There are many reasons to see “Gone,” Angie Rowntree’s tale of porn after death. For one, its locations are far from familiar even to live-free-or-diehard erotic entertainment consumers. With most American porn being shot in the same dozen or so San Fernando Valley McMansions, each seemingly decorated by the same Persian dentist, the explosively verdant non-desert backdrop of “Gone” is refreshing. Not only that, but the half-hour film features just two performers: a real-life couple acting out the fantasy of a subscriber to “Porn for Women” website Sssh.com. Best of all? Star Madeline Blue doesn’t wear high heels.
“I brought out a whole lot of sexy clothes and makeup and eyelashes and Angie just goes, ‘No,'” says Blue. “She was going for a real person.”
In fact, Blue may be at the forefront of a niche movement I will call Hot Townie. “Gone”‘s clothed scenes were shot guerilla-style in rural Massachusetts and its hardcore component was filmed just across the border in Porn-Tolerant New Hampshire.
“A white picket fence, surrounded by trees,” says Blue’s character, Rebecca, of the house she and her husband bought after college. “A dungeon in the basement.”
Rowntree says that the suggestion for the movie came from a widow “who may have been a lifestyle [BDSM enthusiast]. She never got a chance to say goodbye.”
And if you’ve ever had sex to deal with grief, you’ll recognize another aspect of “Gone”‘s appeal.
Shot over Memorial Day weekend in 2015, “Gone” tells the story of Rebecca Adams, the bereaved widow of fallen soldier Todd. She pines for him until one special day when he comes back and gets all Spanky Yankee, R.I.P.s ‘n’ Chains, and teaches her that sometimes, the best safeword is “goodbye.”
“It was tough to depict that relationship,” Rowntree says, “but the natural chemistry between Madeline and Gee is so sweet.”
There is a lot of laughter and playfulness in the couple’s scenes, including one that I found very realistic in which they fuck on a bed with a Chinese food container on it.
“We had 30 minutes to get across a smorgasbord of emotions,” says Rowntree. “I was telling a gut-wrenching story and I was not sure how it would be received.”
How “Gone” has been received — and that it was made at all — says something about the erosion of porn’s de facto formula for the past few decades. Its nominations and accolades at AVN, XBiz, and Cinekink suggest that the four-or-five-sex-scene movie with non-overlapping characters to ensure variety (after all, this is why evolutionary biologists timidly suggest that monogamy isn’t the way forward) needn’t be set in stone (particularly: granite). And today’s pornographers might no longer have to settle for a concept that is nosebleed-high:
“What if a stepdaughter is attracted to her black stepfather?”
“What if a woman continues wearing her old Catholic boarding school outfit days after she has turned 18, and fucks people?”
“What if we take the characters from a popular TV show or movie and make them have sex?”
YOU KNOW IT!
And if the pitch for “Gone” sounds like an unlikely plot for a porn movie — What if a soldier’s ghost visits his lifestyle-adjacent-BDSM widow to beat her up one last time so she can let go? — just think about how thoroughly the Black Stepdad well has been plumbed recently.
That said, there have been a number of slickly-produced Porn Valley films in the Romance/Couples vein that have dealt with grief. “A Little Part of Me,” a 2011 James Avalon film for New Sensations, finds morose widow Bobbi Starr visiting all the men to whom her late husband’s organs were donated to have sex with them. It was not intentionally funny. True to form, all her supportive girlfriends find reasons to have sex, too, while their buddy gets her groove back with various reincorporated remains.
“Gone,” on the other hand, was shot in the decidedly non-porny Merrimack Valley of New England (there are some outside establishing shots captured on the Town Common of tiny Townsend, MA, Gateway to Pepperell). And stars Blue and Gee Richards are not the plucked and tatted pieces of sex jerky making a half-dozen movies a month in Chatsworth.
“I’m probably the most understated person I know,” says Blue. “I really keep my head down.”
Blue lives in Massachusetts and is just a little suspicious that her recent porn forays (she travelled west in January for the Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) in Vegas and the XBiz Awards in Los Angeles) have made her conspicuous back home.
“I feel like I’m getting more looks but I may be paranoid,” she says.
When she was in L.A. she found herself having casual conversations about porn with strangers (“Oh, you’re in porn? My cousin does the catering [on porn sets] sometimes”) but she “can only talk about anal and butts for so long.”
Similarly, her outsider status made her feel “invisible” when she went to AEE, though she did bump into Ryan Driller, with whom she’ll be shooting a Sssh.com movie next month along with Ashley Fires, who also maintains a porn studio in the Granite State.
“I felt a lot more comfortable when I went to New York for Cinekink,” she says. She recalls a time when a woman she met at a fetish convention admitted, “Oh, you’re just from Boston — I thought you didn’t like me.”
There is something exciting and accessible about non-porny people doing porn in unpornified places, don’t you agree? As Southern California, San Francisco, Vegas, Phoenix, and Florida have a glut of beings willing to dive into the porn lifestyle, those people eventually assimilate into that race of Porno-Americans, arraying themselves in the traditional garb of their people and secreting signature body sprays and musks.
By contrast, Blue and Richards look like distant relations you’d meet on Facebook that leave you thinking, “How did my second cousin get an attractive family?”
I ask Blue, 37, how she maintains a kinky sensibility in a part of the country where only Kennedys are forgiven for it.
“I’m trying to be the kinky sexy girl at a point in my life where I’m really trying to find a place for it,” she says, adding that she is overwhelmed by crowds (like the ones at AEE) and that the public carrying-on of porn stars is alien to her. “I mean, I get turned on by hot situations — Gee says that I am a ‘situational sexer’ — I’ll flash at an intimate party but not, you know, at a restaurant. There’s a lot of exploring out here.”
(I’ll add that Massachusetts has a thriving transsexual porn scene. One well-known company flies America’s best T-Girl talent to the Boston area for the type of not-exactly-legal gender-fluid content that only proximity to schools of cod can provide.)
“Gone” is a pleasure to watch for its interesting subject matter and unfamiliar scenery, even if there is a component to the production that reduces, by virtue of budgetary restraints, the acting and direction to something recognizable to all porn fans. There has yet to be a porn film that transcends the medium — “the Hollywood movie but with hardcore sex.” Good pornographers know this, and pornographers who say otherwise make tedious films. Instead, the most effective porn movies are the ones that use the medium well. Consumers forgive all sorts of cinematic and dramatic shortcomings if the porn itself is delivered compellingly, which “Gone” does.
Allowing that I may be jaded, I ask Rowntree about one scene, in which Rebecca repeatedly calls her dead husband’s phone to leave angry messages.
“He’s dead,” I say. “Why does he still have a T-Mobile account?”
“She didn’t want to cancel it,” Rowntree says. “There was no closure for them. You’ve got to think like a girl, Gram.”
All right. I will try. Meanwhile I will also think of the porny possibilities of a place that Blue says is full of “coyotes, owls, and trees” (and where she can go to world-famous Kimball Farm in nearby Westford for delicious, overpriced ice cream). I will think of how “Gone” lost to big-budget, masturbatory (and not in the good way) snoozers at AVN and XBiz, but at least it got a little studio like Sssh.com a seat at the table and some well-deserved recognition.
“I felt like it was David and Goliath,” Rowntree says of the other nominees. “My competition was these big production houses.”
So what’s the future for personal-sized porn movies like “Gone”?
“It’s important for people to know that there is more out there,” Rowntree says. “And that tube sites aren’t the future. We’re dealing with emotions that a short clip doesn’t do justice to, you know? It’s not that (Rebecca) couldn’t go on without (Todd), it’s that she didn’t want to. It’s complicated. We have to convince more people that this sort of thing is worth watching.”
- See “Gone“
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Sometimes People Cry — an AVN Awards Wrap-up; 2014 — Why Nudity Matters
See Also: Sssh.com (Porn for Women), Madeline Blue, Interview with Madeline Blue in “Cosmopolitan”