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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Holmes is one of those unique figures that pretty much everyone
has heard about but no one really knows about. The adult film star with
a thirteen inch penis, his name is synonymous with the American
pornography industry, with the subculture that surrounded it in the
late 1970s and early 1980s, and for true crime buffs, with the gristly
Woderland/Four on the Floor Murders. However, one would be hard pressed
to find many people who have actually seen one of his films, except for
clips featured in documentaries and gag internet downloads that do
nothing more than display his erect member like an exhibit in a
modern-day sideshow. Likewise, even if one can track down individuals
who actually viewed any of his films in the theater when he was still
the king of porn, those individuals would probably not be able to tell
you much about him beyond a description of what was between his legs.
"Wadd" aims to fill in the gaps in what turns out to be the rather fascinating life story of John Curtis Holmes, the Ohio farm boy who grew up to be literally and figuratively larger than life-- while not really having a life of his own.
The topic was first touched upon in 1981's "Exhausted," a video biography of Holmes produced by one of his admirers. That movie, parodied as the "love letter" that Julianne Moore's character makes in "Boogie Nights," was produced during Holmes' lifetime, shortly before he became one of America's most wanted fugitives, and affords viewers the unique opportunity of hearing Holmes tell his own story in his own words. Unfortunately, Holmes, as "Wadd" demonstrates, was a tremendous liar, even when it would be more beneficial to tell the truth. As such, "Exhausted" only functions as a novelty piece, or for the psychoanalytically inclined, as a porthole into Holmes' ever blackening soul. For the real story, one must go to "Wadd;" and it's one hell of a story.
Starting in the middle with Holmes' heyday as the undisputed "King of Porn," Wadd seamlessly moves through the various chapters of Holmes' life, from his childhood as an all-American boy to his salad years as a forklift driver. The segments on Holmes' early life come across as equally shocking to those depicting his involvement in the Wonderland Murders and the revelation that he knowingly exposed other adult film starts to HIV. The reason, perhaps, is that there is little indication that the Holmes of 1975 would do the things that the Holmes of 1983 did. Before he was "Johnny Wadd" he was a bashful kid driving a forklift who had to have his mother sign a form permitting him to get married, since his all-American, Cat's-eye-glasses-wearing wife was a few years older than him and he was a minor. His progression to a drug-fueled, soulless monster is well documented and believable; interviews chronicling his abusive childhood demonstrate that the capacity for evil was always festering in Holmes, not in the form of malicious intent but in the form of weakness. For all of his on screen prowess, "Wadd" shows Holmes as someone who was ultimately impotent. What began as a quest to quash an inferiority complex became an addiction; Holmes got so much gratification from the porn biz that Holmes as an individual ceased to exist. The beast whose painful, AIDS-related demise is recalled in the film's closing moments is not an evolution of the scrawny, crew-cut kid; it's what the kid left behind.
That is the heart-- and tragedy-- of Wadd: Holmes' demons could easily be anyone's, but he was given the unique opportunity to have them unleashed and nurtured in fantastic fashion. Despite the fact that he succumbed to them and became someone else, the people who loved him remained themselves, and were left to deal with the aftermath. The film's end, juxtaposing interviews in which the same people describe Holmes as both a drug-fueled maniac and as someone for whom they felt genuine love, is jarring and heart wrenching. Even if there is no sympathy to be felt for Holmes, the pain his loss caused his family and friends is real and startling.
According to the IMDb, one of the directors of "Wadd" chose not to be credited, instead opting to have his/her name listed as "Alan Smithee," the pseudonym used by anyone in the film industry who is so displeased with his or her work that they do not wish to be associated with it. That's a shame, because "Wadd" is an incredible feat of biographical film making. Opting not to use voice-over narrations or anything that creates the illusion of an overarcing narrative, "Wadd" is entirely composed of interviews with Holmes' friends, family, enemies, and acquaintances, all of whom are permitted to tell their side of the story in their own words. The result is a film with no agenda other than to give the viewer as unbiased a presentation of Holmes' life as possible-- and the result is utterly fascinating.
If you liked "Boogie Nights" then you'll want to check out this
film about the real "Dirk Diggiler". As documentaries go it's
very entertaining if not a bit too long. The clips of Holmes's
movies aren't too graphic, and are more comical than erotic.
I felt both sad for Holmes and angry at him, which I think was
the point to this film. He wasn't really a good person but in
many different ways he brought joy to a lot of people.
The most shocking image in the film, is the footage of the crime
scene, of which Holmes is taken to trial over. He is found
innocent of murder (which I agreed with) but he was definitely
guilty of being a jerk.
Overall grade B+ (Too long for such a short, but interesting
For a documentary "Wadd" ain't so innovating, and maybe it's too long but still my eyes were glued to screen. I knew John was a cokefiend and involved in a mob hit but I didn't really knew he was vicious wife beater and a chronic liar/schizo that fed the cops info on pornproducers in the early 70's. "Wadd" isn't that pornographic (no penetration scenes) it's more of a tragic story of a not too bright kid with the world's biggest "tool". Lots of people from the adult industry are interviewed (Goldstein, Flynt, Sharon Mitchell, Ciccolina etc.) as you would expect but also cops, lawyers, journalists and guys like Paul "Boggie Nights" Anderson are included. I know it's almost impossible to make Holmes-docu that isn't interesting but "Wadd" is a fascinating and important portrait of a legend that some called The Elvis Of Pornography!
This is an extremely fascinating biography/ documentary about John
Holmes featuring entertaining interviews with such notable people as
Paul Thomas Anderson, Al Goldstien, Ron Coen, and leading actresses of
the Golden Age of pornography. The best interviews in my opinion would
be Al Goldstein and Bill Amerson who both seems honest and say some
hilarious stuff. Also seeing clips of Holmes movies is always fun.
Pretty much every aspect of his life is covered here and every facet of
them is endlessly intriguing.both And it helps to separate some of the
facts from some of the BS.
My Grade: A
Whatever the real total of John Holmes' female sex partners was, it's
got to be a bare minimum of at least 3000. Considering how many films
he made and all the action before he was an impotent addict of an X-
rated icon, it was an enormous number of women. His claim of 14,000 is
somewhat realistic, only if he never got into drugs and did nothing but
have sex round the clock!
The boy born John Curtis Estes was the youngest of four children, grew up in rural Ohio and had by most accounts an unhappy childhood. His namesake (if in surname only) stepfather was a drunk and John as an adult blamed a large portion of his family's hardships on him. Stepfather number two was a manic depressive who took most of his frustrations out on the now second youngest in the house (John's half brother David was born several years later) and his physical abuse eventually reached the point where sixteen year old John decided to enlist in the Army.
However much of the legends about the first half of his life are concerned, by his early twenties, he'd left the military, moved out to California and met and married straitlaced Sharon. It's more than fair to assume this lady, who was a nurse by profession and a virgin when they wed, brought him the only real stability he'd ever had. She describes a private, insecure man who had a very low self esteem, before that term was a pop psychology cliché.
The 8mm loop porn industry in those mid/late 60s era was a fly by night operation, with con artists expecting to pay one with a bum cheque. His first experience with this kind of hustler taught young John to demand payment in cash from then on. He gradually became better known and earned more and more in fees. His endowment is always the matter of speculation, but it's safe to declare he was at least twice the length of the average North American male.
Director Bob Chinn wrote the story for "Johnny Wadd" after meeting him and seeing his "credentials" in the flesh. The soon to be series gave Holmes his most famous role ever and the nickname that summed up his anatomy in a rather crude marketing tool. Exhibitors saw the popularity of this new hardcore emphasis on a star system and wanted more "Wadd".
The descent into cocaine and all that followed are a matter of disturbing fact now. His posthumously published autobiography "Porn King" is equal parts truth and fantasy. The recent "John Holmes: A Life Measured In Inches" by Jennifer Sugar and Jill Nelson, is a much more grounded in reality explanation of his life from all those who knew him best.
What would have happened if John hadn't gotten messed up on freebase? That's the unanswerable question. Instead, his life degenerated into full time crime and ever sleazier and dangerous characters as he struggled to maintain his out of control habit. And with the early days of AIDS rearing it's lethal head, Holmes became the second most notorious figure (after the outed Rock Hudson) to die from AIDS related illness.
"Wadd" gives both the heartfelt testimonial of friends and less than flattering accounts from other associates equal time (my comment for "Wonderland" elaborates on his later years). His life was a sad display of both a lonely, overwhelmed man and the society that could only treat him like some "refugee from a freak show" (Al Goldstein's words). A must see for those who want to look at the authentic tragedy of drugs and the end results of a career in an essentially insane business. Everyone is dispensable in porn, even the king.
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