September 13, 2005

Phenomenistas

I used to work at a comic book shop near UC Berkeley, and also had a lot of friends who liked comic books. When you work in a place where your pals covet the merchandise, they ask you to get them stuff at a discount, and you do. Some wanted the standard superhero stuff, some wanted dark modern Gothic comics, some wanted little independent black-and-white comics that you never heard of; everybody, it seemed, wanted one of the hundreds of comics from the dozens of genres that we carried.

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Now, instead of comics, I'm working in adult films; a thousand titles pass by my eyes a day, from the high-stylin' Vivid and Wicked costume opuses to the downest and dirtiest of independent-company shot-on-video in a fleabag motel, and everything in between. But everyone, and I mean everyone, wants a copy of The Fashionistas.

If you don't know what that is, you plainly haven't been watching porn; it's a veritable Gone With The Wind of adult cinema. A huge piece of engineering, it's John "Buttman" Stagliano's magnum opus (although he could well top it, considering the length of the average porn career and the creative and prolific nature of Stagliano's in particular). The DVD consists of four discs - and that's not even a collector's edition, two just for the movie, one for the extras, and one CD for the soundtrack.

Bizarrely, the plot of Fashionistas is much the same as the plot of "Cyrano de Bergerac"; the general outline is the same, although the details are necessarily different. For instance, Cyrano does not, at the end of the Edmund Rostand novel, nearly choke to death on Roxane's enormous penis. In The Fashionistas, Rocco Siffredi (a la Roxane - the object of desire) is an Italian designer being courted by an emerging fashion design company owned by Taylor St. Claire (in the Christian de Neuvillette, dumb guy role) who is hot but not that smart and thus has to rely for inspiration on the ideas of Belladonna (Cyrano - the smart guy). In order to make Bella Donna appear to be unremarkable and in the background, she is, when first seen, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, which she immediately and uncompromisingly discards.

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That said, all resemblance to Cyrano de Bergerac, and indeed to any literature at all, ends there. The real attractions in the movie, notwithstanding Belladonna's bottomless throat, are A) the fetish wear by real life fashion designer Syren, and B) the fact that Stagliano treads dangerously and maybe actionably close to making a hardcore bondage film. In addition to its content, the production values are comparable to the best of adult's efforts, which is to say Michael Ninn or the higher-end Private releases, but still not quite Hollywood mainstream quality.

Hollywood or not, though, the thing is definitely a phenomenon, the clearest indication of which is the fact that it's not only a movie, it's a Las Vegas stage extravaganza, too. By all reports, it's a combination of a softcore cable edit and a Cirque du Soleil show - occasional nudity, fashion galore, and music by Madonna, Tool, Lords of Acid, Crystal Method, and Led Zeppelin. One friend who went said it was worth the trip just to see the costumes. If you go, watch the movie first, or you won't be able to follow the plot. A key point in the film is the plucky little leather-and-latex fashion company doing everything it can to break out in the mainstream, and that is exactly what Stagliano has done by creating and producing the show, which is a tribute to the Stag's perseverance and vision. He envisioned the movie as a Vegas dance show even before it pulled in a staggering 22 AVN nominations, of which it won ten, making it the Lord of the Rings of the porn industry, and in spite of huge obstructions both cultural and technical, got the thing staged, to critical acclaim.

It hasn't inspired too many other really ambitious imitations yet; the other companies that shoot on film and aspire to plot-driven greatness aren't leaping on the huge (by porn standards) budget bandwagon, no more than usual, anyway, and they certainly haven't achieved anything like its cult status. It would be great, though, to see the industry parody its own biggest success the way it does with mainstream Hollywood movies, wouldn't it? Visions of "The Assanistas" dance in my head. One of the reasons may be the film's fetish content. We know there are rules about such things, but Stagliano may have bent them as far as they can be bent, in the Lenny Bruce/Larry Flynt sense of the word.

Although the Vegas show was carefully engineered to break no rules and offend no sensibilities, at least none that wouldn't balk at any other Strip offering, the film is a different animal. One friend, who you might call a hardened porn aficionado, was shocked, not quite sure whether or not to be offended by the heavy-duty bondage and domination mingling with the hardcore sex in "The Fashionistas".

In addition to furthering Stagliano's famed obsession with callipygian hindquarters, to the extent that there's nary a character in the movie who isn't at one time or another being asphyxiated by some shapely backside, there's a darker tone - near-rape, whips, chains, slapping, spanking and spitting all mix in a way that you probably haven't seen on film. (Or, at least, since the lawless old days of the Seventies, when you could do anything you wanted because Congress ignored porn, partly because some of them were funding it. Check out Alpha Blue Archives' reissues of Long Jeanne Silver or Anyone But My Husband for examples of stuff from the really dirty old days.) There are other movies that have taken the S&M ball and run with that theme, like Jim Powers' Dementia and Dementia 2, but none that have done so with the flair and style, not to mention budget and quality, that The Fashionistas brought to the table.

I have another friend who wants to make a "good" porn movie with a real plot, and I've always told her you couldn't do it because with, say, five fifteen-minute sex scenes, you'd only have room for fifteen minutes of plot in a ninety-minute movie. Now Stagliano has gotten around the problem by simply making the movie nearly five hours long. Let's hope porn follows his lead in producing movies that are high-quality, high-budget, and that push the envelope for people who like the unusual. -- by pweasels

September 8, 2005

Porn Star Naming Conventions

There's a moment in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights when Eddie Adams, on the verge of becoming porn's next big thing, decides to pick a stage name. He comes up with the unforgettable Dirk Diggler, a name he imagines in "bright blue neon lights with a purple outline." A porn star is born.

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The scene points to an important moment in any future porn star's career. A memorable name like Bella Donna, Jon Dough, Christy Canyon, Allysin Chaynes, porn king John Holmes's alter-ego Johnny Wadd, Jewel De Nyle or Seymore Butts can mean the difference between steady work or a very short career in the skin biz - no matter how good-looking or well-endowed you are.

Probing the annals of porn history, we find that noms de plume typically fall into a few tried and true categories. There's the cleverly memorable name, like Flick Shagwell, Heaven Lee, Cinnabunz, Tommy Gunn or the aforementioned Allysin Chaynes. Taking a page out of Bono's book, there's the evocative one-word name: Aria, Serenity, Missy, Envy, Topaz, Sierra. And just as the titles of porn movies have long parodied Hollywood product - Edward Penishands, The Good, the Bad and the Horny, Pulp Friction, Intercourse with the Vampire - there's been a recent rash of porn stars copping their mainstream counterparts' names: Dru Berrymore, Tyra Banxxx, Cindy Crawford and The Rock. And let's not forget Jonni Darko.

With the number of porn performers at an all-time high, you'd think that all the good stage names have been taken. I took up the challenge, though, and I'm pleased to tell you there are plenty more still floating in the ether. A few that I came up with: Dee Cupps, Moe Whimans, Eve Adams, Connie Lingus, and the main character from my porn screenplay "The Fornicating Professor," Dr. Beatrix Turner-Forneau. I want to hear yours too, so email me at paganjoke@yahoo.com.

When Juliet asks, "What's in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet," Shakespeare clearly didn't have porn in mind. For a long career of shagging on-screen, what's in a name can be the key ingredient. -- by Re Pete