Revealing All

A few weeks ago I watched the documentaries A Life in Dirty Movies and Bettie Page Reveals All, on Netflix.

The first was about Joseph W Sarno, who directed scads of low budget sexploitation films in the 1960s and 1970s with just enough erotic content to fill the seats, but not enough to get banned. Sarno directed many of these films in Sweden, and was presented as being more interested in imitating the style of Ingmar Bergman than delivering the titillation his customers expected. As censorship was relaxed, he assumed pseudonyms to direct more explicit films but eventually found himself out of date in the era of noplot hardcore loops. The film is mostly conversations between Sarno and his wife Peggy, who acted in over a dozen of the early films, as they try to find backing for a new hardcore film. Peggy is sharp enough to notice that Sarno is still writing screenplays with characters dialing rotary phones, just one example of how far behind the times he has become, but neither is really prepared for the terrain of the modern hardcore business. Sarno died soon after these interviews.

Bettie Page Reveals All was largely stock footage built around an old audio interview with the Pin-Up Queen of the Universe, herself. Much of what she said confirmed or paralleled the events in the 2005 biopic The Notorious Bettie Page, starring Gretchen Mol, but she gave a lot more background. Page seems to have been an uncomplicated woman who greatly enjoyed sex, was cheerful while being photographed naked, but wouldn’t tolerate bad language. The combination of her good looks and enthusiasm made her a star, of sorts.

Since I had watched those, Netflix led me to Hot Girls Wanted, which I watched last weekend, half on Friday evening, half on Saturday evening. The film was well-received at Sundance, but hard to watch. Afterwards I noticed that Caitlin Cruz at Talking Points Memo wrote an article, The Deep Class Issues Hidden In An Explosive New Doc About Amateur Porn:

The documentary frames amateur porn as a result of media’s oversaturation of hypersexualized images and the proliferation of selfies. But what the documentary fails to acknowledge is that wanting to leave a small town or city—places which often both sexually repressive and economically dismal—has always been part of the American story. …

What amazed me about the film was that Riley, the young man who runs the small production company out of his townhouse, let the folks from Kinsey film it. ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ was the title of one of his ads on Craigslist. Although he said some words to the effect that he actually cared about the girls, and while he didn’t appear to openly abuse them, he made it clear on interview that each girl was a replaceable commodity with a short shelf life. “Every day a new girl turns 18, and every day a new girl wants to do porn. I will never run out.”

Most interesting were the scenes between the primary subject, Tressa, and her mother, who tries to be matter-of-fact on camera but is clearly worried for her daughter – with good reason. After a few months Tressa had to have a baseball-sized inflamed cyst removed from inside her vagina. Later she shows us a 2 liter bottle-sized dildo that she says a producer wants her to accommodate. Her early videos were relatively safe lesbian sex or heterosexual intercourse with condoms, but once she was no longer fresh meat she finds herself relegated to scenes with ‘internal cum shots’, requiring morning after pills and then later in the niche of sadistic, “abuse porn” with gag-inducing forced oral sex. Presumably Riley was OK with all of this.

At some point we notice that Tressa has a boyfriend, Kendall. He talks about having routine sex before meeting her, but I don’t recall if he was an actor (the talent), or not. Kendall was initially OK with her porn career, but soon looks pretty down in the mouth and wants her to get out. And we’re all glad when she listens to him. She figures she earned $25,000 in three months, but because of doctor’s bills and buying her own fetish costuming only has $2,000 left.

Others last a few months longer. Although they all initially claim to be happy to be paid to do what they like doing anyway, another girl, Rachel, complains about the content, “It’s always your first time. You’re dumb as hell and pretend like you need 500 dollars. So you’re going to get this random dude who you’d never have sex with in real life and have sex with him and say things you’d never say and do things you’d never do. It’s all about the guy getting off. The girl is just there to help.” I think Rachel lasted six months.

Coincidentally, Emma Sulkowicz, who became famous for carrying a mattress to all her classes – and her graduation – at Columbia to protest her rape, has just released a performance video of what looks like a rape. Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol is an eight minute video – from four separate, simultaneous camera angles – of Sulkowicz and some man entering a dorm room, undressing, climbing into bed, having consensual sex on a bare mattress. Suddenly, he starts slapping her face hard, clasping her throat and pinning her limbs while she cries out. He leaves, she makes up the bed and goes to sleep.

She advises that it is not a representation of the Columbia rape, and asks that no one watch the video without her consent.

Do not watch this video if your motives would upset me, my desires are unclear to you, or my nuances are indecipherable.

You might be wondering why I’ve made myself this vulnerable. Look—I want to change the world, and that begins with you, seeing yourself. If you watch this video without my consent, then I hope you reflect on your reasons for objectifying me and participating in my rape, for, in that case, you were the one who couldn’t resist the urge to make Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol about what you wanted to make it about: rape.

Please, don’t participate in my rape. Watch kindly.

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