Thinking XXX

Thinking XXXSynopsis: A Film By Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Go behind-the-scenes with renowned photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders during the making of his book, XXX: 30 Porn-Stars Portraits. This Extended Edition of his HBO hit film includes candid insights from a diverse group of adult film stars, and reflections on sexuality from esteemed authors and leading cultural observers.

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Thinking XXX 8.0

eyelights: the breadth of the interviews.
eyesores: the relative brevity of the programme.

I first discovered ‘Thinking XXX’ at one of my favourite used CD/DVD shops. A&H Records is long gone, but I loved the place because the guy would receive stacks of oddities and sell them at an unbeatable price. Plus which, if you bought one item, he’d give you a second one for half the price. For someone who likes to explore movies and music, it was like a treasure trove – you’d dig to find intriguing things and, given the price, take chances on something new or unusual.

I stumbled on the soundtrack to ‘Thinking XXX’ one day. I had absolutely no idea what it was, but the cover picture left me intrigued – there was this serious-looking woman on the cover with her arms crossed. In back, was some guy dressed in a sweater, with his hands in jeans’ pockets. The big reveal came when I pulled the cardboard sleeve from the case and, lo and behold, both were suddenly naked! And, inside the booklet, more people both dressed AND undressed.

What was this a soundtrack to? I was confused. But the track listing was enticing: it served up Felix Da Housecat, Goldfrapp, Ladytron, Peaches, Rabbit In The Moon, and The Velvet Underground. The others I didn’t recognize one bit (in some cases, I still don’t), but they were in such great company that I figured that they might actually be half-decent; it would be worth giving them a shot. Um… once I got over my embarrassment at buying it, that is.

But my curiosity, as it often does, got the better of me.

I left with my purchase and self-consciously concealed the CD amidst a stack of other newly found goodies in such a way that no one could see the title or cover; I would be mortified if anyone saw that I was carrying a CD called ‘XXX: Music from Thinking XXX’ – what would people think? If I could misunderstand what this CD was, no doubt someone taking a passing glimpse at it would also wonder, and likely conclude, that I’m some sort of pervert. Eek.

But I was eager to listen to my CD, and it was the first thing I did when I got home. It wasn’t all that and a bag of chips, but it was quite a pleasing array of electro, hip hop and alternative (the true alternative, not the radio-friendly “alternative”) tracks. I ended up playing it a lot, and even featured a bunch of its tracks on my radio show, “What the…?“, at various times. But I remained unsatisfied: what was ‘Thinking XXX’? What was this a soundtrack to?

It was years later that I discovered that it was a one-time HBO special, that is was a documentary more or less exploring the making of a photo book that Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, world-renowned celebrity photographer. He had decided to shoot porn stars naked as well as dressed in their casual wear – in the same pose, to show them with their public face on and as regular people. It was a fascinating concept to say the least!

I was immediately curious to watch this documentary, which Greenfield-Sanders also directed. I wanted to know more about this project, which I hadn’t heard about through any other sources. In fact, if not for the CD, I would never have heard of it – so far off my radar was it and has it remained. So I sought it out, and a friend eventually found a copy, which he promptly put into my eager hands. I watched the DVD in no time flat and even ate up the many hours of bonus features.

Featuring a number of performers that I knew (ex: Nina Hartley, Ron Jeremy, Ginger Lynn) or had heard of (ex: Sunrise Adams, Heather Hunter, Jenna Jameson), and tons that were entirely new to me (ex: Belladonna, Chloe, Mari Possa), ‘Thinking XXX’ was more about pornography and the porn industry than it was about Greenfield-Sanders’ project. It offers candid interviews with its subjects but also highlights many well-known writers (ex: Nancy Friday, Gore Vidal) and other celebrities (ex: John Waters).

What was interesting was the whole discussion of the commodification of sex in the last couple of decades, how it’s virtually everywhere now. Richard Johnson, New York Post’s Page Six editor, made an interesting comment about porn being to young women today like boxing was to young males 50 years ago; it was a way out, a hope for a better life. It was also interesting to see how for some stars it’s all business, others it’s a lifeline, and some enjoy it.

What was pleasing about the doc was how it showed an equal amount of men and women, irrespective of sexual orientation. Obviously, to be a male star often means doing gay porn, so there was a fair bit of talk about that side of the industry. One male model, for instance, moved on because he was no longer as young (i.e. viable) and started up his own modeling agency, even using his small fortune to bring his family members over to the United States.

One star who was featured quite prominently (at least compared to the others) was Nina Hartley. Then 45, she was still working full time in the adult entertainment industry, and claimed that she picked up fans because she’s more mature. We got to hear about and see her life outside porn and she also shed some light on the “glamourous” side of the work, which may seem like fun and games until she explains that it’s hours of grueling work for each shoot.

It was mostly portrayed as rather pleasant, however, with only John Waters not sanitizing porn, saying that no person who gets into porn at 18 has it together and that there is a lot of sexual abuse at its root. He also said that heterosexual porn could be brutal, and that he really didn’t like seeing the stuff. But, for each John Waters there were a few Jesse Janes, saying that it was the best thing ever and she’s proud of what she’s doing, …etc.

Which, in the end, made ‘Thinking XXX’ even-keeled and certainly fascinating, if not entirely informative. Personally, I could have watched a lot more of it without tiring… which is where all the extra interview bits in the special features section come in handy – there’s hours of it. All in all, I’d say that it’s an excellent piece of work, even if the book itself has only limited value, given that it only has 30 stars in it – it’s not exactly bountiful.

Still it’s worth seeing. My local library had it, so, yes, I requested it. You should too; looking at these before and after shots will get you thinking, reframing, looking at people differently. In a good way.

Story: n/a
Acting: n/a
Production: 7.5

Sexiness: 3.0
Nudity: 7.0
Explicitness: 3.0

Date of viewing: July 28, 2013

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