I think we can all agree that modern depictions of the porn industry’s sordid and dark underbelly peaked at Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. But as a rich topic that’s intriguing, not only for the lucrative and ever-evolving nature of the industry, but for the characters and people that have been a part of it, of course cinema has had its fair share of films devoted to just what really goes on between the sheets and behind the scenes.
And this week, Rob Epstein’s Lovelace rolls into theaters, telling the biographical story of Linda Lovelace in a movie “about the chasm between public perception and private experience.” But with a plethora of interesting and entertaining films that penetrate the same discussion, why not spend some time going deep into those worlds as well? So whether you’re excited for Epstein’s latest or looking for an enticing alternative, we’ve provided you with some options. From Anderson’s brilliant film to documentaries that truly take you behind the scenes, and a bit of everything in between, here are some porn-centric films to enjoy this weekend.
"Few films have been more matter-of-fact, even disenchanted, about sexuality. Adult films are a business here, not a dalliance or a pastime, and one of the charms of "Boogie Nights” is the way it shows the everyday backstage humdrum life of porno filmmaking…Boogie Nights has the quality of many great films, in that it always seems alive. A movie can be very good and yet not draw us in, not involve us in the moment-to-moment sensation of seeing lives as they are lived. As a writer and director, Paul Thomas Anderson is a skilled reporter who fills his screen with understated, authentic details…In examining the business of catering to lust, Boogie Nights demystifies its sex (that’s probably one reason it avoided the NC-17 rating). Mainstream movies use sex like porno films do, to turn us on. Boogie Nights abandons the illusion that characters are enjoying sex; in a sense, it’s about manufacturing a consumer product. By the time the final shot arrives and we see what made the Colonel stare, there is no longer any shred of illusion that it is anything more than a commodity. And in Dirk Diggler’s most anguished scene, as he shouts at Jack Horner, "I’m ready to shoot my scene RIGHT NOW!” we learn that those who live by the sword can also die by it."
Inside Deep Throat
"The movie uses new and old interviews and newsreel footage to remember a time when porn was brand-new. In my 1973 review of Deep Throat, written three days after a police raid on the Chicago theater showing it, I wrote: "The movie became ‘pornographic chic’ in New York before it was busted. Mike Nichols told Truman Capote he shouldn’t miss it, and then the word just sort of got around: This is the first stag film to see with a date."…As for Deep Throat, it remembers a time before pornography was boring, and a climate in which non-pornographic films might consider bolder sexual content. It has some colorful characters, including a retired Florida exhibitor whose wife provides a running commentary on everything he says. And it tells us where they are now: Damiano is comfortably retired, Lovelace died in a traffic accident, and her co-star Harry Reems is a recovering substance abuser who now works as a realtor in Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival."
Behind the Green Door
“There’s a rumor that Stanley Kubrick once considered making a big budget pornographic film just to show people how it should be done. I’m not sure it would have worked. Hard-core pornography has a way of moving beyond eroticism and into images of clinical detail. I’ve always found soft-core movies more erotic.As for the scenes in Behind the Green Door, the least you can say of them, I suppose, is that they’re incredible. The plot (if I may misuse the word) involves a series of fantasies in which Miss Chambers is forced to undergo public humiliation at an orgy attended by various freaks. She puts up a token resistance for about seven seconds, after which we get an hour of surrender. Who knows? It might have been more interesting if she had resisted.”
"Rashomon was told with great clarity; we were always sure whose version we were seeing, and why. Wonderland is told through a bewildering tap-dance on the timeline, with lots of subtitles that say things like ‘Four months earlier’ or ‘July 1, 1981.’ There are so many of these titles, and the movie’s chronology is so shuffled, that they become more frustrating than helpful. The titles of course reflect the version of the facts they introduce, so that a given event might or might not have happened ‘Three weeks later.’ Actors separated from chronology have their work cut out for them. A performance can’t build if it starts at the end and circles in both directions toward the beginning. Yet Val Kilmer is convincing as John Holmes, especially when he pinballs from one emotion to another; we see him charming, ugly, self-pitying, paranoid, and above all in need of a fix. Holmes, acting under the name ‘Johnny Wadd,’ made a thousand hard-core pornos (according to this movie) or more than 2,500 (according to the Web site). But by the time of the action, drugs have replaced sex as his obsession and occupation, and Kilmer does a good job of showing how an addict is always really thinking about only one thing."
"Production values are thin, a sense of time and place barely indicated (entire production was shot in Toronto, hardly a good double for S.F.), and one only has to think of Boogie Nights to realize how much texture and feeling can be summoned from such similarly seedy material. But the brother angle does give this story a distinctive dimension, and the brothers Estevez and Sheen, their pates shaved to help them represent the odd-looking Mitchells, do an uncanny, genuinely impressive job. The family tidbits offered up, including the fact that the Mitchells’ aging parents were so supportive that they attended the premieres of their boys’ films, help suggest their skewed moral sense, and small hints of affection, distrust and other emotions, some no doubt real between Estevez and Sheen, accumulate to create a credible portrait of a deeply problematic sibling relationship."
"Orgazmo, a comedy by South Park co-creator Trey Parker, is the very soul of sophomorism. It is callow, gauche, obvious and awkward, and designed to appeal to those with similar qualities. It stars Parker himself as Elder Joe Young, a Mormon missionary who agrees to appear in a porn film in order to raise $20,000 so that he can be married in the temple in Salt Lake City. True to the film’s sophomorism, it is not a satire of Mormonism, but simply uses Mormons in the conviction that their seriousness will be funny to gapejaws in the audience–to whom all sincerity is threatening, and therefore funny. Orgazmo was made before Trey Parker and Matt Stone became famous for the South Park cable cartoon program. (There is an even earlier film, Cannibal: The Musical, which is unseen by me and has an excellent chance of remaining so.) South Park is elegant, in its way: A self-contained animated universe that functions as a laboratory to conduct experiments in affronting the values of viewers, who, if they held them, would not be watching. I like South Park. It has wit. I guess Orgazmo was a stage the boys had to go through. They’re juniors now."
The People Vs. Larry Flint
"…Forman constructs a fascinating biopic about a man who went from rags to riches by never overestimating the taste of his readers. If you question the dimensions of Hustler’s success, reflect that a modern skyscraper towers in Los Angeles, proclaiming FLYNT PUBLICATIONS from its rooftop…For Flynt, played by Woody Harrelson, Hustler was like winning the lottery. He was a Kentucky moonshiner’s son who ran away from home and eventually ran strip clubs in Cincinnati. There he found the love of his life: Althea Leasure (Courtney Love), a bisexual stripper who bluntly told him, "You are not the only person who has slept with every woman in this club." Hustler’s first publicity breakthrough came when Flynt printed nude photos of Jacqueline Onassis, a coup so sensational it forced the media (and the public) to notice the magazine. "The People vs. Larry Flynt" shows Flynt running a loose editorial ship in which his brother Jimmy (Brett Harrelson), hangers-on and assorted strippers and hookers seem to publish the magazine by committee. Milos Forman’s other films include "Amadeus" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," both about inspired misfits with the courage of their eccentricity. Now Larry Flynt is another. Who else could have so instinctively combined idealism and cash, declaring at a press conference, "Americans for a Free Press is me. Who do you think is paying for this show?"
Exhausted: John C. Holmes The Real Story
A 1981 documentary about the titular porn star who claimed to have slept with over 14,000 women, gave a darker look behind the green door into the excessive and saddening world of sex and wealth of the 1970s porn scene. Listen to Paul Thomas Anderson’s entertaining and wonderful commentary.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
"Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks make a lovable couple; she’s pretty and goes one-for-one on the bleep language, and Rogen, how can I say this, is growing on me, the big lug. Will this movie offend you? Somehow Kevin Smith’s very excesses defuse the material. He’s like the guy at a party who tells dirty jokes so fast, Dangerfield-style, that you laugh more at the performance than the material. He’s always coming back for more. Once during a speech at the Indie Spirits, he actually sounded like he was offering his wife as a door prize. Anything for a laugh. Nobody laughed. They all looked at each other sort of stunned. You can’t say he didn’t try."
"The man is played by George C. Scott, the girl by Season Hubley. They have moments in the movie when they talk, really talk, about what’s important to them and we’re reminded of how much movie dialogue just repeats itself, movie after movie, year after year. There’s a scene in "Hardcore" where the man (who is a strict Calvinist) and the prostitute (who began selling herself in her early teens) talk about sex, religion, and morality, and we’re almost startled by the belief and simple poetry in their words. This relationship, between two people with nothing in common, who meet at an intersection in a society where many have nothing in common, is at the heart of the movie, and makes it important. It is preceded and followed by another of those story ideas that Paul Schrader seems to generate so easily. His movies are about people with values, in conflict with society. He wrote Taxi Driver and Rolling Thunder and wrote and directed Blue Collar. All three are about people prepared to defend (with violence, if necessary) their steadfast beliefs…The movie’s ending is a mess, a combination of cheap thrills, a chase, and a shoot-out, as if Schrader wasn’t quite sure how to escape from the depths he found. The film’s last ten minutes, in fact, are mostly action, the automatic resolution of the plot; the relationship between Scott and Hubley ends without being resolved, and in bringing his story to a "satisfactory" conclusion, Schrader doesn’t speak to the deeper and more human themes he’s introduced. Too bad. But Hardcore, flawed and uneven, contains moments of pure revelation."