Candida Royalle's latest video release, Revelations, raises some interesting questions about what works and what doesn't work in the realm of sex videos. The film, which is essentially a sci-fi sex fable, is set in a grey and sterile future where sex has become prohibited except for the purpose of procreation. Ariel, the heroine, whose husband fucks her coldly and mechanically only to produce new soldiers for the state, discovers the secret sex video cache of a rebellious artist after he is seized by the sex police. By watching these forbidden videos she is introduced to the possibility of sex being an expression of love and tenderness (and, not much later, to the possibility of sex happening between two women). This upsets the sexual apple cart with her husband, of course, since she quickly loses all interest in serving herself up as a home for his seed.
The film has three sex scenes, all of which include some of the warmth and intimacy so noticeably absent from traditional porn films. Interestingly, the scene that best accomplishes the difficult task of being intimate and also being seriously hot to watch is the one with Nicole and Martin London, a woman and man who are actually coupled off camera as well as on. The ways these two touch each other, the ways they look at each other as they touch, as well as the ways they gradually become sexual, are both loving and steamy, though hot in a different sort of way from conventional porn fare.
Watching the video, I felt the warm familiarity over and over again of knowing how it feels to touch or be touched like the people on screen, how it feels to exchange that kind of look, or to be licked or sucked with that kind of loving care and attention. The energy of this scene, far outside the usual porn conventions, works for me because the slow movements give time for me to see and feel each connection thoroughly, and because the connections are sufficiently deep and complex to be worth the time and attention taken to show them. I was only sorry that the scene was cut short, showing Martin and Nicole getting turned on and engaged in the beginnings of explicit sex play, but stopping short of taking the love and intimacy into the arenas of more heightened passion.
Intimacy and loving attention are much more difficult to capture on film than screaming, driving passion. This is true in still photography as well as in videos, in words as well as in pictures. As Richard Pacheco has noted with the wise voice of personal experience, sex cannot really be acted, cannot be pretended. The body never lies -- that's what makes sex so vulnerable. If you watch any sex film carefully, you really can see what is and is not going on.
At their best, traditional porn films show attractive acquaintances having hot or playful casual sex together. At best, the people having sex are genuine, are having a good time, get incredibly turned on, and eventually bring their excitement to some sort of satisfying release. If we're really lucky, the people may even be fairly imaginative in what they do with each other.
Let us not forget that this, in itself, is quite a big step forward from the porn of ten or fifteen years ago, which showed consistently bored, nervous, artificial people pretending (badly) to be having any pleasure at all while they struggled to maintain their erections and fake their excitement under the obvious tedium of hot lights and bad direction. In the early days, director Ron Raffaelli was a pioneer simply because he refused to shoot scenes unless the actors at least liked each other reasonably well. (Other directors didn't care whether the people detested each other as long as the guys could get it up, slide in and out, and come, and the women looked pretty, made lots of noise, and could remember to say, "Oh baby, you feel so good" while they were getting mechanically reamed.
As porn actors and actresses have gotten better at being relaxed and even genuinely sexy in front cameras and film crews we now get to see more believably enjoyable sex on film. But we still don't get to see anything like real intimacy, vulnerability, tenderness, or love because these emotions just aren't available, even to the actors and actresses who work together repeatedly and come to know and like each other fairly well as sexual buddies.
(There are, by the way, a few notable exceptions. I remember being struck by the unmistakable tenderness between Richard Pacheco and Nina Hartley in their segment of Candida Royalle's 1988 production, Sensual Escape. And I dare say there's some real affection between Hyapatia Lee and Randy West in the delightful Vidco release, Saddletramp, a video written by Hyapatia herself.)
So the moral of the story seems to be that if a director like Candida Royalle wants to include more complex emotional-sexual-sensual connections in her films, she needs to start by having real couples in front of the camera -- people who genuinely love each other, who know how to express that love sexually, and who have the additional capacity to maintain that loving vulnerability on a film set. Like any real artist, Candida has taken on a risky task. False or exaggerated intimacy -- like false, exaggerated dialogue or the false, exaggerated passion that still renders so many porn films laughable -- is a hundred times worse than no intimacy at all. But her task is an important one, a task worthy of a few scraped knees and muddied faces. Otherwise when the Ariel's of the future find our closeted video collections they may just decide to settle for procreative sex after all.
Real Women, Real Fantasies
Real Women, Real Fantasies (Part 1: Masturbation) is a different sort of video experiment -- kind of a crossbreeding between standard porn and sex education films: an attempt to pass along some honest and useful information about women and masturbation while at the same time not forgetting to give viewers a chance to do some masturbating of their own.
This, like Candida Royalle's pursuit of intimacy, is a worthy (and, compared to capturing intimacy on camera, a significantly less demanding) project. Porn videos, designed more or less exclusively to get viewers off, make no claim to being accurate or socially conscious sex education, and there's no way that porn can reasonably be held responsible for its educational shortcomings. We assume, of course, that most porn viewers understand that fantasy is different from reality, that women don't generally beg sex from strangers or come at the drop of a cock, that men don't by and large leap spring-loaded from their jeans or fuck for hours without coming or ever getting soft.
At the same time, given the sorry and limited state of sex education in this country and the near universal availability of porn, it's fair to say that pornography does play a role in the sexual development of literally millions of young men (and increasing numbers of young women as well). As adolescents or as adults, we are all in the process of coalescing some sense of what sex is all about, of what we like and what we want, of who we are as sexual people and who we think we're "supposed to" be, of what we want and expect from our partners. For better or worse, porn is a significant part of the sex-cultural context in which this process of sexual definition takes place.
While sex education videos make presumably more conscious and thoughtful choices about the information about sex they impart, they also tend to be notoriously dry, clinical, and stilted. Sex education videos, low on entertainment or arousal value, tend to be ignored or dismissed by all but the most curious or distressed.
Is it possible to combine the best of both worlds: to make a video that is exciting to watch and that also provides real and useful sexual information? This is what Real Women, Real Fantasies tries to do, and although it is at times awkward and at times questionably genuine, it's also more than a little successful.
In this video we watch five women talk about and demonstrate their particular takes on masturbation. We hear about their strict, antisexual upbringings, about how they discovered masturbation as little girls, about how they feel about masturbation now (they all love it), and about their individual fantasies. We also hear them talk about how they like to masturbate and why, and of course we get to watch them do what they're talking about.
The women are, for the most part, attractive, carefully made up, and quite skilled at masturbating in front of and for the camera. It's not as if we're peeping in on them in the privacy of their bedrooms -- these are women who are masturbating to show themselves to us, to demonstrate their technique to us, to show us what they do. Even when they're turned on (both for their pleasure and for ours), they remember to look knowingly or seductively at the camera, explain what they're doing, and even to laugh at themselves.
Young, lovely Ariel plays with her pussy with her hand, with a dildo, and with a Magic Wand vibrator (complete with condom), throwing the camera sulky looks, tossing her long red hair luxuriously over her shoulder, making sure we have clear, unobstructed views of her pretty shaved pussy. Beautiful blonde Disney with her bright red lipstick and voluptuous breasts reads a raunchy porn story aloud while she plays with her pussy, then talks to us while she plays with her Magic Wand and dildo until she gets too distracted to talk. Terri, who is neither made up nor glamorous, speaks of being an "older, more experienced woman," tells us her fantasies (including making it with younger men) and laughs as she holds a huge double-headed vibrator to her clit, and fucks herself with a massive dildo until we can see her legs quivering involuntarily, even long after she takes the toys away. Finally we sit in on Veronica and Nikki, giggling and self-conscious, as they tell each other about their masturbation experiences and then get themselves off, lying side by side, while giving a rather detailed play by play of what they're doing and why.
Purists might object to the obvious performance attitudes of these women, or ask why they wear four inch heels in bed, spread their pussy lips so wide, and manage to never muss their hair or their lipstick, no matter how turned on they get. But these artifices are themselves genuine in the context of this masturbation-as-performance video, and the result is a piece of work that is at once educational, fun, and exciting to watch.
The Good Vibrations Complete Video Guide to Vibrators
Similar to Real Women, Real Fantasies, but three or four notches over toward the educational end of the spectrum, is Joani Blank's soon-to-bereleased video exploration of masturbation and sex toys, The Good Vibrations Complete Video Guide to Vibrators. This 55-minute primer on the joys of dildoes and vibrators stars none other than Spectator columnist Carol Queen as host, commentator, and knowledgeable demonstrator of more different kinds of toys than most people would be likely to imagine. Performance and glamour are downplayed here. The emphasis is on practical information (though Carol is always a pleasure to watch, and her easy sexual energy and cheerful banter keep us entertained as well as interested as we accompany her through toy after toy and orgasm after orgasm). If Real Women, Real Fantasies demonstrates that a video can be educational while it is entertaining, The Good Vibrations Complete Video Guide to Vibrators shows that a video can also be entertaining while it is being educational.