Porn for the people, by the people, in front of the people, on top of the people, in back of the people. You get the dirty picture, porn is everywhere. Sex is, after all, a most democratic of activities, but film, on the other hand, is not. Especially films about sex.
The commercial porn industry is worth incalculable amounts of money. It is an intensely profit-driven, hierarchical system, that exploits the most basic of human drives for money. It eats people alive. And not in a fun way.
With this idea in mind, a small group of like-minded pervs came together to make Made in Secret: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective. The collective is made up of roughly (or gently) eight members and their owners -- men and women, gay and straight, who like to watch. They look like perfectly ordinary folk. You could pass them on the street and fail to remark upon their demeanor or decorum: they're just a pack of sweet, polite, ordinary pervs, who wanted to make dirty movies.
They were all well and good until someone turned a camera on them. The documentary, made by the singly named Godfrey, focuses on Monster, nerdgirl, Muffy LaRue, Professor University, JD Superstar, Hugh Jorgen and Mr. Pants -- and the making of their film Bike Sexual. The EVPC has been on an international tour with the documentary and it screens this coming Friday and Saturday (November 11-12) at the Pacific Cinematheque. Come one, come all. Come all over the place.
Democracy of sex
Sex is such a fraught area at the moment that the approach of the EVPC can't help but inspire a little goodwill. They are, at least, a group of consenting adults, unlike recent news stories about websites devoted to teenage girls posting explicit images of themselves. (At that age I was still taking showers while wearing a bathing suit.)
Part of the collective's collective impetus to make their own films came from the sheer deluge of mainstream porn, women with pneumatic breasts and men with super-sized genitals. It was also about the need to be validated by the larger, cultural mainstream, as well as the need to get their rocks off, according to member JD Superstar. So they took matters into their own hands, quite literally, and made their own movies, replete with plot, winsome tunes, BC Ferries (not fairies) and dykes on bikes.
This "anarcho-lesbo-feministo-homo-a-gogo" started with a manifesto written and performed by another collective member named Monster. I must say, she is the girliest monster I have ever seen, complete with a fuzzy knitted toque. She looks as if she should still be playing with Barbies, not getting her freak on. Sheesh, kids these days!
'Fun, silly, erotic films'
The thing that makes the documentary work is that each of the collective's members seems genuinely charming and sweetly goofy, even as they are getting it on with each other. Unlike the suicides, AIDS scares and drug use in mainstream porn, there are no Jenna Jamesons here (a woman who was raped multiple times before she ever decided to make her living having sex for money). Good cheer is the unusual element that sets this doc and its subjects apart.
Even the arthouse auteurs who have attacked sexy subjects with varying levels of gusto, often take a drear and depressing approach: like Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs, the work of Catharine Breillat, or Lukas Moodysson, whose Lilya - 4 - Ever may turn you off sex forever. There are sunnier examples, such as Michael Glawogger's Slugs, but for the most part, amateur porn is still a low-grade, scuzzy business.
East Van's Professor University, who talks as if someone had anally inserted the dialectic of the hermeneutics right up his Hershey highway, maintains that the initial impulse was to make fun, silly, but still compellingly erotic films, something that the Professor claims no one (neither auteur nor amateur) has managed to do. The need to reclaim one's sexuality from the maw of commerce and exploitation is an ongoing and constant battle. And in a way, it isn't the sex that is the interesting part, but the collective aspect: the need for a process where everyone has a voice and the right to take their pants off in public. Remove one letter and you get pubic.
'Charging for entry'
Since the films were supposed to be strictly for private use, the crisis that precipitates the latter third of the film is the notion of whether to go public and charge for entry, as it were. Here is where commerce, again, raises its ugly head. It's not a question that is ever really answered.
Made in Secret reminded me of Commune, a documentary that recently screened at the VIFF, about the Black Bear Ranch in Northern California, where naked hippies got down and dirty with each other as a means of challenging the establishment. Stick it to the man! Many social revolutions have begun in the bedrooms of the nation, but this also goes both ways -- think about the government-funded abstinence programs in the US, along with the systematic rollback of reproductive rights, coupled with the booming porn industry and what do you get, but an almost psychotic split.
But the 60s sexual exploration wasn't particularly new, nor was it new in the time of the Bloomsbury group, in fact, not even when Caligula humped everything in a towel. Sex has been around since the very beginning of humanity; there's a reason why prostitution is called the world's oldest profession. Sex seems to have to be rediscovered by each subsequent generation, who think they have reinvented it. But it's the same old wheel going round and round.
Maureen Dowd's article this past weekend in the New York Times Magazine brought up quite a few interesting notions about sex and politics, "When Gloria Steinem wrote that 'all women are Bunnies,' she did not mean it as a compliment; it was a feminist call to arms," says Dowd. With designer Roberto Cavalli redesigning Playboy Bunny costumes it's back to the boudoir for you, m'lady!
You can't really separate sex from money in modern culture; the commercial porn industry makes about a bazillion times more money than mainstream Hollywood film. Porn films are often quickly and cheaply made and then mass-marketed. Sex is, after all, the most democratic thing around: all colours, all flavours, all positions, whether to the right or to the left ( See the politics of sex). So much sex, made so cheaply starts to feel like the MSG of cultural products, and the sheer glut of it can become gross, very quickly.
Says Dowd, "Decades later, it's just an aesthetic fact, as more and more women embrace Botox and implants and stretch and protrude to extreme proportions to satisfy male desires. Now that technology is biology, all women can look like inflatable dolls. It's clear that American narcissism has trumped American feminism... But it is equally naïve and misguided for young women now to fritter away all their time shopping for boudoirish clothes and text-messaging about guys while they disdainfully ignore gender politics and the seismic shifts on the Supreme Court that will affect women's rights for a generation." If you want them indoctrinated, start them young. If it seems that everyone is now stuck in some fantasy world, you might not be far wrong.
Blair Witch porn
A little dose of hard, cold, reality might be helpful, but even Made in Secret has its secrets. So is this the Blair Witch of porn, in which the filmmakers have one off on the audience? There are a couple of scenes where something seems fishy and it isn't two blind lesbians at a seafood buffet. But does it really matter whether the EVPC is the real thing or not? Even when people knew that The Blair Witch Project wasn't genuine, it didn't matter, the film made buckets of money and ostensibly changed the way films were made and, more importantly, marketed. But of course, the sequel sucked and not in the good porn way. So if the East Van Porn Collective could really make a film that purported to do what the documentary maintains, it would have to put its money where its mouth is and not blow it! Or maybe do.
Dorothy Woodend reviews films for The Tyee every Friday.