Porn filmmaker Cindy Lou Sutters casts a striking redhead she dubs Red Heat to star in her latest hardcore movie. After Red Heat catches her boyfriend with another woman, she goes crazy and... See full summary »
Porn artifact interesting for all the wrong reasons
Ray Dennis Steckler belongs to a small pantheon of filmmakers who have been elevated in the past 25 years to Top Tier status by new generations of film buffs, replacing the mainstream greats for a video-obsessed generation.
This obscure title from Ray's first wave of pornography, after having made cult indie movies, fascinated me by unintentionally foregrounding one of my favorite topics: the elusive borderline between fiction films and so-called documentaries.
Ray's approach is proudly amateurish - like Warhol who was his contemporary in the Underground Cinema field mid-'60s he rejects the niceties and style of mainstream movies. Here we have a loop carrier (two stag films are shown during the overall movie as both padding and fodder for MST3K voice-over commentary by the cast) that consists of a mustachioed pornographer showing five would-be adult models what is expected of them in this new X-rated industry.
Of course the stag films he projects for them in 16mm represent a long history of private porn, but in 1971 the floodgates were opening (thanks to the Supreme Court decisions on the subject including freeing "I Am Curious (Yellow)" earlier on), so HOW TO does serve as an almost tongue-in-cheek (pun intended) introduction to the brave new era.
At least a couple of the 5 girls are pretty and at least one (Patti Snyder) forged a brief career in loops and features. But they are merely on display as "raw meat", playthings for the porn producer/director to bait, order around and ultimately hump.
Other guys, some with sizable dicks, lurk in the shrubbery on set, also humping but basically deferring to the ego-tripping major domo, who one would like to believe is Ray's alter ego. The HOW TO information imparted is minimal and rather silly, as is the entire film. The fact that sex performers have to play to the camera in terms of positioning themselves with fake body movements, plus issues of getting their male co-stars hard, add up to nothing.
What does make this tedious exercise informative is its documentary nature, using that term as it is commonly defined. Because mobile camera movement and framing are beyond Ray's technical capabilities, we are presented with a presumed documentary recording of f*cking and especially sucking, falsely purporting to be a realistic portrayal of casting/rehearsing/shooting porn.
The fact that the whole thing is clumsily staged and that the girls are in on the joke is patently obvious but assumed away since the audience is presumed insultingly to be made up of mongoloid idiots. Many latter-day revisionists (at the low end such homemade celebrities as "42nd St. Pete" who turns out to be a few crucial years too young to really know what he's talking about) take a condescending attitude towards the viewers of 1971, looking at these film artifacts from an Olympian 21st Century vantage point without ever having paid their dues at the flea-pits (British revisionists) or grind houses (American revisionists) they wax nostalgically about. High Priest of this nonsensical movement, Quentin Tarantino, is even younger than Pete and learned about classic indie movies working in a video store so I can safely dismiss his so-called expertise.
Stripping away the now cast-in-stone tenets of ignorant cinema appreciation regarding "bad is good", "so bad it's good", "psychotronic cinema"-a term coined by my friend who I knew back in Cleveland, Michael Weldon, "sexploitation"-a term popularized at my old stomping grounds Variety Newspaper and merely a euphemism blurring the issues, we have Ray's movie as junk - filler designed for consumption by those of us fascinated with anything that can move through a projector (or now, streamable).
I have contended for decades that "documentary film" is a misnomer that a self-serving mini- industry (now relegated largely to backers like HBO rather than cinema sources) perpetuates for self-aggrandizing reasons. Whether it be Fred Wiseman and Ken Burns (or their ancestors Pare Lorenz, Robert Flaherty and the like) or hokey practitioners like Michael Moore, these "documentary films" are just as premeditated, faked and personalized as any fiction film. Many actually have screenplays and often actors are used, or in Ken Burns' case "voices" not unlike those wonderful personages Warren Beatty presented in his fiction film about a documentary subject REDS.
The fact that Wiseman does not add narration or other obvious fakery to his work doesn't make his often tedious exercises any more real than a Bowery Boys movie. As artifacts, the Bowery Boys and other bargain-basement Monogram studios type of movies are probably more culturally valuable than a warehouse full of award-winning docs. (NOTE: I saw Wiseman's earliest "masterpiece" TITICUT FOLLIES pre-release back in 1966 at a college screening in Cambridge, and followed his career ever since.)
So Steckler's transparent fakery just brings into high relief the artifice, even here in such an artless manner, of conceiving, organizing and editing a movie, whether using found footage or original material, and then pretending that it is documentary or objective in nature rather than a child of Shakespeare, Moliere or any other dramatic artists who worked prior to Edison or the Lumiere Brothers' invention. Some day insightful researchers may adopt my point-of-view and analyze how intrinsically fake are the cinema verite, reality TV (already discovered to be phony due to too obvious chicanery especially in the editing process) and other bastions of "documentary" field.
So far I would venture that only pure pornography -unedited recording of sex acts without any intervention and perhaps the bootleg recordings of each and every Grateful Dead concert (editing being the enemy of preserving the point-in-time memory for the fans) are examples of what a real documentary, properly defined, might be.
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