It’s difficult to create a world in a porn movie. For one thing, you’ve got to get all your actors on board. I spent a few days on the set of Ernest Greene’s lifestle D/s movie “The Truth About O” and, in between the time it was shot and the time the finished movie was released, E.L. James’s “50 Shades of Grey” became the first erotica carried at Costco.
As both America’s Beloved Porn Journalist and a Costco Executive Member, I am uniquely qualified to write about both phenomena.
Pity the Sex Snobs
The first erotica I remember reading was Gore Vidal’s novelization of the movie “Caligula.” I eventually had to throw the paperback in the trash because it got rank. Yes, the very pages began to grow fetid. The book was like a tell-tale heart: I imagined everyone in my family must know how filthy it was.
Now, a mere two years later, there is a whole world of textual, visual, and person-to-person erotica at my beck and call, and I’ve tried very hard to avoid jumping into a Cool Kids’ Club with regard to sex. One reason for this is that I never was a cool kid, and I find that people who adopt that persona later in life do it poorly.
(At a sex party I once heard a self-satisfied Former Fat Kid say to a frenemy, “I show up; everybody’s jaws drop.” This was not “Learning to Love Oneself,” it was “I Have Always Hated Other People.”)
It can be that way with Sex Scholar culture. While the BDSM-awakening book “50 Shades of Grey” has become a marketing phenomenon [more on this later], there is a real backlash against its naive attitude and poor writing in many circles where people take sex both seriously and professionally.
And I admit I got about three chapters in before I thought that reading any more of “50 Shades of Grey” might hurt my brain. It’s poorly written and has such a gorge-inducing sense of wonder about things that—to me—seem commonplace that I suddenly realized that I was the asshole.
I felt like the guy who, when you told me about this playwright named Shakespeare you’d just discovered, said, “Christopher Marlowe much? Whatever. I only read him for the sonnets.”
So I called Camilla Lombard, public affairs and marketing director of the great San Francisco institution Good Vibrations, to ask if interest in “50 Shades of Grey” had spiked sales at her stores.
“Hugely,” she says. “Kegel balls and Ben Wa balls are flying off the shelves.”
Better crouch down!
Since “50 Shades” release in physical format this Spring (it had been an eBook before, adding to the buzz), Lombard says that sales of sex toys have gone up 65 percent and erotica sales have increased 50 percent across the company’s six stores (five in the Bay Area and one in Brookline, MA).
“Who knows what makes it so popular?” says Lombard, acknowledging sex community (I guess there is such a thing) ambivalence to the book. “But certainly anything that gets the conversation going is welcome.”
Telling staff “My wife just read ’50 Shades of Grey,’ men will come to the stores looking for marital aids, Lombard says.
“If it’s outselling ‘Harry Potter,'” she says, “it must mean something.”
So if “50 Shades” is airport erotica the way “The Da Vinci Code” was airport history, where does one go for the good stuff?
Dr. Carol Queen presents an even-keeled celebration of other worthy erotica on Good Vibrations’ site.
The Endless O
“The Truth About O” was shot over several days in October, 2011, at a bondage space near LAX and at the glass-and-steel (yet homey!) loft shared by Ernest Greene and Nina Hartley.
An Adam & Eve movie, “O” features no participation from any of that company’s blonde contract performers of the time, Teagan Presley and Alexis Ford. This would not have been the movie for them, anyway. Instead, Greene and Hartley cast Bobbi Starr, Asa Akira, Jessie Andrews, Krissy Leigh, Claire Adams, and Justine Joli who all look good bruising or being bruised, even if not all of them carry full kink credentials from whatever grim governing body approves those things.
As you can see, there is a lot of warmth in the room, even if the reality created in the finished product is as mannered as a slappy “Downton Abbey.” Do people have fun in this rule-bound world? I’m not sure, but I love porn that follows rules and trusts the audience to jerk off to the better angels of their nature.
The rulebound and trussed-up world of Ernest Greene’s “O” movies is filled with sadder-but-wiser characters who wield sex with solemnity. Title vowel Bobbi Starr embarks on a hands-on mission to find her replacement.
As the third “O,” Bobbi Starr nails the heart-attack gravity and complexity of lifestyle Master/slave relationships; this life of sex and service comes with a price we just don’t see in Spring Break gangbang movies.
“O” opens on an L.A. BDSM party featuring a performance by masterful pair Claire Adams and Justine Joli in roles they play very well: Adams as the stern (but fair!) rope rigger and Joli as the blushing (but uncoerced!) submissive. The crowd claps appreciatively as Joli is bound and hoisted, flogged, serviced, fucked, and fitted with a strap-on for Adams to use at her will.
It’s clearly a transaction, but unlike bondage-lite movies in which the characters awkwardly don the outfits, Adams and Joli really know how to take this act on the road.
Tonight O is on a mission. She consults with imperious (but bemused!) Slave Educator Marie—Nina Hartley, who is like a tasty female version of Dottore from “Spartacus”—about the submissive suitability of Yvette (Asa Akira). Multitasking, O “warms up” the pneumatic Krissy Lynn for Nat Turner.
So No, it’s not a movie where a bus drives around and picks up drunk and nubile hitchhikers; O actually has duties to perform.
Writer/director Greene has developed these characters over three movies. While Hartley and Claire Adams have appeared in each one—throughlines are nearly impossible in porn—bondage photographer O has been played by Adam & Eve contract performers Carmen Luvana and Bree Olson in previous incarnations.
In my opinion, Starr’s interpretation of this lifestyle choice is the most credible, though each of the “O” films is a laudably realistic portrayal of a subculture we just don’t experience in “Dirtpipe Milkshakes”; each movie is worth owning.
For example, in her ongoing relationship with magazine publishing brothers (here played by James Deen and Michael Vegas), we watch the elaborate preparations and ritualized serving procedures that would seem out of place in “Barely Legal.”
“I know how to take care of my master’s property,” says O when Steven (James Deen) admires her smooth skin.
And, as she prepares Thomas (Danny Wylde) for Yvette’s departure, she lets him down (on her) easily.
“Take what pleases you,” she says, reminding him that she is a loaner because she is already owned. “A true slave wants whatever brings her owner the greatest pleasure.”
If the pairings and triplings of “O” seem too codified, remember that the Porn Grail—sex between people who really know how to make it look good—is there in spades. It’s always fun to watch Jessie Andrews and Krissy Lynn, who inhabit two points on a very juicy spectrum, but my favorite scene comes at the end.
O has brought Akira home to photograph her (I’ve also tried this trick, but less successfully), when Deen walks in. The jig is up! The resulting threesome features a very useful position in which O presents herself as eye candy while Yvette absorbs Steven’s thrusts directly beneath.
Exploiting what appears to be a loophole in the contract (they don’t have that sort of thing on Legal Zoom, so I haven’t read it), O goes on hiatus. It is bittersweet, but she does the responsible thing by leaving her master in good hands (and all the parts in between).
Nevertheless, Deen doesn’t want the news. He asks Akira to read O’s letter.
“Are you sure?” she says.
“You’ll learn to not ask questions like that,” says Deen, in a loving but necessary smackdown. He’s the Master—of course he’s sure.
Reading O’s temporary resignation letter, Deen remarks that she even initialed it (considering her name is one letter, though, it couldn’t have been too difficult).
My lone criticism of this movie is that I wanted to see more money up there. Each “O” movie since the first has visibly wept the budget that would have ensured larger casts and more locations. There’s so few porn movies that shine a light on something (and I’m not just talking about a C light on Krissy Lynn’s vagina, which is glorious), that I think the ones that do should have more money thrown at them.
Buy “The Truth About O” here