Director Chuck Steak is making his last film and wants to go out with a bang by concocting the biggest and most absurdly complicated adult movie ever made. As a young documentary maker films this outrageously funny, quirky quest, everything that can possibly go wrong does. Sex Sells is a wild and hysterical mockumentary that exposes everything you ever wanted to know about sex – taboo secrets and much more!
eyelights: the ever-awesome Priscilla Barnes. the amusing concept.
eyesores: the execution. the Hollywood ending.
“The screwing should come from character”
“Sex Sells” is a mockumentary about the making of ‘Touché’, a fictional porn film, showing us the behind the scenes creativity and wranglings that make the picture come together. It’s a linear piece that mixes up interview footage with documentary footage, but that also stirs in a subplot that includes the documentary’s filmmaker.
I say “unfortunately” because this subplot basically ruins the illusion that we have of watching a documentary, which works quite well when the interviews and on-set footage are the focus. By adding this extra element, ‘Sex Sells’ makes it painfully clear that we’re watching a movie, not reality – if not because of the on-screen dramatics, then due to the poor delivery.
The key problem is that Jay Michael Ferguson, who plays documentary filmmaker Bernard Heiman, can rarely deliver a line entirely naturally; the whole time that he was on camera, he looked like he was performing. So, since he had an unusually big amount of screen time considering that he’s supposed to be behind the camera, his appearance spoils the proceedings.
Aside from those moments, however, the ‘Sex Sells’ is lots of fun.
It begins with a brainstorming session between director Chuck Steak (pronounced STEE-AK) and his cast, as they try to come up with the perfect storyline for their next film. The cast are essentially Steak’s longtime troupe, with some of them having been with him for well over a decade. You can feel the familiarity as they exchange ideas and build towards their next masterpiece, for all intents and purposes a porn “The Terminator”.
Steak is smarter than you’d think, but his ego won’t allow him to see that his career doesn’t hold up compared to other directors’: he likes to boast of his “achievements”, including having shot countless films. One can’t fault his focus, in any case I loved watching him at the roundtable, casually holding an fist-sized enema as though it were a stress ball. Nice.
There was the obvious talk about sex versus violence in cinema. Steak, a Paul Reiser-like personage, spends a few minutes during his introduction to complain how his films are frowned upon and even picketed outside his studio, but ultra-violence can be shown to children without issue. He has a point, but it’s a clichéd position in the “adult entertainment” industry.
This comes up again during auditions for ‘Touché’, when an actress, who was mistakenly sent in by her agent, realizes that she would be expected to do on-screen sex for the film. She and Steak argue about the validity of sex when she suggests that she would only accept for a mainstream film with Brad Pitt or some other more “legitimate” production.
Steak made the point that showing any sex at all in motion pictures is virtually unnecessary, that it could all be off-screen, imagined – that showing sex is really just a device for getting people into cinemas. This could very well be true: Lord knows that sex could all stay off screen and it usually wouldn’t make any relevant changes to the plot.
But people are voyeurs by nature and want to see other people -especially celebrities- get naked, so it’s hard to imagine that sex could remain off-screen. Whether it’s more valid in a mainstream film, is another question, though, and one has to wonder why there is so much stigma attached to sex, to the extent that performing sexually could be so frowned upon.
Anyway, despite ‘Sex Sells’ position on the matter, and how soberly it tackles these subjects, it remains an amusing piece. It regales us with various amusing backstage moments, such as when Steak is trying to finish the script on his laptop (with a deadline looming heavily over him) and a crew member drops equipment on it, or when a police busts a crucial scene.
It also purports to show us some tricks of the trade, such as one of the male stars drinking glass after glass of pineapple juice to make himself taste sweeter (for the record, while changing one’s taste is possible, maybe even recommendable, there are mixed opinions on this technique), or one of the female stars revealing her invention for maintaining erections.
The latter is played by Priscilla Barnes, of ‘Three’s Company’ fame. Here she plays Roxy, a veteran of Steak’s films, having been with him since the late ’70s. She is introduced via an intense sex scene that would ultimately find its way in ‘Touché’. She is quite excellent as “the old pro” (as the intertitles call her), giving a mature, but not jaded vibe to the character.
Barnes has been daring ever since ‘Mallrats’, and I’ve loved her for it. She was approximately 50 when she made ‘Sex Sells’, so it’s quite the bold move for her to play a sex star at that age; women are rarely portrayed a sexual creatures in their ’40s, let alone as sex stars. And she’s in terrific shape. One thing bothers me, though: has she had a face lift? I don’t know what to make of her mouth…
We also meet some of the characters who are not on screen. For instance, at one point Bernard meets with a goth-type girl who says that she is completely asexual, but likes the money she is paid to be a fluffer. Bizarrely, Bernard doesn’t know what a fluffer is, even though he’s making a documentary about the porn industry. This felt a little out of character.
A lot of time is spent with Pursey Galore, a newcomer who Bernard falls for. This is where things start to fall apart. Although Lisa Jay is terrific as Galore, having Bernard in the picture ruined things for me; he kept interfering with what was going on backstage, including her quest for her birth mother – the reason she actually got into the business (yes, you read that right).
Everything comes to a head as the film wears on and, after what Steak claims is a world record-breaking orgy sequence (um.. highly unlikely, given how few people were there). There was also a final sequence that provided resolution for many of the characters. I disliked this bit tremendously because it wrapped everything all too happily; it was too saccharine for my taste.
But, all in all, ‘Sex Sells’ is amusing enough to warrant a look-see. It’s not perfect by any standard: it should have kept to the mockumentary model more and done some tweaking, cast-wise, but I certainly don’t regret watching it. Even if its peers, such as ‘This is Spinal Tap‘ or ‘Zelig‘ are far superior, I”m sure I’ll watch it again at some point.
Date of viewing: July 27, 2013