Tag Archives: gonzo

A Gonzo Afternoon: Part One

by Rich Moreland, December 2017

During my recent trip to Los Angeles, I had the privilege of visiting an Eddie Powell set.

Eddie’s work is praised throughout the industry and for good reason. I’ll let New Sensations/Digital Sin boss Scott Taylor sum it up.

“Eddie is so deserving of best director for what he does. His creativity is well thought out. It is not by accident.”

Is he Hollywood ready?

Scott responds, “Eddie can get out there and run that camera on a mainstream set in a second.”

Yes, film fans, that’s how good Eddie Powell is.

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Mandy

Today’s shoot is a gonzo adventure for New Sensations/Digital Sin that features Mandy Muse, a girl who has made her reputation in these kinds of scenes.

Shortly after my photographer and I arrive, Eddie Powell, with camera in hand, begins chatting with Mandy in what will become the BTS (Behind the Scenes) segment of the shoot.

The sexy brunette tells the viewer she is twenty-three and a local girl from Orange County. Eddie encourages her to talk about her mom who is fifty-six, we discover, and knows what her daughter does and supports her one hundred percent.

Today’s action is anal and Mandy is elated. She loves to “switch it up,” she says, and is blessed with a “snap back butthole” which, we assume, keeps her flexible for the long and large!

She loves to watch porn, Mandy continues, and knows that “people get excited about what they haven’t done before.” So for the viewers who want to enjoy backdoor sex, her performance should be a winner.

There’s one more element that will make today super fun. Mandy likes it rough, to be “handled aggressively,” she declares, which carries over to her private life.

Steve

Mandy’s co-star is porn legend Steve Holmes. In his mid-fifties, Steve is a stellar performer who has been in the business for over twenty years, quieting the ageism argument when it comes to older men and younger women.

While everyone getting ready, my photographer passes time with the affable actor who also directs and produces.

Their conversation turns to southern culture and Steve mentions an eighteen-year-old newbie with whom he recently worked who does everything but IR (interracial) porn. Some of the old attitudes still prevail.

To entertain anyone who wants to watch, Steve has one of his shoots with porn superstar Angela White on his laptop. With this European all-star, there is never a dull moment.

Focus on Her Butt

Eddie shoots the box cover in front of the French doors that open into a space enclosed by an imposing privacy wall. Steve pours oil over Mandy’s rear while the lights are being set up. To past the time, Steve spanks Mandy a bit. She smiles.

Next come the stills (the “pretty girls” are first) shot using a living room setting. Eddie mentions everything will “focus on her butt” so that rules the next few minutes of activity.

I take a minute to speak with the boom operator/PA. His name is A.J. Westwood and he tells me he’s worked with Eddie, Jacky St. James, and Paul Woodcrest for over a year. He’s a Southern California lad in his twenties, amiably pleasant and knows his job.

Steve has joined Mandy for the next round of stills. They’re going at it (to be polite, “warming up”) for the shoot to come.

Eddie lets them know what he wants. “All positions that increase shots of her butt are great,” he says, and later asks for a “standing doggie.”

Speaking of frisky critters, the house has a couple of pet dogs running around but they are more fascinated by the squirrels in the yard.

Porn doesn’t do much for them, I’m thinking, though the squirrels appear to have each other scoped out for whatever rodents do for amusement.

For now, the stills are finished. This is gonzo, of course, and it’s time-honored selling point, the facial, will comprise the final pics later.

Peanut Butter and the Squirrels

All the while, Steve and Mandy are continuing to get to know each other with enough penetration to shoot a whole other movie. When they take a break, Steve and my photog chat again.

Eddie and AJ are setting up a tripod on a dolly constructed of two long pipes so the camera can glide through the opening sequence.

Steve’s brings up a director in Japan who didn’t want any “hankie-pankie” on set, much different from other countries (twenty-one in all) in which he has worked. There are few limits here to speak of and he and Mandy are delighted.

Steve Holmes is urbane and cosmopolitan, a stark contrast to Mandy who is every bit as local as he is international. Nevertheless, they blend together artfully when the filming begins.

It strikes me the whole setting this afternoon is a bit bizarre in the most pleasant of ways.

While Steve and Mandy fall into “warming up” again, Eddie sets up the equipment. He’ll use a handheld camera throughout the filming to get the best angles.

Meanwhile, in the yard the squirrels are sated with gobs of peanut butter to keep them occupied.

A Well-Schooled Gonzo Girl

Mandy stands in front of the French doors (the squirrels are munching away outside) and “sees” Steve approaching.

“Don’t acknowledge him, don’t even say ‘Hi,’” Eddie says.

The camera moves toward Mandy as Steve walks in and begins to caress her. There is no dialogue and this part of the scene wraps up quickly. The dolly is taken apart. Steven and Mandy don’t miss a beat and continue “warming up.”

The main event is next.

More oil and spanking for Mandy’s butt. She’s good to go with lots of oral (or should we say choking and gagging), there’s another standing doggie, and then a break. AJ gets Mandy a glass of water.

When we resume, there’s more oil, more spanking, more oral (Steve does his part). Mandy sighs a lot. She’ll break into an ongoing chorus of “oh, my gods” and “oh, shits” that are standard dialogue for a well-schooled gonzo girl.

Next is a transition to a sheet-covered table and Mandy has to re-position herself as part of the scene. It’s awkward at first, so there’s a retake. No problem. Everyone is a professional.

Of note is whispering. Steve and Mandy work together well and communicate. More on this later.

Another break and it’s time for a reminder.

Eddie explains once again it’s all about Mandy’s backside which means the cowgirl position is vital to give Eddie what he wants.

Steve encourages Mandy to “shake that booty.” She offers to spin around while holding the penetration; Eddie responses with, “what works best for you.”

So, the porn starlet turns smoothly to a reverse cowgirl, the mark of a true pro. Eddie moves closer with the handheld to get the full benefit of the penetration.

To conclude the day’s work, Mandy gets off the table and sits on her heels to prepare for the facial. A slip causes a retake but all ends well when Steve does his duty.

Finally, Mandy poses for the camera, face properly splattered, to get just the right shots to complete the stills and it’s a wrap.

Our stars head for the shower while Eddie takes a break before he and AJ pack up the equipment.

*          *          *

In Part Two, we’ll take a few moments to talk with Mandy and Steve on the veranda.

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Darker Side of Desire: Part Two

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Here is Part Two of my review/analysis of Jacky St. James’ Darker Side of Desire, a production of Mile High Media.

To get a flavor of the images mentioned in this analysis, watch the “not safe for work” trailer here.

All photos and images are courtesy of Mile High Media.

*          *          *

A Balanced Message

The sex scenes in Darker Side of Desire are Jacky St. James at her artistic best and reflect the mission of Sweet Sinner video. The scenes are woman-friendly and romance-oriented with female consent the focal point of every shot.

Passionate kissing abounds with everyone receiving oral pleasures, but the gagging, choking, and deep throating of today’s run-of-the-mill porn are conspicuously minimized; not surprisingly, the same applies to porn as an anatomy lesson.

Facial expressions communicate desire while the camera focuses on both bodies equally when the sex heats up. Cinematographer Hank Hoffman often shoots a symmetrical view of the lovers to highlight carnal expression as a two-way street.

Speaking of visual clues, Jacky St. James concentrates on phallic symbols like candles and vases paired with flowers (very Freudian) to underscore the psychology of sex. Since vases offer a canal to be filled, so to speak. . . Well, I think you get the idea.

As mentioned above, communication is the heartbeat of each sex scene. Darker Side is solid feminist porn with male performers who express their feelings through conversation and touch. Take note, for example, of how Mickey Mod gently cradles Cassidy Klein’s head during their intimate moments.

To shoot a female-centered film requires men who are comfortable with their sexuality and are willing to yield their masculine focus in favor of pleasuring their partners.

Jacky St. James casts the best of them.

Sexual Maturity

With Darker Side Jacky is as true to the BDSM community as she has ever been. Take for instance, the performers in the dream sequence. They’re older, a reflection of real-life bondage aficionados. The renowned MILF, Cherie Deville, is the perfect choice to perform with Tommy Pistol, a veteran of Kink.com who is in his forties.

Mickey Mod and James Deen are also Kink veterans who have been in the industry for ten and thirteen years respectively. Michael Vegas didn’t enter adult until he was twenty-six and is in his seventh porn year. Experience also characterizes the women. Cassidy Klein and Gia Paige are well into their twenties, hardly newbs by porn standards.

Only Riley Nixon is a youngster among this crowd, but she is mature by fetish standards. And make no mistake, this girl is a charmer with an adorable, disarming smile.

In the BTS segment of the DVD, Riley tells us she’s “very submissive” and BDSM gives her an exciting sexual space to be free of worry and responsibility.

Submission is “who I am deep inside, a natural state for me,” she declares. Can you feel the love?

Experience teaches BDSMers to be comfortable with their fetish. Sex is as much mental as it is physical and any bondage lover will tell you that understanding your sexuality and being open to talk about it is what the kink is all about.

The Game

Darker Side has two themes. The first, as we’ve seen, is the appreciation of authentically presented BDSM.

The second is feminism’s relationship to kinky sex brought out in the film’s pivotal scene, the drinking game. A tequila bottle (another phallic symbol) is positioned in the middle of a divan around which four players (Bryce and the girls) sit.

It’s a bit of truth or dare fun that unexpectedly wrings a bondage confession out of Sydney. Her words touch a nerve with Robyn (Riley Nixon) who challenges her roomie’s feminism by asserting that BDSM is anti-woman.

Sydney replies she did not give up her power when she played in the dungeon. A chill rises quickly around the group.

Robyn is indignant. “You bent over and let some dude spank you and you think you‘re in control?”

Sydney leaves abruptly. How do you spell tension?

Raising the Bar

Darker Side of Desire is an artistic commentary that raises the bar of the average porn film. Make no mistake, Darker can survive on its terrific sex scenes alone, but, as we’ve mentioned, Jacky St. James has a special talent for shooting sex that fits perfectly into the narrative.

Later, when Natalie persuades Sydney to tell her story, she learns that her friend researched BDSM websites which led to her adventure with Alex, an accurate comment on how kinksters find each other in today’s cyberspace.

He was “much older,” Sydney says (reinforcing the age factor). Their fetish sex was immediate.

“It didn’t evolve, it started there,” Sydney says.

They talked about everything.

“What I wanted, what turned me on. He was completely respectful of my boundaries.”

Negotiation and trust are the most important parts of the BDSM experience.

The rewards were enormous. The sex unleashed something inside her, she explains.

Unfortunately, Sydney was a college freshman at the time and sexual self-understanding was in short supply. Though she was happy with the arrangement, she broke it off because she felt “weird” and different from other girls.

Youth led her to judge herself negatively. Fear stepped in and now years later she regrets everything, Sydney tells Natalie.

You’re Next

Emboldened, Natalie is now ready to begin her emotional/sexual journey.

To prepare the viewer, Jacky St. James breaks the fourth wall in Natalie’s final dream episode. During the fantasy sex, Cherie Deville looks directly into the camera expressing her satisfaction before Tommy Pistol turns to the lens and confronts Natalie’s reticence with, “You’re next!” It’s her inner challenge to act on her desires.

She’s watched for too long, now it’s time to play.

When the final sex scene shows up, Natalie and Bryce come full circle. By the way, Cassidy Klein’s oral performance is stylish, more art than gonzo, a kind of sensual caressing.

In the bondage sequence, the lovers are reflected in a mirror to the left of the screen. The shot is laden with shadows and represents their transition, stepping through the looking-glass if you will.

Natalie, who submits to a blindfold, lives out her fantasy in her imagination. Bryce’s voice nurtures her internal visions, much like the radio dramas long ago when listeners created the visual scene for themselves.

The dream has come to life, a reminder that BDSMers always have their favorite scenarios in their heads.

Inside the Self

Finally, Darker Side of Desire is impressive for two reasons.

First, Jacky St. James has all the right performers. Each one brings a special talent to the screen.

Second, Jacky has grown in her understanding of BDSM. With Emma Marx, she successfully normalized the fetish. Now she has moved kink to a more personal level with the women of Darker Side. Words and caresses excite them while the sex is hot and heavy without gonzo-style sex for sex’s sake.

Simply put, the fetish is nurtured inside the self. Her desires inflamed, Natalie’s here and now contrasts with Sydney’s fond remembrances of a past experience that offers hope for the future.

There is a course correction needed in this story and it appears in the closing scene. Her wrists and ankles shackled, Robyn extracts a promise from her lover to say nothing of this to anyone . . . Appearances always matter, of course, even to feminists who decry that bondage objectifies women while wrestling with their own ideas about its erotic allure.

Just as Natalie’s over voice opens the film, another with real honesty steps in before the final credits roll . . .

“Robyn eventually acknowledges that sexual fetishes are deeply personal and not to be judged until fully experienced.”

For Natalie, Sydney, and Robyn, this is not the end, of course, but a beginning, or more precisely an electrifying rebirth . . .

Will there be a Darker Side of Desire, Part Two? If so, this reviewer is on board!

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Gnawing at the Heart: The Temptation of Eve, Part Two

by Rich Moreland, May 2014

This is the second installment of New Sensations’ The Temptation of Eve, an adult film extraordinaire and multiple award winner at this year’s XBIZ Show. Oh yes, it was also AVN’s Best Romance at their Las Vegas extravaganza in January.

Remy Lacroix received Best Actress Award for AVN and XBIZ; Tommy Pistol landed XBIZ’s Best Supporting Actor. Not surprisingly, the film won XBIZ’s Best Sreenplay, the ultimate honor for a beautifully constructed and performed picture.

As I suggested in the first post, buy the DVD. You’ll need Eve in your library for repeated viewings.

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boxcover back eve

*          *          *          *          *

The interior of Brandon’s house reflects the reductionism Eve seeks to reorder and bury her past. The minimalist decor sports muted pastels and clean lines that are in direct contrast to the complications and conflicting emotions unfolding within the narrative.

Most descriptive are the black and white photos of nude and semi-nude women arranged in controlled lines throughout the house. The pictures reflect Eve’s longing for a sexual simplicity that confines her desires and rejects temptation, while illustrating Brandon’s line up of women he casually brushes aside once needs are serviced.

Is she one of them?

Brandon wants to corral Eve with images from the past. He keeps her dangling between yesterday and today with a questionable investment in tomorrow. There is no finality with her nude pictures; like the journal, they are kept out of sight but easily retrieved because she knows where to look.

In contrast, Eve has discovered a new start with Danny, the sweet guy she purports to love.

The couple plans to grow old together while Brandon captures Eve as forever young and desirable. The photos and the journals (there is a second one solely about her) are frozen moments, tangled webs whose individual elements swirl in the abstract painting by the front door and are twisted into the black metal frame that is across from it.

Minimalist is Brandon view of his world, sex without complications where every affair is a fleeting adventure. Eve’s oversimplification is to cope with her past in such a way to free her up to support a future of security.

For both, it is easy in thought, but difficult in reality.

More Flashbacks

Through Brandon’s intervention, Danny secures a job interview in Seattle. As Eve and Danny celebrate, Brandon offers flippant congratulations and sits at the kitchen table to write in his journal. The scene communicates a fluid situation. Over the table are three lights with red shades, one dominating the other two. Eve is the largest figure framed in the shot, the men smaller in stature. Is she gaining in this war with her temptations?

More flashbacks pop up, this time in the same kitchen. Eve is relaxing, naked on the counter. After a two year friendship, Eve and Brandon have just had sex for the first time.

Will our relationship last? Photo by Jeff Koga

Will our relationship last?
Photo by Jeff Koga

“Tell me it’s not going to fuck up our relationship,” she says. Doubt prevails through this carnival of free-flowing intimacy, but for now it’s all good. The two lights in the background are the same size, mates of each other.

Later when Danny is through packing and ready for some sleep. Brandon texts Eve. She goes downstairs to find him watching porn.

Exasperated, she says he is testing her patience.

“I’m testing your self-control.” His glibness bites at her. “Your resistance will break down.”

Pained, she casts her eyes downward, another flashback bubbles up from her unconscious mind. Yes, the sex screwed up their relationship.

Sex in Faded Color

Tormented by Brandon and memories that won’t sit still, Eve crawls into bed beside a sleeping Danny. The film’s second sex scene evolves out of Eve’s desperation to cling to something that offers protection against Brandon’s insensitivity. Nuzzling Danny, she awakens him and their lovemaking begins.

Getting it right with some guidance from the director. Photo by Jeff Koga

Getting it right with some guidance from the director.
Photo by Jeff Koga

The porn formula of oral and standard positions are highlighted and Remy Lacroix’s pert sexiness puts her stamp on this segment. There’s no hint of gonzo because the scene is more emotional than sexual. Raw physicality is not the message, how it is presented in mood and shadow is.

The music is an evocative cloud of doubt and foreboding that hangs over the lovers. The lighting is shaded, creating a scene that edges toward film noir, sex in faded color. Eddie Powell has created a cinematic masterpiece that communicates deep emotion so powerful the viewer forgets this is a porn film.

Considering the context of the lovers and how they are enmeshed in a conflict that could trample both of them, this just may be the most artistic sex scene ever filmed.

In the background are containers, boxes suspended between packed and unpacked (clothes hang on the sides). They are symbols of Eve’s presence in Brandon’s house, an unexpected transition in Eve’s life that now replaces the once irreplaceable—her love of Brandon. She’s been here before where she thought she would stay.

To highlight this message, Eddie Powell reveals only glimpses of penetration, simultaneously concealing and exploring Eve’s dilemma.

On the nightstand are three candles in different states of use, two having been burned, one hardly touched by flame. They offer different interpretations that are appropriate to the story.

The candles are on the right. Photo by Jeff Koga

The cast takes a break. The candles are on the right, the boxes are beneath the window.
Photo by Jeff Koga

The almost whole one is Danny, little affected by the past complications of Eve and Brandon, the others a deeply burned and a slightly singed. Which is Brandon and which is Eve?

Perhaps they also represent Eve’s vagina, used severely by Brandon, now delicately by Danny. Once the getaway is accomplished, it has a chance to begin anew, tested, but not overcome, by the past.

Or maybe the best preserved candle is the resolution to the temptation, perhaps it offers Brandon redemption.

Like the film’s closing moments, the objects in the bedroom explain a saga of love pained and redeemed in a sex scene graced with an emotionally surreal quality, a true anomaly in adult film.

Nothing More, Nothing Less

Alone in the house the following day, Eve decides on a bubble bath: soak troubles away, read the journal, and self-stimulate. In a wonderfully framed split screen shot of Brandon’s bedroom and the bathroom, pay close attention to the arrangement of pillows on his bed and then later the six candles grouped in threes by color behind the tub.

Preparing to shoot Brandon's entrance. Photo by Jeff Koga

Jacky and Eddie prepairing to shoot Brandon’s entrance.
Photo by Jeff Koga

Jacky St. James and Eddie Powell are preparing the viewer for a collision of emotions. Close-ups of Eve’s eyes and her licking her lips communicates everything. Is this journal about her?

When Brandon enters unannounced, whose privacy is being invaded explodes their conversation, offering Remy Lacroix her finest acting moment.

“People have fantasies, crazy intense out of control fantasies,” she says, rebutting Brandon accusations. “But that doesn’t ever mean they are ever going to get acted on.”

The ground under Eve is hardening, temptations are all around but she remains firm because separation, psychological and physical, is beginning to take hold.

“Fantasies aren’t reality,” she shouts, “They’re an escape, nothing more, nothing less!”

Eve defines the film in this forceful segment and her confrontation with Brandon is the contentious moment that turns the story in her favor.

Another quick flashback races across the screen, Brandon’s tongue works Eve into a joyous state.

“How many is that?” Brandon looks up at her.

“Too many to count,” a smiling Eve purrs, her eyes venturing down her body to find his.

The film’s reality is evident now, there will be no real time sex between Eve and Brandon. Early days with a hot lover remain a memory, recalled only in reverie.

Later Brandon plays his last card to move into real time. He brings Eve a bagel with her tea and asks her why she will not tell Danny of their affair. The solemnity of this moment is captured by the three candles on the nightstand; they now form a triangle.

Brandon says their first encounter years ago was more than just a weekend.

“For me, maybe,” Eve replies, but times have changed. “I’m not willing to jeopardize what I have now for what I wasn’t allowed to have before,” she adds.

“I’m sorry,” Brandon says, admitting things were too intense for him.

The truth is often painful. Photo by Jeff Koga

The truth is often painful.
Photo by Jeff Koga

He moves across the bed toward her, attempting to negotiate the emotional divide demarcated by a teacup. Danny suddenly arrives and calls Eve’s name, dropping the tension instantly and saving the misery of future entanglements.

A Trashy Taste of Gonzo

Jen (Bailey Blue), the girl who took Eve’s job, arrives with Brandon. The slutty blonde provides a trashy taste of gonzo that stands in contrast to the other sex scenes. Rough and raw in a hallway setting, the shoot is quick; no bed needed.

Bailey and Xander before they become Jen and Brandon Notice the metal artwork to the left. Photo by Jeff Koga

Bailey and Xander before they become Jen and Brandon. Notice the metal artwork in the background on the left.
Photo by Jeff Koga

Jen’s oral skills, spiced with doggie and cowgirl, drive the scene. Incidentally, casting Bailey is another Jacky St. James coup. She is the perfect Jen.

When the pop shot is deposited on Jen’s chest, a faraway look blankets a close-up of Brandon’s face. In using the office tramp, Brandon clarifies that he is incapable of dealing with Eve, but unwilling to accept that they exist only in the pages of his journal. Eve’s response is to put in her earbuds to stifle the noise of the sex, erasing Jen’s presence.

Brandon and Jen getting rough and raw. Photo by Jacky St. James

Brandon and Jen getting rough and raw.
Photo by Jacky St. James

For the record, there is no girl/girl sex in the film because it rarely fits a hetero romance unless a gay or bisexual element is attached to the story, or the characters explore personal fantasies. Such scenes in straight movies recall a porn formula evident decades ago, the obligatory and disconnected girl-on-girl sex thrown in to entertain a male audience, something Jacky St. James sees no purpose in resurrecting in this film.

Also, anal and facials are absent, though as professionals Bailey or Remy would gladly accommodate either. And if this were marketed as a gonzo flick, there would be a multiple penetration scene dropped in somewhere, probably a threesome with Eve, Danny, and Brandon.

Finally, a word about editing, Gabrielle Anex’s work is outstanding and particularly appreciated in the close-ups Eddie Powell shoots so beautifully.

No Key

Remy’s Lacroix’s second notable acting moment comes as the film heads for its conclusion. At long last, Brandon and Eve have it out. They were friends before they were lovers, she says, until “that weekend” after which he disappeared.

“You don’t value people.” Her voice is inflected with anger and frustration. “You just use them, they’re a means to an end.”

Eve has the proof. “It was a different girl on every single page of that journal . . . there’s no difference between me and them and whatever we had!”

Though Brandon’s expression spins a different take on her words, Eve has chosen to blur the lines between truth and deception and reality and fantasy. But, does anger encourage resolution because she is dead wrong as she will soon discover?

After Brandon says his goodbyes and leaves with his latest lover for an afternoon of fun, Eve checks the house for anything forgotten before she and Danny depart.

In fact, the rooms are filled with much to forget.

Wandering into Brandon’s bedroom, Eve finds his journal on the bed. It’s the final temptation and she weakens.

This journal is solely about her. On the wall is a powerful image that reams the truth out of Eve’s mind. One more black and white photo, it’s a partially dressed girl cowering and shielding her face with her arms.

A note addressed to Eve falls out of the diary and a final flashback occurs, the long awaited sex scene between Brandon and Eve, alive, as if in real time.

Passing the metal artwork, gnarly tales of pity sex, revenge sex, and lost opportunity, Eve closes the front doors of Brandon’s house behind her. She has no key, of course, and cannot lock up her past, or Brandon . . . because temptation and the inaccessible never stop gnawing at the heart.

*          *          *          *          *

The cast going over the play before the sex arrives. Photo by Jeff Koga

Every superb film requires good acting. The cast going over the play before the sex arrives.
Photo by Jeff Koga

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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.”

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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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