by

Erin Pearson

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Using approximately 20 subjects in a ‘talking heads’ format, After Porn Ends relays the stories of former porn stars of various ages (26-70), from their beginnings (in life, and in porn) through to the time of filming. While it does contain a series of typically ‘expert’ opinions, such as UCLA Professor Dr. Neil Malmuth, the primary focus in terms of screen time is placed on those who are talking about their lived experiences. The result is a variety of stories that naturally touch on wider social concerns relating to porn, but ultimately do not formulate a coherent comment or analysis on the porn industry, or what comes after it.

In terms of star draws, the cast is impressive; Asia Carrera, Mary Carey, Randy West and John Leslie are but a few of the top performers chosen to tell their stories. From the beginning, these people are ‘recontextualised’ from porn with a certain lightheartedness. For instance, Seka is given the title ‘Gardener and Cook’, even though at the time of filming she was still involved with the sex industry (which she describes positively). That John Leslie was such a wonderful artist, or that Asia Carrera is a recognised member of Mensa, are but a few of the positive attributes that seek to flesh out a series of porn star celebrity personas that operate according to their own dynamics in a wider social context.

In contrast, a significant and weighty voice is also given to the darker, often exploitative experiences of performers such as Crissy Moran and Shelley LubbenIt could be construed that it is through the positioning and the lengthy screen time offered to these stories, that here the documentary is guilty of recreating an already popular narrative of tragic childhoods, ruined lives and the lasting social and psychological harm of porn. However, although Moran’s and Lubben’s stories particularly are clearly memorable in terms of their heavy emotional impact, some attempt is made by first-time director Bryce Wagoner (also known as an actor, body builder and wrestler) to balance these with differing viewpoints. Tyffany Millions, Seka and Asia Carrera are clear examples of performers who say that they do not regret their time in porn and confound this narrative, but seem to be overwhelmed in the shadow of these stories. This approach is further botched by a series of postscripts that have a ‘tragic’ twist, and suggest porn is an industry that cannot be escaped from. I would like to think that this attempt at a more balanced approach at its core derives from an agenda to fairly and accurately portray each performer as an individual, who is more than the sum of their involvement in the porn industry. However, rather than providing an overt or knowing political commentary, perhaps cynically I believe that Wagoner’s talking-heads, ‘real life stories’ approach stems more from the amalgamation (or, collision) of two key selling points associated with this kind of documentary: a human interest slant cross-cut with a certain salaciousness, which together motivate an exploration of ‘after porn’ stories as curiosities for a mainstream audience.

Overall, the documentary suffers from mediocre-to-poor execution. At the beginning there is a deliberateness to the re-titling of the performers that could be construed as cutesy at best, and unconvincing at worst. Aesthetically, the talking heads format rhythmically intercut with archive footage of porn performances, posters and photos can be somewhat repetitive; but to temper that, in its own way the simplicity of this format can work to place emphasis on what is being said rather than what is being seen, which is crucial to a documentary that is made up of so many subjects and viewpoints. There are also a few instances that could have used a more nuanced approach, especially considering the nature of some of the material; most notably, Crissy Moran’s experiences of exploitation and pain are somewhat dismissed by the placement of Dr. Malamuth and Nina Hartley (Hall of Fame Pornstar) immediately afterwards, who intimates that some people should not be in the industry in the first place. While to my mind this is utterly convincing, the positioning does little to address the issues that have clearly already traumatised Moran, and could very well bear similarities to the experiences of other porn performers.

Yet, what After Porn Ends does well is foreground how culturally created (and in notable cases such as Mary Carey, knowingly garnered) porn star personas affect the lives of performers who are real people, with real families and real lives. The one common thread that these performers share, to varying extents, is an inevitable exposure to negative social attitudes towards porn and sexuality that seek to vilify and marginalize. That this is foregrounded at all is certainly a mark in its favour.

Profile

Erin Pearson is soon start her PhD at Brunel University, researching the ways that promotional materials work to create a collective social understanding of American indie cinema. She is an assistant editor of the online peer-reviewed journalIntensities: The Journal of Cult Media, a contributor to Intellect’s forthcoming books Directory of World Cinema: Britain (Volume 2) and World Film Locations: Sydney, and a features writer for The Big Picture magazine.