Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Making lists about making porn


There was one reason and one reason only that Finding Bliss was on our Netflix Instant Queue at home: My wife and I have already seen every other movie about the porn industry, so might as well see this one.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, but in the last couple years, we've watched a succession of movies involving the sudden exposure of ordinary people to the sketchy world of adult entertainment. As it happens, Finding Bliss came a bit too much on the tail end of that trend to have anything new or interesting to say -- and it was pretty cheaply produced, so it resembled an actual porn in more ways than it should.

Well, you know how my mind works ... let's devote a special post to movies about porn, and while we're at it, might as well rank them. I couldn't do a top ten, because I could only think of nine movies I'd seen that I thought fit the category. But without any further ado, here is my top nine:

1) Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Synopsis: A busboy (Mark Wahlberg) in 1970s Los Angeles is discovered by a porn producer, and becomes one of the industry's biggest stars on the strength of his exceptional endowment -- while also getting consumed by the whirling dervish of drugs and partying that this lifestyle entails.

My take: Paul Thomas Anderson's second best film (behind There Will Be Blood) is a masterpiece that established Anderson as capable of documenting unknown social infrastructures in a way that earned justified comparisons to Martin Scorsese. While this is certainly a serious film, it does have doses of the humor that characterizes most of the films to follow on this list.

2) The Girl Next Door (2004, Luke Greenfield)

Synopsis: A high school senior (Emile Hirsch) becomes infatuated with a mysterious blonde about his age who lives next door (Elisha Cuthbert) -- and has already struck up something of a relationship with her when he discovers she's working as a porn actress.

My take: This unapologetic update of Risky Business is a lot more fun than you would expect it to be, with great performances (by both of those listed above, but especially by Timothy Olyphant as a porn director/thug) and a terrific soundtrack from start to finish. It's both a good coming of age story and a funny spoof of the porn industry -- definitely worth a look if you've had your doubts to this point.

3) Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008, Kevin Smith)

Synopsis: Two broke best friends (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) decide to make a porn movie -- in which they may or may not be actors -- in order to help pay off their debts, and realize they may have genuine feelings for each other.

My take: Just when you thought Kevin Smith didn't have anything more of use to contribute to Hollywood, along comes this surprisingly heartfelt and maturely shot/written movie about two slackers trying to make an adult film. What's so surprising about it is that it has two equally strong sides that seem like they should oppose each other -- the well-developed friendship/relationship between Rogen's and Banks' characters, and the gross-out style humor inherent in porn filmmaking. The two halves of the film compliment each other excellently to make a memorable film.

4) Orgazmo (1997, Trey Parker)

Synopsis: A devout young Morman living in Los Angeles named Joe (Parker) needs to make enough money to move back to Utah and marry his girlfriend. When a porn producer sees his martial arts skills in action, he hires him to star in a porn movie in which those skills would be utilized -- but not Joe's actual body during the sex scenes, or so he's promised.

My take: Forget South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut -- this is actually Trey Parker's funniest film. Like Zack and Miri, it has hilarious gross-out stuff without giving its male viewership anything too titillating: Every time you're about to see some hot female nudity, Parker throws a man's hairy ass into the frame to block it out. Who would have expected anything less?

5) The Amateurs (2005, Michael Traeger)

Synopsis: Feeling out-fathered by his son's rich new stepdad, a hard-on-his-luck small-towner (Jeff Bridges) has a drunken inspiration with his friends at a bar that the best get-rich-quick scheme is to make a porn movie.

My take: This under-the-radar film sings on the strength of a great lead performance by Bridges (whose narration is one of the film's strong suits) and affable supporting performances by a wide range of likable actors (Ted Danson, William Fichtner, Glenne Headley, Joe Pantoliano, Lauren Graham, Tim Blake Nelson). A surprisingly sweet film that reinforces the good sides of all the people who are trying to do a not-so-good thing.

6) I Want Candy (2007, Stephen Surjik)

Synopsis: Two London film students (Tom Burke and Tom Riley) are looking for funding to make their legitimate student film, but come into debt to a porn producer who wants them to make it into an adult movie starring American porn star Candy Fiveways (Carmen Electra), which they proceed to shoot in one guy's parents' house.

My take: Another sweet movie about the porn industry in which most of the characters have their moral compass ultimately pointed in the right direction, I Want Candy is also a really smart move by Electra, whose character never has to show her goods (though she appears scantily clad many times) -- it seems like a step up for Electra after appearing in all those _____ Movie movies. Funny performances and an all-around unexpected surprise.

7) Rated X (2000, Emilio Estevez)

Synopsis: Biopic about real-life porn entrepreneurs Jim and Artie Mitchell (Estevez and his real-life brother Charlie Sheen), who discovered Marilyn Chambers and made the "classic" porn film Behind the Green Door before their lives spiraled into the inevitable hell of drugs and professional failure.

My take: And here is the stark line of demarcation between the films on this list that I like and the films that I don't. There is some promising low-level Scorsese-style stuff in this film, as we follow the brothers down through the years and their lives become distorted and fucked up. However, it's ultimately pretty chintsy on the production values -- the bald caps worn by the two brothers look ridiculous -- and the brothers themselves don't make very interesting subjects. Befitting of a movie that premiered on cable (Showtime).

8) Finding Bliss (2010, Julie Davis)

Synopsis: An award-winning film school graduate (Leelee Sobieski) can't find work when she reaches Los Angeles, her desperate attempts to get in touch with Garry Marshall (who presented her graduation award to her) falling flat. She interviews for work as an editor at what she quickly discovers is a porn studio, but takes the job because she thinks she'll be able to use their sets and cameras to shoot her own script at night.

My take: Finding Bliss suffers from a "been there, done that" quality from the get-go -- it just doesn't have much new to say after so many movies on the subject had previously been made. The basic shocks of porn have already been seen, the message already conveyed that the legit filmmaker could use a little more porn in her mentality and the porn industry could use a little more legitimacy. What's worst about this film is how poorly it's lit, which makes it resemble an actual porn a lot more than one might like. As a bonus, however, there's a scene of full-frontal nudity featuring the well-endowed Jamie Kennedy of all people -- as a narrative drawback, the scene is utterly pointless and has nothing to do with the making of an actual porn scene.

9) The Pornographer (1999, Doug Atchison)

Synopsis: A porn addict (Michael DeGood) starts dabbling in making his own porn movies, and catches the attention of a porn producer, who suggests he might have a future in the porn industry if he can only find the right star (Katheryn Cain) to bet on.

My take: And here's why movies about the porn industry that aren't funny (other than Boogie Nights) don't work. The truly lurid side of making adult movies is so lurid that we have to place it in the context of comedy or else it's just too depressing. The movie, which I don't remember very well since I saw it nearly ten years ago, features usury and both emotional and physical violence. The movie is also pretty cheaply made, so it doesn't even get the chance to be like something Ken Russell (Whore, Crimes of Passion) would have made.

In researching this list, I also found a hit list of movies I probably should see if I want to ultimately have a definitive ranking of the movies out there on this topic. They include:

Middle Men (2010, George Gallo)
Wonderland (2003, James Cox)
The Fluffer (2001, Richard Glatzer & Wash West)
Shooting Porn (1997, Ronnie Larsen)
Naked Fame (2005, Christopher Long)
The Last Porno Flick (1974, Ray Marsh)
Porn 'n Chicken (2002, Lawrence Trilling)
Shakespeare In ... and Out (1999, Peter Shushtari)
National Lampoon's Barely Legal (2003, David Mickey Evans)
Deep in the Valley (2008, Christian Forte)

What have I missed? What's your take on the movies about making porn?

2 comments:

Monty Burns said...

I haven't seen many of these, but I can tell you that I heartily disagree on Zach and Miri.
I had heard it was good, and had forgotten that it had the stink of Kevin Smith on it until I watched it.
Three minutes into the pointless and unfunny reunion scene, I was wondering why Zach kept swearing too much and the dialogue was so stilted. Then I remembered Kevin Smith made this movie. I found no chemistry between a surprisingly unlikeable Seth Rogen, and the always awesome Elizabeth Banks. I didn't find the movie funny or charming, the only amusing bit was the star wars porn, which was then scrapped right when it was showing promise. I found the ubiquitous "they fuck and then they get mad at each other and then one uproots overnight and we cut to 'six months later' when side character C brings them back together for a happy ending" third act to be sloppy and unimaginative. And the shit joke was overly gross for the sake of being gross.
Sooooo, I didn't like this movie. I am totally onboard with Girl Next Door, which is a fantastic update of Risky Business.

Vancetastic said...

Huh, interesting. It could have been the right time and place for me for Zack and Miri. We watched it on my anniversary in a hotel room, and were feeling good so maybe we just went with it. I don't doubt that the problems you say are there, I just didn't see them. I'm planning to see it again soon, so I'll have a better idea then.

At least we agree on the similarly titled Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist.