Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mais où sont les chattes d'antan?, Dept.

Marilyn Chambers. Seka. Linda Lovelace. Desireé Cousteau. Georgina Spelvin. Vanessa del Rio. Traci Lords. Juliet Anderson. Lisa Deleeuw. Annie Sprinkle. Annette Haven. Bambi Woods. Ginger Lynn. (And, thank yew, I hadn't forgotten, John Leslie. John Holmes. Ron Jeremy. Harry Reems. Johnnie Keyes. Jamie Gillis.)

What is the adult film industry equivalent of "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!"?

And who among us does not have fond memories of pouring fondant to the celluloid escapades of these pornothespians? So many handymen called to service a lady's plumbing. So many girls in Camaros with fellatious notions of how to settle a speeding ticket. So much money shot. Disinfectant-scented darkroom glimpses into a parallel world of amazingly easy pleasure, only two bits a thrill.

(I once heard that the real difference between porn and non-porn is that the narrative of the former unspools in real time. So, you accompany the hung plumber driving crosstown to his new client's house. Take a right. Down the road a ways. Stop light. Round the circle. Straight past the laundromat and the liquor store. There's a spot in front of the house. Park. Take the keys out of the ignition. Walk to the front door. Ring the bell. Denying the existence of the jump cut certainly helped these porn Griffiths and Vertovs pad three or four suckyfucky scenes into feature-length films.)

Even now, as porn, like heartburn medication, is more commonly available than at any time in human history, it has, for your sobsister, lost its charm, its mystery, its creaky Americana. The stars of the '60s and '70s were human, individual and distinctive in a way that finds few equivalents in the modern day. Not to romanticize the job of grinding out dozens, hundreds of loops. Or forget the difficult lives some of these actors experienced before, during or after their film careers. But, there's something I love about the products that tumble forth at the creation of an art form. Like early sound musicals. Or 1939 comic books. In that formative period when any action repeated becomes a rule. Just as the unanticipated possibility of real profit presents itself to the moneymen. And those impromptu rules become conventions and then cliches.

So, just as Ruby Keeler's tap solo in 42nd Street looks like someone trying to shake shoeboxes off her feet, so, too, does the dialogue in these seminal (*ha ha*) adult films sound as if it were a Warsaw Pact translation of a Love, American Style episode being read by those people down the street who really need to buy shades for their bathroom. But the charm of both genres is undiminished--if anything, enhanced--by the wide-eyed novelty and earnest clumsiness. They are camp in the best way.


What costs a dollar apiece?
Gershwin and Porter by Lee Wiley and a great early Steve Winwood retrospective and a Blue Note 1949-59 best-of and a rerelease of the first Crown Heights Affair album ("You Can't Bend My Super Rod": how had I never heard this song?) and Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret and Mandrill's Just Outside of Town, all and each on glorious, frangible vinyl


So, where was I...? Men's penises, or Men spenis es..., from Catullus 50. Yes, vintage pornography. Unlike our current enlightened times, wherein parents and pillars of the community can post daily MPEG updates to without risking the stocks, flogging and transportation, in the Olden Days people actually felt shame at being associated with, not to mention participating in, public copulation before any audience, much less a national one. More informed commentators than I will have spilt useful ink on how the various '60s revolutions midwived the adult film industry. But it's still worth noting just how outré appearing in porn was at the time.

For perspective, this period fell in the vast gap between the 8mm domino-mask'd cavalier of greatgrandfather's smoker fame and the 21st-century 18-year-old, his Flip and oral "Brytny" in his Rover. At that time, to do this work as a profession, as the thing one did to live, was to be little better than a whore at a time when whores didn't enjoy book deals and talk show seats. Whereas Gypsy Rose Lee, by dint of her style, savvy and smarts, became acceptable in the way a reformed madam did, the women of porn offered no coyness or tease. They just fucked men and women and black men for money. On camera. For a living. Between stretches of plot and dialogue that were either crafted to ape Hollywood's infinitely more prestigious products or to avoid courtroom claims of gratuitous prurience. In contrast to our own enlightened present, when the "leaked" sex tape is a savvy career move, at that time, a sexually explicit film of a national figure, hot-eyed and moaning around the veined pipe she's sucking, would have been ruinous, suicidal, unimaginable. Imagine, for example, a Sophia Loren sex tape.

I'll be here when you're done.

All set? So, the fact that these people were alienated enough from society at large to say, "I'm going to let a bunch of guys fuck me onscreen, and, with any luck, millions will see me" was pretty radical as a departure from societal norms and expectations. The extent to which the actors were abused or abused themselves as a function of this work seems to have been widely divergent. (For example, were drugs used for pleasure, for escape or for coercion?) Yet, the films exude enough rough fun transcending the paucity of resources to engage the viewer as genre narrative in the midst of forming the conventions that would define the genre.

Pornography made the VCR and pornography drove the Internet, building on the work of these people. And I think that the fact that some freaks in San Francisco and Los Angeles contributed substantially to the popularization of two of the three transformative entertainment-driven technologies of the latter half of the 20th century (portable music from the Walkman on, being the third) is pretty fucking remarkable. And as unlikely as the outsider sons of immigrants pooling pushcart and pin money to build the dominant American contribution to world culture of the last 100 years.

So, yes, the Porn Pioneers. Doff your hat or boff your cat if you see one of these august personages in the street. Others metamorphosed their crayon-and-oaktag world into Bukkake Bitchez VIII: Ass Candy. Sic transit Gloria Leonard, and all that. But they had faces then, if occasionally streaked with the white tracers of luv. They are the Bessie Loves and Dick Powells of their form. And just because their form involved a few more threeways than most cultural innovations does not in any way diminish the significance of their contribution.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Homosecular, amirite?!?", Dept.

People--and by "people," I mean "the nagging voices inside my head"--ask me, "'Ey, sobsister! What for you gotta be hatin' the Catholic Church with-a the white heat of a thousand-a suns?" And I respond, "Hey, Mr. Bacciagalupe! How's business?", then I grab a bright red apple from his stand, he pretend-spars with me and I go to work in my brand-new '52 Packard.

Well, here's one reason! The Good Ol' Catholic Church is opposing Choc City's measure to allow same-sex marriage. No surprise, right? Because the cassock set are down with the paedo playtime, but consenting adults in a relationship where the balance of power is negotiated? Fuck that shit five ways to Magdala! They've even got a note from Jesus saying--and I paraphrase liberally--"Fuck that shit five ways to Magdala!"

But, here's the kicker: not only is B-b-b-benny's Man-Boy Love Klatsch opposing this measure due to its longstanding policy of being to basic human decency what thalidomide was to eugenics, they're threatening to walk out on the social service programs they run for the city. Because of some higher religious principle, doubtless no doubt...? Oh, wait, here's what the WashPost says, it's because "...they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians."

So, the RC Church, purported beacon of righteousness since Western Civ was a pimply J.D., is willing to say, in front of God an' everybody, "By the blood of Our Savior whom, we fervently believe, died for the salvation of all men, we will fight for our right to be able to discriminate openly against a group that has does us no ill and to withhold our charity on a bitch's whim."

Thank you, Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, thank you. Mainly for reminding me precisely why I despise your establishment with what my friend Bacciagalupe calls, "the white heat of a thousand suns." The difference between, say, you and any hardballing Wall Street buyout shark is that you're just so much better at reducing your downside exposure, simply by speaking the mumbo and the jumbo and basking in the backlight of that big rose window called the autumn sky.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ontogeny Monetizes Philogeny, Dept.

Right, so we're parked in front of the Hypnogogue, preparing for an hour's avarice as Antiques Roadshow visits Louisville, KY Jelly, to gorge on the burgoo of bluegrass-state detritus. And this ad comes on.

Well, it's not an "ad"-ad because this is Public Television. Parked above the crass commercial concerns that drive the Big 4 networks to prostitute the core of integrity that would otherwise serve as their lodestar, Public Television won't suck Mammon's teat for the sake of a few greasy, cokey, crumpled Franklins. No, instead, Public Television features 60-second art films that depict a young woman's bittersweet coming of age thanks to the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive of the Subaru Outback. Less of the coming of age part, actually.

In the background, we hear a young girl speaking to someone, as we're shown a black-and-white photograph of a woman holding a camera. In her slacks, bold belt, tucked-in sweater and playfully defiant expression, she evokes Carole Lombard on location in the Southwest. A thin, red line drops from the lower edge of her photo and veers sharp left to connect to a warmtoned color photo of the same camera being used by a woman in an Ali MacGraw Love Story hat. The clothes she wears, the background of the walls--the walls of a home, in the pictured prelapsarian era we'll call The Good '70s--her simple makeup, these all speak to a less-direct but no-less-consciously asserted female presence than that of the first photo. The thin red line--a vibrant line of descent, certainly-- then drops to a live-action, gauzy shot of a little girl, sprawled on a carpet, next to the camera we've already seen twice. She's the one whose voice we've been hearing. She's been speaking to her dolls, the ones she's arranging for the photo she's about take. "Say 'Cheese'..." she intones with all the calculated sweetness a professional actress of age six can be instructed to summon by "creatives" who may not be entirely sensitive to how like the uncanny shudder that a corpse evokes is this counterfeiting of child's imagination.

But somewhere between the first indistinct words we hear this child say and the last instruction we hear her offer, an adult woman's voice takes command of our earholes to thoughtfully inform us, "Some of the most important things passed down through generations have nothing to do with DNA. Liberty Mutual. Proud sponsor of Antiques Roadshow."

This is the point at which your sobsister's eyes widen to saucer size, mouth to gape like an off-season Tunnel of Love.

If you show me images of three generations of women--joined one to the other by what I can only construe as a stylized bloodline--each closely drawn to photography, then my first thought is actually not, "Oh, right, they're connected by their ownership of this object." No. It's more along the lines of "My GOD, is that a photography gene or a shiver of great white sharks?!?"

At least this non-commercial is being more honest than the show it "makes possible" as regards Antiques Roadshow society's valuation of the inherited, be it tangible or intangibly small. Every single bouffanted mercantilist who shleps a 300-lb *fingers crossed* authentic Colonial tallboy into the Father Coughlin Memorial Convention Center in downtown Saginaw and hears that she is potentially ten thousand bananas richer...and that's a conservative estimate...may say, "Oh, but we would never sell it!" but surely thinks, "Saint BART'S, baay-beee!!"

The disconnect between and the diametricity of the visual message and the verbal message. I imagine that those who conceptualized and executed this non-commercial were unaware that its talking point complements its visuals as well as four-alarm chili does a wedding dress. The equivalent of hearing the story of the Good Samaritan, and your take-away is that those who don't get involved are truly the Elect of the Lord.

Liberty Mutual, I know nothing about beyond the fact that it's an insurance company and, as such, makes its money by doing you out of as much recompense as its lawyers say it can do and still avoid being bumbusted in litigation. But absolutely nothing about its association with this exercise in cognitive dissonance gives me confidence that, as a corporate entity, it has the taste or sense that God gave a drunken sailor in a two-buck whorehouse. So, you may want to look elsewhere for that auto insurance.

I occasionally wonder about the people who work at ad agencies. Do they have magic wands they wave at their clients? Or do they possess m4d Jedi skillz? "This commercial is not asinine." "Your corporate messaging will be clearer thanks to this commercial." "You want to bring us a six-pack of hookers and a silver bucket of blow."

Here's the referenced non-commercial, along with its companion non-commercial involving a violin, three generations of Black people who all play the violin and the fact that they are joined solely by their ownership of the violin, not by any quote-unquote transmitted genetic predisposition.

Do you think when the ad people and the insurance company executives responsible for this paradigm of televisual non-commerce look in a mirror, they see themselves or only the room behind them?