Rated X: A Journey Through Porn
Pathfinder Home Entertainment // Unrated // $14.98 // November 22, 2005
Review by Don Houston | posted November 20, 2005
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Movie: Whether some people want to accept the fact or not, pornography is a huge business recognized as increasingly mainstream these days. Every year, upwards of 12,000 new titles are produced for the public's insatiable appetite for watching other people have sex on camera. Recent releases such as Pirates, Camp Cuddly Pines, and The New Devil in Miss Jones blur the lines between what were once the highly segregated worlds of porn and mainstream entertainment, although admittedly there's still a long way to go to bridge the gap completely. This being the case, it came as no surprise to me that someone would attempt to make a documentary about the adult movie business in recent years, even if it ended up so limited as to be more of a tiny time capsule rather than a blazing expose of shady practices or a comprehensive gaze into the industry as a whole. The title of the documentary, Rated X: A Journey Through Porn, serves as the focal point of director Dag Yngvesson's personal exposure to the industry more than anything else but it was an interesting trip nonetheless.

The movie was shot from the early 1990's through about 1996, including some statistics from 1997, to be released in 2000 at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Dag had the idea of looking into porn as it was such a thriving business that had really slipped the obvious attention of most media outlets during the time and in that sense, it worked well to shed a small light on a large topic shrouded in darkness. The industry as we know it started in the early 1970's with the release of such films as Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones but it wasn't until the late 1980's that it became quasi-legitimate with a California judge ruling the production of such movies as lawful expressions under First Amendment protection but even today people are prosecuted in some communities depending on local interpretations of obscenity statutes that the 1970's Supreme Court had struggled with so long ago.

Dag went around and spoke to a number of notables to get their insights into the industry, a rather small community based largely in Chatsworth California, starting with such icons as William Margold and Jim South while ending up discussing the field with a then-popular performer, Jeanna Fine. Bill's claim to fame in porn, initially at least, was that he was perhaps the sole individual that had been involved in all aspects of the industry, from performer to producer to reviewer to industry spokesman. A co-founder of PAWS (Protecting Adult Welfare), FOXE (Fans of X Rated Entertainment) and the XRCO (X Rated Critics Organization), Bill was an excellent place to start the journey although the bias to take everything the man said as gospel truth was a bit shaky in terms of a solid look at the matters at hand (pun intended). The journey then went to modeling agent Jim South, initially the largest supplier of performers to the production companies, who again came off as unscathed by any significant scrutiny. The sleazier side of the industry was also covered with some of the scummiest people shooting fetish videos (black pregnant gals) and some bit players of the time like Selena and Kirsty Waay.

Other than some minor glimpses of performers like Mark Davis, Brooke Waters, Crystal Gold, Tina Tyler, and Damien Michaels (longer interview), the best moments of the show were when he interviewed Vivid director Toni English, Sean Michaels or Jeanna Fine. Jeanna's insights were particularly interesting as she was one of the most popular, and outspoken, performers of the time who had dealt with addictions and the darker side of the industry. Further, when Dag participated as a cameraman his own inner turmoil suggested a naiveté that few today would have. Those personal moments were golden compared to the canned comments of the people interviewed as they didn't seem so self serving for the most part.

As the shallowest of glimpses into the porn production world on the mid-1990's, Rated X: A Journey Through Porn wasn't a bad documentary. That it jumped around so much and never offered up a hypothesis to be challenged was a big problem but also the limited number of people he spoke with and the factual inaccuracies it portrayed. Missing were Ron Jeremy as a focal point; a guy that makes himself available at any and every opportunity to be in small films, anything relating to the industry trade publication, AVN or it's Award Show, or so many of the major players in the industry (including spokespeople like Nina Hartley). Lacking any exposure to the main companies or significant discussion of the topics as he narrated the production, the ambition of the film seemed far too great for the described vision of the show. While not bad, the limitations of the material earned it a rating of Rent It or maybe a little bit higher for those wanting an honest look by someone co-opted into the world of porn, albeit for a short time before he got out.

Picture: Rated X: A Journey Through Porn was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in. The source material included videotape and 16 mm film (perhaps 8 mm too) and looked like an ultra low budget documentary. There was a lot of grain and other visual flaws but it could've been on HBO for the way it explored the topic in a basic, raw manner. I saw no compression artifacts from the DVD mastering process but keep in mind it was produced over a period of years with a shoe string budget and you'll understand how bad it tended to look.

Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital but I sensed that the source material was recorded in monaural as there was no separation between the channels. The dynamic range was also limited to that of a low budget, self financed documentary with a jazz-lite music score.

Extras: There were some very short interviews with Jenna Jameson, Ron Jeremy, and Nina Hartley but none of them really provided enough detail to incorporate into the movie itself; a shame since the three of them could've provided a wealth of material on the industry's past present and future. Admittedly, Jenna's interview was on April 8, 1995 and long before she became THE star of the industry but the other two could've been tapped for so much more. There were also some deleted scenes (mainly longer versions of scenes included into the movie), a still gallery, a short time lapse sex scene and a filmmaker's biography.

Final Thoughts: Rated X: A Journey Through Porn was so shallow as to make me think it was supposed to serve as an introductory episode to a lengthy series more than the "premise that he can fully document the whole experience" as provided on the back DVD cover but it had some gleaming moments too. It scrapped the surface of the interracial issue (black male on white female scenes) fairly well and he narrated a short bit on the HIV outburst that hit the industry back in 1998 (which was another failing since he should've tried to include something more about that) but the ay he glossed over so many topics or just took the word of the participants at face value limited the value of the production so very much. He alluded to mob connections and then dropped the topic outright, touched on female created porn in the lightest of ways, and seemed to lack the background knowledge needed to really look at the porn industry in a detailed manner. In that sense, it came off like a local news report more than a full fledged documentary but give it a look anyway since it had a nostalgic feel to it (in porn, the industry sort of reinvents itself every couple of years so the industry he looked at so long ago is nothing like the current version).

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