s for hook ups and they invite me over and I get naked and jerk off while James Deen goes down on Lindsay Lohan. I look like a creep. It’s hilarious. I’m such a bad actor.

GGG: It’s like the year of the Hollywood porn film. What do you make of the Hollywood interest in porn?

DW: I haven’t seen too much of the Hollywood movies about porn that have come out recently. The most realistic movie I’ve seen about porn is Bucky Larson. Actually, you know there was this movie called Starlet that came out a little bit ago, and it’s not like porn is the central theme but that actually portrayed the industry incredibly honestly. What you would call “mainstream” porn. They’re just young people trying to figure out their life and they happen to be doing it – they basically live like other kids but they have a little more income here and there and some of them are emotionally rash.

GGG: There seem to be more projects created by porn stars who aren’t saying “Oh I quit porn and now I’m doing this.” There’s more of an overlap. It’s exciting to me, it must be to you too.

DW: Oh totally. I think it’s really cool.

GGG: What are your goals for the future? Do you think there will come a time when you quit doing porn and move into some other part of your life?

DW: I’m pretty sure, unless something drastically changes, that I’ll be involved in the industry for most of my life. I think at a certain point I have to stop performing. I think that’s inevitable. I think that’s going to realistically turn into producing porn. My ex, Lily LaBeau and I, did quite a bit of work on making stuff for website that didn’t happen, but in just the past couple of months I finally got distribution for the first feature we did, Man Hunt Ibiza, which she directed. I’ve also just started a clips4sale store for a lot of the scenes that we did. It’s called Future Sex Shock. I’ll be promoting that the rest of this year and hopefully continuing to shoot scenes for that. However, I’m just trying to get some of this stuff out there; we shot a year’s worth of stuff that never saw the light of day. Hopefully people are into it.

Keep up with Danny on his excellent blog, Trve West Coast Fiction where he writes about porn and sexual politics, and posts updates about his various projects.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Female Gaze and Narrative Rupture: Barbara Broadcast (1977)

One of the only times I have ever agreed with something Gail Dines said is in her book Pornland where she states that gonzo porn--seemingly a plotless series of fucking positions--tells stories (xxii-xxiii). "As much as pornographers would like us to think that they are just capturing people having sex," Dines goes on, "in reality, the images are carefully crafted and choreographed" (xxiii). This is a similar argument to that made by Linda Williams two years earlier in Screening Sex, but it bears repeating.

Andrew Ross, in his 1989 book No Respect, goes some way in theorizing pornographic narrative, arguing that both intellectuals and antiporn feminists disapprove of pornography due to "lack of respect for narrative, for the former" and "a callous scorn for the holistic experience of a properly loving and sexually fulfilling human relationship" for the latter (194-195). "In fact," Ross states, "pornography is not at all inattentive to narrative." Indeed, pornography is somewhat unique when it comes to narrative: "Pornography, for the most part, provides a stimulus, base, or foundation for individual fantasies to be built upon and elaborated. It merely provides the conditions--stock, generic, eroticizable components such as poses, clothing, and sounds--under which the pleasure of fantasizing, a pleasure unto itself, can be pursued" (196-197). In this way, the true "narrative" of even the most "plotless" gonzo film occurs somewhere between the spectator and the screen.

I can't tell you how many times I have heard people either justifying a pornographic film because "it has a plot" or "it's like a real movie," or conversely dismissing a pornographic film for having nothing but fucking, apparently disqualifying its status as meaningful text by refusing to wrap its hardcore sex acts in traditional Hollywood trappings. I have written about this elsewhere regarding another Metzger classic. Barbara Broadcast, recently re-released by Distribpix in lovingly-restored form, has more traditional "plot" than a standard gonzo porn flick of today, and yet as far as golden age features go, it is heavy on the sex and light on dialogue and characterization. With this in mind, it is telling that over the years I have noticed a disdain for this film when compared to the likes of The Opening of Misty Beethoven. Barbara Broadcast, it seems, is for the raincoat crowd. In other words, it is for masturbation and therefore not as noble as a hardcore film with loftier aspirations than simply eliciting sexual desire and arousal in its audience.

I myself was one of these snobby folks. I was not keen on Barbara Broadcast when I first watched it many moons ago. I dismissed it as practically plotless, as being nothing but sex, and turned my attentions toward other, more easily championed (because more akin to realist cinema) hardcore film. The kind of hardcore film where you could take out the sex and the film would remain intact. This kind of qualification for hardcore disturbs the very notion that hardcore is a genre unto itself. If a hardcore film remains intact after the sex is removed, what exactly is the point of making the film hardcore in the first place? Moreover, why do we make such demands of pornographic film that we do not make of other genre films?

What distinguishes BB from some gonzo is its use of context. The sex scenes are embedded in carefully constructed contextual framing devices; framing devices that almost carry as much erotic weight as the fucking itself. This, for me, is what makes BB so special, and is also the reason why my favourite hardcore at the moment is Moms Bang Teens. For, while fucking itself does indeed tell a story, context produces eroticism. Or, thought through differently, context infuses the fucking with eroticism. However, "context" itself is relative. Even a generic label or a title indicating some kind of background produces erotic context for the spectator to develop their own fantasy narrative. With this in mind, BB raises a series of interesting questions for me regarding porn narrative, class-based taste, and audience activity/engagement with the screen: why do we desire porn to be "more than" porn? What is the threat of the raincoater? the solitary masturbator? How do perceived audience interactions shape the legitimacy of film?

According to Linda Williams in her essay "Film Bodies" (1992), one threat posed by all body genres, especially pornography, is the audience's physical mimicry of the (usually) female body on screen. This is particularly obvious in the films of Radley Metzger where women are typically the protagonists; indeed they occupy the title characters (Misty Beethoven, Pamela Mann, Maraschino Cherry, and Barbara). Yet, in Barbara Broadcast, sexual voyeurism and perversion is both instigated by and experienced through women. In other words, women occupy and direct the gaze, as opposed to being only the object of the gaze.

BB concerns Barbara, a former high-class prostitute, and now a successful author, being interviewed over lunch by journalist C.J. Laing in an unconventional, sex-driven restaurant. Sex is literally on the menu. The film subsequently details the various sexual shenanigans experienced by the pair, and by others, at various (usually public) locations. It's effectively a series a scenes strung together by the slightest of plot. But, as I have already discussed, traditional plot is not the concern of BB.

Indeed, it is a film concerned with what the majority of pornography is concerned with: object/subject status, looking and being looked at, and the gendered associations of both. In an early sequence in the film, a woman requests that she use Barbara's waiter to perform fellatio. What might be a standard blowjob scene is rendered something far more complex as C.J. gets down to the level of the woman, and watches her intently as she performs oral sex on the waiter; a moment of true investigative journalism on C.J.'s part, which Barbara observes with amusement. 

Following ejaculation, a napkin appears from the side of the frame and C.J. delicately mops the semen from the woman's ecstatic face. They gaze at each other repeatedly, prompting questions as to who exactly the object is in this scene. Who is the voyeur? Who is the subject? The object? Is the vision of women watching each other perform sexual acts "narrative"? I would argue that yes, it certainly is. And it is a notably interesting piece of erotic narrative in this case.

The dynamics of this scene are replicated later in the film at the nightclub, where Barbara and C.J. dance together, and engage in oral sex with each other. The shots of men arm-wrestling that are intercut in this sequence further query the status of gendered subject and object of lust. Moments later, C.J. demonstrates her frankly impressive fellatio skills on an anonymous, faceless male.

Yet, the actual oral sex is never quite visible; rather, it is Barbara watching the cock sucking that is the primary focus of the scene. Once again, female voyeurs and objects/subjects create narrative; narrative that is infinitely pliable by that extra voyeur, the partial creator of narrative, and participant in every scene: the spectator. You and I.

Even the cannibalized BDSM scene, unused and lifted from Misty Beethoven, depicts Constance Money as submissive object yet also voyeur of her own object status thanks to a carefully-placed mirror underneath her shackled body. It is fitting, in the context of this film, that BDSM is featured in one of the final scenes, a sexual practice that Anne McClintock observes is radical and scandalous in its "provocative confession that the edicts of power are reversible" ("Maid to Order" 87).

Give my compliments to the chef...
I couldn't possibly write this piece without lingering indulgently on the kitchen scene, featuring the beautiful Wade Nichols. This moment in the film is something to be cherished by film lovers. And yes, it is another scene comprised of intense gazing. C.J. is encouraged by Barbara to check out the kitchen, as well as to "pay my compliments to the chef." C.J.'s entrance into the kitchen, into the scene, is both perverse and predatory.

Her approach--documented by a fluidly moving shot that positions us in the place of C.J.--with the chef (Nichols) the object of her voyeuristic pursuits, is almost chilling in its determined and smirking attitude. Nichols, too, seems taken aback, especially when C.J. nonchalantly lifts her skirt and pees into a metal bowl.

 Rather than expressing horror, however, Nichols appears impressed at her sheer bravado (as am I). C.J. laughs out loud, and so begins a ballet of sorts that results in a dialogue-free, but gaze-intensive, sex scene that goes down as one of the most erotic
sequences committed to film; a large degree of which is due to the careful interplay between the two protagonists who can't seem to take their eyes off each other...except for when they are glancing around at the implied crew of kitchen workers. Indeed, their presence (and our own) as witnesses only heighten the web of voyeuristic and exhibitionist pleasures on display here.


The package put together by Distribpix is typically beautiful. The film looks and sounds pristine, and there are the usual entertaining and informative liner notes by adult film historian Benson Hurst, whose essay on this film reflects similar attitudes toward porn and narrative as I have mused over here. Hurst's story about a bidding war on ebay is particularly memorable and amusing (spoiler alert: he is bidding against C.J. Laing!). In terms of extras, those familiar with the Platinum Elite series should know there is a buffet of treats: "hot" and "cool" versions (hard and soft), director commentary, a making of featurette, and many other goodies besides (the radio spots are a retro hoot). Any fan of adult film would not be wasting their money on this, but for Radley Metzger and Barbara Broadcast fans, this is a must have. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

XXX Auteur: An Interview with Nica Noelle


Courtesy of Nica Noelle
 Hi folks! I was recently lucky enough to be asked to do some director and performer interviews for Adult DVD Talk, with free reign as to who I reached out to. Naturally, my first thought was Nica Noelle, an adult film powerhouse who I have long admired for her seemingly-constant creative evolutions, and a willingness to push the creative and categorical boundaries of hardcore in way that I deeply admire. Nica has been extremely busy developing four exciting and groundbreaking studios of late, and she graciously accepted my request to chat about her life, career,  sexual politics, and recent creative ventures in hardcore film. Enjoy!

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How did you get into the porn industry? I know you started out performing and then transitioned into writing, directing, and also performing. How did this come about? Did you know you wanted to be a writer/director from the very start?


I had always been drawn to the adult industry, from the time I was an adolescent and noticed the marquees at Times Square for adult films, or would sneak a dirty magazine from under my parents' bed. I was intrigued by the women, because they seemed so different from any I knew in real life; e.g., my mother and my friends' moms. Also the strange mixture of fear, desire and anger that women in the sex industry aroused in people was very intriguing to me.  

But I had no particular plans to be in porn. I worked as a stripper for many years, but I wasn't one of those girls who loved the lifestyle or attention. I didn't do drugs or party and I was never much of an "attention whore." It was more that I wanted to be around the sex industry as an observer. I liked analyzing it and thinking about it and observing the girls, and the best way to do that was to join in myself. But I always kept more of a narrator's perspective. I wrote constantly; I kept daily journals. First and foremost I was always a thinker and a writer. 



Courtesy of Nica Noelle
When I was in my late 20s, though, I decided I should probably get a "real job" and grow up, join the rest of society, that sort of thing. So I focused more on journalism, I became a newspaper reporter and magazine writer, and a paralegal. But I felt a little lost in the corporate world with no connection to the sex industry, so I started writing about it. I wrote articles for Exotic Dancer magazine and I became the editor for Private Dancer magazine. That led to essays for other magazines, which in turn led me to performing my first fetish video for Kelly Payne's Tantrum Trainer series. She gives a hell of a spanking and I wrote about that experience for Spread magazine. And starring in that video led me to work for a lesbian film company. It was just a tiny company back then, with a rinky dink, outdated website. The owner operated the whole thing out of his house. He told me he was kind of at a loss for how to take his studio to the next level, because he felt he needed a woman at the helm in order to do that. So after he had used me as a model a few times he asked me if I would be interested in writing some scripts, since that wasn't his strong suit. So I wrote some scripts for him, and then he told me I could direct the scripts I was writing and that he wanted me to essentially take over the creative direction of the studio. He said he thought I could give the company a "shot in the arm." So I took a big pay cut from the law firm, left that job, and I took over the creative direction of his studio. 


I basically changed the way he was doing everything. I began casting well known porn stars, doing lots of promotions, writing scripts that made sense, I completely designed the new website and insisted we have a fan forum because I noticed how much the fans loved to communicate about movies and post their reviews. And within a year of my taking over, the studio was the talk of the industry. From there MileHigh Media offered me a deal to start up my own studios, so I went on to create Sweetheart Video and Sweet Sinner, which set off the "couple's porn" trend, and now I've teamed up with AEBN and created four more successful studios and branched out to TS and gay porn, too. 



What were your expectations of the porn industry? Which preconceived notions were challenged, and which were reinforced?

I guess the biggest shock to me is that the porn community is not actually a culture of individuals and iconoclasts and misfits that think for themselves. There's a group ideology and most definitely group politics. You're expected to be a "rebel" in a very specific way, the same way that everyone else is a rebel, and there are ramifications and consequences if you try to go against that and do your own thing. I've come to the conclusion that people are essentially sheep no matter where they are, but it's more insidious within "subcultures" because you feel like you're being an individual, but really you're still being controlled by the group. It's just a different group.



You recently wrote a provocative article about your resistance to labels, specifically to the “feminist porn” label. What do you find problematic about such naming? What are your feelings about the feminist porn movement in general? Do you identify as feminist? What does feminism mean to you?

This whole "feminist porn movement" is a disingenuous marketing strategy that certain female directors are trying to capitalize on. I think my article said some things that needed to be said, especially that male porn fans are always being vilified while feminists are continuously patting themselves on the back and taking credit for this wonderful change in the way porn is made. One prominent "feminist porn" director was so furious with me after my essay was published that she actually tried to rally public anger against me. But it wasn't just her; a lot of feminist pornographers came out swinging against the woman who dared speak for herself and not get on the party train. But I don't know what they were so mad about. They can still work that angle and write their books and do their little conferences. All I said was, leave me out of the feminist rhetoric and politics. I don't want my work described that way, and that's my choice.



You have had several muses over the course of your career. Can you elaborate on these women and explain what you found so inspirational about them? 


It's all different things. Unique people inspire me. Maybe they have a certain quality, a type of beauty or sexuality or depth that you don't see every day. I like people with contradictions; people who are a bit of a mystery. I don't even necessarily have to like them as people, I just have to find them compelling. Suddenly I'm just overflowing with ideas about how I want to shoot them, what characters I want them to play. It's almost like a spiritual experience, and that's why I do call them "muses," as pretentious as it sounds. They inspire me to do something special for them, and it doesn't even feel like a choice.


You recently departed from Sweet Sinner/Sweetheart (Mile High Video) and partnered with aebn to produce not one, not two, but FOUR connected studios: Rock Candy (guy-guy), Hard Candy (boy-girl), TransRomantic (trans women), and Girl Candy (girl-girl). As far as I know, you’re the only person in history to have accomplished such a feat. What was the motivation behind creating these studios? How are they going?
 
Jerry Anders, who is my partner at AEBN, was always a big supporter of mine, long before we went into business together. I remember reading an article about myself in a trade magazine several years back, where he was quoted as saying I was the most important erotic writer and director of this era. I had to read that a few times to make sure I wasn't imagining it, I was so blown away. But Jerry would always tell me I was the most searched director on the VOD site, and that my movies would always go right to the top of the sales chart, so I thought "Wow, this guy really believes in me." So when I was looking to expand beyond my deal with Mile High, I called Jerry and asked if he would be interested in collaborating with me on a side project or two, and within a few days he was flying me out to the AEBN offices. They made me an offer to be partners and start new studios, which was a big step for them and for me, too, because it meant leaving my studios with Mile High behind. I was definitely worried that lightning wouldn't strike a third time. I thought, "what if I'm overplaying my hand? What if my fans don't follow me again?" But AEBN was offering me profit sharing and more creative freedom, and that was huge. I really wanted to move into gay and TS porn and Mile High wasn't ready to let me do that at the time, so that kind of cinched the deal for me
And obviously the new studios are doing great. Girl Candy has been especially successful, because I've been able to make some changes that I felt were necessary to keep the girl/girl genre fresh and interesting. TransRomantic has been a big success as well, and it won two prestigious awards for its debut release Forbidden Lovers. (Tranny Awards "DVD of the Year" and Feminist Porn Awards "Steamiest Romantic Movie")

But the real game changer for me has been the success of Rock Candy Films. It's always been my dream to make gay porn, and so far the response has been overwhelming, both critically and in sales. So I'm very focused on that studio and I'm shooting a lot of gay features. I love telling men's love stories, and to be blunt, I haven't felt this creatively inspired in years.     


A couple of years back, you attempted to start a performer-focused and run union, which ultimately failed. Ona Zee attempted the same in the 1990s, and also failed. Why did you feel it was important to create this union? Was there performer interest? Why did it fail?

It wasn't a union, it was a Performer's Association that would focus on education and health resources strictly for performers. This is kind of a tricky subject because I'm now friends with the people who were against it at the time. But it failed because we were deeply afraid of the internet bullying from people who thought the Performer's Association was an attempt to go against the FSC and challenge their authority. I had never experienced internet bullying before, and I was actually afraid for my life and my child's life. The internet stalking was getting very intense, and was starting to seem dangerous. Then my partner in the venture had a psychological breakdown, in part from the stress and the bullying, so I stepped away. I decided I would just focus on privately making the changes to my own set that I felt were necessary. I still feel a Performer's Association is needed, and I'd still like to see one happen, especially now. But I don't think I'm cut out for politics, so I'd probably stay in the background next time and do more of the grunt work. Let the politicians handle the politics. It's a full time job, and I already have a full time job making movies.



You seem to have a particular interest in period settings—the Victorian settings of many Sweetheart/Sweet Sinner films, and the 1930s setting of your Rock Candy film, His Mother’s Lover. What is it about porn films set in the past that appeals to you?

The extra layer of "taboo" more than anything. In Victorian times there were strict rules of etiquette that everyone was expected to follow, so the sexual tension must have been overwhelming (and if you've read any Victorian erotica, it obviously was.) These days people run around half naked coming on to each other like it's no big deal, but back then you couldn't do that and most people wouldn't do that. So it was a much more romantic time, a more sexually anguished time. You could be in love with someone your whole life and not be able to act on it or even tell them because social customs forbade it. And if it was a gay or lesbian romance, it was even more scandalous and forbidden. Maybe you'd just have one secret tryst with your object of desire that nobody could ever know about. That social climate of sexual repression makes for some very hot porn.


While your films cover a variety of themes, they all have social transgression in common. This is arguably the purpose of all pornography, but your films make it more literal and visible than most. What kinds of social transgression appeal to you or intrigue you erotically?

I like the older/younger dynamic and I like as many layers of forbidden and taboo attraction as possible. The teacher/student, the step-parent and step-son or daughter, even depicting truly incestuous relationships, if I could get away with it. Actually my film Nobody's Daughter is about an incestuous, abusive relationship between a father and daughter, but I couldn't come right out and say it in the movie or we would have distribution problems. So the viewer has to kind of figure it out for himself: "Oh, those are her parents!" And I don't think most people did, but I got a few emails from people who were like "I hate to ask this, but ...." 

In my mind, exploring forbidden themes that we either can't or don't want to explore in real life is what porn is really all about. But there's this weird belief that if someone sees a movie about a mother and son in an incestuous relationship that it will cause people to feel turned on by incest and then start doing it themselves. Suddenly mothers everywhere will be seducing their sons. And it's a cliché argument, but: why does no one worry about this when it comes to making movies about serial killers or other violent crimes? Violence is all over TV and film, but arguments that it causes viewers to be desensitized to violence in real life are scoffed at. So it really doesn't make any sense. People are just afraid of any sexual themes. We're afraid of their own sexual desires because most of us don't understand them. So it's like "Don't open Pandora's Box! We don't know what's in there!" 



Of the many films you have made, which are you most proud of and why?

I'm most proud of His Mother's Lover, which was my debut gay film for Rock Candy Films, My Sister Celine for Sweetheart Video, Nobody's Daughter for Hard Candy Films, Last Tango for Sweet Sinner Films, and Gia: Lesbian Supermodel for Girl Candy Films. Those were all films where I felt something special was happening, some type of alchemy and magic. It's a combination of the performances, the chemistry between the performers, how inspired I was to write the material, and just an overall energy, like the Porn Gods were smiling down on us in some way. And those are always the films that end up affecting people the most, and the ones I get long, emotional emails from fans about for years after they're released. Porn really can affect people emotionally, sometimes more than a mainstream movie can.



You have accomplished so much in your career so far. What’s up next for you? Do you have any life goals that you have yet to achieve?

I'm working on a book. I'm giving myself a year to get it done. It's kind of an overwhelming project, but I can't help but think that I'll end my days on this earth as a writer, so it's time to start moving in that direction in more of a real way. Articles and blogs are fine and I write them all the time, but to publish a book kind of puts you in a different category, especially if it's well-crafted and has a point to it. 

Other than that, I'm just trying to stay on track in terms of my philosophies and beliefs about erotic entertainment, continuing to grow as a filmmaker without compromising health or safety to make a quick buck. You have to really take stock of yourself and your motives constantly when you're in this business, because the pressure to go with the flow and be motivated by sales and money is intense. I'm sure that's why people end up broken so much of the time, and regretful of their years in porn. This industry could be a wonderful, magical place, an expansive place of discovery. But unfortunately mainstream society still refuses to acknowledge adult film as an art form and continues to view adult performers as expendable. So, to a large degree performers see themselves that way, too. I don't know if any of that will change in my lifetime, but in my own small way I hope to stand against it for as long as I'm here making movies. 


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