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Porn stars can make for fascinating documentary subjects, and certainly there has been an uptick in the number of "mainstream" documentaries about porn in the last 15 years, such as Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, Inside Deep Throat, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, The Girl Next Door, and 9 to 5: Days in Porn.
Dan Hunt's new documentary touches on the life of Buck Angel, a cigar-smoking, tattooed, pierced, muscle-bound guy whose films are popular with gay men, which is a little odd since he has a vagina. Born a female, Buck takes testosterone treatments and had surgery to remove his breasts, but never had "bottom surgery" to alter his genitalia. As shown in Hunt's film, Buck can be somewhat marginalized even within the porn world, where breasts and penises are usually the main attraction. But Buck refuses to accept the labels of "freak" and "oddity," trying to live as a role model for all people to be comfortable with their bodies, modified or unmodified.
During its brief 68 minutes, Mr. Angel explores Buck's current situation and history, with turns expected and unexpected. In his younger female days, Buck was a tomboy who got bad grades and had a difficult relationship with his dad. Shown in present-day interviews, Buck's parents seems happy for their son now, if still not completely able to wrap their heads around Buck's choices and point-of-view. After a stint as a model in the '80s gave the female Buck some serious spending cash, drug and alcohol addiction and a cutting habit followed. But, unlike it is in many melodramas, porn was not Buck's bottoming out. After he had his surgery, things started to turn around for Buck, and porn has given him enough fame to enable him to speak out on subjects like sexuality and heteronormativity, body image and self-acceptance, and even health and nutrition, both in public speaking engagements and on his website.
Buck's partner Elayne specializes in erotic piercing and is the author of The Piercing Bible. The two are shown living in Mexico with a number of dogs, having left the U.S. during George W. Bush's attempts to crack down on the porn business. They come across as a loving, supportive couple, who are surprisingly able to separate their work from their home life.
Apart from a late-film run-in with medical complications, due to the testosterone treatments, Mr. Angel is a little light on present-day drama. (This might account for the shortness of the film.) However, Buck Angel remains an intriguing and inspiring person with a fascinating story. Even if we might just be getting the Cliffs Notes version.
The Video & Audio:
The 1.77:1 image comes from a variety of video sources, ranging from grainy home-movies quality to higher-end TV documentary quality. The English 2.0 stereo soundtrack is similarly from mixed sources, but the dialogue is never garbled and the select bits of musical score come through fine. No subtitles, but the film has English Closed Captions. Neither the video nor the audio is a real stunner, but they get the job done just fine.
(15:29) - The extra bits include Elayne lecturing on piercing at Yale, then extra moments from Buck's porn star panel at Yale. This is followed by footage in Berlin where Buck hangs out with fellow male porn stars, then takes part in a live sex show (nothing explicit is shown, besides Buck's vagina -- the same as the feature). Buck discusses his past while outside of a screening room showing his newest film to a theater full of fans. Buck's sister presents more impressions of her brother. Then, an extra moment from a sequence in the film where Buck watches his appearance on the Tyra Banks show with his parents. It ends with a brief vignette about a bronze statue of Buck in a New York City gallery.
For viewers interested in queer and transgender rights, this is probably a must-see. For porn enthusiasts, you'll probably have a good time too. For folks just looking for a good story, it's a bit of a let-down, but not by much. Buck Angel commands your attention, even with all of his clothes on. Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new holiday single, Last Night of Hanukkah, is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.