Subject: A Confederacy of Pornographers
Date: Thu, 06 Aug 98 20:36:20
Organization: Deja News - The Leader in Internet Discussion
World Pornography Conference
Well, as we discussed monday on the #pornchat IRC, I will try to post reports on the World Porn Conference as I'm able. Luck is with me in that a friend has internet access and is letting me post when I get back from the conference.
Let's call him The Director (with apologies to Jeff). He's a "Golden Age" stalwart who's moved on, and would prefer not to have his name spammed about, so I'll respect that.
The airplane took off just before dawn. As we climbed to 40K feet, we experienced a magnificent false dawn, and, sadly, I was not prepared for the incredible blanket of pollution covering the supposedly pristine northwest. At the San Francisco layover, my seat was parked on the sun side, and pretty soon, the window was too hot to touch. A VERY uptight Chinese gentleman (with a copy of a Chinese-language magazine and USA TODAY in English) spent a very uncomfortable hour letting me know through shakes, attempts to move away from me in his seat, etc. that he DID NOT APPRECIATE that our legs were in contact.
Hey, asshole, I thought, I don't like it either, but they put the seats in six across on the 737 to make an extra buck, and we're just going to have to accept the fact that United seats are exactly a cheek-and-a-half wide. How the women manage is entirely beyond me.
Luck. When we land in Burbank, I snag the last rental car in the airport -- a reasonably priced gold Mazda LX with air-conditioning, a kick-ass stereo and a CD player. Cool.
Unfortunately, the weather isn't, and pretty soon, I am blessing the A/C It rapidly climbs to over 100 degrees F.
I drive over to the Director's house, and a strange thing transpires: by sheerest dumb luck, two of his friends, veterans of the "Golden Age" of the seventies stop by. They tell stories of the old days, of the Burlesque days, and of the terrible stigma that used to attach if your neighbors, your non-business friends, or your landlord found out that you were in any wise involved with PORNO.
I also learn the sad story of WEHT Rick Lutz.
I won't go into the details -- because many would betray confidences, but Rick Lutz was hospitalized (as in long-term, as in probably permanently) for long-term alcohol abuse, and the official diagnosis was "pickled brain."
[NB: I know. But the witness to this sad affair swore that that's what the doctors told him, and he'd thought it would be something like "Delerium Tremens" or "Alcoholic Delerium." Nope: "Pickled Brain." Descriptive enough.]
What has happened to Lutz since, they do not know.
And then a long meeting with a friend of 20 years over dinner and beer under those Phoenix-style misters. Unfortunately, LA is an artificial rain-forest, with in the high humidity from all those car washes, the chief effect of the misters (can't smoke inside -- sawdust on the floor of the bar, perhaps, or just more LA anti-smoking bullshit) is to drench the tables and seats -- picnic tables, well-worn and painted the color of rust on Bethlehem Steel girders.
I got news for 'em: I started hacking the second I hit LA air, and I hadn't had a butt yet.
He filled me in on the latest in alt.religion.scientology and offered his opinions on commercial porn. Too long to go into here, I will only state for the record, your Honor, that I find the input of porn consumers infinitely more dead on and honest than the input of porn "insiders." We see what we THINK we made.
They see what we ACTUALLY did.
And back to La Cucaracha Arms. (See "Diary of a Porn Shoot " on the RAME Webpage under misc. for more details.)
Kommander Kockroach and his minions seem to have left for the summer, and the place has a fresh coat of paint. It's still a dump, and a terrifically Spartan dump at that: There is a bed. A TV that makes lights and noise but not much else. Several obvious amateur dry-wall patches about the size of the foot that made them in the walls. The aluminum window locks by the simple expedient of a sawed-off broomstick handle splotched with white paint from its duty as a roller extender.
I figure that this is an extension of when we shot in November, so I might as well have the spare environment of a Trappist monk's cell to decompress from the Corporate Magnificence of the Sheraton Universal. (That last description is dripping with sarcasm, note.)
The Air-conditioner screams through the hot summer night. Sirens wail continually, but I returned to not hearing them, like the ex-Angeleno that I am.)
Next morning, I decide, given the security situation, that my rental car is a better lock-box than the room, and so I put my two bags in the Mazda. I dub it "Christopher." Come on Christopher, I say: Let's get breakfast.
I stop by the old Duplex at 5620 Cartwright, the return address on the first manuscript I ever sent out. It's gone Yuppie, with a new coat of paint, new vinyl energy-saving windows, and a surveillance camera at the front door. The Man tells the Child: "You wrote that piece sitting on a closet drawer, with your typewriter perched on the air-conditioner that you desperately needed but that had the 220 Volt plug in a house with only 110 outlets. You sent it to KNIGHT, and got one of the last 25 rejection slips it ever sent out. And then, you worked for KNIGHT's parent corporation for ten happy years.
The Child tells the Man: "Cool."
And then the Director and I drive over to the Sheraton Universal, past the Black Tower, and two poor Armenian Hotel Personnel in black suits charge us $6 to park.
I feel sorry for them in those Black Suits in this heat, but after I fork over the $6, I don't feel so sorry for them at all.
The registration is your standard Hotel Convention registration. Two nice ladies behind the desk take my name, after the obligatory stand in line, and hand me my registration packet with the final program and my Convention Badge. It's 1976 Again, and I'm heading to WESTERCON again at the LAX Hyatt. I don't know what this is going to be, but it sure as hell feels like a science fiction convention used to. The Pornsters are buying legitimacy from the University crowd, and the Professors are buying a fertile new field for Doctoral Dissertations:
"Cum Shots: History, Theory and Research" Peter Sandor Gardos, Ph.D. Thrive, San Francisco Don Mosher, Ph. D. University of Conn"
"Conn" perhaps means "Connecticutt" but there are too many typos in the program to be sure.
Meanwhile, Monica Lewinsky is testifying -- purportedly -- about giving Presidential blowjobs and the FBI is diligently searching for cum stains on a dress bought at The Gap.
As Mark Twain said: Reality differs from fiction in that fiction has to be believable.
(Or something like that. Sorry, my Bartlett's is 1000 miles away.)
We check the packet and leave. It's noon. The first actual event isn't until 7 pm. A gaggle of persons having something to do with the convention sit at the tables by the registration desk. I don't recognize anyone, but I note that NO ONE IS SAYING A WORD TO ANYONE ELSE. An eerie silence the whole time.
On the way back, I see that the old neighborhood has now been dubbed the NoHo Arts District, est. 1992. The Television Academy now occupies the old mainstreet on Lankershim. When I moved here years ago, this was a semi-seedy, faceless neighborhood.
So: Tonight we kick off WorldCon 1. Ted Sturgeon told me stories of the old days of the conventions, when only a handful attended, and they all knew one another. And I remember when Science Fiction went from being "lowbrow" paperbacks to requiring an advanced degree, and holding down a university teaching gig while one tortuously writes one's precious SF novel.
In the old days, you used to crank 'em out to pay the rent. Is porn headed in the same direction?
I'll post more after the Great Event. Meantime, I'm looking forward to THIS presentation on Saturday:
"Homoerotic Art in Renaissance Florence."
This ain't fiction, folks.
The line at the "no host" bar is interminable.
It is 7 pm. The show was astonishing, but I'm too burnt out to do it justice -- and my notes are back at the hotel room. So, I think we might as well start with today.
There were flashes of brilliance on the panels, but, taken as a whole, today was a profoundly tiring and disappointing exercise.
[Excuse me, all, but I'm completely out of gas, but I felt I should get some news out to you.
Nadine Strossen's speech at lunch was a high point (Strossen is current President of the American Civil Liberties Union.)
The "Awards" Banquet was a chance to honor Stanley Fleishman, J.D., a civil liberties lawyer who has fought any number of obscenity cases. His speech was definitely the high point of the day, as he reminisced about some of his cases, and concluded with the grim warning that, while the PRINCIPLES he'd defended on First Amendment grounds had, in many cases, ultimately prevailed, he'd had several clients die in prison while they waited to be proven within their rights.
In other words, free speech had finally come to them only after their capacity FOR speech had forever ceased.
The increased incidence of attacks on speech and "pornography" are on the upswing, not steady, not decreasing: increasing.
Strossen pointed out (in a speech that I can't do justice right now -- I'm bone tired and weary) that in "Censor-nnati" (Cincinnati, Ohio), the local ACLU had been called on to defend their President's right to speak.
And she gave a chilling example of what had happened to her, similarly, in Ventura, California -- about fifty miles from where we were sitting, having finished our standard hotel banquet (Chicken, what else?).
If it is happening to the President of the frigging ACLU, think what's staring US in the face.
More when I recuperate -- and no, I AVOIDED the "Night of the Stars." I don't have $100 to spare, don't feel like scamming a press pass, and have no interest in paying to see people clothed that I used to be paid to see UNclothed.
I feel as though I've been battered around the head and neck with a dead mackerel for several hours. The panel had a LOT to do with it.
But porn scored a dubious honor today:
We're on the soggy chicken circuit now, just like football coaches, star players and political fundraisers.
I know I'm thrilled.
Oh, and Bill Margold announced in a panel after lunch that he's the "St. Francis of Assisi of porn."
And that his "kids" (the performers) were sad lost puppies, or something to that effect. Perhaps he meant that he was the ASPCA of the Industry now, I'm not certain. But Maestro was sitting right behind me, and I would request that she PLEASE give us her take on that very odd interlude.
[At one point, he stated that he was the St. Francis of porn and he was gonna "defend my kids." Well, I guess Bill wasn't raised Catholic, or has forgotten, but St. Francis is most definitely NOT mounted on a white charger, wearing chrome armor and wielding the Sword of Justice. I think he was thinking of ANOTHER saint. Perhaps St. Bruno. Who can say?]
You'll forgive me for being bummed. As some might recall, we shot an "amateur" video* last winter, and have been slogging through the technical stuff.
[* "amateur" in quotes because I learned at the World Pornography Conference that at least one performer in our vid, Randi Storm, claimed Saturday morning to have appeared in nearly 200 videos. Not EXACTLY what I'd term "amateur," but then I didn't handle the casting -- Reb did.]
The short version is that we entered a half-hour "professional" short in the "Erotic Film Festival" for consideration, which is the ONLY reason that I attended. The other reason, of course, was that I am the webmaster for JohnnyWadd.com (which I have carefully avoided mentioning, lest someone consider that I am trying to slip in a plug). Indeed, I went to meet Lori and John (a different one), and we mutually agreed that their current Mac ISP's owner would be a better choice for webmaster.
(Now it can be told, to quote Kilgore Trout.)
As you might have guessed from my previous posts, it's been a grueling convention. (I know, they call it a conference, but it's a classic Con: panels and a continuous film room, people in strange costumes, parties at night and even the inevitable costume show -- just like any decently run SF con.)
When I left the Pacific Northwest, I'd just suffered through an air-conditionerless heat wave. I managed to get here for one, as well, but the rental car has a/c, and the room has a/c, and the con had a/c, so except for stepping outside, things have been tolerable. (I am informed that home has been having cool, wonderful weather, and I DESPERATELY want to get out of this hellhole they call Hollywood, and back to less arrogant climes.)
I've not been doing a lot of interpreting, because, really, until the last day, today, I didn't really have any SORT of handle on the proceedings. But let's back up 24 hours.
I found very rapidly that the porn people -- some of whom I have known nearly 20 years -- are still the same arrogant, power-trippy jerks they always were. The whole minuet of who greets whom, and how much acknow- ledgement to bestow is always finely calculated based on one's current level of Power in the Biz, and with whom one has been "seen" and myriad other qualifying factors.
Wisely, as it turns out, I have been keeping a low profile in my role as producer/director, preferring to let the film speak for itself -- and stonewalling in case of FUBAR.
And my "friends" of long ago evidently found me wanting in the correct Caste Systems. Now, understand, when I meet old acquaintences in any OTHER realm of endeavor, we always are interested in what's happened since, old times, etc. There are NOT heirarchical boundaries.
But the thing that always sickened me about Hollywood (and, to be fair, New York and Washington, D.C.) is that insane lust of the hairless killer monkeys to "status" and pecking order. I am a western boy, and where I come from, we don't cotton to people putting on airs, least of all fuck film performers.
As we've gone over thoroughly, most can't really act, and are not necessarily role-models in the Fine Art of Copulation. So why the 'tude, dudes?
I had a wonderful time with my old journalistic colleagues, and even some new ones. And, as a sidelight on the Luke Ford situation, I will state forthrightly that I am HAPPY to see someone making the gladhanding money folks squirm. This business, the convention proved, if nothing else, laps up its own PR with the gusto of a fly for fresh shit.
The whispered attitude I heard over and over from insider after insider was: HOW DARE FORD SAY ANYTHING AMISS ABOUT US! Look at the ACLU lawyers, and the Sexology PhDs come here to worship us! See!
Yeah. Right. Sure.
By the final day, I was certain that my bullshit meter is going to have to go into the shop for recalibration. Why, to hear the "actors" [In quotes so as not to offend actual actors] they're all Clara Bartons bringing healing solace to a desperately ill society. One actress actually had the temerity to suggest that they were public health workers of a sort. And, they were happy to claim that their sudden conversion to condoms was going to End AIDS In Our Time (certainly that was the implication.)
I don't know if the sexologists lapped this line of horse doogie up with gusto, but the porn stars sure as hell did. They went from trying to convince people that they were human beings on Thursday to being the Second Coming by Sunday.
Now, some of it not their fault. Being fawned and drooled over like some fine Cartier watch DOES tend to give one a swelled head, but this was beyond all proportion.
I walked out thinking: "Geez, you've hobnobbed and had a swell time with the President of the ACLU, and some of the finest First Amendment Lawyers in the country. You've swapped stories, gossip and old times with your fellow print journalists. You've had a great time with internet buddies, with directors and producers and crew (few though they were, sadly), so why did your old friends the 'actors' make you feel like a leper?"
"The Body Beautiful people have ALWAYS been that way," the Director tells me over one of his marvelous grilled specialty dinners. "That was why once I got out of biz, they were not allowed in our house."
"Well, except for John [Holmes]. John could be a real stinker, but he always had something that no one else had."
The Director's wife confides a tale: "When we used to shoot up in San Francisco, I did the books, because we had to do the payroll in cash. John would always volunteer to accompany me, and would stuff the cash in his socks and his boots, just to be my guardian angel. Nobody else could do it, and John didn't have to do it, but he would, anyway."
Looking at this gang, I have to extend my comment on Bill Margold's "St. Francis of Assisi of Porn" statement. By comparison, Bill IS. When there weren't enough chairs on stage for the Grand Finale, ONLY Bill helped get them up on stage. One group of newer actresses sat multiply on chairs, on the stage or on each other, rather than sully their stardom with actual manual labor.
"Sunset Boulevard" all over again. A star exists to be served, never to serve.
And so the day began with some asshole swiping my camera. It really isn't worth stealing -- the photos were worth more than the camera, but realizing that I was at a porn convocation, I had little hope that it would be turned in: looting on sets is so de rigeur that I'm sure some starlet considered the camera her due.
[Just a black Olympus camera without focus or anything fancy. A sort of instamatic. And, if the asshole who swiped it reads this: KEEP THE GODDAMNED CAMERA, but please send me the film. I was working on an article that would make enough to replace the camera, but now, without stills, I'm fucked. I'll accept it COD. OK? Or, I'll even reimburse you the mailing and you can still KEEP the camera. There's nothing on the film that YOU could possibly use.]
And last night, at 6:03 PM when the finest legal minds in the country rehashed their cases (including the chief counsel on the CDA case, and the fellow who defended the Cincinnati museum in the infamous Robert Mapplethorpe case), FSC Counsel Douglas (? I don't have my notes and am typing this in withering heat in a converted garage at the Director's house at midnight Sunday) announced tersely:
"The Erotic Film Festival scheduled for 7:30 has been cancelled due to technical problems."
In the program, of course, it says 7:00, but let's pass on that. WHY has it been cancelled? I thought. I was already more than a bit miffed that, rather than cut out some time to play all the submitted films (and there weren't that many, I am told), a pornathon of the all-time "Greats" was running on the roof of the Sheraton Universal so that the Mighty Jim Holliday could vaunt his unctuous expertise.
Ah Hollywood, thy name be ego.
[NB: Any respectable film festival usually screens nearly all the films submitted, subject to time and content limitations, but not the mighty FSC! They were only going to show the winners.]
And now they weren't going to show ANY films.
I managed to piece together the following explanation this morning: A box was delivered containing all the submissions (or many), but the ranking sheet was not included. Thus, no idea as to what films to run.
One would think that the FSC Counsel (whose domain it was) could CALL someone and get the list, else send someone to retrieve it, but no.
And so, at 6:03 on a Saturday night, I remembered Kier Dullea in "2001" impotently opening and closing his mouth after HAL won't open the pod bay doors, and has cut off communication. I struggled mightily to maintain my composure.
I'M SORRY DAVE, BUT I CAN'T DO THAT.
Here we'd spent nearly $1000 that we really don't have, so that the "rough cut" of our video could be screened by our potential distributors, and seen by our peers, and instead we're buttfucked by FUBAR. We are not well to do people, note. I will be eating Ramen noodles for months to pay for this trip, and now it's all for naught.
OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS, HAL.
And, slightly before the great Circle of Jerks began the Grand Finale, Mr. Douglas again took the microphone -- only reluctantly surrendered by Will Jarvis, a/k/a Taleisin the Bard, who managed to prove in his every flirtation with the mike that he is one of those sorts of people who are mesmerized by the sound of their own voice, and go on and on and on, certain that everyone in the audience is as orgasmically thrilled by the sound of their voice as they themselves are.
Quoth Douglas (or whatever his name is: remember, I have zero reason to particularly be kind to him): "We will have the winners of the Erotic Film Festival for you on Monday afternoon." Perhaps, he continued, they'd offer everyone a refund of their entrance fees.
Right. Here I've busted my ass to get this film done on time, getting it to the post office at 11:59 PM on July 15, and humping ass to get down here, even though my kitchen floor is torn up, and I'm abandoning my friend and contractor, and all the rest: and they can't even fucking find out WHO WON THEIR FUCKING CONTEST!
HAL I SAID OPEN THE FUCKING POD BAY DOORS!
I'll be flying up the spine of the Sierra Nevadas, wedged like a sardine with a bunch of snooty yuppies when the results are announced. I had no reason to even attend this event.
And so, perhaps you'll forgive me if I sound somewhat pissy. I am happy that I didn't say much about the film while I was here, and so I don't have to endure the embarrassment of looking like an idiot (except in the eyes of my loving wife, and you, dear readers).
Perhaps next year they might consider playing more than the winners anyway, if Mr. Holliday's need to control the film room for four days without letup can be somewhat mollified. After all, no one else at the convention was accorded such sovereign control, but then, of course, he is in the so-called XRCO "Hall of Fame," after all, and must be given his due.
Perhaps we will still win. Perhaps something innovative has a chance in this mess. There were, according to Douglas, 20 judges, FWIW. Then again, I'm probably just a shitty filmmaker, and a worse writer, and there's probably nothing more worth saying, and actually everything was just peachy and the porn stars ARE all Angels descended to Earth to provide therapy for we mere mortals.
And perhaps the "Erotic Film Festival" WASN'T just a con to give the biggies another free award for their boxcovers in a rigged contest.
Stranger things have happened.
It is now *Wednesday.* Mr. J.J. Douglas -- the FSC legal counsel who was in charge of the festival -- promised to have some sort of answer on Sunday, after cancelling the "festival"s showing of the winners on Saturday at 6:03PM.
Then, in front of the entire conference, he promised to announce the winners on Monday afternoon. Evidently, the promise was made rashly. At that point (Sunday) I handed him my business card, and asked if he could e-mail the information to me. He agreed.
I spent Monday en route, arriving home at 8 PM. Immediately I went to my e-mail and checked. Nothing. 35 spam messages, though.
The following is a verbatim transcript (using only "Fair Use" quotes from Mr. Douglas' letters. I'd like to reproduce them in their entirety, but that would be neither ethical nor, technically, legal. Still, the corrsepondence speaks for itself.
Who won? Who knows?
* * *
Date sent: Mon, 10 Aug 1998 20:54:46
Dear Mr. Douglas:
Having handed you a card, and exacted a promise that you would e-mail me a listing of the winners, imagine my surprise at arriving home, beat and hot and tired, and no such message, of course, is waiting.
Perhaps I should spend another $1000 and THEN I can find out what happened to my submission?
* * *
Dear Mr. Williams:
I do not know how I failed to communicate to you that I would be unable to inform you of the winners until I found out who they were. While I understand that this is your highest priority, irt [sic] is regretably,[sic] only one of several of mine.
* * *
Date sent: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 11:52:22
Dear Mr. Douglas:
I recognize your situation. However, you made the statement to a room filled with people that you would announce said winners on Monday afternoon.
Since it is now TUESDAY afternoon, I am curious as to how you come to the belief that I am in somewise acting irritably, or irrationally.
In my experience, when a man says that he will do something at a certain time, I believe that he will do that, unless there is an understandable problem.
If said person cannot fulfill the promise that he has made, I generally expect explanation, not excoriation. While I understand your position, I would hope that you might appreciate that no one twisted your arm to promise Monday afternoon, and that it was perfectly reasonable of me to take you at you word, even knowing you to be a lawyer.
I apologize for my crustiness, but I hope that you will recognize that it was not YOUR professional reputation, nor your personal finances that suffered in this fiasco, but mine.
* * *
Dear Mr. Hart:
I regret any damage down [sic] to your professional reputation. If you will review your note to me, you may agree that it is also my professional reputation that is suffering.
* * *
My name is "Mr. Williams," not "Mr. Hart."
As regards your professional reputation, I was not aware that you organized film festivals for a living.
As such, certainly I owe you an apology. I had thought you to be an attorney who got himself lost on a side-issue; not, as I now understand it, a professional film festival producer whose very livelihood was on the line with this event.
Certainly this must be difficult for you, contemplating professional disgrace and personal bankruptcy. I certainly hope that this all works out for you, and apologize for my minor annoyance that it is Wednesday and we still don't know what films in your festival won on Saturday night.
But this is selfish of me. What are my professional troubles compared to your woes? I certainly commiserate, and hope that your career as a festival producer isn't fatally harmed by all of this.
Best of Luck,
or, "Mr. Hart" in your quaint parlance.
PS: It occurs to me that you might want to consider using that dormant law degree and take up full-time legal practice now that the "film festival" part of your career seems to be in such difficulties. There's always a need for qualified lawyers.
* * *
And there it stands. Scuttlebutt had it that VCA pulled out of the festival last week. I can't get any confirmation on this though. I would hazard that they are trying to figure out a way to cancel the festival retroactively and, thus, sweep this mess under the rug.
Frankly, I can think of no excuse for the FSC's actions.
Hart Williams is a well-known RAME curmudgeon
[And no, I am NOT a raving tree-hugger, I just write for a magazine that is. THX and a tip of the hat to MAESTRO, and to too many more to thank here for a wonderful time, despite everything. -- HW]
"Normally you will receive your refund about six weeks after you file your return."