Saturday, April 07, 2012

Boogie Nights Redux

The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film IndustryThe Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry by Legs McNeil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating book, regardless of what you might think of the subject matter. Most accounts of the porn industry tend to hew to obvious cliches about predatorily exploited lost souls with self-esteem or child molestation issues, and while the stereotype is common enough to have a fair amount of validity (although I'd wager it's not appreciably more common than it is in the legit film business), and while the book does depict its fair share of victims and casualties (John Holmes, for instance, seems to have been a genuinely fucked-up person, while Linda Lovelace comes across as damaged goods from the beginning, but many of the book's interviewees come across as surprisingly articulate and with a refreshingly clear-eyed perspective on their past), Legs McNeil and his collaborators here paint a more nuanced picture.

Now admittedly the book concentrates primarily on the Boogie Nights era, and the industry has changed a lot since then. Given the the near-ubiquity of porn nowadays, thanks largely to the internet, it's easy to forget the peculiar cultural niche porn occupied in the 70s: back then traditional notions of propriety were changing rapidly. The Production Code had lost its grip on Hollywood and mainstream filmmakers were pushing the limits of acceptability with pictures like Carnal Knowledge, Midnight Cowboy, and A Clockwork Orange, while plays like Hair and Oh! Calcutta! were hits on Broadway. While X-rated films like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door never quite achieved the same level of legitimacy, it did briefly seem like there was a period when porn might go mainstream.

It didn't happen of course. The hostility of the Nixon and Reagan Justice Departments saw to that. Add to that first the home video revolution, which killed off the theatres, and the AIDS epidemic, which rang down the curtain on the party, and those days now seem like a lost era. A smutty one, naturally, and one fueled by drugs and bankrolled by organized crime, but one that in retrospect nevertheless had a curious sort of free-spirited innocence that couldn't exist today and that McNeil & Co. manage to capture in all its sordid glory.

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