Friday, August 22, 2008


The film usually credited with launching the current Porn industry is "Deep Throat", produced in 1972 for less than $23,000 and grossing more than $600 Million. By perfectly catching the wave of sexual liberation that had started in the late 60's, it became a cultural phenomenon.

I saw "Deep Throat" at a midnight screening in Miami. Just in on a red-eye flight and with a body clock too screwed up to sleep, I looked out my hotel window and noticed a line of people outside the Pussycat Theatre across the street. They appeared to be mostly middle class couples and retirees, not the kind you normally associate with the raincoat crowd. So, I joined them, finding a seat in front of two elderly women in their 70's.

"Deep Throat" follows the journey of a woman unable to orgasm, who learns from a doctor that her clitoris is where her epiglottis ought to be. And if you need more anatomical detail on where all that leads, you're probably too young to be reading this blog. Anyway, the doctor tells her that when she finally climaxes, the earth will move, she'll hear bells ringing, etc.

And sure enough, concurrent with the final money shot, we get a Hollywood montage of doves in flight and church bells chiming. At which point, one of the old girls behind me sighed, "Oh, she heard her bells" cracking up the front rows. As the lights went up and I followed the two women up the aisle, one turned to the other and said, "I'm so glad it had a happy ending."

Unfortunately, happy endings are usually confined to the screen in the real world of making Porn.

The success of "Deep Throat" spawned an entire industry in the United States, one that now grosses (if the figures are to be believed) upwards of $13 Billion a year. The combination of low production costs and stunningly large profits is hard for many filmmakers to resist. And perhaps the belief that such success could just as easily happen here played a part in the recent CRTC decision to license a Canadian porn channel with 50% home grown content.

As I've said before, I don't have a problem with consenting adults doing whatever or watching whatever they want. The state really does not belong in the bedrooms of the nation. But I wonder if the CRTC really considered who they are helping some Canadians get into bed with.

While working on "Top Cops" I met a couple of FBI Agents who had been undercover in New York's Gambino family. And they had a very different take on the success of "Deep Throat".

The Gambino crew had a piece of the action in many American porn theatres as well as the distribution of the product that was exhibited there. Therefore, the cash that rolled in from these legal operations was liberally mixed with incomes from drugs, gambling and prostitution; laundering the latter while building up the expectation of potential riches for those contemplating creating the former.

In the eyes of these cops, Porn helped the Mob gain footholds in countless legal businesses while building a bankroll that bought them better lawyers, smarter accountants and more politicians.

It also convinced many in the film business that making Porn was a fast track to the financial success or celebrity they craved. Three of these people were friends of mine.

Let's start with a guy I'll call Dick...

Dick was a male model who married an actress I'd worked with in LA. He was and is a stunningly handsome man. He was also funny and kind hearted. Unfortunately, what he possessed in those departments was offset by what he didn't have in the talent division. Despite his skills at modelling underwear and posing next to fast cars, he really wanted to be an actor.

Over time, that obsession began to strain their relationship and one night she called, asking me if I could find "something, anything" for him in the show I was producing. There was a small part available, only a few lines, but with the potential for a nice clip for his reel, so we called him in. The audition was painful and no matter how much help we gave him, there was no way we could justify hiring him.

But Dick had a talent I apparently hadn't noticed, probably because he'd kept his pants on. And shortly after he and the actress separated it came to the attention of a porn producer.

I spoke to Dick the day the script for his first film arrived. He told me it was really well written.

The shoot took place over a weekend and the next week he phoned all his friends to tell us it would be in the stores in about a month and the shoot had gone well -- although he was a little tired by the end.

Over the next year, he made 8 or 9 more films at a fraction of what he'd used to earn for holding up a glass of Scotch and smiling. And although no legit modelling agency would touch him anymore, in his new world he had lines and emotional transitions and was becoming a star. He began talking about getting out and making the cross-over to episodic TV and Indy films now that he had "experience".

Eight years later, Dick's still making porn. The parts are smaller now and his partners are starlets trying to break in or former divas on their way out, rather than the big names in the business. He's been ripped off, pressured to do scenes he finds dangerous or brutal and told that with his still good looks he'd do much better making gay porn.

He's thinking about that, mostly because he doesn't feel he has any other options.

My second friend is Cam, an aspiring cinematographer who graduated from a Canadian Community College at the top of his class and planned to someday parlay his visual skills into directing. He broke into the business about three years ago, when the outlook for the local industry was grim. But he was still good enough to land a few gigs in that environment which resulted in a short but impressive resume and a stellar sample reel.

His girlfriend pregnant and unwilling to spend a potentially unemployed winter in Toronto, he headed to LA because that's where he was going to end up eventually anyway.

Finding living and medical expenses more than he expected, Cam took a couple of days on a porn shoot. When the producer discovered he had his own kit, he began calling more often. Suddenly, Cam had a steady job. And while it kept him from making the rounds with his resume and schmoozing producers, it was only for a little while.

Sure there were annoyances, like cleaning spilled bodily fluids off the lens, but the producers let him try his own shots and the people he worked with were up-and-comers like him.

When he explained what came next, he asked if I'd ever seen the wrestling documentary "Beyond the Mat" and wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts' description of the pitfalls to be found in that world.

Initially, Cam just found it hard to come home from a set filled with Porn starlets to a wife who'd just had breast milk puked on her T-shirt. Then he learned that some of those Porn stars, like many actresses, appreciated how a good Cinematographer could improve their looks or hide their flaws. Only they didn't repay him with a bottle of wine or box of chocolates.

Then, like Jake, a different woman a night wasn't enough, then neither were two, and then...

Cam's wife and child have moved back to Toronto. He's still in LA, working full time now. His plans to direct independent features are on hold and the images he's recording look like those of anybody else trying to get 50-plus set-ups a day. But that's okay. They're going to let him direct their stuff soon.

I'll call my third friend Kitty.

Kitty hailed from Florida and had no showbiz aspirations. She'd simply put as much turf as she could between home and a creepy stepfather. When I met her, she was working the service counter of a Chatsworth car dealership and tending bar part time in my favorite country saloon.

Over the years, Kitty had battled a self-esteem problem. She knew she was beautiful and that men got whiplash when she walked through the mall, but something was missing from her life.

One night in the bar, or one day at the dealership, somebody handed her his card and told her she could have a lot of fun being in a porn film. She carried that card around for weeks before calling back and making her debut in the background of an orgy scene. Pretty soon, she was working regularly enough to give up her other part time jobs.

I don't know if Kitty found a way to fill that inner emptiness or found her new life harder to live than the previous ones. All I know is that she overdosed on sleeping pills two years later.

According to a mutual friend, at the end, Kitty was struggling with Hepatitis A and a coke habit, both of which had been contracted on the job.

Now -- I'm certain you could find similar tales in other areas of show business, not to mention in the realms of banking, real estate or dentistry. But within the porn industry they are legion. For every Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy, there are a thousand stories like those above.

And now they can be Canadian content.

In closing, I want to say that while I know that there are studies that say the availability of porn has reduced the incidents of sexual assault, increased acceptance of sexual preferences and saved marriages, I also know there are as many asserting that increased exposure to pornography is contributing to several social ills.

I don't know who's right in all that. And the last thing I'd ever want to do is shackle anybody's personal expression, artistic exploration or their inalienable right to party.

Apparently, 2/3 of all hotel movie rentals are porn films, but they are only watched for an average of 12 minutes. So that makes me think that the bulk of society approaches the issue as either some experience they want to sample like those old ladies in Miami or as a quick method of winding down after a trying day.

But something's still offside here and the CRTC's initial defense of its decision -- "There were no interventions" -- bespeaks an incredible lack of insight into what their decision might actually mean.

Not that that's any different from most of their other decisions, but more on that in Part III.

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