The Smiths (2010)
Reviewing a 2010 film is a bit of a departure from the mission statement of Pornonomy. After reading GGG's interview with the dudes behind the The Morning After podcast, I decided to check out some of the episodes. One of the first episodes I listened to was the one with Kayden Kross. In it, they asked her about the difficulties the industry was facing with piracy and what they could do to combat it. She mentioned that in most cases, people were downloading individual scenes instead of full films, and that by offering higher production values in the story and acting, people might be compelled to buy or rent the dvd after seeing a downloaded scene. (Wishful thinking, perhaps.) At the time, one of her most recent films was The Smiths, so she used it as an example of a more plot-oriented film. I decided it was worth checking out.
First, the things I liked: I was pleasantly surprised that the film is only an hour and 37 minutes long. It seems that most of my other recent experiences concerning contemporary porn involved two and a half hour movies, with the individual sex scenes clocking in at mind-numbing 26-minute stretches.
Right when it started up, it seemed to at least have a quality equal to cable softcore films (although, for all I know, this *could* be a "chicken or the egg" type deal; maybe major studio porn dictated the quality and style of Skinemax flicks...), excepting the credits. Christ, you'd think somebody at Digital Playground would have enough sense to know that an italic, decorative serif typeface should *not* be used in all caps. But I digress.
The story actually isn't too bad. Manuel Ferrara, an executive at a company that can be contracted to block porn websites, is frustrated in a sexless marriage with an uptight, straight-laced Kayden Kross. One morning, Kross's sister, Riley Steele, shows up (a character that *could* have been a manic pixie dream girl if the movie allowed for even a modest amount of character development). With her in the house, Ferrara finds out [SPOILER ALERT] that his wife isn't actually a professional corporate document destroyer, but is, in fact, a porn star! Porn is, apparently, a family affair, because the sisters a both porn stars and, guess what, so is their mother.
So now for what I didn't like (or, at the very least found boring): Only one of two of the five sex scenes were really plot-based. The other three were tangentially related, at best. If the industry's hope against pirates is convincing people to watch films in their entirety, it's probably in their best interest to make sure the sex scenes naturally flow from the movie around them.
On a more specific note, all of the sex scenes and all of the performers seemed totally interchangeable. I'm not saying it's imperative to have an actor wear an eye patch and speak with a lisped French accent, staying in character the entire time, but the brutally repetitive nature of the scenes is another whammy against an attempt at encouraging people to think of the movie as a whole. On a slightly more crass note, I'm not sure when the "official porn blowjob" became force it as far into the throat as possible, and hold; after the actress cough/gags, she pulls it out and spits on it; then, she jerks at it as fast as possible; repeat. I mean, that shit doesn't look natural and *barely* seems pleasurable (for either party).
It's not uncommon to hear porn stars say, "Well, that's not how I have sex in my personal life, that's just the fantasy of porn." Or talk about how, if a viewer really considered the positions they were in, they'd realize they couldn't really be enjoying it because they were trying to keep their leg from cramping or whatever, but they have to stay "open for the camera." Now, consider for a second that in the past few years, websites like Yuvutu and Xtube and take your pick of a zillion others have blown up. On the one hand, the availability for people to upload films satisfies exhibitionist desires; on the other, people watching can satisfy their voyeuristic tendencies. On yet another hand, though, I wonder if their popularity isn't more a result of mainstream porn fatigue. I don't mean that people want to see all amateurs, all the time (porn companies, in my opinion, make that mistake and will release videos with "watch Joe Sixpack fuck his favorite porn star" premises), but rather people are interested in watching actors have sex the way they themselves have sex.
I've finally gotten around to starting Linda Williams' Hard Core, and while I'm not far along, one sentence really stood out. (I'll paraphrase, because a cursory glance couldn't track it down.) She noted that pornography has obsessed with the visual to its potential detriment, neglecting less obvious things that could ultimately prove more erotic. While this sentiment was written in 1989, I think it's actually more true now than it was then. I think if you found someone that defined themselves as a porn fan that was unfamiliar with porn before, say, 1995, and showed them one of many Golden Era films, one of their first reactions would be "I can't see anything." Now, I won't contend that all Golden Era sex scenes were more "real" than their current day counterparts - "open for the camera" has always existed - but I'd be willing to wager that a damn sight of them were closer to the way "real" people had (and have) sex.
In the end, watching The Smiths basically confirmed what I already knew (or at least suspected). New porn is not really my bag. I think what it boils down to is that while porn as always existed, essentially, for one thing (uh duh), the video era snap back from features to...well, not loops, exactly...but at the very least a focus on a scene or scenes rather than the whole (and amplified a million fold by gonzo), has permeated so deeply ino the industry's idea of what a porn film is, that narrative movies are fighting an uphill battle.
I'm not actually going to grade The Smiths (although I will count it as a 2011 review, because I said so), since I'm pretty well out of my element. It'd be like asking someone from CMT to review a Geto Boys album.
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