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9 to 5: Days in Porn
- Dr. Sharon Mitchell
With all due respect to Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson (well, mostly the former), I always felt that Jennifer Connelly was gypped out of a supporting actress Oscar nomination in 2001 for Requiem for a Dream. In fact, I think she was gypped out of a win (sorry, Marcia!). There's a scene late in the film where her character looks almost numb to the pain inflicted upon her both physically and emotionally, a sequence that resonated with me long after the modern masterpiece ended. I was reminded of that haunting sequence near the end of 9 to 5: Days in Porn, a documentary from German filmmaker Jens Hoffman that chronicles the life of various workers in the adult film industry in and near the San Fernando Valley.
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:
- Producer/director/performer Otto Bower and wife Audrey Hollander, who won the 2006 AVN Award for Best Female Performer. The two live together and have a unique relationship, frequently forced to watch each other have sex with other people. "When you see your wife being pounded away by some other guy, you can get anxious for a few moments," notes Otto, a lover of (insertive) anal sex who conceives himself "a liberal artist in every sense of the word--and I'm your neighbor, a product of this great country." Adds the younger Audrey: "In the beginning it was difficult of course to see him be with another girl...but the sex in our job is just a physical thing."
- Agent Mark Spiegler, a father figure to many of the young women he takes under his wing. He stresses that to truly succeed, performers need to be smart and see the industry as a business. "If you have a choice between rich and famous, take rich. Because there's a lot of famous porn stars that can't pay the rent," her says. "Half of the people are knuckleheads. You can't flunk out of porn."
- Dr. Sharon Mitchell, a former porn star who went on to found the AIM Health Care Foundation to promote safe practices and lend a helping hand to those in need: "Denial is the backbone of pornography when it comes to healthcare. Nobody wants to take a look at it." She tells her own troubled story in frank detail, and provides much of the film's heart and soul--and a handful of killer quotes ("The future of the porn industry? Short of driving a train up someone's asshole, I don't know what else they could possibly do...").
- Belladonna, a stripper-turned-porn star (and award-winning director). In between filming her scenes, she raises a daughter with husband Aiden, a successful photographer who helps his wife with her career and company.
- Katja Kassin, one of Spiegler's girls who praises the agent's honesty and character. One of the industry's more respected models (""You won't believe how far you can get in porn just by being on time and being organized"), she talks about how her mother desperately wants her to come home to Germany in one of the film's most poignant sequences: "I don't think she really understands that I'm gone for good."
- Rookie Sasha Grey, an ambitious 18-year-old out to make her mark by pushing the boundaries and refusing to make boring porn while building her brand. "I'm determined and ready to be a commodity that fulfills everyone's fantasies," she says. "I see my co-stars as a prop. That's my tool, and I use it." Grey, who embraces more extreme material, later adds that she sees herself as a sexual athlete: "We're supposed to push ourselves a little bit more. You're not just supposed to be there having romantic sex like you have at home. You have to challenge yourself a bit." (Adds director Jonni Darkko: "She's a really good performer and I wish her well, and I hope she has a really long career--I think she will for a long time," he says, pausing. "I think she's completely insane...")
- Starlet Mia Rose, who relates how she lost her virginity at age 13 so she could be just like her older sister Ava (also in the industry), her closest friend. "By the time I was 18 years old, I slept with 98 people...I worship sex."
- The rebel, "punk" filmmaker Jim Powers (a.k.a. "The Busiest Man in the Valley"). Unafraid to speak his mind, he admits "it's all shit" as he takes a break from directing a gang bang scene for White Trash Whore #36 (one of 9 to 5's more memorable sequences). Powers is also clearly aware that even he is frequently full of it: "When I make a movie, I try not to degrade anybody. I never want a girl walking away feeling like what she did was bad. We're making movies, and I don't find them degrading at all...they're movies! It's like saying...you watch a movie like Nicole Kidman in Stepford Wives. She's definitely degrading herself, appearing in that movie. That was terrible!" (...at which point Hoffmann beautifully rolls the "degrading montage")
- Nina Hartley, another former star who has dedicated time to making the industry a safer place. Like Mitchell, Hartley has some keen observations about both sides of the equation--particularly when she tackles the degradation argument. "I'm not saying these girls are lying," she says in response to the positive sound bites many of them offer. "But I am saying in a few years, they might modify their description a little bit." (And also like Mitchell, Hartley is good for some memorable quotes: "I call porn live action cartoons, because in the real world, sex doesn't happen that way.")
- John Stagliano, the founder of the Evil Angel empire who says that porn's detractors have their own issues with self-love--and an unhealthy view of sex. "That's one of the great things about being in porno: You're around all these people that have the courage to be disliked by a large portion of society. And I like people like that--those are my kind of people."
- Roxy Deville, "The Spiegler Girl" who enjoys her private time--and remains one of the few leading ladies who refuses to do anal sex. "I have met some incredible people in the business--I just don't like the way it ends up making a lot of people and I don't want that to happen to me. So I try not to be too involved in it, like get too close or base my life on porn. It's a job, like any other job," she says. "I'm not in it to be famous...I just wanna do what I do and then buy a house and then move away and have a hundred kids."
- Arrowhead bottled water, which gets so much screen time I could only assume it sponsored the shoot. (That might explain why I had to pause the film so many times to visit the bathroom...and don't get me started on the milk enema scene...)
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."
Assistant: "Do we know what her limitations are as far as that goes?"
Otto: "Well, I wanted to talk to you first, and then we'll deal with her..."
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.
The anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is good, and varies depending on the locations, the director's style choices and the cameras used (about 80 percent of the film was shot in 16mm, the rest with high-def cameras). Not everything is sharp and colors don't pop, with grain also creeping in. But this is a low-budget documentary, and is meant to look this way.
The 2.0 track is just fine; primary dialogue is clear, and secondary dialogue is usually discernable as well. (And dear lord do the dirty talk and sex sounds make themselves known!)
- 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.
Amusing, brutal, candid, honest, hysterical and heartbreaking...9 to 5 is any and all of these things as it takes a look at the lives of workers in the adult film industry. If you blush or offend easily, this may not be for you. But if you're a porn aficionado, a little curious or just appreciative of slice-of-life documentaries with a compelling human interest element, you'll find yourself entertained and enlightened (the film works on many levels depending on your own experiences). You can say a lot about the subjects on display here, but they're never boring. Recommended.