Deep Inside the IAFD: Preserving porn’s history [interview]

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Porn is built on the backs of teenagers, many of whom, a few years later, want to put their wild ride in Porn Valley behind them. And porn is documented by a dwindling number of advertiser-funded publications that are often conflicted about, unwilling, or unable to tell the full story.

So if publications can’t remember objectively and performers want to forget, what’s left?

The raw data. Who did what with whom, in what movie, and where can that movie be purchased? That is where the Internet Adult Film Database (IAFD) fills the gap. Lovingly and meticulously compiled by porn fans, the basic but elegant IAFD paints in data the sheer volume of porn production and consumption over seven decades

“The reason we came about is because the porn industry would lie,” says Jeff Vanzetti, who runs IAFD.com from  his New Jersey home via collocated servers. “They’d put girls on boxcovers who weren’t even in the movie.”

No studios send movies to Vanzetti and his team of volunteers; they buy or rent movies themselves, and their data is uncluttered.

“The IAFD” was launched in 1999, but its history goes back two decades before that, to a musty Dutch porno theatre.

Before Twitter and Facebook, before blogs, and even before most online newspapers, there were Bulletin Board Services (BBS) and Usenet groups. These text-based interfaces were populated by tech-savvy and mostly bearded men whose love of data compelled them to the ultimate data wasteland the world has ever seen: the 90’s World Wide Web.

Peter Van Aarle was a Netherlands-based porn fan who happened to have a PhD. in Chemistry. Van Aarle had a simple dream: compile information on porn flicks the way Usenet group rec.arts.movies (later the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb) was compiling stats on Hollywood films.

Van Aarle had been keeping index card records of porn films since 1981. He would watch movies in his home town’s adult cinema and take notes. Later, he wrote a simple program in BASIC to keep track, switching to a Macintosh version of FileMaker when he secured employment at a Mac-only chemistry lab.

In 1990 Van Aarle was a year into his PhD. program but had become a major contributor to the Usenet group alt.sex.movies (ASM). He noted in an interview that there were flame wars even then.

(Vanzetti says, “Right after the net got invented, somebody pissed someone else off.”}

By 1994, Van Aarle and several contributors to ASM had grown tired of the flame wars and spam and decided to form their own Usenet group: rec.arts.movies.erotica, or RAME. After a formal Request for Discussion (an appeal to the greater Usenet body), RAME was launched on April 15, 1994.

As Usenet’s popularity waned with the advent of chatrooms and more graphically engaging web pages, Van Aarle, Vanzetti, and others launched IAFD.com in 1999.

“At first Peter stipulated that he would put an embargo on any information before 1989’s ‘Buttman’ movies,” Vanzetti says, “just in case the pre-1989 data could ever make him money.”

A good point. Does the IAFD make money?

“Ah, No,” Vanzetti says. “It’s still a labor of love. We cover our bandwidth costs. But if I had a dime for the 20 million unique IP addresses we logged last year, well…”

Vanzetti works with 12 contributors in a handful of countries to answer email, make corrections, and log data on every movie Porn Valley and its international satellites produce.

Here are some facts that might shock you.

Number of movies listed in the IAFD:

119,000

Number of performers:

111,000

While Vanzetti admits to “some overlap” between performers and directors, and while some (but not too many) of the films listed are repackaged compilations (which the IAFD makes clear “lest some poor guy get screwed who thinks he’s getting an original Gracie Glam movie but gets stuck with a comp,” Vanzetti says), the numbers of films funded and released, and the number of performers who—maybe just once—committed their image to a film in which they or someone nearby was having pornographic sex, is staggering.

Shortly before his much-lamented death in 2005, Van Aarle lifted his embargo on pre-1989 movie data, so the IAFD lists titles and performers back to the 1950s.

I asked Vanzetti if he saw a progression of style.

“Some of the Brazzers and Naughty America stuff of today is nothing more than the dressed up stag films or 8mm loops your dad watched at the back of the fire station,” Vanzetti says, making me think of my father in a different way, momentarily.

“But the difference [between older porn and contemporary porn] is a lack of intimacy,” Vanzetti says. “You watch John Leslie fuck somebody, and he’s not like a robot…he’s actually having sex with someone. Nowadays more often than not you just see a guy ramming himself into something, and then pulling out and jerking off on that thing’s face.”

Various major adult trade publication websites I’ve worked for have changed servers multiple times, and have lost much data over the years. But the IAFD is nothing if not comprehensive and easy to use.

“I know I could fill the site with ads,” Vanzetti says. “There are people who would love to throw shit all over my site, but it’s just not clean.”

So are you worried about the type of person you’d become if you really tried to monetize the site?

“You mean a rich person?” Vanzetti says. “Maybe I’m not as motivated.”

A visit to the IAFD is like a view from the pinnacle of web esthetics, circa 2001. It is by no means a busy site, but it is rich, and permanent.

This last element has caused Vanzetti and his coworkers a few problems.

“Porn does not go away, even if people are shoddy recordkeepers,” Vanzetti says. “We get a few requests a year from former performers who want us to take their information down. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we just can’t.”

Vanzetti believes in a world where “if you’re using the handle or the pseudonym, the real name is still yourself and the persona has no bearing on the real world.

“I feel bad that this job (porn) still has a stigma,” says Vanzetti, “but a European performer who appeared in 335 movies just asked me to take down every mention of his name because he said he didn’t want his kids finding out. Sorry, but you should have thought about your kids about 300 porn movies ago.

“We also got a note from a woman who said she now has a federal job and she doesn’t want them finding out about her porn past. Don’t the feds check on that stuff before you get the job?”

Still, Vanzetti has removed from the database a few names or aliases that really seemed like flukes.

“We want to serve the needs of the completist; the guy who wants every Bobbi Starr movie, for example. But we’ll bend the rule once in a great while.”

Do your readers keep you honest?

“We get about 100 emails a week, which is down from the time before we had a submission form,” Vanzetti says, referring to the handy form studios and performers can use to list their own titles. “We have guys that focus on specific things; they focus on a handful of starlets. ‘You missed so and so doing interracial in this movie,’ and so on.

“And we get others that are absolutely bananas, who ask questions beyond the purview of the database. It reminds me that there are a lot of fans out there.”

Do you think the fans are getting older?

“I think the ones who want a complete set of something are, and who will debate finer points of things. I think younger people don’t care as much about the history.”

Why do you think that is?

“I think as you get older you get more specific. There doesn’t seem to be s much in-depth knowledge with younger people, although you look at people like Kimberly Kane or Bobbi Starr, women of the world for whom this is another facet of their personality and outlet for their creativity, you can see the older people really going for them, and they themselves have an interest in the history.”

Who else do you like?

“The New Sensations Romance line, (director) Eddie Powell, and for whatever reason, Bobbi Starr’s
work. While I may not pursue that personally, it’s clear that she and her performers dig it, and that’s what comes through.”

While Vanzetti sees fewer bait and switch tactics on porn boxcovers, his biggest wish is that studios would provide him with anonymized dumps of 2257 info.

“Because of porn’s legal recordkeeping requirements, that 2257 info would be great for consumers,” he says. “We wouldn’t poublish the real names, of course, but I think the studios are still in that mode of ‘an educated consumer is our worst nightmare.'”

Vanzetti still attends the Adult Entertainment Expo every year and tries to physically see each of his international contributors, even though he never saw the AEE as a moneymaking opportunity.

“Sitting across a table from someone is important,” he says, “even if that table is in Vegas.”

And he doesn’t think that just wanting to look at a human being is so oldschool that it prices him out of relevance. But Vanzetti does worry about the future; after all, just because he publishes a comprehensive list of porn doesn’t mean he has to like it.

“I fear for my daughter,” he says, “who is now going to be beset upon by guys brought up on Bang Bus, who think that this is how to court a young lass.”

I visit the IAFD every day. You can also hear Vanzetti talk about classic porn Thursday nights with Debi Diamond and Nicki Hunter on Playboy Radio.

See also: The Internet Adult Film Database

8 thoughts on “Deep Inside the IAFD: Preserving porn’s history [interview]

  1. Nice interview – I’ve always been interested in the site (since I discovered it in some way I can’t possibly remember), and the knowledge there is VAST. Still, I’d really hate to be a (former) performer that doesn’t want his past getting out, and nowadays, that’s pretty-much impossible.

  2. At least a decade ago, Nina Hartley and Sharon Mitchell had made a set of industrial videos called Porn 101 and Porn 102 which were hosted on the AIM site, and perhaps now lost forever — but in it, they addressed issues new talent should consider BEFORE entering porn, and top fo the list was “EVERYONE WILL FIND OUT.”

    And now, it’s more true than ever. The internet doesn’t forget.

    I was talking with Jim Gunn in Vegas last year and he relayed a story of how he was shooting some girl who was 18, but still in high school. (I forget what site the footage was for). Long story, short, the scene was put up on Friday and by Monday it was circulating around the school. She thought no one would know because, in her mind, no one watches porn. To that, we say, “Show us a high school kid who DOESN’T watch it!” So, they were clicking around, found their classmate — and decided not to keep that bit of information to themselves…

    (I forget how the story ended… but I assume her life was made a bit of a mess of, at least for a little while…)

  3. I know Paypal might have a shit about processing for IAFD, but I use IAFD all the time in the course of my business. I wish I could donate or support them in some way that would be beneficial to them.

  4. Loved the story and interview, Gram, thank you.

    And thank you, Mr. Vanzetti, for all your hard work on such an awesome site.

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