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After Porn Ends(2010)

The unfortunate thing about a film as honest as After Porn Ends is how disingenuously it can be used by those with an anti-porn bias. The Huffington Post declared that the film “reveals the dark side” of the porn industry, an angle that LA Weekly and Inquisitr, solely based on a viewing of the trailer, echoed—as though porn is usually regarded by the public as harmless and wholesome as Disney films.  But After Porn Ends, much like porn itself, embraces all comers. (Heh heh insert stupid pun here.) There’s room for the born-again Christians who crusade against the industry on a whole, just as there’s room for former performers who say “I’m happy I did it” and “[being in porn] has changed me for the better.” Each subject is given plenty of nonjudgmental camera time, salacious details are few and far between, and there’s a refreshing lack of ominous or plaintive music played over the dialogue. Aside from one mean-spirited moment of editing, when Mary Carey is shown checking with someone off-camera to make sure she pronounces “unprecedented” correctly before talking about her run for California governor, the filmmakers seem respectful and gentle with their subjects. How could they be otherwise? One of film’s focuses is how stigmatized performers are by the same civilians who regularly consume their work.

Daddy (2014)

adaddycoverMadison Young’s memoir Daddy tackles head-on the daddy issues sex workers are always accused of having. Young skillfully and responsibly presents her journey from a little girl who misses her daddy to an accomplished gallery owner, feminist erotic film producer, author, and “sex positive Tasmanian devil.” She begins by tackling the issue of consent: yours. “I cannot hear the consenting ‘yes’ seep from your lips,” she writes, “but by the simple turn of this page you will be physically consenting to this journey, this scene, between you and I.”

I remember first hearing of Young years ago when a friend quoted her now-famous line, “How many anal scenes does it take to open a feminist art space?” Young made her place in the few areas of the sex industry I have no experience with: San Francisco, the mecca of sex worker culture; pro-subbing on Kink.com; and shooting dozens of anal scenes for mainstream porn. Although our experiences are different, I found myself nodding and occasionally clapping through every interview and article of hers I read over the years.

Usually, I am eager to read sex worker memoirs because of the ways that other peoples’ stories of sex work echo and offer new perspectives on my own experiences. Madison Young’s book was different: I had no idea what it was like to be a pro-sub porn star in a full time D/S relationship, and I wanted to know.

The first thing I noticed was the beauty and honesty of the writing. Young obviously has major skills with words and relating to an audience. She promises to lay her “heart bare, simple, raw, beating, human, and emotional with truth of honesty and vulnerability, fear and heroism,” and she delivers.

Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing (2011)

Jennifer Hayashi Danns says she wrote Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing “to give a voice to women who have direct experience of lap dancing but are often unheard, and to peel away some of the gloss surrounding this industry”—a laudable goal in an age in which pole-dancing classes are offered at every gym but the exploitative aspects of the strip club industry go largely unexamined in the media.

Danns is herself a former lap dancer and the first section of the book, “Experiences,” includes a series of personal stories by dancers, all of which speak complex truths about working in the industry. Most of the contributing dancers started stripping because it was the only way they could pay for college, and their stories chart familiar trajectories: starting out clueless, learning to make decent money, getting burnt out due to exploitative management, poor security, competitive new girls, and/or pressure to push boundaries, starting afresh at a new club, etc. Most look back on their stripping careers with mixed feelings, appreciating the financial benefits and maybe the friendships, regretting much of the rest. Some of them reflect that in hindsight they could’ve—should’ve—avoided the industry and gotten through college by taking on more debt or living more humbly—a tough choice that many people face on a daily basis.

Remedy (2014)

remedy cover“So you went domme on a dare,” a co-worker remarks to the eponymous protagonist of Remedy. It’s one of the movie’s more memorable lines. It’s also the reason I watched this flick in the first place: a dare. I challenged myself to sit through a movie about a twenty-something who lands a job as a pro-switch in a midtown Manhattan commercial dungeon even though I’d already lived that exact experience. Because it’s an incredibly specific kind of sex worker story, I anticipated that this depiction would either be inaccurate to an enraging degree, or familiar enough to require drinking away the feelings it dredged up. To put it simply: I knew that viewing this would be unpleasant, and I did it anyway. It seems Remedy (newcomer Kira Davies) and I share a certain mentality as well as a job title.

We share much more than that, actually. The movie is said to be “based on [writer and] director Cheyenne Picardo’s own experiences,” but I hadn’t anticipated the honesty of the details. Remedy goes to SMack!, a long-running fetish party in the New York scene, she meets a domme who can get her a job at a dungeon a few blocks north of the Herald Square subway stop, which is where I used to work, and then she meets the clients. Oh, the clients. Remedy’s clients are painfully real, in all their whacked-out, hairy, sweaty, groping, preachy, leering, cordial, charming, and manipulative incarnations. I don’t just mean that they’re plausible. No, despite the obligatory legal disclaimer, the resemblances to persons still quite living is undeniable for those of us who know them. I gasped as Remedy was introduced to her first client (played by the perfectly gross Chris Reilly), a certain dental fetishist familiar to everyone in the New York house scene. This movie isn’t just realistic; sitting through it was like watching my own biopic.

I admit that it’s hard to get past the shock of watching someone who looks just like you doing just what you did with the very same people you were doing it with. I admit that this two-hour movie took me nearly four booze-soaked hours to get through. I admit that I have quite a lot of feelings about it, and that I am not an impartial observer, not at all. Then again, neither is the professional critic whose only experience with the sex industry is that time he went to a strip club for a bachelor party, or the stripper who’s never set foot in a commercial dungeon.

I Know Who Killed Me (2007)

(image via imbd.com)
(image via imbd.com)

I love Lindsay Lohan. When her issue of Playboy dropped I raced to the corner store to buy it. Who doesn’t love a Disney princess gone porno? In I Know Who Killed Me, released in 2007, Lohan plays a stripper who, through a twist of events, winds up an amputee. When LiLo accepted the role everyone was scandalized, but when she scored her first D.U.I. a few months before the film’s release, it seemed that everyone’s shock about the movie was overshadowed by her lezzie-make-out-drunk-driving-panty-flashing-coke-snorting antics that summer. The film also has quite possibly the worst script ever written. But, I can’t mention this enough, Lindsay Lohan plays an disabled stripper. I don’t know how I waited this long to watch this movie.