Everybody knows the porn industry is
failing; slowly detumescing like an inadequately fluffed male
performer. The once familiar sticky-floored theaters have all but
disappeared from America; video rentals -- the temporary savior of the
industry -- have fallen off under the no-holes-barred sexual assault
of the internet; and DVD seems too expensive and too late.
With the slow decline in porno sales
evident to all but the most cocaine-addled San Fernando valley
producers, the so-called "adult film" industry is desperately casting
about in an effort to attract new, younger audiences and their
supposedly burgeoning wallets. Most of these efforts have been new
spins on old ideas: x-rated CDROMs, younger and hipper-looking
starlets, cross-branding with professional wrestling, and and better
soundtracks recorded by struggling "alternative" bands.
Vivid Productions, however, has taken a
different approach. Although perhaps not truly breaking any new
ground, they are making an honest effort to re-evaluate the "adult
film" with the first Independent Adult Movie Festival, to be held in
Burbank this fall.
I received their promotional packet (my
first real perk from being a SurReview writer!) and was thrilled to
find that in addition to a a stack of press releases and a slickly
printed booklet, it included a 45-minute tape of clips from three of
the films to be shown at the festival. Between these all-too-brief
excerpts was commentary by various porn-industry luminaries.
Frankly, I have no idea what any of the
interviewees were saying, since I fast-forwarded through anything
without naked people in it. Can you blame me? Who really wants to
hear Racquel Darrian talk about the method acting approach to taking a
fist up the dumper?
The first clip, however, definitely caught
my attention. It was clearly shot on video, but with high production
values. The shot opened on a shadowy, candle-lit room with a tight
focus on the face of an incredibly pretty goth-like waif. The camera
lingered on her pale face as she went though some shocking facial
contortions; clearly something was being done to her -- and done quite
well -- off camera. The shot pulled back to reveal a man, clothed
from head to foot in tight black latex, meting out more punishment to
the girl's breasts and tender parts that I could have wished on my
worst enemy. You want details? Think nipple clamps, red-hot ball
bearings, and a wet rattan cane.
As soon as the action had started, it
seemed, it was over and we were back in talking head land. As my VCR
whizzed forward, I leafed though the information that came with the
tape. I read that this film -- "Dark Desires" -- was the first of
Vivid's new "Fringes" series, specializing in S&M, mild watersports
and other "alternative" sexual practices. Interesting, but certainly
The second film seemed more promising.
Described as an attempt to tap into the "Star Trak [sic] science
fiction crowd," this movie was supposedly a fully-realized science
fiction comedy, based on the premise of some (remarkably human-like)
aliens picking up our TV transmissions and coming for a visit. The
catch is that the only transmissions they've received are hardcore
porn channels from Sweden. Oh, the wackiness!
The clip for this film -- unorignally
titled "Close Encounters of the Best Kind" -- opens with the President
(or at least some Grey-Haired and Important Official) and his aides,
waiting for the arrival of an alien craft in the Nevada desert. As
the spaceship -- clunkily bluescreened onto the clear desert sky --
comes in for a landing, we gradually start to hear the strains of
anonymous 70's disco.
The hatch swings open, the music grows
louder, and we get our first glimpse of the alien emissaries.
However, they're not big-eyed Greys a la "Close Encounters," but
rather bald, tanned men and women, going at it like a house full of
monkeys. Couples writhed on the floor of the saucer, flanked by a
female on all fours who is entertaining a thrusting male "alien" at
either end. Meanwhile, in the back, some poor skank appeared to be
taking a rough time from a pit pony. Sorry -- "alien" pit pony.
The leader -- a tall blonde clad only in a
metallic belt and tiara -- emerges and introduces herself as "Helga."
In the funniest moment (actually, the ONLY funny moment) of the clip,
Helga -- instead of shaking the President's hand -- forces him to his
knees while commanding him in a strong Swedish accent to "Lick me,
This film, although clearly supposed to be
an ironic take on porn formulas, appeared to be much more of a
straight-ahead sex-flick the others. Although not shown, I imagine
that the President and his aides eventually enter the ship (which
probably resembles nothing so much as the interior of a garage in
Sherman Oaks tarted up with silver spraypaint) for the standard sexual
permutations, culminating in an intergalactic four-way, diasy-chained
fuckfest. "Barbarella" with money shots, it ain't.
Fast-forwarding again, I came to the last
-- and most striking -- film showcased on my tape. Entitled _Le Petit
Mort_, the clip opens with an entirely black screen. Slowly, over a
period of minutes, glowing green figures emerge from the darkness:
skeletons, surrounded by a faint glowing nimbus. The clip suddenly
cuts to what appeared to be these same hazy green stick figures
engaged in some kind of dance; rhythmically moving back and forth and
occasionally bumping into each other.
It took me a moment to realize what was
going on: they were having sex! Somebody -- in violation of who knows
how many federal regulations -- had filmed an entire porn movie using
not cameras, but some kind of xray machine. The details of filming,
obviously, were not given but I can only assume that the actors had
been given atomic-mutant-sized doses of radioactive tracers and told
to do their stuff in front of a flouroscope. Looking through this
film's vague promotional information, I found that the score was done
by an Eastern European chamber orchestra. However, from what I heard
the music must have been slowed down and distorted heavily after
recording, unless quaaludes are extremely cheap in Bratislava.
This 45-minute look at the world of
big-studio "alternative porn" was refreshing but somehow not
convincing. The experimentation in the films was indeed diverse for
such a small sampling, but also obviously amateur. "Close Encounters"
featured actors and actresses that were considerably less attractive
that one would hope for, and even "Dark Desires" -- the best of the
lot -- had several distracting tripod shakes when the girl's
thrashings shook the floor too much.
There's nothing wrong with amateur porn --
indeed, it may be exactly what's killing the market for "pro" movies
-- but the presentation and the quality of the films leads me to
believe that Vivid is merely buying low-cost (and thus low risk)
amateur-made properties and distributing them as their own "fringe"
product. From an economic standpoint this makes perfect sense, but it
also leaves one the impression that Vivid is less committed to
reviving the adult film industry than it is to merely differentiating
itself from the other studios.
Frankly, I don't think this last thrust of
innovation is enough to single-handedly solve the problem of declining
sales. Rather, Vivid and other studios must take a firm grip on the
problems that stand out before them. By working vigorously, perhaps
they can avoid the worst possible thing happening: their proud,
towering studios collapsing, never to rise again. One hopes that by
swift and firm action, something good will be produced at the end and
shower the eager faces of the public with rewards.