Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney) is the ultimate fantasy man: a chiseled Adonis and the biggest star in gay porn. The fact that he’s straight doesn’t seem to make a difference to anyone. Not to Julie (Roxanne Day), his lap-dancer girlfriend, who promises to take care of him and dreams of having children. Not to Sean (Michael Cunio), a young filmmaker whose obsession leads him to be Johnny’s public cameraman and private “fluffer.” And not even to Johnny, who lives for the money, the adulation-and the drugs. But then Johnny starts to self-destruct. In the City of Dreams, you should watch what you wish for…
The Fluffer 7.75
eyelights: the open-ended last few moments.
eyesores: the lack of surprises.
“Sean, just because someone does gay sex doesn’t mean they’re gay.”
‘The Fluffer’ is a 2001 film about an aspiring filmmaker who ends up working in the porn industry when he inadvertently ends up with a film called ‘Citizen Cum’ instead of the video he had rented. Fascinated by its star, Johnny Rebel, he starts to rent all of his movies and eventually decides to try his luck at The Men of Janus, the company that produces his films. There he would receive a crash course into the porn industry and its inhabitants.
I think that I may have seen the cover art for ‘The Fluffer’ around a few times over the years, but I never paid it any mind: it clearly had a gay porn aesthetic to it, and that doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever. However, while watching either ‘The Celluloid Closet‘ or ‘Fabulous!‘, I recall Guinevere Turner saying good things about ‘The Fluffer’. Being a fan of hers, I decided that I should at least give it a chance.
I was actually quite pleased with it. Although the box suggests that this is a comedy, which is a woefully inappropriate assessment of its content, ‘The Fluffer’ is an excellent drama all around. It doesn’t break any new ground plot-wise (we’ve seen this type of film many times over), but it serves up credible characters and situations, excellent performances and a solid presentation.
Where it does distinguish itself is in its take on the gay porn industry, in that it didn’t glamourize it nor make it especially seedy. It offered audiences what would seem (to me, at least) a sober perspective on what it must be like on both sides of the camera. It also throws in a gay love/lust story, something which, in 2001, wasn’t exactly a common occurrence in mainstream cinema.
Personally, I loved that it was a tale of longing without a rosy Hollywood ending to accompany it: Sean has his eye on Mark (a.k.a. Johnny Rebel), but he’s a heterosexual man who lives with Babylon, his stripper girlfriend – he only does gay porn to pay the bills. In fact, he is always a “top” in his films and doesn’t do oral sex or anything else; his reputation is merely built on his good looks and impressive sexual attributes.
Sean becomes even more fascinated with him by virtue of having had to fluff him for a scene that they’re shooting together. Although he refuses to do it for other performers, he’s more than happy to oblige Mark when the opportunity arises. And it does again, as Mark finds in Sean an ability that is of great assistance. That would be the extent of their sexual contact, although a friendship of sorts develops.
And this is where ‘The Fluffer’ may truly work best. I wasn’t emotionally involved or enticed by the dynamic, but I suspect that this brand of unrequited love might be relatable for some gay males, particularly those who have been in the closet at some point. My thought is that not only was this somewhat realistic, but it may have been quite stimulating to focus on this unapproachable object of desire.
(Speaking of which, for those hoping to see a lot of man-on-man action, there isn’t much of it. For all its vaunted “unrated” warnings, ‘The Fluffer’ is hardly revelatory: the worst one sees is two men doggie stylin’ in a close shot – there is hardly anything explicit to see here. Aside from some making out, it’s mostly suggestive, erotic more than pornographic. Ironically there’s a pretty hot strip-tease number by Babylon, however.)
I also enjoyed that it there were discussions about the impact of the industry on its participants via Sean and his colleague, Silver, a young woman who gets off by watching gay porn. They also discuss the complexity of of longing for something that you can’t get, with Sean explaining that he realizes that it’s a no-win scenario, that it sucks, but that it’s the best that he can hope for given the circumstances.
It’s true that sometimes we take what we can get, even if it’s not perfect. In his situation, there was really nothing else to do aside from turning his back and walking away – something he felt he couldn’t do. Naturally, this would ultimately have a serious impact on his ability to start other relationships and it would influence his decisions whenever he was with Mike. I loved this frank assessment of his predicament.
Beyond that, however, I didn’t find the picture particularly innovative. The only reason I gave it a slightly higher notch than an average film is because of the ending, which left Sean, Mike and Babylon’s fates wide open. The filmmakers’ approach, despite all that had transpired, was unjudgemental and reflective – something I found satisfying. There was no melodrama, shocking twists or fairy tale endings.
In fact, Mark’s fate, which is the grimmest of the three, was offered up as soberly as possible, without any apparent moralizing. If anything, I got the impression that turning him into the “bad boy” was likely calculated to add to his appeal with certain audiences. Between this and Scott Gurney’s (who plays Mike) astounding good looks, I could see how some people would find him particularly enticing.
Personally, I wasn’t especially impressed with him, but I doubt that I was the target audience. It doesn’t change the fact that I found ‘The Fluffer’ engaging enough and worth seeing – it’s not fluff. I”m still confused that it is branded as a comedy in some circles, as I didn’t find it funny in any way, but it remains an excellent behind-the-scenes perspective on the Los Angeles gay porn industry.
Post scriptum: watch out for cameos by well-known celebrities like Ron Jeremy, Deborah Harry and some gay porn actors.
Date of viewing: July 31, 2014