As much fun as it is talking with Vanessa Del Rio, it is bittersweet, too, because you really wish it were 1974 with the two of you buying loose joints in the seedy fleshpits of an unsanitized Times Square.
We’re talking about an upcoming movie version of the legendary pornstress’s life, the “Latin from Manhattan” who appeared in her first adult movie in 1974, set against the birth of Porno Chic and the post-Pill, pre-AIDS decadence of New York City, as well as the criminal influences that made it that much more interesting.
“42nd Street was so alive,” Del Rio, 60, says. “There was seediness, sexiness, and crime. It really was the underbelly. You know, things that are forbidden are so tasty….the appeal was that you got to be part of that taboo.”
“The Vanessa Del Rio Film Project” is an Indiegogo campaign spearheaded by producer Sean Fernald and writer/director Thomas Mignone. Mignone is best known for his work as a rock video director, helming projects from System of A Down, Danzig, Soulfly, and Morbid Angel, among others. He also directed the creepy but intoxicating 2007 feature film “On the Doll.”
[See Mignone’s reel here.]
At first it’s difficult drawing a line between Mignone’s work with, say, Mudvayne and this “Bronx Tale” with boobs, a script the actor Michael Rooker (the handy Merle in “Walking Dead”) describes as “Boogie Nights Meets Taxi Driver.” But Mignone is a New York kid who, like generations of fans, clearly loves Vanessa Del Rio.
“People are drawn to her like a magnet,” Mignone says. “She is one of those people who lights up a room. Where I feel this connection is that we were both raised in the same tradition, that Catholicism—though mine was Italian—strong morals and a code of ethics laid out for us.”
I ask Del Rio if that “naughtiness” she liked about Times Square was rebellion or natural progression.
“Oh, it was a natural progression,” she says. “You could buy loose joints in the theatre, or walking down the street. Loose joints for a buck. I was back in Times Square a few years ago for a History Channel documentary and the whole place has changed since Mickey Mouse moved in. It was unrecognizable. But back then there was an innocence to the seediness, do you know what I mean?”
This was a time in the pocket between the Sexual Revolution and when AIDS forced a new public morality on society. I ask Del Rio if she realized how good she had it.
“Absolutely not,” she says. “I had no idea how good I had it because I was too busy enjoying it.”
The movie is scheduled to begin filming May 1. Mignone says that locations in Queens and New Jersey will be used for atmosphere, but Times Square will be played by the Broadway District of Los Angeles, whose storefronts and dilapidated theatres “look more like New York did 40 years ago than New York does now.”
“40 years?” Del Rio cuts in. “Don’t say it like that! It’s a period piece!”
When she says “period piece,” I suddenly imagine Del Rio showing up in “Downton Abbey.”
“The Vanessa Del Rio Film Project” is not a documentary, producer Fernald says, but a feature film based on the life of a character named Vanessa Del Rio. There are a few actresses the group wouldn’t mind seeing read for the part, including Rosario Dawson and Selena Gomez (though a short distance geographically, Times Square in the 70’s is light years away from “Waverly Place”).
“There are still songs by Marvin Gaye that take me right back to that time,” Del Rio says. When I ask her what movie best captures the spirit of her 20s there, she says “hands down, ‘Taxi Driver.'”
Del Rio will be the creative consultant for this film, and I ask her about the phenomenon of fandom and what it’s like to be consulted about her own life.
“First, it’s nice that people remember at all,” she says, “but men come up to me to say they raided their fathers’ porn stashes to see my movies, and some people tell me their mothers gave them my movies to show them how to do it.”
I ask if she feels nostalgic.
“Sure I do,” she says, “but it’s in people’s nature. But I had a lot of fun, and never regretted anything. I wouldn’t be talking to you today if it weren’t for this business. It made me who I am.”
“Did it ever limit you?”
“You can’t unring a bell,” Del Rio says. “There was a time that if you wanted to do any crossover you had to be regretful and act sorry just to please the people who didn’t have the fun you were having. That wasn’t for me.”
I ask Mignone what it is about Vanessa Del Rio that he wants people to see.
“There’s no shame in what she did,” he says, “or who she is. She has spent a lifetime giving to people—I’m serious—contributing to the pleasure of life. There’s not many people who can really say that.”
“What a sweet thing to say,” Del Rio says.
To contribute to “The Vanessa Del Rio Film Project” Indiegogo campaign, click here.
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: “The Vanessa Del Rio Collection“; Porn’s “Golden Goddesses” alight in Hollywood; American Swing: The heyday of Plato’s Retreat
See also: Contribute to the film; “The Vanessa Del Rio Film Project” facebook page, Thomas Mignone’s Doom, Incorporated.