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The 5 Ways Hollywood Gets Porn Wrong

The Playlist By Ben Brock | The Playlist August 7, 2013 at 1:02PM

Hollywood has a dirty secret... Alright, Hollywood has thousands and thousands of dirty secrets, but it has one that's extra-dirty, and extra-secret. It's this: it's not the only movie business in America, or California, or even L.A. Just up the road, there's a whole other system of studios and stars and sound-stages, and Hollywood really, really doesn't like to talk about it.
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The Girlfriend Experience

3. By Flirting With Porn Stars, But Not Going All The Way
Once in a while (more so recently, but still not much), a cinematic director actually hires a porn performer and inevitably, a ripple of discussion is set off about whether it's possible for someone to make the professional leap from porn to mainstream movies. The answer so far seems to be "no," but not through any fault on the actor's part. Because when pornstars get offered a mainstream role, they usually end up getting screwed.

Sasha Grey, then the industry's biggest star, had a good try in 2009 with Steven Soderbergh's “The Girlfriend Experience," and though mainstream stardom didn't follow, neither did disaster. Previous attempts at this kind of breakout (notably Nina Hartley's) had tended to involve B-movies, not indie flicks by major, respected and interesting directors. But still, Grey was hired to play an escort in a movie directed by a man who got famous for a film called “sex lies and videotape." Reviews were sniffy and she hasn't made much headway in the mainstream since. (Her most notable role afterward was an arc playing herself on "Entourage").

Perhaps the biggest name in the industry since Grey is James Deen, who is now attempting to pull off the same trick in “The Canyons.” Although Deen has a higher profile than most in the XXX industry, it is looking like his participation in Paul Schrader's movie will be a one-off lark. His day job is still whipping it out on camera, and it doesn't seem like the doors are being blown open by offers for Deen to join any other notable mainstream productions anytime soon.

Still, Grey and Deen did better than some. Also, here's a weird fact about Nicholas Winding Refn's beloved “Drive”: two porn stars had parts in the film that were cut before it ever hit cinemas. Apparently, stamping on a man's head 17 times was something audiences were expected to love, but sympathetic characters played by porn actresses weren't, and on that assumption, they never made it into the final film. Which is symptomatic of maybe the biggest problem of all...

Zack & Miri Make A Porno

4. By Being Scared to Talk About Sex
The idea that Hollywood is prudish is hardly a new one, nor is the specific claim that Hollywood is far less comfortable with graphic sexual content than it is with graphic violence: see Kirby Dick's brilliant documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” for the perniciousness of these double standards. But at the risk of stating the obvious, it's a little hard to make a movie about porn if you don't want to show—or even talk about—sex.

Back in 2008, Kevin Smith ran up against this when he made the sex comedy “Zack and Miri Make A Porno" and discovered that many places wouldn't display the title of the film or use this poster. This is Kevin Smith we're talking about, of course. As a man who loves a good tantrum, this news was music to his ears, and he courted it, but it was still illustrative of just how jumpy people get around the p-word. When Smith released “Red State” two years later, an exuberantly violent film about homophobia, no-one batted an eye.

Boogie Nights

5. By Pretending Porn Has Nothing To Say About Hollywood
So, to recap: no-one wants to talk about porn, most of the films mentioned above just aren't very good... Oh, and most of them also lost money, sometimes spectacularly. ‘Bucky Larson,’ in a rare bit of satisfying box-office justice, was a catastrophic, career-wrecking bomb. 2009's “Middle Men," a true-story flick about internet porn financiers that starred Luke Wilson and Giovanni Ribisi and was briefly touted as a counterpart to “The Social Network” in the “internet start-up tycoons” genre, actually turned out to be not just a massive bomb but a scam: the real-life basis for Wilson's character financed the film using the money from the very same company that the film was about, and when it bombed, it triggered a string of lawsuits and accusations. Maybe producers are gun-shy not just because the subject is considered both immoral and embarrassing, but because, historically, these movies lose money?

But for a very brief period there they weren't gun-shy. For reasons passing understanding, between late 1996 and late 1997, a clutch of brilliant films about pornography were released to choruses of controversy and admiration. Milos Forman made “The People vs. Larry Flynt," a biopic of the eccentric mogul behind Hustler magazine, masterfully embodied by Woody Harrelson; David Cronenberg released the disturbing and complex “Crash”, which deals with fetish porn; and Paul Thomas Anderson's “Boogie Nights," a portrait of the '70s porn industry, reached our screens (honorable mentions also go to Spike Lee's “Girl 6” and Betty Thomas' “Private Parts”).

“Boogie Nights”—which was nominated for three Oscars—expertly displays the excesses, triumphs and disasters of Hollywood using the industry just up the valley. In doing so, it reveals the real reason the movie industry doesn't like to think about the other movie industry: because the similarities unsettle “legitimate” film-makers. “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Crash,” meanwhile, used porn to dissect and examine all manner of things—freedom and American ideals in 'Flynt,' violence and obsession in “Crash.” They're complex, eloquent, genuinely adult movies, and their insights haven't been equalled by anything in the list of more recent flicks above. Which is a real shame, because in the present era of radical technological, sexual and social transformation, it's hard to imagine a better starting point, a better prism through which to examine the ways the world is changing. 

If there was a single, highly visible, sometimes glamorous, sometimes edgy, headline-grabbing business intimately involved with technology, money and human relationships that didn't involve people taking their clothes off and didn't seem uncomfortably close to home, you can bet Hollywood would be all over it, and doing much better it than they are with this one. 2013 may be a year with more than few options at the multiplex and arthouse about porn, but the quality hasn't changed much.


This article is related to: Features, Feature, Lovelace


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