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Empowerment Instead of Degradation: Part Three of an Interview with Holly Heart

by Rich Moreland, February 2015

Anyone who writes in the adult film industry knows that some performers have little to say, prefer questions that are pure fluff (defined as requiring no thought), and repeat the same old tired information repackaged for the moment. This is not true of Holly Heart. She is the genuine article, an animated and thoughtful woman whose knockout good looks impose her presence wherever she goes.

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“I don’t think it is hard to be a dominant, for me anyway, because I know exactly what a sub wants and I’m not afraid to give it to them.”

Holly Heart, like many submissives, now switches; in other words, she plays the Domme role more often. Well-schooled in BDSM, this imposing performer relishes the pleasure she can bring to subs because that is primarily the responsibility of a top, master, or mistress.

Holly during our interview, a real sweetheart! Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Holly during our interview, a real sweetheart!
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

“I love to see them do their tasks, watch them in their humiliation [and] watch them struggle. I’m intrigued and turned on by the process, it’s so amazing, sexy, and euphoric. I want to give that to a submissive.”

But how easy is switching because apparently not all subs want to know what it feels like on the other end?

“I think a lot of submissives are afraid [to dom] because they don’t want to hurt somebody, that’s their mindset.” It seems that switching is a fairly smooth process if the sub approaches it with the proper perspective.

“A true submissive can be a switch at any point in time [because] they know another submissive loves it [the act of submission],” Holly declares. I agree. The now retired Bobbi Starr, an industry legend and personal acquaintance, is a perfect example.

However, Holly admits that some subs “will never change, will never switch, and will cry when they [are] forced to dom another sub.” That situation can get complicated, she remarks, when a Dom has two subs and one becomes the “alpha sub” who does the Dom’s bidding on the other girl. There is sometimes resistance because it is so difficult for some subs to turn off their true feelings.

“It’s really intricate and each relationship is just different,” Holly explains. “Some people just want to be submissive. They don’t want to cross over and that is fine.”

In her personal life, Holly loves diversification and talks about how it flavors her marriage. She adores “live parties” and her husband is her “submissive whenever we go anywhere,” she says. In fact, Holly rarely bottoms anymore and “only to certain people,” mentioning her favorite directors, James Mogul and Matt Williams, in particular.

But there is a price to pay for that side of the spectrum, especially if vanilla work in LA is on her agenda. She loves giving her body “full-fledged and wholeheartedly” to James and Matt and she’ll let them “mark” her. “I don’t care I love wearing them [marks] with pride,” she interjects, a point of view I’ve heard from other submissive performers. But vanilla companies don’t want a bruised and reddened girl in a shoot they are trying to sell to their fans, so a fine line is walked.

As for BDSM’s critics, Holly is blunt. “I don’t care what people think or say because they have no clue what I get out of that experience.”

Holly Heart is her own free-spirited woman.

A True Switch

The conversation turns to Princess Donna, a beloved Domme at Kink.

“I did a Public Disgrace shoot [PD’s website for Kink] in a vintage shop in San Francisco back in 2009. She took me in a van with Roger [the male Dom] in the scene. We had a group of guys at the shop and they paraded me around,” Holly remembers. Donna insists she perform oral sex on the men, typical of Kink shoots, and put a clown nose on her. “They wrote ‘cum slut’ on me. I really loved it.” Later Hollly was booked for Hardcore Gangbang (which replaced an earlier PD site called Bound Gangbang), but at that time another director was in place.

The clown nose. Photo courtesy of Kink.com

The clown nose.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Over and again I’m told about the magic that is Princess Donna and Holly is no different in her evaluation of the director.

PD in her most sultry look. Photo courtesy of Kink.com

PD with her most sultry look.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

“She is statuesque, very beautiful, just super,” Holly says of the thirty-something New York University grad. “She is this untouchable angelic being to me. I look at her and just see so much confidence and perfection. She is definitely a role model in a sense that you just want to submit to her.”

Holly recalls an Upper Floor shoot with Donna that also featured Madison Young. “I must have been twenty,” she says, “my first party.” Though memories sometimes become hazy, Holly believes Donna fisted her, a thrill for the BDSM neophyte. She admires Donna and wants to follow in her “BDSM footsteps because she is a submissive, too. I love that she loves pain and gang bangs, all those hardcore things she empowers.” Incidentally, Donna still shoots occasionally as a sub.

Madison Young performing on The Upper Floor.  Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Madison Young performing on The Upper Floor with Matt Williams.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

I’ve described Donna as a feminist in my recent book on the industry and Holly reinforces the raven-haired beauty’s image of a strong woman, echoing what I’ve heard over years of interviews in this film genre. “I wish more women would take a look at Donna and see her as a role model for women’s empowerment instead of degradation because it’s really frustrating when people see it [BDSM] like that.”

A final comment on Donna highlights Holly’s perspective. “She’s been a staple for me. It’s nice to have that somebody that honestly and truly cares and wants to educate people [about BDSM]. She is so sweet whenever I meet her in the hallways at Kink. I had a wonderful time with her on Public Disgrace.”

“To have the BDSM role model to look up to [is important],” Holly concludes, because Donna is “a true switch who can just flip it on and off.”

Lastly, we chat momentarily about Matt Williams who left Kink a few years ago to start his own collection of websites.

Their relationship is good. “He is super professional and he respects everybody and I respect everybody.” Now that Matt is running his own business, Holly enjoys “rekindling and revisiting” her connections with him. As for as who is working for whom in the BDSM trade, personal kinship, not companies, matter the most, Holly believes.

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Aware that time has gotten away from us, we must wrap things up. The Press Room is a constant flow of people with PR types running around trying to fit all the pieces together, never a easy task. So for now it’s adieu with the hope that one day Holly and I can further explore her BDSM journey.

She’s a dynamic package that is too adorable to ignore . . .

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Bent in Half: Part Two of an Interview with Holly Heart

by Rich Moreland, February 2015

Holly Heart is a native Californian and veteran of adult film. In her early thirties, she is now a popular MILF performer working regularly for LA’s Porn Valley studios. Her fetish resume is highlighted by her one hundred plus shoots for Kink.com. Holly is one of their most sought after BDSM models.

Our interview continues.

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Shooting as a BDSM submissive in adult film can be just another booking or an authentic experience, depending on the model. For some girls who make the transition into the real deal, psychological and emotional changes take place that can be a slow rising tide or a sudden bolt of lightning. My interviews with Kink.com submissives reveal that pathways awakened to discovery are very personal as illustrated in two earlier posts on this blog, Casey Calvert and Dylan Ryan.

Holly Heart now joins these performers, putting her own spin on her transformation.

The Milk Bucket

A self-assurance emerged after Holly’s shoot with James Mogul’s TTO.

“When I started doing live scenes like The Upper Floor [and] being in front of an audience doing what they are telling me to do, I started to get this slave confidence that I could obey, confidence that I could be prestigious, that I could do what I’m told in a timely manner.”

Inspiration lights up Holly’s eyes as she describes her transformation. Her intensity increases and she borders on proselytization, reinforcing my belief that BDSM adherents have their own faith, a kind of conversion that leads to peace and an affirmation of their minds and bodies.

“That’s when I started to really feel it,” she says. “It’s almost like the unknown is gone and now you can really be what you want to be because what was clouding you has been removed. Only a submissive in the BDSM community can really understand it [and] you have so much fun doing it.”

Holly has expanded her Kink experiences. Over “the last five years,” she declares, her life has “changed dramatically” because of them.

“It’s made me more respectful, it’s made me a kinder, more compassionate person, more understanding and I’m really grateful for that [and] for the community [and] for all the people that had the patience to teach me.”

Holly on Device Bondage. Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Holly on Device Bondage.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Holly praises Matt Williams. “He was so gracious with me. He was my first Dom ever.” Her initial shoot was for Device Bondage, the Kink website Matt directed at the time. To make her experience proceed well, Matt employed Rain DeGrey be on the set for Holly’s live show.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was I had read books about bondage and I wanted to be a slave. It enticed me, it was glorifying to me to be a slave, to be on that pedestal, just to be there and be a part of that. To be available for service is just hot and sexy! It just feels good!”

Holly dips into an amusing episode during the shoot: the crew put some hot sauce between her legs.

“I was sweaty and writhing and it was so painful! At the end of the shoot I’m thinking, ‘Oh, hot sauce on your tongue? Get some milk.’ Rain brings me two buckets of milk and I’m sitting in them during the [post-shoot] interview. That was my introduction to BDSM,” she laughs.

Years later Holly came to understand that she’s “a freaking masochist,” as she puts it. More live shoots at Kink, which she characterizes as “a really amazing experience and a really amazing journey,” reinforced that new sexual self-definition.

In it’s own way, perhaps BDSM is religious-like, certainly it’s emotional impact on those who love it is intense.

Subspace

It’s time to talk about something I like to bring up in these kinds of conversation: mindfucks.

Holly smiles broadly and tells me she has two great stories she will share.

“I was afraid of the hot sauce. In my head I knew that the sauce was never going to be there again because it was on my “no” list (like everyone in the BDSM community, professional or amateur, Kink honors a submissive’s hard limits, those things that are off the board in a shoot.)

“I was on the set with Lochai for Hogtied many years ago (Lochai has since left the company and now resides in Baltimore). He tied me up to a wall with my legs and arms spread with a bowling ball crotch harness attached to me. Then he had a zipper (cord with clothespins) on my tits and stomach.”

Lochai, whose personality is humor built on a flair for rigging that is widely respected in the community, pulls out a bottle.

“I don’t know what it is,” Holly relates, “but for some reason I thought it was the sauce. I got really scared and [in my eyes] you can see the fear. He sprays my face with it and it was baby oil!” Lochai is playing the mental dodge ball that spices up his shoots.

“He sprays my whole body and rips off the zipper. I was so thinking about the sauce that my mind was in a whole other place that I didn’t even feel the zipper!”

Holly then offers an example of subspace in a recent Sexually Broken episode for Real Time Bondage, a current Matt Williams site. She describes  being “bent in half” with arms and legs tied down. Matt and his associate Jackhammer are penetrating her mouth and vagina, “just back and forth, back and forth, no-stop simultaneously,” she says.

Bent in half. Photo courtesy of Intersec.com

Bent in half.
Photo courtesy of Intersec.com

“I literally went into this complete moment of subspace where nothing existed. It was like a perfect moment where I only thought of that moment and my brain tuned out and my body just went completely limp. It was like I never wanted that feeling to stop. It’s an addiction.” She adds a cautionary note. “Because they are professionals,” the director and crew recognize when a girl is closing in on that psychological dreamland.

Should a submissive teeter near the edge, monitoring her emotional balance takes over. “They know that you are zoning out and you are going to pass out any second because you feel so good.” But Holly understands she is safe because the filming will stop if a dangerous turn in the road is coming up.

Incidentally, subspace often prohibits a submissve from using her safeword. Some models tell me they self-monitor during filming to avoid losing control so they will not be accidentally injured. Casey Calvert, for example, reserves subspace for her private life, preferring to maintain total awareness when working professionally.

Bear in mind, Holly Heart is a veteran BDSMer. This is not Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a community of people who understand and appreciate their fetishes and are careful in their play. She joins the best professional submissives I’ve written about such as Madison Young, Casey Calvert, Rain DeGrey, and Dylan Ryan who are very aware of the sensitive nature of subspace.

Holly ranks the Sexually Broken shoot among her best. “It was the most amazing experience, especially being in the community now for so long.” This California girl understands she is able to put herself in that situation and, as she says, “really feel the utmost pleasure and not be afraid.”

Reading the Body

Holly and I have something in common, sports. As a former triathlete and marathoner, I bring up the “runner’s high” that causes the endurance athlete to transcend the stress of the race. Her interest sparked, Holly mentions adrenaline. “I love to run, too, and I get that runner’s high.” Like yours truly, Holly is also a weightlifter to go along with her aerobic fitness and it shows in her taut body that, by the way, serves her well in another line of Kink shoots she loves, Ultimate Surrender, girl wrestling that ends in good sex. The site is widely (and wildly) popular among Kink models and is shot before a live audience.

Before the match. The competitors: Holly, Audry Rose, Bryn Blaine, and Rain DeGrey. Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Before the match. The competitors: Holly, Audrey Rose, Bryn Blaine, and Rain DeGrey.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Holly promotes the feel good aspect of working out.

“I think we need to express that to people unfamiliar with [the benefits of exercise]. You can get this natural high from your body that is actually good and its not going to harm you, its actually going to be better for your life.”

During the match the audience looks on. Photo courtesy of Kink.com

During the match the audience looks on.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

This avid sports girl then makes a quick transition to demystify BDSM. “We’re not hurting each other when we are doing corporal punishment. We know the body’s limit. We educate ourselves on [changes in skin color for blood flow] and the way a person writhes when they are getting spanked, caned, or flogged. Reading the body language, eye contact, facial expressions, that is what makes a professional dominant so good.”

Fetish education is integral to the BDSM community, Holly explains. “If we could get the world to understand that, then the world may be more open to it.”

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Part Three of my interview with this extraordinary woman is coming next. She’ll discuss switching and learning from Kink’s Princess Donna.

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A Suspension of Disbelief

by Rich Moreland, July 2014

Written and directed by Jacky St. James and filmed by Eddie Powell, Our Father is part of Digital Sin’s Tabu Tales series . This is the first of a two part review of the DVD.

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Our Father, a series of four vignettes about stepfather/daughter relationships, plays with the incest theme, a taboo familiar to commercial pornography but not frequently filmed.

father, our 1Jacky St. James and Eddie Power offer up titillating sexual encounters that are a mix of seasoned performers and new entrants into the business. The older man role features four outstanding veteran actors: Steven St. Croix, Alex Knight, Ryan McLane, and John Strong; the younger woman is played by Penny Pax, recent arrivals Dakota Skye and Carter Cruise, and newcomer Ava Taylor.

Of course, a taboo that hints of incest survives on a secret. Because daughter and dad are willing co-conspirators, so to speak, the stepfather must not allow his sexual escapade to bring down his marriage. And, neither sex mate wants to upset an attractive arrangement beneficial to both. The result is a “don’t tell mom” collusion that flavors the forbidden intimacy.

But why does a porn film about pseudo incest work when the idea is “gross,” as Penny admits in her BTS (Behind the Scenes) segment? The explanation lies in a literary mechanism that convinces the imagination to allow a story, in print or film, to come alive: the willful suspension of disbelief.

Coined by British writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge, suspension of disbelief is the reader’s (or viewer’s) desire to go along with the improbable for the sake of the story at hand. Logic and the limitations of realism are ditched (sacrificed?) in the name of entertainment. In other words, we can go down the rabbit hole with Alice and delight in the ride.

In Our Father, when the brief plot line of each vignette is established, the viewer engages the story as just that, a story. Disbelief suspension excuses any feelings that the episode is disgusting because it isn’t realistic or likely, at least in an ordered society as we know it. To think about it another way, the burden of disbelief lies with the audience, the filmmaker is merely the persuader who constructs the narrative to finesse the viewer’s imagination, recognizing that what works for some may not work for all.

Transition Moment

The idea is simple enough, but porn offers an interesting twist, something St. James and Powell skillfully employ. At the “transition moment,” the viewer reverses his or her expectation and, consequently, the reason for watching the film. The spectator now settles in for a porn movie in which the sex moves center stage and the larger reality of the performers as step relatives, established in the suspension stage, is set aside. For the duration of the film, a deliberate suspension of disbelief is no longer needed. Now it’s people having sex and they could be anybody. The scene survives on the performer’s skills and their attractiveness, the heart and soul of a porn shoot.

In fact, despite a brief wrap-up following the pop shot, the viewer is finished with this encounter and disposes of the characters’ final comments that are necessary to package the episode. The segment’s actual conclusion is an old porn standby dating to the stag film, the camera moves to fade out.

Notice that mom is mentioned in passing but never appears. As a result, she doesn’t mess up the arrangement and does not have to be dealt with as a real figure. Guilt is assuaged all around because the wife/mother character remains ethereal; in fact, she is non-existent. The viewer can relish the sex and once it’s finished who cares if anyone—family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers—really finds out.

Incidentally, an old stag component—the third party—can be added without skipping a beat. Perhaps an aunt, a cousin, or a neighbor happens onto the scene. No worries because a suspension of disbelief reappears to adjust the storyline, then it’s onto the sex especially if the third person jumps right in.

The transition moment is a clever artistic device St. James understands. Without its placement in the script and animated in the directing, an uncomfortable viewer may feel “grossed out” and set the movie aside.

Daddy Theme

Madison Young Photo courtesy of Jiz Lee

Madison Young
Photo courtesy of Jiz Lee

On another level, there is the Daddy theme that requires no willful suspension of disbelief, but can involve suspension of another kind that is not the subject of this review. Sexually submissive filmmaker Madison Young’s recent book by the same name discusses the many levels of “Daddy” that operate in the sexual arena, particularly BDSM. It involves the need to please and yield control in a loving relationship that fills a void and stimulates desire within both parties.

St. James’ script hints at the Daddy idea, actual relationships some younger women seek with older men that, incidentally, are not unusual within the porn community. For example, twenty-one-year-old Jessa Rhodes admits in the BTS for The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee that the Daddy complex is her “thing,” though at one point she thought is was “so wrong.” Porn superstar and BDSM devotee Casey Calvert has always preferred older men, her personal long-term relationship is well into his forties.

Casey Calvert Photo courtesy of Twisty's

Casey Calvert
Photo courtesy of Twisty’s

In other words, age differences do not always require a disbelief suspension but may beg for sociological, cultural, or psychological exploration. Are Madison, Jessa, and Casey playing out a Freudian scenario, a father fixation within a their sexual make-up, or do they simply have a natural attraction for an older man? Or, are they flaunting a society that insists sexual relationships have a narrow age acceptance, unlike generations past? Hard to say, perhaps their real life lovers simply indicate that sexually one size does not fit all.

If porn performers are widely accepting of age difference, then a twenty-something girl having on-screen sex with a man twice her age comes with no qualms or sense of impropriety.

Possibly then, willful suspension of disbelief in incest themes may be easier than at first it seems.

It Feels so Good!

There is an added component. The Daddy/Babygirl or Brat paradigm is not uncommon in the BDSM community where Madison and Casey flourish and Penny Pax often resides. In Our Father, Dakota says to Ryan as the foreplay heats up, “Please fuck me, Daddy.” In her spanking scene with Steven, Carter recalls this dynamic when she responds to his pronouncement that she’s a “manipulative little brat” with “I want my daddy to spank me.” This is language that is the lifeblood of BDSM age play.

Jacky with the cute and cuddly Penny Pax. Photo courtesy of Jeff Koga

Jacky with the cute and cuddly Penny Pax.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Koga

The fetish community’s Daddy/Babygirl dynamic carries over to non-BDSM porn with the power exchange. In the first episode of Our Father, dad’s pride in his daughter and her sexual performance is part of that energy. Penny says to Alex at one point, “It feels so good,” and wants to know if he’s enjoying himself in a hoped for verification that they are sharing the moment. Sitting on the younger side of the age dynamic, Penny wants to please, complimenting Alex with “Daddy, you fuck me so good.” In the case of Carter and Steven, the daughter plays the power card in the beginning to get what she wants, the dominating father figure who’ll pay her bills, then allows the power interchange to reverse course to reside in his command over her.

In truth, power exchange is found in all sexual relationships. The playing field is never level and Eddie Powell’s brilliant cinematography captures this imbalance by focusing on faces and expressions. In traditional porn, pleasure is individualized, just as it is for the viewer who uses the film to “get off.” Unfortunately, that can disconnect performers from each other in gonzo type shoots that mute their abilities as actors. Eddie Powell never lets that happen. His close-ups move the eroticism along with a sensuality that complements the hardcore penetration.

Unlike porn romances, parodies, or BDSM fetishes, the art of making an incest-oriented movie is to assure the viewer that he or she can become a voyeur for voyeur’s sake once the story line is established then silenced via a transition. In other words, to appreciate the sex show for what it is, the sexual situation along with the characters’ attitudes and desires must be muted. The taboo may lurk in the back of the mind, but the viewer knows that the director and the performers are in on the game.

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In the part two of this review, each vignette will be examined with their respective transition moments noted.

 

 

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Far From Where You Are

Madison Young, Daddy: A Memoir
Rare Bird Books, 328 pages.

by Rich Moreland, May 2014

“Daddy’s cane was lightly tracing up and down the landscape of her quivering body. I recognized her internal conflict: the desire for so much sensation that you are carried away to somewhere far from where you are, while your psyche is rubbing against its edge. Sarah slowly, bravely nodded her head . . . .

I stood up in the corner that Daddy put me in . . . and walked toward Sarah, bringing my face close to hers, stroking her hair and putting my hand on her shoulder.

‘You need to breathe, Sarah. Don’t let the sensation control you, let it flow through you. . . . Recognize it as a gift.’

She was still just a girl, only twenty-four, and I felt threatened by her . . . I tried to disregard my fears of being replaced for a younger, newer make and model.

‘Too bad you can’t come without penetration. Isn’t that right, Slut?’ Daddy taunted her and their connection made my skin crawl. I don’t want to be in the room for her orgasm.

‘Cock please, Sir . . .’

Her words drifted into the hallway as I walked away, down the long corridor, until they were only a faint buzzing of syllables behind Beethoven’s quartets.”

Madison Young, from Daddy: A Memoir. Pages 221-223.

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In writing Daddy: A Memoir, Madison Young reveals that we are a collection of psychological constructs that shape our loves, biases, and communities, be they social, religious, political, recreational, or in this case, familial and sexual.madison 4

Madison’s search for Daddy is a reconciliation of two men in her life, first her Ohio father and later her West Coast lover, BDSM dominant, James Mogul. But Daddy is greater than any one person, as Madison’s odyssey tells us.

The book is well-written with a brisk pace that moves the reader through Madison’s conservative Midwestern childhood to her sexual awakening in California’s sunny liberalism. Daddy is a personal experience with a bit of salacious writing tossed in to give the reader a look at adult film’s fetish and bondage community.

The Quiet Girl
The early pages of Daddy recount the anxieties that plagued Madison’s adolescence. The drama surrounding a dysfunctional family crippled by an absent father and an embittered mother brings the reader into her Ohio youth.

A spattering of dark humor flavors an atmosphere of brutal honesty. At age four Madison believes the word prostitute sounds like “a church or a deadly disease,” and she later characterizes the internet porn edifice Kink.com, where she films as a BDSM submissive, as “a bubble of myopic disillusions.”

The Quiet Girl: Cultural Hero, Art Curator, Sex Activist  Photo source unknown

The Quiet Girl: Cultural Hero, Art Curator, Sex Activist
Photo courtesy of Lydia Daniller

In truth, Daddy is more than a family father or a sexual guru in the bondage and discipline community Madison loves so much. A mystical animus living within Madison’s inner child, Daddy is older than the Little Girl who seeks him out. A lover who disciplines his pet, Daddy secures her from the vagaries of personal apprehensions and trepidations.

What initially captured my interest is the book’s dedication to the “quiet girl in the corner.” Sexual submissiveness can blossom in the nondescript students who sit in classrooms or eschew the anxieties of social gatherings. A female friend who markets sex toys once told me that the women most likely to purchase bondage gear at her seminars are the unnoticed ones in the back of the room, shy and very discreet.

Sins of Non-Conformity
Growing into puberty, Madison remembers that porn sex was considered “shameful,” rendering her fantasies as forbidden. In junior high, she kept her “eyes cast down” sensing that she didn’t belong. Gawky and self-conscious, Madison became a “natural target” for the taunts of other kids. Spawned by such cruelty, inadequacies haunted her until the emotional tools to confront her demons emerged.

Out of this battle of self-preservation comes her interpretation of Daddy—a concept, a spirit, a need, a belief—that no one individual in Madison’s life can completely fulfill.

For all children, there are turning points that define sexual journeys. Madison’s occurred in church. The preacher condemned adultery, prostitution, and homosexuality as “sins of non-conformity.” What is a girl who knows she is different to do? Create her own “imaginary community” that spurs a search for happiness? An eventual good-bye to Loveland, Ohio, followed, leaving behind an unfulfilled longing for the traditional family and its Daddy.

The Castro, San Francisco’s gay community, becomes Madison’s Mecca. With a realization that she is among the “outsiders” who sought “refuge” in California’s Left Coast sexual Disneyland, her search for Daddy expands. Is her mentor a leather man, a rigger (a technician whose rope talents satisfy the cravings of bondage models), a dominant, a master, or perhaps a leatherdyke? Madison is unsure, but realizes she needs someone to take control and comfort her inner “Little Girl.”

A Dignified Whore
Madison Young loves rope and discovers porn’s Kink.com, the San Francisco bondage empire of Peter Acworth. The company becomes another Daddy, providing the ecstasy and the agony of Madison’s SF existence. She does her first shoot for Kink and proudly announces, “If rope didn’t lead to my daddy, I didn’t know what would.”

Madison Young loves rope and discovers porn’s Kink.com, the San Francisco bondage empire of Peter Acworth. The company becomes another Daddy, providing the ecstasy and the agony of Madison’s SF existence. She does her first shoot for Kink and proudly announces, “If rope didn’t lead to my daddy, I didn’t know what would.”

A cathartic yellow brick road to a BDSM OZ, Daddy’s magic is more than a memoir; it’s a cross between a novella and a history. Gauge, a girlfriend lost, and James Mogul, a Daddy gained, shape Madison’s writing. A swirl of honesty and jealousy filters through her words sparking sympathy at some points and admonishment at others.

James Mogul Photo source unknown

James Mogul
Photo source unknown

Insights abound within the pages of Daddy. Madison’s close friendship with performers Bobbi Starr and Lorelei Lee, and her gut-wrenching jealousy toward a bondage model metaphorically named Sarah Chasm enliven the narrative. Madison’s accounts of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, “the depressing landscape” of the “mainstream porn industry,” while characterizing Kink.com as the “pornification and appropriation of the BDSM community for mass consumption and commercial gain” make this book a fascinating read.

Doubts engulf Madison as she uses adult film to fund her beloved art gallery, Femina Potens, whose future is doomed by high rents. She engages in a bit of self-imposed slut-shaming when she declares her income “felt like dirty whore money” earned by a “sexual outlaw in a corporation system.”

Madison in a Kink scene with James. Photo courtesy of The Training of O.

Madison in a Kink scene with James.
Photo courtesy of The Training of O.

Though her assessment of the adult industry is not always positive, Madison Young gives the reader moments of triumph. For example, confessing she sometimes feels like “a dignified whore,” Madison takes pride in being a Spiegler Girl (the performer agency for whom she worked), characterizing Spiegler models as “smart, self-reliant, and responsible.”

Because Madison Young is a woman of rich diversification, to stay on the Daddy message shortchanges much of who she is beyond a narrowly defined fetish performer. Understandable, but I want Madison to explore her time at Antioch College and her discovery of sex-positive feminism. Madison is a cultural hero of pansexualism, sexual masochism, and the queer porn community (particularly San Francisco’s Queer Porn Mafia) whose status is rising in this new century. She devotes deserved space to Femina Potens, to art and performance art, but what of her many honors at Toronto’s groundbreaking Feminist Porn Awards?

She is far more than the vulnerable Little Girl that Daddy presents.

When chroniclers examine the history of adult film in the twenty-first century, Madison Young will be feted. With Daddy, she has only broken the surface of her legendary status. Hopefully, this multitalented and intellectually brilliant queen of kink is considering a second book.

The Power Within
The beauty of Madison’s narrative is its contradiction. She attempts to reconcile all her varied families from Ohio to Femina Potens to Kink.com, but they are too kaleidoscopic for a clean, well-lighted heroic image immersed in a tale of sharply drawn parameters.

And, of course, there are her personal Daddies with their battles and foibles, who, like Madison, search to find their own definition of self.

Feeding Emma Photo source unknown

Feeding a budding feminist.
Photo courtesy of Madison Young

In the end, Madison seeks the power within to move forward. The birth of daughter Emma, a uniting force and an overwhelming gift, offers the metaphorical beginning.

Finally the reader is left with the overarching question the book presents. Who or what is Daddy: a religious-like spirit that dwells within all of us, a guide to find our way from infancy to maturity, the cycle of civilization, or simply a deep emotional need?

Or, perhaps Daddy is the community that secures us, as rope binds Madison to something greater to serve. Through that service she tells us that who we are is a fluid evolution and an enlightened journey that ceases only with our final breath.

*          *          *          *          *

By the way, don’t neglect the book’s forward by Madison’s porn-art mother and sex-positive icon, Annie Sprinkle. Her words set the tone for Madison’s story.

And, should you purchase Daddy, which I highly recommend, go for the paperback version. I did not and, like Madison and her rope, I miss the touch, feel, and smell of something I can hold in my hands and put on a shelf.

Peace.

 

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A Porn Family

by Rich Moreland, November 2013

This is the second installment on Girlfriends Films.

gfs logoMy students know that I write in the adult film industry and occasionally inquire about the people I meet. On the whole they are non-judgmental, though every now and then moral indignation pops up. A couple of years ago a female student asked me quite pointedly why I wrote about prostitutes. I was taken off-guard, but saw an opportunity in her question.

Hoping to have a conversation that would widen horizons, my attempts to assuage her preconceived notions about pornography were futile. Our encounter was brief and she departed, disappointed that a college professor would stoop so low. Had she been willing to listen, this is what she would have learned about one aspect of the business.

Pornographers run their companies much like corporate America. This includes employee perks not always seen in small businesses. A case in point is Girlfriends Films, one of the more prosperous enterprises in Porn Valley.

“Nobody has ever quit or retired from Girlfriends Films,” owner Dan O’Connell says. The company values its employees, offering health insurance (including dental and vision) as well as life insurance and a 401 (k). But Girlfriends does something else that outshines much of corporate America, it contributes regularly to charities selected by the performers. Beyond a paycheck for a day’s shoot, Dan shows his appreciation for their hard work, creating the best of all benefits: the Girlfriends family.

Part of my Family

Last January at the AEE (Adult Entertainment Expo) I interviewed Dana DeArmond, one of adult film’s classiest and most respected veterans. We were at the Girlfriends’ booth where she was signing for fans. Dana told me she was ill that morning and Moose, the company’s Vice President, visited her hotel room with bottles of water and pepto-bismol.

Dana signing at Grilfriends in Vegas. Photo by Bill Knight

Dana signing at Girlfriends in Vegas.
Photo by Bill Knight

He told her not to worry about signing that day, but Dana would have none of that.

“I am going down there and do press for this company because they take damn good care of me,” Dana said. “I am going to get it together because I love them.”

She then brought up something that really mattered personally to her.

“They let me choose a charity and donated a thousand dollars for me,” Dana commented. Last year it was Doctors without Borders, this year she selected the AIDS/LifeCycle ride from San Francisco to L.A., a distance of 545 miles. The event raises money to provide needed services to people with HIV and AIDS.

“I feel like they are part of my family,” Dana declared, referring to Dan, Moose, and the GFs staff. She happily added that the relationship works both ways, “I am in the Girlfriends’ family,” she said with pride.

Chastity Lynn Photo courtesy of Adult Video News

Chastity Lynn
Photo courtesy of Adult Video News

The monthly donation is an ongoing program. In May of this year, Chastity Lynn selected Farm Sanctuary for her charity and had a $1,000 given in her name. She chose the organization because of her concern with animal welfare.

Rising superstar Tasha Reign persuaded Girlfriends to donate to CancerCare in August. She lost her father to the disease a few years ago and wanted to help others who must deal with the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis. CancerCare provides counseling, support groups, and co-payment options to families who are in the fight together.

Madison Young Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Madison Young
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Girlfriends donated $1,000 to Planned Parenthood in the name of one of my favorites in the adult film world, new mother Madison Young. The director and performer recalled that in her twenties, she was without health insurance and very thankful for the services she received from Planned Parenthood.

Madison compliments the Girlfriends charity program, “It empowers performers and directors, offering an opportunity to create some small change in the world.” Everyone can give something back.

When I was at LAX not long ago, I met a fellow traveler who chatted amiably about his impressions of the porn industry. One of the issues that concerned him was the sexual abuse of children and he wanted to know about the industry’s role in producing such despicable fare. Another opportunity availed itself to me.

Adult film producers don’t like child pornography, I explained, and referenced ASACP (Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection). Reaching out to adult sites to help in its mission, ASACP is a non-profit that combats online child porn through a reporting system that turns in suspected sites. ASACP also enables parents to prevent children from viewing inappropriate online materials by offering the website label RTA (restricted to adults). This year Girlfriends donated $5,000 to the organization.

Adult film is a business and in spite of what much of the public believes, family is important to them as it is to everyone else. This included doing for others and caring about children.

If she had been a smidgen more open-minded, who knows what a particular young women would be thinking today.

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The Value of Context

by Rich Moreland, April 2013

Girls who shoot BDSM porn always risk losing work in the vanilla film world. The reason, by the way, is not because they are pigeon-holed as bondage models. Frankly, it’s an advantage for a girl to indicate a willingness to be bound, gagged, and disciplined as part of her repertoire whether she is with a modeling agency or a free agent. Hiring possibilities are expanded.

No, the reason is about that kind of work, what it does to her, the stress on her body.

Take Dana DeArmond, an A-lister who is much admired in porn. She’s employable, amiable on the set, and knowledgeable about how to elevate the quality of a porn shoot. She is every cinematographer’s dream. But even the best are challenged after putting in years of shooting.

Dana DeArmondPhoto courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Dana DeArmond
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

“I had a really good time bottoming,” Dana says, “I did it for six years and learned a lot about my sexuality.” She tested her limits for pain and fetish interplay, an exploration so enlightening that Dana describes her career as a “sexual journey.” But change may be at hand. Framed in the past tense, her remarks hint that Dana is transitioning into another aspect of her profession.

Starting out at Kink.com offered her a level of security to act out her fantasies and a sense of family when the shooting was finished. “I’m comfortable there,” Dana says, “I have no complaints about the company.” She comments on what other girls who film at San Francisco’s old Armory say, Kink is performer friendly and cares about a model’s satisfaction, artistically and sexually, in a scene. Kink.com believes all shoots should honor model consent and its directors allow a performer to “steer the scene,” Dana adds.

Kink also has a reputation for honesty. “They don’t try to trick you into anything,” Dana says. Like many companies, Kink has a call sheet with everything spelled out for the performer before the scene begins. They try to make the experience rewarding so that popular models want to return. To accomplish that requires a staff that is well-schooled in handling BDSM shoots.

“They hire really cool people,” Dana says, and gives Kink the highest compliment. Hanging out with their employees “outside of work” is a pleasure for her.

Taking Chances

Dana DeArmond’s BDSM adventures have a developed a downside over the years. She is a veteran submissive and a perfectionist with an undeniable work ethic that pushes her over the top, sometimes to her detriment.

“I got to the point where I was trying to take so much pain, and was trying to be so extreme, I thought, ‘I’m going to I hurt myself,’” she says. That can be serious because of the negative carry over to vanilla porn.

If Dana’s too aggressive with the realism of her bondage scenes, she’s taking chances with her availability and her income. “I won’t be able to work down in L.A. doing regular porn anymore,” she states, admitting that in BDSM, risks can be high. In some cases marks from flogging, electricity play, and ropes can show up in a vanilla sex shoot if a girl has one booked the next day.

Dana explains that she is also putting herself in dangerous territory with her health because age is an ever present factor. “I’m not eighteen anymore. I’m not a young girl,” a thirtyish Dana declares, “I can’t risk injury.”

Dana’s attitudes about shooting porn are evolving. She’s been around long enough to know what she is doing and what she likes. These days Dana insists that she must be comfortable working with the people on the set and is careful about the toll extracted from her body and mind. In other words, she looks for the right “context” in a scene.

If a girl is doing an aggressive scene for a site like Bound Gangbangs, Kink viewers want her to take on as much as she can even if it strains her physically and emotionally. Perhaps a few years ago Dana would not have given that a second thought, but she is reluctant today unless the circumstances align the stars just right.

“If I’m not enjoying myself, that’s not for me,” Dana explains. She emphasizes that she must be the one calling the shots otherwise her heart is not in the scene. If guys who don’t know what they are doing are all over her, “it’s miserable,” she says.

Too much rough play and extended penetration results in its own set of difficulties and Dana considers the consequences.

Understandable, some performers have voiced similar concerns. On the other hand, authenticity in BDSM shoots is desirable from a customer standpoint, so good models feel a sense of obligation to produce the best content possible. But they must have a clear picture of what they are getting into and how the booking will be handled.

“A lot of people have bad experiences because they haven’t taken into consideration the logistics of rough sex, or gangbangs, or group scenes, or porn in general,” Dana says, extending her comment across the entire industry. Getting along with co-stars and being in the right situation—the context—is what makes shooting a pleasure. “Style wise sometimes people just don’t mesh,” she remarks.

But banking scenes is a great teacher. “You’ve got to learn,” she says, and reminds us that for her it took a bit of time.

Busy Signing at the Adult Convention in Las VegasPhoto courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Busy Signing at the Adult Convention in Las Vegas
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Of course, a porn education is ongoing and now Dana is dealing with a career change other performers like Bobbi Starr have successfully navigated. Dana’s working on learning to top or dom, trading in the “just let it happen” experience of being submissive for the other end of the spectrum. She’s discovered that taking on a domme’s responsibility is mentally stressful.

“You have to think of so many things simultaneously when you’re domming,” Dana explains. Circumstances dictate the play. Most important, planning is required. Anticipating the steps ahead of time, like configuring a move in chess, needs a quick mind. The pace of the scene and the careful application of any instruments like canes or floggers designed to stimulate and arouse must be taken into account. Obviously everything is consensual, Dana says, repeating the Kink mantra, and it is imperative not to injury anyone. Those are obligations the domme has to her submissive.

“I do care a lot about the people I work with,” Dana says. At the end of the shoot, it’s personally important that the submissive thank her and brag about the “good experience” he or she had. No matter which end of a flogger—application or reception—is given to Dana she will leave her mark on the scene.

That’s Dana DeArmond, the consummate pro, popular with her fans and her co-workers. From my personal contacts with her, I can clearly see why. In the business, Dana cultivates friendships with performers and directors whom she regards as reliable and honest, and reciprocates when she can. She refers to the women with whom she is very close, like Princess Donna, Aiden Starr, and Joanna Angel, as her “porn wives.” It’s an endearment that carries an emotional connection not often found in any career.

Call it the wisdom of age and the lessons of experience.

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You Love This?

by Rich Moreland, February, 2013

My special thanks to Evil Angel Productions for the photos used in this series.

 *          *          *          *          *

Voracious’s third episode, titled “Fuckin’ White American Trash,” opens back in Los Angeles. Antropoligist Manuel Batiste has returned to the property ostensibly to purchase it, but in reality he’s looking for Amira. He comes at dusk intuitively feeling that this is the proper time to meet her. Remember the mirror? The house is locked up.

Calling the realtor, Manuel is told the residents are gone.

Just as the house has locked up vampire lore, Amira will have her own trial to “lock up” her clan loyalty.

Returning to his office, Manuel runs an internet search on vampires. A strange article on a dead vampire in Szugio, Hungry, shows up and Manuel notices the circular medallion hanging around the neck of the body. It’s the same as Amria wears. The article suggests there is a vampire clan in the area.

Not surprising, Father Zoltan is referenced and claims the clan talk is just superstition.

Clamping Down a Wandering Soul

The scene shifts to Hungry. Amira enters a room in the house where she is confined by Dracu. A glass enclosed St. Andrew’s Cross (an upright X) is the room’s centerpiece. The Vampire Mistress (Sandra Romain) is positioned with her back arched over the intersection of cross’s arms. Her hands are raised holding onto chains that drop down from the ceiling. She wears breast and labia clamps likewise attached to chains.

The St. Andrew's Cross and The Vampire Mistress

The St. Andrew’s Cross and The Vampire Mistress

According to Christian lore, St. Andrew brought Christianity to Eastern Europe, particularly Romania. At his execution, he was tied to a cross that was positioned on its side, an inferior status to the original crucifixion because Andrew did not feel worthy of Christ. The cross, the conduit of death, resurrection, and martyrdom, is a staple in BDSM play spaces today because a sexual submissive can be bound in a spread-eagled position.

When Amira circles the enclosure, the Mistress’s eyes open and stare in her direction and turn blood red.

Satanic Red is a Head Drop Away

Satanic Red is a Head Drop Away

The message to Amira is clear. You are inferior and not worthy of joining the clan until you prove yourself.

The remainder of this episode furnishes a sexual encounter that is rough and tumble. When I spoke with John Stagliano about Brooklyn Lee’s incredible performance in the film, he singled out Episodes Three and Five as being exceptionally tense and real. I would agree. No matter how long Brooklyn Lee remains in adult film, she will be remembered as a superstar in this movie.

Only the work of Kink.com’s Peter Acworth can compare with the hard hitting BDSM sexuality of the extended scene that follows. There are no nuances here. Amira is tested by the Vampire Mistress, played beautifully by Sandra Romain, who like Brooklyn Lee has a history of performances at Kink.com. The actresses are complements of each other in this scene.

Amira's Tribulations Begin

Amira’s Tribulations Begin

Suffice it to say the clan has detected reluctance and weakness in Amira and it’s time to call her to task. Clamps of different varieties are used on Amira as a form of discipline and dominance. During the sex, the conflation of pain and sensuality common to many devotees of BDSM subjects Amira to the test she undergoes.

The Mistress taunts Amira as the sex intensifies.

“I want to be proud of you!” the Mistress screams at Amira, who will be broken in this trial.

But the Mistress detects weakness early in the game.

“You give up, you fuckin’ bitch,” the Mistress derides Amira. “You give up!”

Brooklyn Lee’s performance ranks with the best I’ve seen from San Francisco masochist and porn icon, Madison Young, whose shoots are the zenith of BDSM.

The verbal tirade continues.

“You are white American trash,” the Mistress yells.

Amira is breaking. “I’m nothing,” she responds in almost a whisper.

The Mistress slaps and kisses Amira, disciplining and seducing her as a dominant would a submission in the theater of BDSM.

“I just want to be yours,” Amira barely utters. But the proof is not there yet. The sex continues, a DP is on the menu, and the Mistress never gives up.

She pounds away verbally at Amira as the two males in the scene work over her body.

How Much Can She Handle?

How Much Can She Handle?

“Am I too rough for you?” the Mistress asks. “You love this?”

“I want to be like you,” repeats Amira.

Vampire triumphant compete, the Mistress withdraws. Amira is left smiling and a body covered with spit and ejaculate. She has broken through to the other side, satisfying the immediate demands of the clan. Or so it seems.

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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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A Re-Visioned Pornography: A Woman’s “Right to Be Horny”

by Rich Moreland, September, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In her introduction to Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families, Pamela Paul writes that pornography is “seamlessly integrated into popular culture,” creating an “all-pornography, all-the-time mentally” that is literally “everywhere.” Sweeping generalizations rarely take into account personal tastes, cultural and political variances, or in this case, alternative views on sexuality. There is little doubt that sex is commodified; in fact, it is ubiquitous in advertising and popular culture. But continued presence does not translate into unrelenting offensiveness. In fact, sexuality can be enlightening, educational, and a tool for women’s equality, especially when reconfigured to celebrate a female “gaze.” Feminist pornography is doing just that and Anne G. Sabo’s newest study is a welcome addition to the debate

In After Pornified: How Women are Transforming Pornography and Why It Really Matters, Sabo amplifies feminist scholar Linda Williams’ concept of re-vision and explores a reconfigured porn for women. Sabo’s book is a montage of female filmmakers with samplings of their work embedded in summary reviews. Following the trail of American film visionary Candida Royalle, these new century women are not merely playing on the edges of a man’s world. They have a message for society’s “neo-Victorianism,” a cultural condition the late feminist Ellen Willis insists circumscribes female sexual expression. A reworked feminist pornography is symbolic liberation for all women.

Re-vision does not mean revision, Sabo explains. It is not a cleaning up process, but a radical rewrite. For clarification, she quotes German-born director Petra Joy who asserts that “erotic and pornographic images” are not exclusive to men. “Why should women not create and enjoy films that express their sexual desires . . . ?” Why not, indeed? Joy wants women to target men as “objects of desire” who focus their sexual expression on pleasuring their female lovers. Joy believes feminist adult film captures authentic sex in a way that creates a different entity, “transformed porn,” an alternative to the established male product that carries a female objectifying label.

A Swede now living in Spain, Erika Lust is part of this new breed of filmmaker. “I see porn as a tool for excitement, education, and pleasure,” she says, and a very powerful one at that. I agree and share Sabo’s delight for Lust’s short film, “The Good Girl” which takes one of the oldest stag film formulas, the delivery boy, and turns it around. When the pizza is delivered and the sex ensues (not without some doubt at first) the female protagonist captures the standard male “gaze” and alters the outcome. By seizing the action to get what she wants, our heroine moves from object to subject, possessing her own “gaze.” The story can stand by itself, but Lust has more in mind. She artistically infuses her film work with an urban MTV flavor that is a tasteful delight of energy and sex, in this case swirling around a pizza box!

The opening chapter on Candida Royalle is a must read for any novice to feminist pornography/erotica. If nothing else, Sabo’s review of Royalle’s professional standards from safer sex to “content and style” is an educational primer. Royalle is unique. As a filmmaker she weathered the political storms of feminism’s second wave “sex wars” when anti-porn feminists excoriated adult film. Her political efforts fighting censorship in Feminists for Free Expression and her classic film on oppression, Revelations, preserve for the New Yorker a seat among the liberal icons of our age.

Modern sex-positive feminists package adult film into a fast-paced, music dominated product. The short vignette is their cinematic bread and butter. Of particular interest is the “cell phone art porn” of another Swede, Mia Engberg. Her question, posed in the Dirty Diaries collection, is central to feminist pornography: how do women “liberate” their “sexual fantasies” to escape the commercialization of porn that Paul sees around us everyday? Offering takes on that question, Sabo deconstructs film narratives, casting a light on the message of all the filmmakers she presents. This process is particularly informative in the Dirty Diaries series. Incidentally, I commend Sabo’s emphasis on the Dirty Diaries manifesto, an enumeration of the elements composing the mission of feminist porn. Here are a few that stand out. “[B]eauty ideals” are of no consequence in feminist porn, it is a sexual collage of any body and every body. The genre confronts “narrow gender categories,” encouraging “gender plurality.” And, best of all, the practice of safer sex is foremost because feminist porn supports a woman’s “right to be horny.”

Sabo raises a contentious question that is still a work in progress among feminists. The chapter on Puzzy Power films hints at this conundrum. The Puzzy Power credo prohibits scenes “where women are subjected to violence or coercion,” though “rape or assault” passes muster if the woman is “living out her fantasy” with someone she can trust to accommodate her desires. Sabo references second wave feminist Robin Morgan whose fantasies of sexual stimulation via domination presented difficulties for her though she apparently got off on her mental images. Likewise, Sabo mentions third wave journalist Martine Aurdal who frequently “caught herself in a role-play right before orgasm” that centered on “power relations.” This was vexing for Aurdal because it represented “gender roles” locked in a Paleolithic mentality. But one suspects she liked it. The question then becomes: Can women enjoy role-play if it means they are submissive and dominated? Take a look at Erika Lust’s two short films, “Handcuffs” and “Love Me Like You Hate Me” to get a spin on this question. Later when reviewing the work of feminist directors Anna Span and Tristan Taormino, Sabo brings up a another issue that is also divisive among feminists: gonzo porn, a method of filming often condemned for degrading women. Sabo lets us know that both Span and Taormino shoot in a gonzo style: the camera and director participate in the action. Character portrayal is abandoned and performers play themselves for the pleasure of the sex alone.

Can women like rough BDSM oriented sex if it suits their fantasy and they are equal participants in it? Can they actively support close-ups of piston shots, oral sex, and external ejaculations that might be deposited on the eyes rather than the belly? Tricky issues for a female cinematographer because gonzo has a male reputation dating to the early work of Evil Angel’s John Stagliano’s Buttman series. Sabo’s suggests that gonzo female-style is more about legitimating the voyeur in all of us; and those who are watched are there by “mutual agreement.” Fair enough. I’ve always believed women can have sex for its pure raw fun. Now that feminist porn is inching closer to the longstanding male gaze, gonzo represents a long awaited evolution for women. Like Sabo, I believe that it works if it is framed from a female POV, represents the director’s artistic vision, and is a legitimate turn on for both performer and viewer.

My interviews with feminist director Bobbi Starr (who as a performer is noted for her BDSM, rough edged gangbangs, and anal shoots) reveal that gonzo is her filming taste. Starr is open about how she does things her way and being male-identified, should that criticism be raised, is not a concern. Queer feminist performers Dylan Ryan and Madison Young (who sits in director’s chair on occasion) also relish the submissive role and are no strangers to anal scenes and facials. So, what does this tell us today about feminist re-visioned porn? Are women directors succumbing to an ensconced filming that appeals to a male fan base? Or have women, mainly through their indie companies, seized ownership of the very thing that anti-porn feminists insist is their source of oppression? Sabo introduces this question and for that alone, After Pornified is worth a read.

The organization of the chapters merits comment. Sabo reviews various movies to give the reader a feel for her thesis. I am a social scientist/historian, not a film studies scholar, so I appreciate her in-depth look at the narrative and stylistic format of film. Sabo sets off her movie analysis in gray print to distinguish it from the rest of the text. I found this to be an effective tool that enabled me to get a complete picture of her message. It is a boon for any reader who, like yours truly, is largely unfamiliar with the intricacies of film study techniques.

Sex-positive feminist porn filmmakers are making a difference in how a “pornified” society looks at modern adult film. Anti-porn acolytes in the manner of Pamela Paul will continue to fire salvos at pornography as intrusive on society and debasing to women. Give them their due and move on. Take porn, re-vision it, and in the process pay close attention to Anne G. Sabo’s newest book.

 

 

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The Finest Slave I’ve Ever Trained

By Rich Moreland, June 2012

Note: Though I am not a film critic, I’ve tried my hand at it with this review. I confess that I enjoyed writing it because I found the picture’s storyline and the cleverness of the director to be refreshing. This is the final film in a trilogy of movies based on The Story of O.

Bobbi Starr as O
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

There is always a risk attached to intellectualizing porn. Industry people insist that adult film is merely a fantasy of acrobatic sex. However, occasionally a film comes along that reaches beyond the simple parameters of eroticizing our imagination and insists that we pay attention to its statement.

The BDSM literary genre is heating up these days with Fifty Shades of Grey capturing the “mommy porn” consumer. The master of gonzo BDSM, San Francisco’s Kink.com,offers visual delights in cyberspace for anyone fascinated by ways dominance and submission can be fashioned for hardcore lovers who like it rough. Between these polar positions, there is a middle ground where a blend of story, bondage, and sex resides.

Ernest Greene’s The Truth About O has come along at just the right time to fascinate the BDSM curious and fans of explicit sex who like their women to be contradictory to traditional porn. Greene’s girls like to do the dirty deed, but the sex is on their terms using bondage as their erotic trigger. His picture blends the right flavors to make BDSM sophisticated, at least in the adult film world.

Greene minimizes long-standing Porn Valley gonzo and Kink’s addictive heavy hitting. In doing so, he offers a more realistic BDSM product to a growing base in adult film: a female-friendly and couples audience. No surprise, Greene is married to Nina Hartley, a pro-sex feminist porn legend and the assistant director for the film. The dynamic Bobbi Starr plays O. She, like Hartley, is a self-proclaimed feminist. For those who don’t know, feminism in adult film is sex-positive and empowered far from the man-hating, hairy-legged, bra-burning sex-negative shenanigans of the 1970’s. And please note, though Hartley and Starr are industry icons of different generations, they are also two of the smartest and assertive women in the adult business.

How is a feminist-oriented film defined and how has Greene tapped into the women’s/couples’ market with his latest O movie?

First, female pleasure is the anchor; real orgasms are the linchpin. Greene extends male-female connections, giving time for the climatic waves to sweep over the female talent.

Female receptive oral is a filming highlight in this movie. Greene’s cinematography frames these shots to make the sex authentic. He divides the screen, situating the giver in the foreground while focusing on the actresses’ ecstasy in the background. Women want filmed sex that avoids the gonzo anatomy lesson, preferring the actress’s facial expression to receive equal billing with the sex being performed. The finest example occurs when Ray (Michael Vegas) pleasures slave Jillian, a role taken on by the irresistibly sweet Jessie Andrews whose natural breasts and tall physique capture the willowy girl image many porn watchers adore. Jillian’s build-up to pure rapture is a conflation of bliss and frenzy. Greene repeats the pattern in a scene between Danny Wylde and Asa Akira and in an interracial gem that features Nat Turner, whose gentleness belies his large stature, and the voluptuous Krissy Lynn.

Facials are rarely found in woman-friendly film. It’s not something women enjoy and there is no reason for it to be there. Of course, the pop shot is the moneymaker of porn; it’s the external placement of the internal reality. But the “getting off” can be deposited anywhere and Greene prefers other parts of the female body.

A criticism of porn is kissing. If it appears at all, it is passed off as a quick excuse for foreplay and lame exercise in affection, especially from males. Not the performers Greene books. James Deen, Danny Wylde, and Michael Vegas are sexy and sensuous, evidence that this picture hands equal status to men. In adult film, the characters (and the performers who play them) often lack their own personhood, what psychologists identify as their larger reality. A Greene movie insists that pleasure is a two-way street and is there for a reason, women have authentic sexual experiences and men are more than “dicks” in the corner. As a result, character development is a must and Greene’s actors emerge as people, not just bodies.

And of course, there is the Hitachi Magic Wand. Its handheld motor is indispensable in woman-friendly scenes, especially in bondage movies where it is often the delicious wrap-up for the female star. The “little hummer” always guarantees female pleasure and Greene employs it judiciously.

The trickiest part for a female audience is anal, now a standard in its own right though overuse can make it a yawner in many movies. Greene limits his anal scenes because backdoor sex remains a debate among women. It is not personally pleasing for some, they don’t want to do it in their own lives and often see it as degrading. Yet, on-screen anal action has spawned a growing interest among others to experiment in their sex lives.

Feminist adult film directors tend to shy away from anal except with toys in some girl/girl scenes. Greene has compromised, striking a balance for those who want to see a girl’s rump penetrated and others who find it tiresomely repetitive.

That being said, an enthusiastic anal shoot is a welcome variance and Greene’s lead, Bobbi Starr, is a true analist who loves its eroticism. Greene obligingly gives her the go ahead. Two scenes in the film, one with Starr and Wylde and another with Akira and Deen, sparkle for posterior aficionados.

To Serve or Obey?

The film’s opening scene is in a bondage club, and Greene turns BDSM play into superb performance art featuring the incredibly sensuous Justine Joli and Claire Adams, Greene’s rigger for the production of O. Adams is a premier fem dom and Joli is the consummate sub whose winsome and sassy look is a reminder of San Francisco artist and adult film feminist Madison Young. A glorious example of Adams’ shibari rigging ability is on display with the opened legged suspension of Joli. It rivals the best of Young’s Femina Potens  “Art of Restraint” workshops which, incidentally, often feature both performers. Joli clearly relishes her submissiveness, giving “do me” looks to Adams who navigates the scene with the precision of a mechanic.

Performance Art with Justine Joli and Claire Adams.
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

Incidentally, Greene pays a subtle tribute to his northern neighbor, Kink.com. Marie (Nina Hartley), the owner of the bondage club, speaks briefly with Thomas (Danny Wylde), who has his “not really enslaved” submissive, Yvette (Asa Akira) on a leash. Thomas mentions that he found Yvette “at a party at the Armory” where a “fantastic scene with one of the upstairs girls” played out. Kink’s Upper Floor website and its house slaves are a recognized part of the BDSM porn genre. The Armory’s top floor facility often hosts live parties and offers its online viewers access to the events. In fact, most of Greene’s cast appears regularly at Kink’s edifice.

Thomas with his reluctant slave, Yvette
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

Listening closely to Marie’s words with Thomas, the viewer will hear a telling political message in the film. O, who is at Marie’s side, tells her at the opening of the movie, “I’ve not forgotten how to serve or obey,” an interesting statement coming from an owned slave. Marie introduces O to Thomas, referring to her as “the finest slave I ever trained.” In those few words, there is meaning that steps outside the film’s narrative. Nina Hartley is the consummate feminist in adult film, coming into porn in the days when feminism was a collective notion, a movement.  The public face of feminism excoriated adult film and Hartley fought accusations from “mainstream” feminists that porn debased women. In the story, Marie has “trained” O to serve and obey, but there is an interpretation here beyond the storyline of mistress and slave. Nina Hartley laid the feminist groundwork in filmed pornography, passing along her wisdom for later performers like Starr to find their own way. Bobbi Starr is a feminist who is individualistic in her approach, a modern update that has partly abandoned the collectivism of a unified political voice so familiar to Hartley. But Starr’s generation has clearly benefited from Hartley’s presence, becoming more outspoken because of it.

The storyline revolves around O’s master Steven, played by porn heartthrob James Deen, who wants to procure another woman for their sexual enjoyment, “a regular part time playmate,” as he puts it. O becomes Steven’s collaborator in his search while questioning her status with him, and as it turns out, her desire for him.

The pivotal sequence in the film is without sex. Steven is a lawyer whose aloofness is a challenge for O. He tells her she is the only one who can satisfy him. O responses with doubt. “Are you sure?” she says. O reminds Steven that she once told him, “I’d do anything to be owned by you,” though her words to Marie that she still remembers how to serve and obey clouds O’s declaration.

They briefly kiss with the affection and tedium characteristic of long-time lovers. O touches his forehead. “What’s going on in the there?” she asks, smiling though a little hesitant. Steven deflects her question. Interestingly, he does not chide her for asking it, though its very nature is an overstepping by a slave.

Instead, Steven reveals his weakness for her. “It’s all become so easy for you, hasn’t it?” He says dryly and sits her on his desk as if she were a child. She forces a smile and the viewer senses this D/s relationship has control issues.

As if to ground O’s wandering and troubled vibes, Steven predicts Greene’s film. “Just when you think you have it,” he says, “it turns out you don’t.” He touches the “O” ring she wears on her right hand and she pulls her hand away, a gesture that is a cross between playfulness and uncertainty.

That’s what the “truth’ of this film is all about.

Seeing Their Dreams, Not Yours

Ernest Greene learned his BDSM film trade back to the days of director Bruce Seven. Fem doms like Bionca and Alexis Payne with a host of submissive beauties, Aja, and Lia Barron coming immediately to mind, graced Seven’s work. In those times, the right wing Meese Commission sent a harassment message to the industry. Too much “spank” could spark interest from the feds and penetrative sex in bondage was verboten. BDSM filming took the safest avenue, concentrating on girl/girl shoots. Remembering those troubled years, Greene reconfigures BDSM in a way that is a bit softer than current online fare. He adds penetrative sex (there never were any legal restrictions on it in bondage filming, by the way), but with sensitive males who respond to a woman’s desires, thus turning his female talent from object to subject. Greene does not ignore gonzo fans, however. He expends footage on the oft-repeated bound girl, on her knees and blowing away. Starr, Lynn, and Andrews display their oral techniques with vigor, not to mention Akira in the climatic sex scene with Deen.

The second disc in the DVD package contains interview material. Greene discusses the evolution of O in his film series. She has gone from defining her desire to becoming a more self-confident woman. The real “truth” about O is her character development. Greene points out that the cultural context of BDSM has moved forward since the publication of Pauline Reage’s original The Story of O almost sixty years ago. The BDSM community is no longer closeted; today’s D/s and BDSM relationships have evolved and can be read in different ways, thus vacating the deviancy label once hung on bondage and discipline. That women are enjoying BDSM possibilities and variances is evident with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

In his film work, Greene extends permission to O to explore a diversified eroticism. She expresses her desire for a variety of lovers so that she may individualize her sexual expression. Choosing Bobbi Starr as his lead and giving Nina Hartley space as assistant director assures that a sex-positive feminist element is an honored message in the movie. By the way, acting and dialogue in pornography can remind the viewer of Frankenstein’s monster stepping on eggs. If he doesn’t crush them with his plodding, he will clumsily try to avoid touching them at all. Hartley and Starr are exceptions. Starr, in particular, can act and delivers dialogue well; she is a pro and makes her parts in the script more natural than is normally seen in porn.

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The film’s final scene highlights the return of the contract O once signed with Steven. New slave Yvette, whom O has procured for her master, brings the sealed envelope to him. He instructs her to open it. Hesitant, Yvette asks, “Are you sure?” not knowing the proper protocol with him yet. Steven rebukes her, pointing out that a slave does not question her master. Yvette quickly apologizes; apparently unaware that it’s a rule Steven does not apply universally.

Greene adds a clever twist here. O is off to the “Mysteries of the Orient” with Steven’s brother while leaving her now former master with an Asian slave. Will Yvette be a reminder for Steven of where O is now in her larger reality and the decisions she has made? Will O return? Perhaps none of these questions matter in the end, as the contract O signed was on her terms, not Steven’s. But Greene, the astute director that he is, leaves the viewer with a tantalizing thought. Is there another O film in the works?

Steven’s earlier words to O that it’s likely you never quite have what you believe you do, reflect on the totality of O, BDSM, and the state of human sexuality. That is surely the message at film’s end when Greene reminds his audience that submissives are free to walk away in today’s D/s world.

But a final thought is added.

“No one will ever know the truth about you,” Steven muses, thinking of O. “They look at you and see their dreams, not yours.” O transcends the object of desire; she is the huntress for her own erotic satisfaction, using a beguiling submissiveness as one of the arrows in her quiver. That she has choices is the greater message of feminism and BDSM in pornography today.

 

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