- Dr. Sharon Mitchell
If the masterful NBC/TNT show Southland revolved around porn, it might look something like this--the camera gets cozy with its subjects and lets them tell their own story. What starts as a seemingly dull PR piece on the industry ("Sex sells! Last year nearly 13,000 new releases came out!") quickly settles into its groove as it looks into the lives of some performers, producers, directors and agents as they go about their day-to-day routine, sometimes speaking to the camera.
As a writer who has some experience covering a part of the industry, it's probably only fair to admit that I'm pretty desensitized to (and unshockable with) porn. Ever since I saw a clever use for an eggplant in the 2002 Hot House classic Butt In (the sequel to the 2002 Hot House classic Butt Out), my innocence was forever lost. And having been to the circus that is the Adult Video News Expo in Las Vegas a few times--one year I almost repeatedly tripped over the mechanical dildo machine, and I still haven't worn the souvenir I bought directly from Michael Grecco (see left)--I'm happy to report that this film doesn't dumb anything down for its audience (whatever your familiarity with the industry may be).
Whether you're a porn addict, a lover of revealing documentaries or just a curious voyeur, you certainly won't be bored with these 100 minutes. And to Hoffmann's credit, he keeps just enough distance to let you make up your own mind--and lets his "characters" speak for themselves. You'll quickly notice that a few of the subjects are a little too aware of the camera--but the more you see of them, the more you get the sense that this is really who they are. The film jumps back and forth among a variety of contributors, who share their views on their career while also letting the camera follow them at work and home.
The primary players include:
I don't want to share too much about these people and the film's developments; it's best to view 9 to 5 without any preconceived notions about what I think or about what Hoffmann may be trying to say, if anything. I'll leave my own impressions to myself; these people certainly aren't looking for judgment, sorrow or pity (which I didn't have). Still, it's impossible to deny the film's power. A few early scenes have Otto revealing his true priorities, and his words speaking volumes about the attitudes women are up against in the industry:
Otto: "She's only done three anal scenes in her life."
And at the midway point, a scene finds Audrey--high on pot--talking about compromise: "[Otto] makes me do certain shit that I wouldn't normally do, but I do it because I love him...some people call it controlling." As for the film's final sequences, they put Boogie Nights to shame. In addition to a heartbreaking confession from Mia Rose (words that are perhaps the film's most powerful), some telling thoughts from Otto and a great exchange between Belladonna and Aiden about money and happiness, there's a montage that doesn't need any words to move you. It's a sequence with an ominous start (one you couldn't have scripted better): A woman behind the scenes and off camera between shoots is heard saying, "Anna Nicole just died..."
But the material also lends itself to plenty of humor--especially if you're a porn newbie who's easily shocked. (This "Uncut! Unrated! Uncensored!" edition boasts plenty of boobs, boners and spooge-soaked chins and hair, with some fleeting periphery shots of hardcore action; far more entertaining is the audio, with enough dirty talk and fluid sounds to make even the most diehard porn aficionado blush). As for my fellow desensitized brethren, the film still manages some chuckles that creep up on you--like Spiegler rattling off a litany of sex practices certain models are available for, Belladonna making conversation with Katja while shoving a baseball bat up her bum ("Your ass sure does open up, huh?"), a production assistant in charge of removing a butt plug from a starlet's ass on the set of anal-centric Extreme Violations ("I am not scared of shit, baby...it's okay!") or Powers' frantic search for a white trash whore.
This is the kind of film I didn't want to end--there are endless stories to tell and not nearly enough time for them. (How great would it be if HBO dared to follow these people on a weekly basis?) Depending on your prude quotient, your sense of humor and your state of mind when watching this, a variety of potential emotions and viewer experiences could be in store. I found 9 to 5 to be candid, (mostly) honest, unflinching, funny and heartbreaking.
My complaints are minor; while I wasn't expecting any peek into the gay side of the industry (there isn't, although the condom issue would present the perfect issue for comparison), I was hoping for at least a small segment to give us a glimpse into the life of a male performer (Otto is the only representative, but he's a producer/director first, and doesn't really shed any light on the performance aspect). Belladonna and Aiden briefly touch upon the unique challenges men face ("I would not want to be a guy and do this..."), and it would have been a strong addition. It also would have been nice to see one arc explore a newbie who hadn't "made it"; everyone here is a success, and a more realistic look at the experiences that most people face when trying to break into porn would have provided a nice contrast.
Nonetheless, for a reviewer who has seen his far share of smut and knows a little bit about the industry, I was surprisingly pleased with Hoffmann's effort. While you get the sense a few contributors sometimes put on a front, the director never sets anything up. What you see here is reality--or at least these performers' reality. They speak (and sink or swim) for themselves, and it's clear they are comfortable with Hoffmann. The director has done a nice job assembling a diverse group of people with a wide range of experience and outlooks, and--for better or worse--everyone you encounter here leaves an indelible impression.
- director Jens Hoffmann
There aren't a lot of extras, but what you get is excellent. Eight deleted scenes could have easily been included in the documentary, and all of them add something to the project. "Female Violation" (3:28) goes behind the set of a lifeguard-themed Jim Powers shoot, highlighted by his habit of shouting out dialogue to the models ("'You're gonna lick her sandy, crusty asshole clean!' Okay? Say that!"); "Otto's Thoughts" (6:57) puts us in the passenger's seat with the filmmaker/actor, who touches upon a few elements that don't get as much attention in the film (primarily the career of male models); "Real Doll Trip" (2:26) has Belladonna meeting with a novelty manufacturer; "Audrey & Otto in Paris" (4:05) takes us to a European award show, including an endearing story from Audrey off stage; "Belladonna & Katia" presents an extended baseball bat sequence; "Spiegler Girls" (1:52) has the agent's ladies talking about why they love him; my favorite, "Belladonna, Roxy & Sasha" (5:27), has the three stars just chatting, with a memorable exchange about enema juice and body fluids between Belladonna and Roxy; while "Sasha's First Scene" (1:38) shows the young woman's excitement at seeing her first packaged film. Another deleted scene (4:10, listed separately as a bonus scene) takes us to the 2007 AVN Award Show; it includes a telling quote from Spiegler about Mia Rose.
Also included is an audience question and answer session with director Jens Hoffmann (15:50) after a screening of the film (it appears to be pieced together from two different sessions, or at least has some minor edits). It makes the most of its time with some great questions as the personable director explains his inspiration and purpose, how he wanted to cast it, why he didn't include more male models or venture into any gay porn stories, why he avoided chronicling the internet world, how he responds to claims that he's being exploitative and how the film has pigeonholed him in the eyes of some industry executives ("I'm already known as 'The Porn Guy' to every festival we go to..."). He also talks about the arduous process of making the film, a five-year labor of love where he had to first garner the trust of his subjects before filming them, leading to more than 180 hours of footage and a first rough cut that ran five-plus hours--including plenty of material he knew he wouldn't show, despite the fact that the subjects had no approval clauses. "Some scenes, it would have been much stronger to see them as they're way more exposing or something, but that's what we didn't really want to do. We didn't want to expose those people too much...they gave us their trust, so it's our responsibility in a way to pay that back somehow and not show somebody crying messed up on the floor. That's not a goal which I want to have."
The film's trailer and trailers for other Strand releases are also included.