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Deeper into Their Fantasies

By Rich Moreland, December 2012

“I’ve failed miserably,” Christian Mann says with a smile. He’s referring to his lack of success in predicting what his boss, John Stagliano, will like in a project. That may be so, I don’t doubt, but Christian’s name in the porn universe is almost as well-known as his that of his employer. He’s the general manager of Evil Angel Productions, one of the dynamic names in adult entertainment.

Christian Mann Photo by Bill Knight

Christian Mann
Photo by Bill Knight

We’re in his office in Van Nuys, part of the greater Los Angeles area. The space is nicely appointed and part of a small facility tucked away among identical storefronts common in today’s ubiquitous industrial parks. “E.A. Productions” is printed over the glass enclosed entrance. The casual visitor is hard-pressed to recognize that this unassuming location houses an industry mover and shaker.

Inside there’s a small waiting area; a receptionist sits behind a window-like opening equipped with a sliding glass front. Typical office waiting room, all that is missing is a clipboard so I could check ‘new patient’ since this is my first visit.

A couple of perky young women are busy around the receptionist’s seat on this day. My guess is they probably shoot a few scenes for the studio and pick up steadier bucks answering the phone and greeting visitors. If not, it’s an entertaining thought.

Unlike most professionals I know, Christian is prompt, coming into the waiting room to greet Bill, my photographer, and me. Very cool. Visits to financial gurus and lawyers often involve secretaries leading the way; for doctors, it’s always a nurse. No third party here. Porn people are hands on and laid back, all puns intended.

Folk Appeal

Evil Angel is the brainchild of John Stagliano who, some twenty plus years ago, patented an artistic and innovative style of filmed pornography called gonzo, a topic I’ve written about previously. John is a genius and highly respected in the business.

A note on gonzo is in order here. It’s an adult film genre in which a movie is a series of somewhat disconnected scenes focused on the sex taking place before the camera. In a sense, it’s a modernized version of the old loop. A storyline is essentially vacant, though some of John’s signature “Buttman” series have a loose narrative base. In gonzo, the sex is the reason for the shoot unlike other approaches that work the sex into the narrative. For Evil Angel, the sex is never an “add on,” to quote Christian. Though this concept may appear overly simplistic, it has made the company into a recognized brand name.

Christian elaborates on the Stagliano philosophy. The sex is greater than “the storyline or the production values,” he says. That is not to say Evil Angel eschews these components, they just aren’t starting points. Two movies in a feature film format, The Fashionistas and Voracious, are “very intense when it comes to those elements,” Christian points out. For example, Voracious is episodic, centers on a vampire theme, and is shot in Europe where the sex is edgier than the American consumer is accustomed to seeing. Stateside, a degree of prudery still reigns. Using a serial format, Voracious turns the soil (always pleasing to vampire lovers) for a new and interesting approach to filmed pornography.

Courtesy of Evil Angel Proudctions

Courtesy of Evil Angel Productions

Courtesy Evil Angel Productions

Courtesy of Evil Angel Productions

Christian emphasizes the heart of the matter once again, hammering home the stake of truth that keeps the Evil Angel model moving forward. “Our movies always start with the sex because that’s what people [the consumers] are first and foremost wanting,” he says.

In defining the Evil Angel operation, Christian emphasizes that the company welcomes diversity. John Stagliano does not “mandate a certain point of view” though the “common thread” of sex first remains. Company directors have a free hand, Christian says, but “John has to like it” which means that boring sex dies on the cutting room floor.

Within a few minutes of talking with Christian Mann, two words jump out: charm and intelligence. He’s no stranger to adult entertainment having been involved in the business for over thirty years. Video, production, sales, marketing, he’s had a hand in all aspects of the pornographer’s trade. Christian got his start working a summer job for his father who was in the print segment of adult entertainment. Eventually Christian’s psychology major paid off as his early years in the business were in marketing. Owning an adult film company was down the road as was a bout with the government over obscenity. But like many of adult film’s historically important people, Christian Mann is stilling trucking.

Along with his current position, Christian sits on the board of the Free Speech Coalition, the industry’s political wing. He has a libertarian heart like his boss. Both have fought censorship battles in the courts.

I’m interested in Christian’s view on the popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey literary trilogy. Now that the bondage fetish is collecting devotees, is the company jumping on the BDSM bandwagon as it journeys through the market bizarre of porn? He is definitive: Evil Angel prefers not to respond to the market.

Once again, Christian returns to the company mantra. It’s unlikely John will react enthusiastically to a project if he’s simply told “it’s going to sell,” Christian states. (He’s personally made that mistake a couple of times. That’s where the prediction failures add up.)  Rather, it is John’s personal belief in the product’s quality that establishes the company’s image. Attaching a well-known name (performer or director) to a project’s sales pitch, for example, is no guarantee it will gain traction with the boss.

Of course, if a product with the Evil Angel name generates a profit, all the better. In that case, “the market just happens to agree with him,” Christian says. But there is an underlying secret at work. John has “folk appeal,” Christian reveals, an intuitive understanding of what people want.

I have no doubt that is true. The company’s red logo shouts quality and tradition. But I also contend that John Stagliano shapes the market. Like Vivid Entertainment’s Steve Hirsch, Wicked Pictures’ Steve Orenstein, and Kink.com’s Peter Acworth, the Stagliano name creates sales. In a pensive moment, Christian concludes, “John is the market.” I could not agree more.

Gender Blind

Among the reasons I’ve come to Evil Angel is to talk feminism in porn. We quickly agree that Fifty Shades of Grey and BDSM have opened another door into the female empowerment arena.

E.A. has a stable of directors who own their content and distribute through the company. Among the team are two active legends, Belladonna and Bobbi Starr. John Stagliano is “gender blind” in his hiring practices and some of Evil Angel’s “hardest stuff” comes from these women, Christian says.

Though I’ve never had the opportunity to converse with Belladonna, I know Bobbi. She’s talked about her struggle to become a director. John gave her that opportunity, as he did with another well-known feminist filmmaker named Tristan Taormino, who refers to him as the Steven Spielberg of porn. Bobbi has not disappointed the company, she is hard core to the core in what she likes to put on film. Incidentally, the 2013 Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas are close at hand and Bobbi Starr is among the nominees for both Female Performer of the Year and Best Director, a result of hard work and a personal belief in her own creativity.

Christian comments about projects both women have to their credit. “If you didn’t know it was a female directing it, you would think it’s a guy” casting women in a submissive role, he says. Belladonna and Bobbi deliberately capture the male gonzo point of view and then contradictorily take possession of it, a characteristic of what I call pornography feminism.

But is this feminism in Christian’s view? Yes, he affirms, and goes on to suggest that E.A. directors “who are interested in dominance and role-play” reflect a modern porn POV that puts women in charge of the on screen sex. He mentions one male director who often shoots “high art bondage” and though the viewer might get the impression that he dislikes women, female performers “love working for him.”  In fact, it is often the women who “push the envelope;” in other words, female subjugation on film is often driven by the women themselves.

The upshot is a “new prototype of performer,” Christian asserts, who relishes working for female directors “trying to out hard core each other.” There is a downside to this scenario, he concedes, the sex can deteriorate into “acrobatics” that are devoid of creativity.  Finding balance is not always easy.

Christian understands the erotic perspectives of new century women. They are claiming ownership of their sexuality, refusing “to be told how they’re supposed to behave sexually,” he says. They’re insisting that their boundaries be expanded; they want to go “deeper” into their fantasies and this adventure includes the submissive and dominant sides of the role play.

In short, BDSM is now an “equal opportunity” playing field, Christian asserts, that gives women choices with an added benefit: accessorizing. In his analysis, that may be Fifty Shades’ real attraction. The story shines a light on “something that has existed for a while now,” he points out, the fascination with fetishes and role-play that gives permission to have fun with the attire, the leather, and the bondage gear. For reference, take a peek at a trailer for The Fashionistas or Voracious. Once again, Evil Angel is a step ahead of this curve.

Christian reviews what everyone secretly knows but few outside of the porn world act out. “A lot of sex fantasy is about power, role-reversal,” he says, emphasizing that men can be submissive to female dominance. Something, I might add, that many anti-porn people don’t take time to consider because they are lost in their monomaniacal vision that porn is violence against women.

“Part of a woman’s empowerment,” Christian explains, “and part of the modern woman owning her own sexuality includes the right to express herself”‘ in any role she might want. In relating the Fifty Shades phenomenon, Christian postulates, “When modern women are given the right to choose, they are frequently choosing to be submissive.”

A Final Shot Before We Head OutPhoto by Bill Knight

A Final Shot Before We Head Out
Photo by Bill Knight

Christian Mann’s conversational intensity is speeding the time away and before long his agenda demands attention. We’ve gone way over the time he allowed for me, I’m sure. But I can’t leave without a final inquiry. I ask Christian for a personal vision.

He sees himself as moving Evil Angel through changing times. Most important is keeping the erotic experience for the consumer at its highest level and the best way to do that is to market a quality product.

The philosophy of John Stagliano is everywhere inside this inconspicuous storefront.

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Only After They Get Power

by Rich Moreland, June 2012

The following excerpt is from my unpublished manuscript on feminism in adult film. Citations have been removed.

Taking control her body and determining how it will be displayed on screen is the premier feminist trait in adult film. Feminist empowerment shows up each time a performer negotiates her pay, calls her own shots for the camera, and exercises choice. For the handful of feminist directors, giving performers input concerning co-stars, yes and no lists, hard and soft limits, and safer sex precautions are upfront and part of the package. This is not to say that male directors ignore these offerings, some are as assiduous in satisfying them as are women cinematographers. Yet, this scenario is not universal in the industry and women who are persuasive of their own needs are not the norm. The patriarchal hand of porn is firmly in place; respect for the female performer and director remains a matter of opinion.

An overarching view comes from feminist writer Wendy McElroy who years ago observed that industry males insist they value the women who are penetrated for the camera’s delight, though it is “a form of acknowledgement,” she asserts, “not a form of respect.” McElroy concludes, “women in porn will probably get respect only after they get power.” The genesis of McElroy’s statement came from a dinner conversation she had with John Stagliano and the late John Leslie at the AVN convention in the early 1990’s. I brought up her comments in an interview with Stagliano during the AVN gala in 2012. He assured me McElroy was referring to remarks Leslie made concerning a particular performer and should not be misread as an indictment of the industry.

“John Leslie was talking ‘off the cuff’ about his interaction with some women and the fact that he was sexually aroused by some women under certain circumstances,” Stagliano said, clearing up any misconceptions about his late friend. “In the case of that dinner, John was talking about some girl with a big ass that he was really interested in.” Stagliano believes McElroy misinterpreted Leslie’s words. They were not intended to objectify the girl and McElroy’s conclusion that Leslie had no interest in the performer’s personality was a misinterpretation of the conversation. Staglino backs off a little, however, to clarify the scene. McElroy believed Leslie did not demonstrate “enough of a feminist outlook,” he explains, and her criticism of Leslie’s words in that instance had some validity. But Stagliano adds that McElroy generalized Leslie’s remarks to account for the portrayal of women in all his films. “John had a huge amount of respect for women,” Stagliano insists, “just look at his movies.”

Among industry people John Stagliano is highly regarded. He is feminist-oriented in his outlook and actions, though he may not understand it that way. Stagliano’s support for women he believes are creative in their work, such as directors Belladonna, Tristan Taormino, and Bobbi Starr, bear witness to his respect for women. Stagliano endeavors to produce a top notch product and people are the vital cogs in his machinery. He understands the importance of creativity and teamwork in an industry that is easy to malign. “I think that human beings sometimes don’t appreciate the people that they work with,” Stagliano says, and he personally wants to find value in people. “I try to see what’s good, what it is they have to offer and treat them with a certain respect as human beings. . . . that’s the way I prefer to do business.” Stagliano knows that his way of interacting with people is not the industry norm. Undeterred, he holds to the belief that “in the long run I prove that it works to do it my way because you build bridges” in an environment that is stoked with “competitive pressure.”

The moguls of porn believe they respect the women they hire and I have no reason to doubt them. But female performers do not universally share that view. There is a disconnect between the traditional industry patriarchy and the women who toil to create the profits. Yet this separation may be more a reflection of society in general and not so much porn in particular.

Nina Hartley has a feminist perspective that is not far from McElroy’s point of view. She believes women are “valued for their ‘hotness’” but this does not necessarily translate into respect. Nina talks of female directors who must cope with male egos in the boardroom, men “who don’t want to deal with women” and who have “issues with women.” Nina indicates that for some men in the business it is challenging to connect emotionally with women, but such a claim can be made about broader society as well.

Veronica Hart supports Nina’s interpretation of respect. With a few exceptions, Hart does not believe that women as a whole are influencing the business of pornography. “I don’t see many women affecting the business that much.” She notes a few, particularly mentioning director Nica Noelle and Club 90’s Candida Royalle. Noelle’s “new spin” on shooting sex more realistically and Royalle’s “couples porn” are notable achievements in Hart’s eye, but their real business success is measured in selling movies, not the artistic accomplishments within them. Hart generalizes porn to other aspects of the corporate world where profit dictates a product’s success. “Business is business,” Hart begins. “It doesn’t respect anyone. The only thing it has respect for is the ability to make money.” True, no argument on that fact. But Hart adds that respect has another connotation that is closely aligned with John Stagliano: it is very personal and built on relationships. Respect depends on “the people you are working with,” she says, suggesting that it is a viable commodity shared among those on both sides of the camera. Hart remembers that as a director, she held her performers in high esteem, though there were a few who challenged her efforts in that regard. “I realized, ‘Thank God they were fucking because they couldn’t do anything else!’” “This is coming from a feminist,” she amusingly adds, “but I realized that people have certain abilities and just because they are in the porn business doesn’t mean they get my respect. You earn respect.” Hart elaborates on her point. Respect comes from a “pattern of being responsible, of standing up for other people, kind of doing and saying the right thing. That’s what gets you respect in life.”

I revisited for a moment McElroy’s assessment and asked Hart for her thoughts. “I think that is more a reflection on society than it is the porn business,” she says.

The adult film industry is not a business that labors daily in Middle America’s towns and villages and people are quick to pass judgment on women who have sex for money. Yet, they don’t always think of males the same way. In the public’s eye, Hart says, it is still “commonplace” to demonize women in porn as “sluts,” though she believes the term “has lost a lot of the stigma” it once had. She contrasts the word derogatory term with opinions voiced about men. “A gentleman who does it [performs in porn] is a stud,” she adds, “a guy is a conqueror.” Hart sees these definitions as a “connotation of who we are” as sex workers, of how performers are evaluated and presently situated in the industry. On the other hand, she repeats the old standby that “it’s great if you can fuck her [a porn girl], but you wouldn’t want your mom or your daughter to be one” still holds true. But she wraps the porn business in broader cloth when she states that, like it or not, the smut industry is a “part of society” and cannot be separated from it.

I’ve heard some porn people, most notably veteran Bill Margold, talk about the adult business in familial terms, the “Family of X” as he calls it. I pressed Hart to expand on the role of women in adult film and how that may relate to the larger aspect of unity.

“We are a vital necessity,” she begins. “The love in the business comes from the people that make friendships in it.” That sticking together is what Margold means, I believe, and what Club 90 illustrates so well. But Hart’s honesty takes a sudden brutal turn. “This is a business. We always say ‘Oh, the porn family.’ Fuck that! It’s not a family, it’s a business and a business loves nobody, respects nobody except a person’s ability to make money. The bottom line is making money,” she repeats. “If you are a moneymaker, then the business loves you. Right?”

Hart concludes with a position unconsidered by antiporn feminists and unrealized by the general pubic, what pornography can professionally do for women. “Pornography is one of the few places where a woman, if she wants to, can excel,” Hart says, adding that adult film women are in the unique position of being “in control of their careers.” “They’ve made their own choices,” she says, and “have a lot more freedom when they work in pornography than in most other jobs.” Referencing her personal work in the industry, Hart singles out her own successes. “I’ve been given an opportunity in porn to be anything I want to be. I can hold a camera, I can write, I can direct, I can edit and all of these things are very difficult. I can make movies because of porn. I can make really good low budget movies, whether exploitative sex movies or horror movies or action movies, it’s all the same animal. I know how to do that because of this business. I’m very thankful for it.” 

———————————

Feminist scholar Carol Queen offers that today’s porn industry woman little realizes she is a feminist until she learns from “older women” that there are “multiple feminisms,” sex-positive the most formidable example. When porn women narrowly define feminism as sex-negative and anti-porn, its goal of moving women beyond a sexual second-class citizenship is lost. Feminism in adult film is about control and choice, and many well-known performers exercise both. Nina Hartley illuminates the feminist sex-positive philosophy with “my body, my rules” which enables her to “take responsibility” for her own sexual satisfaction. It is, and will always be, her choice as to where to place her body and who her partners will be, on or off film. Many performers, particularly those who have committed to the industry long term, would agree.

In the end, success may come down to money and its reward, power, but those are not its limits. Success is also about that inner courage and determination that builds a respect that all women are capable of achieving. Wendy McElroy is correct in her conclusion that respect comes with power. We know that in the pornography empire, as it does in corporate America, politics, and social influence, money translates into power. For a porn actor, however, power also means doing it her own way. The women of Club 90 and Pink Ladies forged a path for themselves that challenged the accepted way of operating in adult film. Today adult film women who insist on choice and control in the face of a patriarchal industry traditionally built on monetizing male auto-eroticism have achieved a measure of success on both sides of the camera. Feminists in adult film are lending other elements to the money-power continuum with a philosophy that expands what it means to be a woman and express a sexuality that in and of itself commands respect.

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Recognition of the Cameraman

by Rich Moreland, March 2012
A few years ago an adult film called Pirates (2005) and its follow-up Pirates II (2008) hit the DVD market. Lots of hullabaloo expended over dropping big bucks to make pornography. There was plot, character development, adventure, everything that cloaked what it was, fun with sex in a historical setting.

In the language of the industry, Pirates is a feature. Making it required lots of props, crew, industry stars, and hype in order to turn a profit. It’s a throwback to porno chic era of the 1970’s when films like Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and The Devil in Miss Jones carried a plot of sorts and the female star had repeated sexual encounters to fit the storyline.

Long before the feature, the stag or loop was porn’s showpiece; a short film with no real narrative, just sex, cheap to make and easy to hustle among a gathering of males in social clubs and fraternities. That’s how the business of selling sex on film got started. The first stags go back to the early 20th century’s Great War days.

The explosion of porn created by the VCR hit America in the eighties; a time of “smut glut” as director and writer David Jennings calls it. San Fernando Valley became porn central and America had a new corporate entity in the boardroom. The challenge was money. Selling a feature is no easy task and profit margins can be especially troubling if a huge amount was expended in its making.

Circumstances brought opportunity and old traditions were challenged. A new kid on the block emerged by the 1990’s: gonzo. The word entered the porn lexicon and today industry people throw it around as if it’s been a part of the business since its inception. It hasn’t and I wanted to know exactly what it is and how it got started.

John Stagliano Talks Gonzo at the Hard Rock

John Stagliano Talks Gonzo at the Hard Rock

Not a Feature
This I did know. Gonzo is used to describe any adult film that is not a feature, which isn’t terribly informative. The word is so ubiquitous now that it has lost its identity. Current industry people bounce gonzo around like a napless tennis ball at a dog park. It rolls around the entire space and all dogs play with it.

I always assumed gonzo was John Stagliano’s creation, but my research-oriented mind had to check with him personally to clarify the genre’s history. John is an industry icon, “the Speilberg of porn” I once heard a director say, and legend has it that the old vids of his “Buttman” Series gave gonzo traction.

I remember one “Buttman” episode John did with old friend Bruce Seven. In one scene, John is sitting on the living room floor in a hillside house editing film, telling the camera about the girl in the video who is doing her thing for the viewer. The tape continues to roll and John shows the visitor/viewer around his makeshift editing set up and comments on shoots that appeared in previous “Buttmans.” This is a movie within a movie because John will become director and performer again within moments. All it takes is that knock on the door.

A cute blonde stands on the door stoop and says she just been tied up by Bruce for one of his bondage videos and she was sent to John next. Bit of a reversal of the traditional stag film formula, handyman comes to the house where the housewife is ready for sex. In this case, the girl just shows up without rhyme or reason and wants to make film. Perfect gonzo: no script, no set, no cast; just another impromptu opportunity for the camera to capture an eager and naked female for “Buttman.”

This is the Stagliano genre and the concept is widely admired in the industry.

Doing Back Flips
Granting me a few minutes at the recent adult expo in Las Vegas, John explains how the gonzo he was “alleged to have started” came about.

“In the eighties,” he said, “all we did was try to imitate a TV show or regular movie. We’d cast parts, write dialogue and do the best we could to find somebody to fit into that role.”

Script writing was the challenge. It was like “doing back flips,” he said, “to try to have a story with a beginning, middle, and end with characters!”

He often had one girl to showcase, but in today’s porn, unlike the old days of the golden age, she’s not going to do all the scenes in the finished product. As a result, John points out, it was “not necessary to have all the scenes build up into a feature.”

Variety drives the porn dollar. The viewer wants a collection of fresh faces to feed what internet entrepreneur Danni Ashe refers to as a male’s “harem fantasy.”

John recognized that to have  more girls is always desirable but to integrate them into a storyline was unneeded. In other words, gonzo reintroduces porn to its old stag roots, ten  minute loops of different girls strung together independent of script and casting with one caveat, the girl will often have sex with the director/cameraman. The camera is a participant because the sex is shot from the director’s POV (point of view), especially when he gets involved with the model.

Other performers may be in the scene, but Stagliano does not leave the stage to them. He is arranging people, talking with them while he is filming, and might choose to shoot through the mirror in a hotel room so that the viewer can see the performers and the director at work; the action becomes a scene within a scene.

Setting aside creativity as a driving force in adult film, porn is about money. Stagliano collapsed the always prohibitive financial hurdle by stringing together his POV version of the old loop into a few hours of sexual variety and sold it all for the same dollars the feature guys were making.

Despite John’s downplaying of plot, characters, and the like, the “Buttman” series always had a loose “man on the street” theme, such as “Buttman goes to Europe” or “Buttman v. Buttwoman,” which highlights an exclusively female version of gonzo. The shtick was always “let’s see what’s going on over here.” To follow “Buttman” around on his adventures was like chatting with your pal at a club while checking out the partygoers. It had the flavor of a hunt.

Some of the individual shoots within a “Buttman” film reflect a feature. Characteristically, the final episode in the overall package might be a sexcapade that focuses on one guy and two girls. It has a loose narrative and can last up to a half hour, surpassing the time limitations of stags.

No matter its nuances, gonzo became profitable.

“I proved that I could be successful and sell them (gonzo shoots) for the same price” as features, John pointed out. “So people started imitating me and that made the business much more creative and interesting.”

First Person Reaction

In our conversation, John remembered that gonzo came from a specific form of journalism.

“It did,” I said, mentioning Hunter Thompson of San Francisco literary fame.

“It was a first person reaction to events,” John said, explaining that from a film perspective, gonzo means “there isn’t a wall between the performers” and the director. John puts the director/cameraman in the scene; his personality is deliberately part of the shoot. He emphasizes that gonzo is “a recognition of the cameraman” in which his “ideas” as composer/arranger of the action are driving the scene. The viewer and performer acknowledge the camera, John notes, the girl is encouraged “to look directly into it and be sexy.”

Most important, he reiterates, the shoot is “not a regular story” that touts script and requires a filming crew.

How does this differ from other directors? Some feminist filmmakers like Tristan Taormino hand the cast the basic theme of the shoot and stand back, letting them do what comes naturally. She likens her product to reality TV and invests time in filming mundane activities and chatting with performers, leaving the sex to find its own way.

A more traditional feminist producer and director is Candida Royalle, whose films have a more erotica flavor, and are based on the feature model.

Well-known directors like Michael Ninn, Axel Braun, and Andrew Blake work with cast and script, producing a mainstream product noted for spectacular visuals.

But John has created a different type of film with notable success. He emphasizes that gonzo has replaced the feature in today’s business environment. There is a drawback. Success has encouraged popular usage of the term to broaden its definition to include anything that is not scripted. “But that’s not really accurate,” Stagliano concludes, offering that authentic gonzo revolves around the cameraman and the creative ideas he’s putting into the scene.

I returned with a final question.

“Can a woman do a gonzo film?” I said.

“Yeah,” John replied, “from her point of view it would be different ideas and different reactions and different feelings.”

He notes directors Bobbi Starr and Belladonna, both work for his Evil Angel Productions, as doing gonzo from a female POV and doing it well.

Before we wrapped up, John mentioned Paul Fishbein and Gene Ross of Adult Video News as part of the story. I made a mental note the give Fishbein a call.

I didn’t have to. He contacted me. John is one of the good guys in the business.

Indescribable New Style.

“While it’s true that AVN coined the term gonzo, I will not take personal credit for it,” Fishbein’s email began. He pointed out that Gene Ross, who worked at AVN for 17 years, was the originator of the word.

Here’s the story from Paul’s perspective. The eighties saw the development of what would be called “reality porn if it had it occurred today,” he said. Accommodating that reality concept, everyone participates in gonzo. Stagliano began this idea when he talked with performers on camera and interacted with them as characters “playing themselves,” Fishbein explained.
The technique broke a barrier, “the fourth wall, but these movies were clearly no documentaries,” he added.

It was an “indescribable new style”and AVN searched for a way “to distinguish this new form of erotica from traditional movies or just collections of sex scenes,” Paul said.

The AVN staff, all trained journalists, brainstormed ideas. Finally, Gene Ross, an editorial staff member, offered up the term “gonzo” as a tribute to Hunter Thompson, a legendary writer admired by everyone in the room. (For the record, Thompson’s “gonzo journalism” heralded first person narratives with an upfront “tell it like it is” manner that ignores the polished effect of editing.)

“It became the industry standard,” Fishbein said, “and AVN absolutely deserves credit for it.”

————————–

What has this investigation revealed about the state of gonzo now?

“Gonzo has come to mean more than I really think it should,” John says. “It’s not useful if it describes everything that isn’t a feature.” Pausing for a moment to reemphasize his point, John adds, “It’s not so broad as to include anything that isn’t a feature” which has happened in his opinion because “words get their definition from how they’re used by people.”

He personalizes gonzo in his final remark. There isn’t a name “for how I describe it,” John declares. His gonzo is “a personal reaction” to his craft, a type of expression that he sees in Hunter Thompson’s literary style.

Gonzo may be a personal application in shooting porn, but it is now global in its use. It is a recognized success story because like John Stagliano’s politics, gonzo is a true libertarian artistic method that has an “everyman” feel.

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