Tag Archives: Christian Mann

AEE 2019: The Evil Angel Legacy

by Rich Moreland, February 2019

This post is the first in a series installments on the 2019 Adult Video News (AVN) trade show. The Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE), as it is also known, was first held in Las Vegas in 1998 and has continued annually since.

Photos in this post are courtesy of Evil Angel and 3hattergrindhouse.

*         *          *

During my first day at the AVN trade show, I had a passing conversation with writer Tod Hunter, whose work I regard highly. He mentioned that I should check out the Evil Angel booth where a large billboard-like poster was on display in celebration of the company’s thirtieth anniversary. Tod added that I’d find it worth a look, especially the upper left side of the picture.

How right he was. But more on that corner in a moment.

Hal Freeman and John Stagliano

When I got over to EA, I spent a few minutes with John Stagliano. Saying “hello” to Evil Angel’s founder is always a pleasure. John is a force in the industry, a trend-setter who shoots what he likes and creates a market for it.

But that’s only the half of it. John is also a “freedom fighter” in the manner of Hal Freeman decades ago. Both men battled in court to preserve their right to express their art as they saw it.

Freeman’s case (1988-89) effectively legalized filmed pornography in California. Years later, John’s dust-up added to that history because it involved not actors having sex for money, but the content of the film. Ostensibly fought over obscenity charges, his case evolved into a higher cause centering on free speech and how it applies to the internet. Eventually, all charges were dropped and the modern porn industry took another step into the light of mainstream culture.

Everyone involved in the adult biz today owes a debt to Hal Freeman and John Stagliano. What we see around us in this industry was not always as it seems now. To put it another way, all of us must remain vigilant because ongoing and enduring rights of expression are precious.

Widely Regarded

Having covered that little bit of history, now back to the poster of the EA dignitaries. Though they are directors mostly, a particular individual stands out.

Christian Mann.

In writing for XBIZ in 2014, AVN Managing Editor Dan Miller pointed out that Christian Mann was “a 34-year veteran of the adult business” and “widely regarded among the most prolific and passionate executives in industry history.”

AVN notes that Christian was “the recipient of AVN’s First Amendment Defense Award in 1991,” a proud industry honor.

What’s more, Christian was no stranger to porn’s courtroom battles. “He was indicted in 1989,” AVN continues, and “withstood a federal obscenity trial in Texas and was eventually acquitted of all charges.”

Sounds a little political, right? And it should because it was.

Talking with Christian, AEE 2013

For six years, Christian Mann was Evil Angel’s managing editor and I’m fortunate to have known him. On one of my visits to the West Coast, I remember sitting in his office talking about the state of the business as he saw it. That day Christian reminded me that John Stagliano establishes market directions in porn. He shoots what is personally pleasing to his tastes, as I’ve mentioned above, and unabashedly puts it out there for all to see.

It’s worth noting that in 2012 Christian passed along to me a copy of EA’s Voracious which is one of the finest adult movies ever produced and shot on two continents. (My ten-part review of the film begins with a nod to Christian and John. The post can be found here.)

Serving honorably on the Board of the Free Speech Coalition, Christian’s sense of fairness and honesty distinguished him. His brilliance was widely recognized in the industry.

A Fight of Another Sort

The last time I saw Christian Mann was at the AVN show in 2013. He walked with a cane and was in obvious discomfort, a red flag, I thought, considering my memory of his robust energy.

When I visited the EA suite at the Hard Rock Hotel, Christian was upbeat as usual, but related that he was seeing the doctor when he returned to LA.

Christian passed away the following year after a heroic battle with cancer. He was fifty-three.

So, returning to my opening remarks, I offer thanks to Tod Hunter because he indicated that I’d have an emotional moment when I spent a few minutes with the poster. I did.

You see, Christian is with us in the upper left, a little dim because he is watching from afar. By the way, he is not the only EA personage celebrated in the display who is gone. Jake Malone, David Aaron Clark, John Leslie, and Bruce Seven have also departed.

But it is Christian Mann I remember so well and Tod, I suspect, knew that.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Bad Deal

by Rich Moreland, February, 2013

“Cancer is a rollercoaster, but he’s ridden with grace, dignity, and great good humor.”

These are the words of Melissa Palmer, Christian Mann’s support person, passionate companion, and overall good hope. She is gracious beyond belief in answering my recent inquiry about Christian’s health.

I’ve not known Christian Mann very long, having met him just a few months ago. In an earlier blog entry, “Deeper into Their Fantasies,” posted December 22 of last year, I recount my adventure at Evil Angel’s L.A. offices where I interviewed Christian. He set aside an hour of his time, but we went way over. He was more than generous with his thoughts and patience in helping me with what I wanted to know.

Of our conversation, what sticks in my mind is the image of Christian impersonating the late Reuben Sturman, one of the most colorful characters ever in the adult business. One day in 1987, Rueben called Christian into his office for a quick meeting. Using his pen as a cigar to flavor the story, Christian imitates the legend’s unique style. He leans forward and with captivating humor quotes Reuben’s advice on the best way to regard a proposed deal.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Christian says, never imagining that a nasty deal is already on his doorstep. Christian explains that Reuben’s advice was invaluable because “a young man’s instinct is to force a deal.” Christian has learned the patience needed to take his time.

Before I leave Evil Angel, we arrange to meet again in Las Vegas during the Adult Entertainment Expo. I have ideas in mind for my next book and I want his input.

Christian and I meet again on the convention floorPhoto Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.

Christian and I meet again on the convention floor
Photo Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Fast forward to Wednesday of convention week, Christian invites me to the Evil Angel suite after floor hours to chat. John Stagliano sticks around and joins the conversation. It is, as the TV commercials say, ‘priceless.’

The rewards for the evening are all mine. I get a copy of Voracious and have the pleasure of reviewing it for my blog and Adult Industry News. But most important, my photographer takes a classic shot of Christian, John, and a life size poster of iconic performer Bobbi Starr.

In the blog post about my visit to the Evil Angel suite (“As the Night Settles In,” January 28, 2013) the photo is there. It is also ‘priceless’ and will remain in my personal inventory for a lifetime.

Christian in the suitePhoto Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Christian in the suite
Photo Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

But there is an ominous presence in the room that night.

Christian is using a cane and mentions almost apologetically that he has back pain and needs help to ease his getting around. I sense something is wrong and it eats at me for the rest of the week.

Then quicker than a wink at a pretty girl, the announcement knocks the industry for a loop a few days later. Christian is seriously ill.

I am shocked and share the news with Bobbi Starr, who is equally stunned.

So, where are we now?

Having heard nothing for a couple of weeks and doing a good bit of worrying, I contact Melissa. Meeting her on that fateful evening turns into good fortune multiplied in spades. She is upbeat and looking forward to a positive swing of events that further marches Christian to a cure. She also alerts me to Christian’s newly created blog, http://www.christianmann.com/, to keep everyone informed of his progress.

As I sit here a continent away from Los Angeles, I know Christian’s response to this new very personal bad deal is to figure out a way to come out on top. Cancer can be conquered with a positive attitude and the support of friends vital armor in the battle.

Keep Christian in your thoughts or prayers, whatever your preference.

By the way, I’m due to make another trip west within a few months and I fully expect to visit a healthy Christian Mann. After all, he is destined to show Reuben Sturman how to overcome a bad deal.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

As the Night Settles In

by Rich Moreland, January 2013

Fortune came my way in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. I was there to network, pick up a story or two, and visit with industry people I have come to know. Through my connection with Evil Angel’s general manager Christian Mann, I was invited to visit the company’s suite at the Hard Rock Hotel.

It was late afternoon and twilight was fading on this unusually chilly Nevada day.

When I arrived with my photographer Bill and assistant Brandy, I found a familiar image in the suite. A gigantic poster of Bobbi Starr, who got her directorial opportunity with Evil Angel, dominated the space where the company did business during the week. Though she works out of San Francisco now, Bobbi’s presence is a reminder of Evil Angel’s influence in the world of pornography, especially owner John Stagliano’s respect for the women whose hard work helps to garner the profits.

Christian on the left, John Standing, Bobbi on the wall.Photo Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Christian seated, John Standing, Bobbi on the wall.
Photo Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

I wanted to talk adult film history with Christian who is a walking encyclopedia on everything adult and an active member of the business’s political entity, the Free Speech Coalition. Never could I have imagined that John Stagliano would join in for over an hour of conversation that covered subjects as varied as BDSM in adult film to the political ramifications of being a pornographer in the 1980s and ‘90s.

At the conclusion of our conversation I received a treasured surprise. Christian gave me a copy of Voracious, John’s award winning epic film. A mega-project shot on location in Los Angeles, Budapest, and Berlin, Voracious is divided into ten episodes. The movie is a boiling cauldron of vampirism and sex, ancient lore that first broke into film with the Dracula movies of the 1920s and ‘30s.

Of course, the sex was implied in those days. The German silent offering, Nosferatu, released in 1927 and Universal’s 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, alerted moviegoers to neck biting, but showed next to nothing other than Dracula’s hypnotic powers. In Bram Stoker’s original novel published in 1898, Dracula is a dark figure of bisexuality, preying on men and women for their blood and their souls. Every bite is a metaphor for sexual penetration that resided only in the imagination. Victorian women would have fainted in greater numbers than reported had Stoker been explicit.

Incidentally, since he had two fangs perhaps Dracula was the originator of the DP!

Nonetheless, the 1934 Hays Code, the industry’s attempt at moral self-regulation, prevented anything sexual going forward. Christopher Lee’s Dracula in the late 1960s brings the cinematic world a little closer and messier to the real thing. Lee shows up with fangs and blood, significant because it skirted a dying Hays.  Subsequent attempts to popularize the vampire film drama were never legendary; the closest modern version to achieving that level of fame is Francis Ford Coppala’s 1992 Dracula.

Now there is Voracious.  Watching the first installment, I decided a good review would have to be done in segments. My deconstruction of this intriguing film will follow in the days to come.

By the way, the tale is a love story involving a human and a vampire in waiting. The hard driving sex is a Stagliano masterpiece and for those who doubt pornography’s worth in our society, the film has more than its share of artistic merit.

Whose world will triumph in this drama that crosses reality with the undead?

*           *           *           *           *

When we left the Evil Angel suite, Bill and Brandy were curious to see the film. Vampire sex does have an attraction, perhaps a trance-like one that overcomes even the bravest of us as the night and its chilliness settles in.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized