Friday, May 14, 2010

What a Way to Make a Living

What makes a person think that wearing one of those "The Man/The Legend" shirts would be a good idea? As with any article of clothing, this piece represents the end-product of a complex process. Dude has to procure the shirt in the first place, either by straight-up buying it or by getting it from a like-minded friend. He's got to get home, put it in the drawer, not throw it away or donate it when the drawer gets full and it's time to thin the shirt herd, and ultimately make the decision to wear the shirt out-of-doors and on his person. Through all these decisions he aligns himself with the shirt's philosophy and thinks, "it's a good idea to wear this. To have an arrow pointing upwards with the caption 'The Man' contrasted by a southward arrow reading 'The Legend'. That is a good idea. I want to comment publicly on the size of my penis and its importance to society, and I want to broadcast this comment from my chest." The actual size of this guy's penis is immaterial; the fact that his mental process leads him on this tasteless path is the true issue at hand here. So to speak.

Anyway, there's a really sleazy dude in the porn documentary 9 to 5: Days in Porn who wears one of these shirts, as well as one that reads "Mountain Do Me" atop the logo of the popular mountain people breakfast beverage. A gargoyle in sweatpants and Spencer's t-shirts, Mark Spiegler is an agent of many prominent pornstars. With his Bluetooth gadget he makes appointments and negotiates fees. He is a pimp in the pre-"the sex industry is funny!" vein. Vincent Gallo would describe his body type as being that of a slave trader, I think. Spiegler's entire aura is one of corruption and scum; tellingly, his most reprehensible-seeming acts involve displays of generosity. In fact, few of the men in this movie come off very positively. But 9 to 5 is certainly no hit piece. These fellows are assholes by themselves, not because of editing or soundtrack. I was really down with this film's sense of even-handedness.

This dude Otto is def way worse than the guy with the shirt. He's some crazy, Libertarian, "Death Valley '69" mix of Tommy Wiseau and Keith Carradine in Nashville. He's manipulative and dismissive and belittling to his wife, Audrey, who is also a porn performer. He's even mean to his dog! Goodness! Audrey's submissiveness and lack of confidence stand in total contrast to the film's strongest characters, women who in their relationships with both men and the adult industry are far more self-assured and well-adjusted. Belladonna, especially, totally rocks the house. She be down with all sorts of heavy shit that weirds me out, but even when easing a baseball bat into another woman's anal cavity she's chillin'. Her relationship with her nerd husband is eminently stable and downright heartwarming compared to the imbalance of Otto and Audrey.

Being able to assess these characters in an almost personal way shows the strengths of 9 to 5. It knows how to back off, to show rather than to tell. It's as impartial as a documentary can be. It's also blocked really well, with director Jens Hoffman cannily avoiding showing penetration without desxualizing the film. He does a really great job in portraying the sex acts that compose pornography without being skeezy, shooting with such deftness that 9 to 5 is probably the least titillating porn documentary ever made. And this is to the film's credit; in the porn world, sex is nothing but labor. It takes many forms and elicits various responses but is ultimately a capitalist mechanism. A German performer profiled in the film takes this concept to its extreme, designating her body as a site of labor in transitioning from porn to prostitution without reticence. Functioning as an exchange of goods/services for capital, she sees the two as essentially the same thing.

In its refusal to either condemn pornography or outrightly praise it, 9 to 5 takes a very interesting look at a subject whose divisive nature typically demands a specific stance. But by taking a clinical, objective look at the industry and the extreme acts that help grant that industry's reputation we see the pornography business as just another institution. It's just another job, albeit one that includes phrases like “double anal” and “milk enema” (still trying to figure that one out) more frequently than “board meeting” and “expense account”. And there's a scene where two of the dudes sing "Nazi Punks Fuck Off". Cool. I was down!

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