I’m going to go out on a limb here and venture a guess that most people have seen a porno movie at least once in their lives. Those who have will agree that there’s nothing artistic about them and no redeeming social qualities. For those who haven’t, let me just say that the plot is thinner than a communion wafer, and once the porno music kicks in people simply fuck. There’s no other way to put it, because nothing you see in a porno film resembles foreplay or lovemaking or anything that passes for a normal relationship. People just rip off their clothes and go at it like beasts in whatever fantasy slant a particular film calls for. It’s not tasteful, and it’s not artful.
That’s why Deborah Anderson’s photography book Aroused drew both raves and attention. Anderson took 16 of the world’s most successful adult film stars and photographed them wearing nothing but a pair of neon Jimmy Choo shoes. But she treats them the way Annie Liebowitz did her subjects: respecting them as persons and celebrating the nude as painters do. She tried to get people to see these porn stars in a different light, and in this she was highly successful.
“It’s like being a superhero. It really helps to have a stage name . . . to have a chance to have a second life.”
“Aroused” the movie is a documentary that was made coincidentally as she photographed the women. Like the book, it’s both tasteful and artistic. In fact, I’m be interested to know whether any men who watch the film do get “aroused.” I wasn’t. But I was interested for the whole 69 minutes—in part, because it’s shot in the same style as her artsy photographic book.
“This is not a movie about pornography,” Anderson says. “It’s about women: their dreams, their desires, and their lives.
The film opens with the first of many epigraphs, this one from Erica Jong: “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”
That of course implies that women who make porn flicks have a talent that enables them to do so, and that flies in the face of what most people think about porn stars. But the genius of Anderson’s film is that it encourages thought, and often you find yourself changing your attitude about something (or someone) during the course of the interviews and photography sessions.
“I was a shy kid. I couldn’t give a book report in class,” one of them confesses.
“It’s a little difficult to just be an object to someone,” another admits.
“I’m willing to put my sex life on camera and you’re not. We’re not that different.”
“You’re definitely going to get STDs.”
“Civilians,” one of them says of anyone who’s not in the business. “They don’t understand. We have fans who love us, but we have people who hate us and spit on us.”
“If you want to enjoy porn, never go to a porn set. Because if you saw what went on, you would probably never jerk off to it again,” one of them says.
And another is pretty open about the risks they face, including the very real possibility of contracting AIDS, and compares what they do to movie stuntmen. “You’re putting your life on the line. That’s why you’re getting paid the big bucks.”
Featured are porn stars:
Just as revealing are remarks from the only woman interviewed who doesn’t take off her clothes and have sex on camera for a living: Fran Amidor, an agent who’s extremely frank about the industry. What kind of a woman gets into porn? Someone who is promiscuous and likes sex, and one day thinks, why give it away free when I could be making a LOT of money? Someone who is 18 to 20, and who doesn’t think far enough into the future to consider the full ramifications of a career decision like this.
But their pasts are far from similar.
Some, who had strict parents or a religious upbringing, are rebellious. Some are curious. Some crave attention. Some miss their fathers. Some hate their fathers. Some had very young parents. Some had very permissive parents. One started out to become a weather girl.
Anderson devoted three hours to interviewing the women, who range in age from 22 to 39, and what we get on film are edited excerpts from those interviews as the women are in make-up or voiceovers as the women are posing, sprawled on a bed. She begins by talking with them in make-up, moves on to a segment on pervasiveness of sex in popular culture (which feels a bit pedantic), then finally gets to the filming sessions of the women posing nude (again, tastefully done, no spread legs, no come-hither looks, no pubic patches) and concludes with some revelations about the business and an upbeat segment about a fan convention that almost makes up for some of the looks behind the curtain.
“They tell you to drink 12 loads out of a cup with a straw and don’t think about how you’ll feel,” one of them says.
“They’re taking drugs on set because they see a guy with [a huge apparatus] and they know it’s not going anywhere without a Vicodin,” the agent reveals.
“Aroused” is well done, and like the best documentaries and the best artwork it alters the way you see a subject and the way you think about things. But it is NOT arousing.
“Aroused” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio “enhanced” for widescreen TVs. Though the box says it’s in color, this documentary is actually filmed in an interesting way. It moves, like “The Wizard of Oz,” from black-and-white to spot color and eventually muted color—which reinforces the artistic look of the film. A number of shots are filmed with that gauzy soft-focus Vaseline look that’s common to art photography of nudes, but other shots are clear and sharply delineated.
The audio appears to be a Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo, which is unusual, considering that this documentary is mostly interview-driven. So there’s really more firepower than we need.
The only bonus feature is the trailer.
“Aroused” is a revealing look at the women of porn, and a sensitive portrayal of what makes them tick.