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New Wave Porn: A Review of BrightDesire.com Part One

by Rich Moreland, December 2015

This is the first of a two-part review of BrightDesire.com. All photos are courtesy of the website.

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BrightDesire.com is the Australian website of feminist pornographer Ms Naughty. Advertised as “a different kind of porn,” the site offers a couples-friendly product that ditches “old clichés” and the “negativity of standard old-style pornography.” It’s a bold “new wave” claim that lives up its billing.

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The descriptors “fresh, inclusive, and intelligent” enhance the website’s mission statement. In other words, it’s a thinking woman’s eroticism that highlights fantasy and emotion while injecting just the right amount of pure sex for the joy of it.

The site is packed with content that has something for everyone—straight, gay, couples and fetish. Erotic stories, photo sets, short films, and book and film reviews are among its offerings. Be it film or print, BrightDesire delivers on its promise. It’s a breeze to navigate and visually pleasing, but keep in mind that not every model has that pornified look and the films generally avoid the Porn Valley shtick of acrobatics and opening up that defines sex for the professional. As the website’s welcome mat touts, it’s all about “smart, sensual sex.”

The site is no stranger to accolades, having received in 2015 XBIZ’s Adult Site of the Year and AVN’s Best Alternative Site. Similar noms are on tap for 2016.

Within the feminist porn universe, BrightDesire is a widely known. Toronto’s Feminist Porn Awards have honored MsNaughty’s work and the site sponsored the 2014 Feminist Porn Conference held in conjunction with the Awards week.

Curious? Check out the site here. You can get a free seven-day trial which I highly recommend.

Membership information is available in FAQ found in the banner. The first month is $19.95 with recurring months at $9.95. Or, $34.95 will get you ninety days non-recurring. New content is posted weekly.

What You’ll Find

The heart of BrightDesire is a plethora of short films that will stoke the erotic fires in every porn fan. Selected scenes are included in Part Two of this review.

From "The Scent of Her"

“The Scent of Her”

A variety of authors have contributed stories that are quick reads, just enough to fill a few pleasurable moments during a busy day. Among the list I found appealing are “The Scent of Her” about a couple who play an odd game of seduction involving another woman and “Memo from the Boss,” a brief tale that involves a female executive who seeks stress relief from an underling at the office. Both stories use bondage as focal points. In “Scent,” passion oozes from the page; “Memo” is a safely underplayed workplace routine kept private.

"Purple 80s Porn"

“Purple 80s Porn”

There are sections for columns penned by MsNaughty, a blog she maintains, and news updates. Also, photo sets original to the site, along with some from other production studios, can be viewed in the traditional magazine approach to still photography. They feature straight, gay, multiple partners, fetish, and people of color. One of particular interest is “Purple 80s Porn,” a retro look at adult film. The write-up points out that the shots are from an old film and the actors are not known, though one of them looks remarkably like the infamous Traci Lords who was in the business from 1984 to 1986.

The interview section contains short vids of selected people featured in MsNaughty’s films. Typical of the BTS segments found today in DVDs, performers talk about what is important to them, things like attitudes about sex work, shooting porn, and feminist porn as a political and social statement. The website explains that the interviews are integral to “ethical, feminist porn” and “personalize” the performers, not all of whom are professionals. Unfortunately, I did have a few technical problems downloading a couple of interviews.

Jay and Kim

Jay and Kim

After reviewing their BDSM shoot for Part Two, I tuned in to Kim and Jay’s interview. They explain how they met online and the mutual pleasure that comes from acting out their fantasies. It’s a must see for all fans of D/s relationships.

The interviews frame those who make porn in all their naturalness. Sex workers have been around since the beginning of recorded time and many enjoy what they do. In her segment, Livia Vye (who appears in “The Birthday Wish” also reviewed in Part Two) adds a euphoric touch to her sex worker persona when she talks about choice and the freedom to express herself on film.

Livia

Livia

There is much more to explore at BrightDesire. The “Under the Bed” section contains more photos and short films (“Tea or Sex?” is a personal favorite). Reviews highlight books and films. Jiz Lee’s “Coming Out Like a Porn Star” and Jacky St. James’s groundbreaking “The Submission of Emma Marx,” both offerings I’ve reviewed for this blog, are included.

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Speaking of reviews, a look at a few of MsNaughty’s films, all of which are individualist without being egoist, are next in Part Two. Needless to say, the quality of her work is excellent.

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“We Evolve to Now”

by Rich Moreland, October, 2012

On a recent Los Angeles evening, I sat down with the husband and wife team of Carlos Batts and April Flores. He is a film director; she is his artistic muse and leading lady. A couple of years ago at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto, we informally exchanged brief “hellos,” but accomplished little else beyond that. This time around, with the help of Coast Anabelle Hotel staff, we made arrangements to talk. I wanted to delve into their views on making film and the porn community to which they belong. I got something I never anticipated, a profound insight, artistically and intellectually, into the genre we call feminist pornography.

Here are some segments of our discussion.

Making a Statement with Your Body

When we discussed definitions for feminist pornography, April began with her background in film work.

“I did my first scene in October 2005,” she began, emphasizing that an adult career was not her goal. The shoot was an intended “one time thing.” “I wanted to experience it and move on,” she said. Her thoughts reflect those of other performers I have met.

For April, her professional horizon quickly expanded. Stepping into the adult genre opened doors leading to friendships and an enrichment of her art. A “natural progression” began, she said, as one film led to another.

However, like other women who have entered adult film, April had the expected moment of reconsideration.

“By my third or fourth film I had to take a step back and evaluate what I was doing. If I’m going to keep doing this, why am I going to do this? It’s my body and I’m exposing myself on a really intense level.”

April’s hesitancy was not unusual; it was her resolve that shaped her future. She discovered feminist porn and wanted to be a part of it. “If I’m going to do this [appear in adult film],” April decided, “I want to have a message behind it, not just do it for frivolous reasons.”

Searching for meaning in her work, April found that feminist porn offered “real feminine pleasure.” Women create the product, defining a comfort level for her. “My peers and I are enjoying what we do and some of us are running businesses and using this medium as a creative outlet.”

Her selectivity has enriched the genre. Mention the name April Flores around those who are knowledgeable about feminist porn and affirmative nods result. She is an established star.

April and Carlos
Photo by Bill Knight

April sees a mission in her work. The projects she accepts are carefully chosen. “I have turned a lot of work down because I knew it would portray me and fat women and just women as a whole in a bad way,” she declares. For her, feminist porn is film with a woman-friendly attitude.

Incidentally, money is not central to her work. “Adult has never been my primary source of income,” April says. Her approach is a fit with the makers of feminist porn. The “primary motivators” for feminist filmmakers and performers is “expression,” she confirms, “making a statement with your body and your work.”

Feminism is not new to April. “I always considered myself a feminist,” April says, a feeling that is rooted in her childhood. She moved out of her family home at eighteen, becoming instantly independent. April never considered herself to be a “weak woman,” as she puts it, though she didn’t develop her sense of feminist empowerment until she matured into her late twenties and early thirties.

Carlos took his turn at defining feminist porn and credits Annie Sprinkle as his starting point. Adopting a feminist lens in shooting adult film, Carlos discovered April and other feminist performers to be “very strong and powerful” with “their own spirit and energy.” He considers himself lucky.

“I’m fortunate to be around people that have a very strong vision to not only create in that environment but be inspired by it,” Carlos believes. He goes on to affirm that “women artists can be strong spirited, feminist in their own way, and independent with their own voice or vision. Women record their sex and want to perform and fuck from a creative point of view.”

His words bring my thoughts to feminist talent like performer/directors Courtney Trouble and Madison Young.

Carlos identifies April, Jiz Lee, and Dylan Ryan as “a progressive group of performers, a very unique trifecta.” He praises them for caring about the product they make and his ability as a director. They believe in him, Carlos says, “there is no judgment and they are comfortable in their sexuality.”

Carlos credits feminist performers with caring “a little bit more about the outcome and how they are being portrayed which keeps you on your toes.” He’s blunt about mainstream film and television, pointing out that “there is a difference between an actress that cares about her performance and one that just shows up.” The same thing, I might add, can be said for mainstream adult film.

Asked about a timeframe for a movie, Carlos delves further into his filmmaking philosophy. “My own personal process is four to six months,” he answers, “we make one or two movies a year.”

Of course, budget is a consideration. If Adam and Eve or Good Vibrations are in the mix, things are done more quickly. For example, Carlos references one big budget film he made for Adam and Eve. The movie, Voluptuous Biker Babes, was “inspired” by the 1960’s classic sexploitation film, Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill, Kill, and was nominated for an Adult Video News (AVN) award.

Photo Courtesy of Carlos Batts

No matter the financing picture, Carlos emphasizes that to do a film is a “personal process” that entails casting and examining shooting locations, among other things. Because “the sex is a very small percentage of the film,” he moves more slowly in determining “exactly what I want to do.” By comparison, a Porn Valley director once informed me that a two and one-half hour film may only have 20 plus pages of script. The average sex scene can last up to fifteen minutes or more.

Outsider Porn

I want Carlos and April’s take on San Francisco’s Queer Porn Mafia, a self-identified cadre of directors and performers. As a historian, I see the QPM as a film community and an informal support group. Carlos expanded my understanding of the QPM by suggesting that it is part of a movement, as we shall see momentarily.

April notes that they are late comers to the group. The QPM was around before Carlos and she “heard about it and met Courtney [Trouble].”

In 2009-2010, Carlos and April became part of the San Francisco film making scene. Inevitably, they met the QPM. “We became friends with them and started shooting with them,” April says, in an atmosphere that was different for Carlos and her. San Francisco is not Southern California. It’s “a different city,” she explains, “it’s small and the sexual presence is way more huge than it is here [in LA].”

April and Carlos share common perspectives about casting and filming with the QPM that are “very different” from “mainstream porn.” The QPM is a group of artists with “like-minded ideas,” April says, who are frustrated with the mainstream. We’re “outsiders from mainstream porn,” she declares, but we are “sticking together” and, she adds with conviction, “we are going to continue moving forward.”

Carlos points out that the QPM is “a select group to work with” which made developing and sharing an artistic vision “fun.” He pays them the ultimate compliment, “with all due respect to April and Courtney and Jiz, everyone works really hard. I respect them and their work ethic,” he says.

April defines their collective product as “indie porn,” sometimes referring to it as “outsider porn.” In short, feminist porn is apart from traditional adult film and the annual Feminist Porn Awards celebrates this difference.

Vanilla is Becoming Smaller

My final question concerns the overarching term queer as an umbrella identifier of a variety of sexualities. Carlos sees it as “more like an ideology” that revolves around “individual taste.” April describes her queer sexuality as “fluid, not straight or gay or bisexual,” simplifying her description by saying that it’s about “the person rather than their genitals.”

What I hear from Carlos and April is typical of what other adult film feminists associated with San Francisco say. Exactly what it means to be queer is difficult to define and individually based. April repeats the accepted norm. To be queer is a personal statement and “I guess you would have to ask them,” she says.

I mention to Carlos that I tend to categorize things into boxes. He agreed, saying, “When you are a historian and you are looking back, things do fall into compartments.” Taking the historian role a step further, I ask him if feminist porn is a movement, or merely a collection of individual attitudes. His observations summarize what I suspected, but needed to be confirmed.

From Carlos’s perspective, we are living in “an interesting time.” “Fifty percent of the population is like vanilla and the other fifty percent is filled with thirty-one flavors,” he says. “Everyone thinks that everyone is having the sexual desires of their parents.” But this idea is being challenged. Carlos points out that now all manner of sexualities are coming out. In other words, our parent’s sexuality does not have to be ours.

“The outsiders are maybe fifty-one percent, vanilla is becoming smaller.” Marginalized sexualities are recognized, voluptuous women are seen as attractive, he asserts. There is this “whole consciousness of what we want to see and how we want to feel. It’s not like it was fifteen years ago.”

Carlos characterizes this new revelation as “our movement” that’s “been cooking since the Nineties.” Then he adds, it has “spawned a bigger broader generation of understanding whether it is sexuality or color or culture.”

At this moment, he is drawing my research into feminist porn together.

“The biggest secret about the feminist movement,” Carlos proclaims, is its creativity. “It is dominated by the consciousness of freedom and expressing yourself.”

This is the Toronto scene where electric audiences at the Feminist Porn Awards turn the work of these artists into a love fest.

“The movement just happens,” he believes. “We will inspire another set of women to make movies, and people of color will make movies they want to see themselves. I just see the consciousness and being different. More young women will see April and say, ‘hey I want to do that,’ or Courtney or Jiz and say, ‘I look like them, that’s how I want to express myself.’”

“I don’t think anyone is purposely or consciously trying to be different. I think people are just expressing themselves in a very bold way.”

There’s more. Referring to marginalized sexualities, Carlos states, “We are all kind of banning together to make it more comfortable with coming out.” He believes technology is the tool that encourages people to “feel a bit more comfortable in expressing themselves.”

The movement is in the present, continually redefining itself. “We evolve to now,” he says, and hints that the end of this evolution, or revolution depending on point of view, is nowhere in sight.

April authenticates her husband’s analysis. I get “a lot of emails from girls saying I want to do what you’re doing and how do I start this?” She concludes, “So I do think it’s spreading.”

We indeed have evolved to now. And the journey is just beginning.

It’s time for dinner. The waiter offers us a table and our conversation continues, the remainder totally off the record.

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An Air of the Extraordinary

Annie Sprinkle, Gloria Leonard, Veronica Vera, Veronica Hart, Candida Royalle. Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

by Rich Moreland, June 2012

In mid-June Amtrak took me north to New York City for day trip. I haven’t visited the Big Apple since its transition to the “gentrified” New York. My last remembrance of the city was walking to Times Square with a couple of my buddies, looking for smut shops while avoiding the winos, druggies, and other assorted street people. That was a few decades ago.

This excursion to Manhattan was not a whim; it was book related and by invitation. I was accompanied by a friend and colleague in academia who doubles as my photographer. If nothing else, I’m assured of good pics  if my writing fails to capture the scene.

In 2008, I discovered the apparent contradiction that feminism and adult film are bedfellows (or bed sisters) in an industry that is patriarchal to the core. Deciding to chronicle this odd combination, I first wanted to know what other historians, journalists, and commentators had to say on the subject. At every turn in my research, the name “Club 90” came up. Scholarly paths pointed back to this circle of five women, actresses in adult film when acting was valued and expected.

On a cool and rainy June evening in mid-town Manhattan, the Museum of Sex on 27th Street paid homage to this venerated “club.” The museum is a storefront with a basement bar and an upper floor gallery. On this night the upstairs contained a long table and folding chairs neatly arranged into a relatively cramped space. Everything was ready for a panel discussion featuring these “Golden Girls of Porn,” as the event was labeled.

Josh and I made an effort to arrive early. I had communicated with all of the ladies individually, but up to this moment I had met only two in person, Annie Sprinkle and Veronica Hart. Gloria Leonard and Candida Royalle were telephone voices to me and Veronica Vera was an email correspondence and a postal address.

The women were “stars” in the “porno chic” days of the 1970’s when 35 mm film reigned and the big screen was where sex came alive. Adult movies demanded dialogue and plot to compliment the cinematography. Making a good picture required location and days of shooting. Nowadays porn films are cranked out quickly and, with some exceptions, very little style. Needless to say, there is rarely an aspiring actress in sight. But the seasoned Club 90 performers were blessed, if that can be said in pornography. They worked for some of adult film’s noted early directors like Radley Metzger, Gerard Damiano, and Joe Sarno, true artists who considered movie-making to be a craft. A sense of panache and acting ability was requisite.

As the “porno chic” days wound down, the five were transitioning away from being on camera. There were reasons: the HIV menace was one, while marriage and family became another. In short, they were getting on with their lives.  They organized a mutual support group to ease through the changes and named it after the address of Annie’s Manhattan apartment where their initial get together took place. Over the years, their collective friendship has endured.

By sheer happenstance I broke into their group. I attended one of Annie’s university speaking engagements and later sent an inquiry to Feminists for Free Expression which resulted in a surprise email from Candida. That began three years of correspondence with the group that formed the linchpin of my research.

Stealing Moments Before the Show

I got a big hug from Gloria Leonard before the gala began. She is classy (an overused word, I know) and a butt-kicker through her devotion to the political principles she holds dear. She also is the group’s grand dame. Gloria entered the adult business in her late thirties, much like the Club’s dear friend and another of porn’s venerable ladies, Georgina Spelvin. Working in adult paid better than nine to five, Gloria later told the audience, a bonus because she had a daughter to support.

A Hug From Gloria
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Gloria has her views and the personality to back them. She and I have a mutual acquaintance in the adult biz, Bill Margold, who has his own set of notions about the history of adult film. Bill has told me much about Gloria. He adores her and I can see why. She has a political conscience in an industry that often lacks ethical behavior, and she cares about performer health and welfare. Her position on safer sex in the infamous 1998 HIV scare is a testimony to her concern for the industry. As President of the Free Speech Coalition, the political wing of the business, Gloria got funding for the start-up of Adult Industry Medical (AIM) so that talent could be more secure health wise on the job.

Reminding the audience that defending free speech is important to everyone, Gloria believes in the principle that “no one should tell you what to watch or hear.” Her words raised a bright round of applause.

I also stole a moment to impose on Candida Royalle to say “hello” face-to-face. Phone conversations and emails are not foreign to us and her support for my work is appreciated more than she will know. Like Gloria, Candida brought an air of the extraordinary to the room. Both women were elegantly and conservatively dressed as if they planned to attend a charity bizarre . . . at the country club, of course . . . sponsored by the ladies auxiliary. But the country club set could never imagine the elegance that comes from Candida. She is an industry luminary of the first order and has no parallel. She runs her own production company, FEMME, out of New York and specializes in woman-friendly erotica and couples porn. To suggest that Candida is a ground breaker in adult film erotica is a mammoth understatement. She not only turned the soil, she constructed the edifice that is feminist pornography, though I know she shudders with my use of that word; erotica is her preference. In the initial Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto years ago, Candida was the first honored. That’s what it means to be a living legend.

Chatting with Candida before showtime!
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Candida told the audience that during her acting days she felt “ambivalence about being in adult movies” and was “conflicted” about what the impact might be in her life. Seeking therapy, she learned the value of self-analysis and decided that there was nothing wrong with performing in adult film. A woman’s voice was what the adult product lacked. Candida vowed to correct that perception and make pictures for women. It was fortuitous timing. The arrival of home video provided a safe place for women to view porn, she said, and a market was birthed.

Annie Sprinkle was her usual loving self when I renewed acquaintances with her. Annie’s career as a sex worker and lover of men, women, and transpersons is too vast and complex to even attempt to summarize here. I was honored to interview Annie in her home (we sat in the kitchen and enjoyed some iced tea) on a visit to San Francisco a couple of years ago.

No Tragic Endings Here

Annie was the lead-off hitter in the panel line-up. When everyone was finally seated, she mentioned that many people have the widely accepted belief that porn stars have “tragic endings.” “They don’t know us!” she said with her typical high spirits. During her brief remarks, people continued to trickle in; the shortage of chairs turned the event into SRO. I don’t know how many the museum planned for but attendance must have exceeded expectations. And, not every face in the crowd was an old friend or admirer. There were a number of young people who perhaps were looking to understand the past through a vision of the present.

Annie after the show.
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

In the opening moments of the discussion, Annie put the almost thirty years of Club 90 in perspective when she declared her time in porn has been an “amazing journey” and her goal is to keep it rolling. “I want to get to fifty years in sex!” she said with the innocence and playfulness of a flower child whose years have been spent pleasing and being pleased.

Annie carries the mien of San Francisco’s hippie past. Her leopard print floor length gown reminded me that Annie’s performance art, and that of her club sister Veronica Vera, is studied in academia.

Veronica Vera had expedited my research by sending valuable documents my way. She, like Gloria, was intensely political in her younger days. When we briefly spoke, I imagined what it must have been like for her to testify before the 1984 Senate Committee investigating adult film. The Reagan administration was going after porn as harm to women and the industry was under siege. Veronica recalled the now famous bondage photo she showed Senator Arlen Specter on that October day. The picture is a historical precursor of modern day BDSM performance art that has captured the imagination of a sexually marginalized community.

Veronica got into the adult business through famed photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. She told the audience she had worked on Wall Street then “decided to take an honest job” and went into adult entertainment.

Her wedding was the catalyst for this reunion, the group’s first in seventeen years.

As the event was breaking up, I finally got a chance to embrace Veronica Hart. Her 1983 baby shower brought the ladies together for the first time. I visited with Veronica in Las Vegas a few months ago and know her on a more personal level than the others. She is the youngster of the group and is considered one of the great beauties ever to grace adult film.

Veronica showing her big HeART!
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Except for a retired Gloria Leonard who now lives in Hawai`i, the women remain active in the adult world. Veronica Hart works in her hometown at Vegas’ Erotic Heritage Museum. She still directs in L.A. and keeps close tabs on the adult business. Candida Royalle continues with FEMME and has branched out into an adult product line, distributing through Adam and Eve, a Phil Harvey enterprise in North Carolina.

Annie Sprinkle and her partner, Beth Stephens, are expanding their venture into ecosex,  “a subject matter or identity,” Annie explains, that moves beyond a performance art. “We are . . . excosexual aritsts,” she says, exploring “a new area of research” that delves into “places where sexology and ecology intersect in art, theory, practice, and activism.”

If that sounds intellectual, it is. Beth, who moderated the event, is finishing her Ph.D. which will make two in the family as Annie already has hers.  Incidentally,  she is the first porn star gain such status. Sharon Mitchell, an old friend of Club 90 and long time director of AIM, is the second.

The fifth member, Veronica Vera, runs her own school for cross dressers, “Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls” located in New York. The studio where many of her events take place is on 54th Street. Veronica’s program is for males and transpeople who want to challenge gender barriers and get in touch with their feminine side. Working with transpersons is a value shared with Annie. (I recommend Shannon Bell’s Reading, Writing, and Rewriting the Prostitute Body [1994] for an account of Club 90’s Franklin Furnace stage show in 1984 and Annie and Veronica’s performance art.)

With the evening winding down and attendees milling about, I allowed my imagination to have some fun. Among the audience were acquaintances of Club 90 who had been involved in adult film industry. Observing some of them reunite with the five in conversation, I mentally turned the clock back 30 years, erasing the nasty joke that time plays on all of us: age, something the young firmly believe will never happen to them. I fancied everyone in just such a room, setting up for a porn shoot: director, P.A.s, grips, and cameramen, hustling around with perhaps a make-up artist adding some final touches to faces destined to be hardened in a tough business.

In those early days of the modern adult film era, the business was east coast oriented. New York was home for Club 90. This Manhattan evening wrapped itself around them and their friendships with memories treasured. In the midst of skyscrapers and traffic punctuated with the ubiquitous New York cabbies, the affair had a small town feel and I was honored to have been invited.

When Josh and I headed back to the train station, the rain pelted ever hectic New Yorkers scurrying under umbrellas to get from here to there. The scene itself was a stage, a piece of living history, illuminated by lights embedded in mist and shrouded in the past.

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If you visit the Museum of Sex on the corner of 27th and 5th Avenue, consider in a quick snack across the street at Naturally Tasty. Ask for Magdalena. She’s service with a smile.

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