Tag Archives: Candida Royalle

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.”

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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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Pleasure is not about being the same as your Lover

A View of Susie Bright’s Erotic Screen Volume I: 1967 – 1989 The Golden Hardcore & Shimmering Dyke-Core.

by Rich Moreland, November 2011

Historians thrive on primary sources, the stuff that comes directly from the persons who lived the events. We reference them, quote them, and analyze them. Lincoln’s short speech at Gettysburg is a primary source as is Billie Holiday’s sultry voice in “Easy Living” and Linda Lovelace’s testimony before the Meese Commission on Pornography. You get the idea.

Approaching its fortieth year of legitimacy, adult film and its players are now a part of America’s cultural history that deserves to be chronicled. In resurrecting her magazine column from its tucked away past, a leading feminist thinker has produced one woman’s interpretation of modern porn’s early years. The result is a new collection of primary source material cataloged under the title Susie Bright’s Erotic Screen Volume I: 1967 – 1989 The Golden Hardcore & Shimmering Dyke-Core.

I read Susie’s book to spot connecting points for my research. I was not disappointed. However, beyond the academic fill-in-the blanks what rivets me to Susie’s writing is attitude. Butt kicking is her specialty. Susie’s knack is “outing” the bigotry of our culture’s sexual history, a past that spills from a prudish society and dampens our desires. We get wet, but it’s a dunking that chills the spirit.

Susie dries us off and tells we can get wet again, this time for pleasure. She tells us there are no “rules” in the sexual, no definitive boundaries to what we do or when and how we do it. Her words put heteronormativity on trial.

“Pleasure is not about being the same as your lover,” Susie insists, “or doing the same thing to them as they do to you.”

These remarks are found in a 1995 piece entitled “The Blatant Lesbian Image.” Though it skirts the original time frame of the book, the essay is a perfect concluding message. Though lesbian as a sexual identifier is dated for some in today’s queer community, it was alive almost twenty years ago in defining a marginalized group. Lesbians, once sexual outliers whose loving and hard fornication had no voice in the girl-on-girl pseudo-sex of Porn Valley, were joining gay males in erasing their erotic invisibility. Gay women had endured reactionary attitudes in an age in which authentic sex troubled a fractured feminist movement. But as sexuality legitimized its fluidity into the new century, the once mired sexual turf became solid ground. In producing its own porn, today’s genderqueer population should appreciate the history lessons Susie brings to the text.

Her message drew my thumbs up. Look at what she says next.

“If what people do in bed together encompasses the true spectrum of humankind, then sex is as much about hugging as it is about drinking piss or being spanked on a Naugahyde couch.”

Love those words, but here’s the zinger.

“Our society’s notions of normality are completely fake and meta-trendy, since they rely on the changing standards of superstition, religion, Christianity, and gender bias to define.”

Amen.

This last portion of the book is its best from my perspective, but that opinion is not intended to discount Susie’s selected essays from her Forum days and her time as On Our Backs’ editor. She covers lots of chronological ground. Her film reviews, for instance, are historically valuable. She points out that some movies were edited to avoid government scrutiny and the originals may tragically be lost.

Personally, I share her admiration for Veronika Rocket’s 1983 Smoker and F.X. Pope’s and Rinse Dreams’ 1981 Nightdreams and recommend them to you. Both are filled with artistry and recall a bit of the industry’s feature film format celebrated in the 1970’s.

Putting the information she gives the reader into a political framework heightens the impact of her words, especially considering they originated in a time when the conservative backlash of the Reagan years swept through the social side of American culture. The government had pornographers on the run, take a look at her comments on BDSM film and the shunning of penetrative sex, and the women’s movement was filled with anti-porn feminists, not a playing field that any sex-positive feminist would consider to be level.

Susie remained undaunted. Her essay on racism in the adult film business, “The Killed Story: Jim Crow and Adult Video,” should be required reading even for those uninterested in the general history of filmed pornography. She explains that her original 1986 opinion piece was tabled by the editorial powers-that-be and she rewrote it for her journal. The winners of her forethought then are her readers today.

Susie exposes 1980’s racial attitudes that feel quaint and farcical in our current age. Introducing the reader to the beginning of black adult film, she focuses on the making of Lialeh (1973) by African-American musician Bernard Purdy, validating its place in film history. A note of interest is in order here. Because the book is Kindlized it is interactive. Instead of the reader having to seek out more information on a person or film, a click to a webpage brings it home. For Lialeh the movie’s opening musical number is instantly available through YouTube, a plus for the under-forty crowd who needs to frame it in the 1970’s.

Susie relates that there were early makers of interracial movies, most notably Drea, a female director, and Greg Dark (the Dark Brothers), both very white. Taken within this context, Purdy’s film was groundbreaking. Susie rightly believes that Lialeh’s “naturalistic black perspective” was unique at the time and she compares it with the Dark Brothers’ “cynicism and mania between black/white relations.” In fact, it’s Dark who claims there are no “sensitive” moments in his films.

Susie suggests that Dark’s movies reflect the new wave phenomenon that marked ‘80’s culture. During his college days in Oakland, California, Dark chummed with blacks on the neighborhood tennis courts, interactions that gave him some legitimacy as a filmmaker of black sexuality. Susie proclaims that in the porn business, “[i]f Greg Dark made his cross-cultural link with black tennis players, he’s one step ahead of most other white production teams who make black tapes.”

The essay further confronts another not so hushed issue of racism at the time. White females claimed they would not film with blacks.

“In porn starlet interviews from the early days of hardcore,” Susie writes, “the fan mags would pose questions like, ’What Won’t You Do on Camera?’ The most common reply from a white ingenue would be, ’I don’t do anal, and I don’t do blacks.’ Instead of greeting that statement with laughter or disbelief, everyone would just say, ’Oh yeah, of course.’”

Susie reminds the reader that “[b]efore the 90s,” not surprisingly, “there was no such thing as ‘multi-culturalism’ in porn.” But history never remains static; time and attitudes are in constant flux. Susie explains. “It’s become clear that inter-racial projects have moved up from underground stigmatized loops that could ‘ruin a girl’s career,’ to a everybody’s-doing-it theme that is destined to become as common as the pro forma lesbian scene.”

Today we have websites like blackonblondes.com that give the viewer lovely Caucasian girls being penetrated every which way by well-endowed men of color and apparently relishing every minute of it.

Popularity bred a new age of tolerance and real sexual fantasies. For those filming on the erotic margins, African-Americans, queers, BDSMers, and others, theirs were released from a closeted lockup in the “secret museum,” if I may reference Fordham scholar Walter Kendrick. Pornography became the big tent it was always intended to be. Susie’s text is a reminder of this journey.

From the feminist perspective, Susie honors Candida Royalle’s FEMME Productions as pioneering “couples” porn, endorsing sex from a female view, and Fatale Video, the earliest coming out of lesbian sexuality. Both studios framed and reinforced the cinematic “gaze” from an alternative female context. Most important, Susie pays tribute to the groundbreaking courage of gay male porn and its influence on the development of lesbian adult film.

I might add that the early efforts of each ultimately created an environment that abets the independent films of San Francisco’s current queer porn community. Moreover, Susie’s militant “dyke-core” attitude insists that not all women prefer a softer, gentler porn universe. Her view supports the artistry of directors like Shine Louise Houston, Courtney Trouble, and Carlos Batts. Queer performers Madison Young, Syd Blakovich, Jiz Lee, Dylan Ryan, April Flores, Billy Castro, and Buck Angel, to name a few, are the soul of this emerging hard edged adult film. They owe their genre’s success to those trailblazers who stood firm against the reactionary tide of the 1980’s.

Susie Bright gives us a valuable look into adult film during one of the most conservative atmospheres in twentieth century America. Her assessment of feminism and marginalized sexuality is why I searched the book’s locations (Kindle has no pagination) for those primary source nuggets that offer insights for my own work. I do have a suggestion. I wish Susie had added a few more updates to connect her history with today’s adult film world. There are some moments when she does, as at the end of her interview with Sharon Mitchell in mentioning the demise of AIM. But I would like to have encountered more. Perhaps in Volume II we’ll see those connections.

There is so much more in Susie’s text that explains how we got from here to there in adult film history. I can only toss a partial list your way in passing: a review of “super directors,” the meaning of lesbian erotica, Susie’s struggles to get out her message during her On Her Back days, a look at Christopher Rage, and a revisited glance at the hilarious Snuff controversy that continues to feed the paranoia of old anti-porn feminists. And one more, read her 1988 column on “What Do Women Want?” It’s delightful.

Susie Bright presents a kaleidoscope of stories and personal views that allow the reader to cherry pick what is of interest. Get a copy of Susie Bright’s Erotic Screen Volume I: 1967 – 1989 The Golden Hardcore & Shimmering Dyke-Core and see what you like.

If I may borrow her reference to the old Hustler peter-meter as a rating gizmo, from my cis-gendered view Susie Bright deserves a full literary joystick. Or to use her words for her devoted feminist readers, “clits up!” You’ll enjoy the ride.

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Susie’s book is available online and is published by Bright Stuff, 9-30-2011. To find copies go to:

or
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[References to the book used in this review are documented at Kindle locations 169, 742, 839-843, 858-864, 1074,2739, 2749-2752, 2802-2803, 2852-2854,2893-2895]

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A Triumph Over an Adolescent Male Mind

by Rich Moreland August 29, 2011

When I discovered there were feminists making adult film I was astounded. Not your mother’s feminism, I assure you. In my limited experience with the women’s movement a feminist was, when it comes to sex, not exactly ready to take on all comers.

My interaction with adult film was equally as limited. My adolescent male mind was focused on the action, not the value of the people who created it, their intelligence, their politics, and their art.

With little prompting, intellectual curiosity got the better of me as it often does. I decided to seriously investigate the adult film business. Rather than living with myths, or what others told me, I wanted to know the people who work in the industry because I suspected they were pretty interesting. This decision was the beginning of the end of my adolescent male mind.

Shortly after beginning my research, I discovered performers who identify as feminists—Nina Hartley, Madison Young, Bobbi Starr, Dylan Ryan, April Flores, Jiz Lee, and Lorilei Lee, to name a few—who are staking out their space in a male-dominated business. And the roll call includes innovative directors like Shine Louise Houston, Courtney Trouble, Tristan Taormino, Nica Noelle, and Carlos Batts, all artists in their own right.

Further investigation revealed I had only scratched the surface because no current feminist in adult film can celebrate her/his craft without paying homage to the past. The pioneers of feminism in adult film, actresses like Annie Sprinkle, Candida Royalle and their sisters from the 1980’s known collectively as Club 90, set the standard for today’s feminism in the industry. They surpassed all expectations of women who made their reputations in adult film. Annie with her performance art, Candida with FEMME productions, Gloria Leonard with her political activism, and the two Veronicas—Vera and Hart—deserve icon status.

So, where did this leave me? I realized how wrong I was in broad brushing feminism. Chalk up a feminist victory over the adolescent male mind.

In truth, I admire the traditional feminist movement for its political and social contributions in changing America’s cultural landscape. Unfortunately, a few decades ago the anti-pornography faction of the broader movement seized the media limelight, preaching an anti-sex, pro-censorship message while decrying the evils of porn. Thus a feminist reputation was created and shaped my reference point on the movement.

I was not alone. My conversations with Candida Royalle revealed that she struggled with reconciling feminism and her on screen career in adult film. She drifted away from the movement when demonizing pornography was feminism’s popular mantra before returning under a pro-sex feminist banner.

As with all movements feminism was not monolithic; factions developed over all sorts of issues. Some feminists disaffected with the movement’s anti-sex direction encouraged a woman’s ownership of her sexuality. They identified as sex-positive feminists and countered the movement’s popular belief that porn promoted harm and degradation toward women. These feminists supported a woman’s right to buy, watch, perform in, and get off on porn if that was her desire. In time, sex-positive feminism gained a foothold in academia and spread to adult film.

Though the earliest of the sex-positive crowd wasn’t real thrilled with Linda Lovelace’s talents in Deep Throat (1972), the film actually celebrates her sexual pleasure. Remember, she is seeking orgasm. But feminists wanted to see the narrative from a woman’s point of view and felt short-changed. Some were not opposed to Lovelace’s performance; they just thought porn/erotica could be made better and more appealing to women.

Beginning in the mid-1980’s that demand became reality and feminism found its place in the pornography industry. Today, the space they own is home to a variety of expressions. To give you an idea, consider the following samples: the erotica of FEMME Productions and Girlfriends Films, the mainstream films of “Porn Valley’s” Tristan Taormino and Belladonna, the edgy genderqueer performances of San Francisco’s Queer Porn Mafia, and the BDSM internet offerings of Kink.com.

Remember, it is all about choice. Everyone’s sexual expression is legitimate and never deserves to be stifled by anyone. So watch an erotic movie if you wish or a hard edge bondage scene if that is your thing. It’s choice and feminist porn celebrates that.

An addendum. Embedded in this venture is a celebration of women’s sexuality that has endorsed each woman’s individual pleasure, regardless of her interest in porn. Businesses like Good Vibrations in San Francisco and Good For Her in Toronto have given women the permission and privacy needed to explore their individual desires. And, no venture into sex-positive feminism is legitimate without mentioning the innovative art space in San Francisco known as Femina Potens.

So, I decided to tell the story of sex-positive feminism in adult film, seeking to discover how modern day feminists in the business got to their present state. In other words, how did veterans like Royalle, Sprinkle—and their close friend, Nina Hartley—spawn the likes of Madison, Bobbi, Jiz, Courtney, and the others listed above? The most effective way to handle that mission was to ask them personally and then tie their stories together with scholarly writings on the subject and the actual history that took place.

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I’m happy to report that my adolescent male mind has morphed into a more mature state and is now feminist oriented, at least the sex-positive kind and its vital connections to adult film. I credit feminist scholar Linda Williams with the academic insight I needed to figure it out. By the way, if you have any inclination to read a brilliant work on the ways to view pornography check out Williams’ books, especially her classic, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible.’” (University of California Press: 1999).

In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away and just maybe get all this finished so the story is recorded for America’s cultural history.

A final and honest word is in order here. For all you out there who excoriate the adult film business, I understand your views. However as you moralize, criticize, and vilify, consider taking a moment or two to actually sit down and talk with people who work in the business. As a group, they are well-educated, articulate, and very middle class. People very much like you and me.

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