As we learn watching I’m a Porn Star, the new movie from actor turned documentarian Charlie David, pornography in its various forms generates $13 billion in sales each year. This makes the porn industry more successful than the music industry and nearly as successful as the mainstream film industry. I’m a Porn Star (available now on DVDand streaming from Canteen Outlaws) exposes — pun intended — several of the popular names behind current gay porn.
David kicks things off with a brief but masterfully edited (by Diego Gomez) history of gay porn, which actually began in the 1920’s with a bold French film that depicted men having sex with other men as well as with women. This doc within the doc also notes the contributions of Bob Mizer, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol and Wakefield Poole, as well as the challenges presented to the industry by the AIDS pandemic and the more recent rise of pornographic websites, of which there are currently more than 300 million.
Viewers are then introduced (well, at least those not previously aware of their, ahem, talents) to Colby Jansen, Johnny Rapid, Rocco Reed and Brent Everett. Graphic highlights of their work including “money shots” are featured, but it is their personal backgrounds and stories that I found most revelatory. Jansen was a college undergraduate in physics, served in the Marine Corps (and admits to having killed people on behalf of the US) and worked at the Pentagon before starting to work in porn. He considers himself straight and is married to post-op transsexual porn actress Gia Darling. When not filming, Jansen is currently studying for his MBA.
Rapid is also straight and has a committed girlfriend. However, he defines himself as respectful and open-minded and has burned up many TV and computer screens as bottom to his frequent co-star, top Rafael Alencar (whom we learn is a dentist by day). Reed, meanwhile, defines himself as bisexual after first appearing in straight porn but eventually finding stardom as a gay porn bottom. Unlike most performers in the industry, Reed studied acting after discovering theatre while in high school although he first wanted to be a professional basketball player. Jansen, Rapid and Reed all comment on the “overwhelming number” of heterosexual men who do gay porn, though the obvious draw is that their producers typically pay more than straight porn producers. Plus, as Reed says with a chuckle, “Everyone’s a little bit gay.” A psychiatrist also weighs in on what draws men and women to do porn. (Editor's Note: both Jansen and Rapid have said they are bisexual in other interviews, while Reed infamously stated "I am not or never have been gay" upon his retirement from the porn industry last year.)
The film’s fourth subject, Brent Everett, deserves kudos for not only being the one self-proclaimed gay man featured but for also being the only performer who told his parents he was doing porn without them first accidentally discovering it for themselves. As a younger performer, his openness largely reflects his generation. Everett also reveals that his parents are swingers and more open-minded themselves. Impressively and amusingly, his are the only parents to date who have accompanied a performer to the annual gay video awards, of which Everett is a recipient.
I’m a Porn Star paints a generally rosy picture and avoids going into the more unpleasant aspects of the industry like the risk of HIV transmission, drug abuse and performer suicides. I have no doubt though that this documentary will find an eager audience.
Palm Springs’ Cinema Diverse Film Festival, taking place this weekend, marks the end each year of California’s LGBT fest circuit. As such, it largely screens movies that have already premiered at other festivals but it will have a few unique offerings. Among these are the world premiere of Matthew Ladensack’s Saugatuck Cures, which is presumably set in Saugatuck, Michigan, one of my fave gay getaways.
Also being screened is the dark thriller Violence of the Mind, which I was able to view in advance. It follows the exploits of attractive thrill killer Max (Jon Fleming) and his cute young protégé, Sebastian (Ryan Kibby, who rather hilariously but probably unintentionally goes cross-eyed whenever he “dies” during the film’s numerous fantasy sequences). After a few tentative efforts, the pair regularly begins to recruit hustlers online to have sex with and murder, not necessarily in that order. “I think it’s so hot that we’re exploring this together,” Sebastian excitedly confesses to Max, as if their actions were merely some light kink between the two of them.
The body count piles up, the script (by Daniel Rhyder) gets monotonous and the whole, very bloody film (directed by Alex Pucci) is pretty pointless in the end. It is set in LA/Hollywood but cuts awkwardly, for those of us in the know, to numerous Palm Springs locations like (the highly-recommended) Trio restaurant. What makes Violence of the Mind slightly worth recommending is its cast, which includes some familiar gay indie faces, and the unusually high quality of the acting for the gay horror genre. True, Kristian Steel, seemingly emulating Bronson Pinchot’s Serge from the Beverly Hills Cop movies, is an embarrassment as Max’s nosy, gay Latino neighbor but Shoniqua Shandai is refreshingly acerbic as a sassy co-worker of Sebastian. The film becomes truly and winningly engaging whenever she is onscreen, however briefly.
Speaking of sassy but moving from movies to music, we encounter singer-actress Isabel Rose. Her new album Trouble in Paradise, just released on CDand iTunes, is a cocktail party-ready treat. Working with an impressive array of Grammy winners like Chris Lord-Alge and Al Schmitt as well as popular remixers Frankie Knuckles and Eric Kupper, Rose channels 1960’s Las Vegas via opening track “Lot of Livin’ to Do” (from the musical Bye Bye Birdie), “Never Satisfied” and the Peter Gunn theme (who knew it had lyrics?). She covers more recent/contemporary songs including Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” (popularized in the 1970’s by The Captain & Tennille), “Reflections” and “Miracle,” the latter written by Michael Buble collaborator Alan Chang. Trouble in Paradise is definitely worth a download or purchase, and be sure to also check out Rose’s terrific YouTube video co-starring drag divas Hedda Lettuce, Ivy Winters and Paige Turner!
I’m a Porn Star: B
Violence of the Mind: C
Trouble in Paradise: B+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.