The Dark Side of Porn: Series 1

The Dark Side of PornSynopsis: Channel 4 presents a season of documentaries exploring the dark reality of the adult film industry.

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The Dark Side of Porn: Series 1 7.75

eyelights: its in-depth look at its subjects.
eyesores: the skeezy feeling it leaves you with.

‘The Dark Side of Porn’ is a 2005-2006 documentary series that played on Channel 4 in the UK. Over the course of two series, and nine episodes (each of which is a self-enclosed 48-minute documentary that was produced, directed and narrated by a different crew), it takes a look at some of the grittier sides of the porn industry.

1. Porn Shutdown 8.0

Dr. Sharon Mitchell, a former porn star, opened Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation to provide a much-needed service to the industry; all professional actors got tested there once a month.

But, in 2004, Darren James came up HIV positive – even though an earlier test had found him negative. He had slept with more than a dozen women since then – and they too had had multiple partners since.

Mitchell initially built a list of 28-40 people that were at risk in order to contact them and mitigate the outbreak. But the authorities came knocking at her door to get the test results, infringing on the clients’ privacy.

Naturally, Church leaders saw this as an opportunity to get their message across and have new laws imposed on the industry. Ultimately, though, thanks to Mitchell’s efforts, the spread was restricted to four people.

The show pads the hour with profiles of a number of industry players, first with a couple of porn stars who had worked with James. They also discussed the vicious attack that got Mitchell out of the business to become a doctor.

They discussed a few producers, including Vivid, who made condoms compulsory, yet still shut down production. There was also Rob Black because of his outlaw reputation and attitude; his crew didn’t wear condoms.

His stuff is really gritty, low class, but it’s nothing compared to Max Hardcore and the extremes of his productions. Ugh. It was rather disturbing. There’s absolutely nothing sexy about the stuff he produces.

There’s also a profile of Chi Chi Larue, producer of gay porn. He claims that gay porn actors always wear condoms, so he shakes his head when he talks of the risks that the straight industry people take.

He and Mitchell also decry the growth of gonzo and the level of humiliation and degradation involved in it; it’s infected popular culture, they say – which wouldn’t surprise me when you consider so-called torture porn.

Ultimately, “Porn Shutdown” is quick to judge the porn producers and can be rather harsh about the industry. While I have no love of the porn industry, it would have been nice for the show to be a bit more objective.

2. Diary of a Porn Virgin 7.5

This short film profiles two British women trying to make it in the porn business, Frankie and Sahara, as well as a quick glance at a guy trying out to become a porn performer.

Frankie: After 15 years in the corporate world, Frankie decided she’d had enough. She decided that she would do porn and try to make enough money to fund future projects. At 38 years of age, however, she’s a very late bloomer in an industry that disposes of its performers young.

We follow her around as she tries for a break. Her first gig is very hush, hush, a private affair with a few men. It’s a risky proposition, but she comes back elated to have done her first shoot. She then gets her first professional gig, but finds that much more difficult, sometimes wrenching.

A month later, gigs dry up. She gives up and puts up a personal website, works that angle instead.

It’s interesting to note that, throughout, she gets terrific support from her spouse – who refused to be interviewed or seen on camera. She always checked in with him and seemed to be well-anchored. And, ultimately, she was very pleased to have made her transition; it helped work out a few things.

Sahara: Tired of being a manager in the textile industry, the 29-year-old decided to make use of her looks and rarity (there was only one other Muslim porn performer at the time) to make a splash on the scene. At first, she only does modeling and then some webcam work.

What’s interesting is the personal aspects of her journey. She claimed that she was still wearing the hijab two years prior. And she discusses the impact this had on her family when a cousin found out and threatened to tell her parents. It must have been a really challenging time for her.

But it paid off: she gained popularity fast and she eventually became a porn star.

The lads: A little less glamourous is watching a bunch of guys trying to get their dicks hard so that they can do a test shot for a porn producer. Most of them just can’t keep it up and apparently only 1 in 15 make it.

The worst of it, for me, is the fact that the producer has a girl do the tests with each of them. And, when too many people showed up, he got one of his office staff to fill in. Wow… it just feels so cheap, disposable.

But maybe that’s just me.

3. Debbie Does Dallas Uncovered 8.0

1978’s ‘Debbie Does Dallas’ is one of the top 5 biggest porn films in U.S. history. But it’s also one of the most notorious. The producers of ‘The Dark Side of Porn’ decided to track down the people involved to discuss what went down.

They contacted Jim Clark, the director, who agreed to participate, but only under his porn pseudonym as he now has a regular life. They also interviewed the performers Herschel Savage, Eric Edwards, Robert Kerman and Robyn Bird.

None of the other women wanted to participate, having dropped out of the business and started a new life. As for its star, Bambi Woods, she can’t be found. No one knows where she is or what’s happened to her – although rumours abound.

Clark talks about how the picture came about: He heard some girl’s story about trying out for a cheerleading squad and he thought it was a great idea. Then he met Bambi Woods, liked her bubbly nature and gave her her porn name.

It’s funny to see the guys watch themselves perform in the movie and comment on it; they have no illusions about the quality of the work. They all discuss how Bambi is the by far the highlight of the picture: she’s the girl next door.

Then the producers got sued by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders because their uniforms were so similar – which was intentional, knowing full well that it would give them loads of free publicity. It compensated for the court loss.

But that was just the beginning.

The picture had been financed by the Zeferino mob family, who had seen the money being raked in on ‘Deep Throat‘ and wanted in. So the FBI went after them, infiltrating the family, leading to a massive shakedown of 400 agents.

Naturally, the case added to the film’s notoriety and helped its sales.

The episode interviews Bill Kelly, a former agent, who was in charge of the operation, as well as Pat Livingston who went under cover as a mob guy. It was an extremely dangerous operation, but he eventually went up the food chain.

Then Bambi Woods disappeared.

There are lots of rumours, but no one seems to know for sure what happened to her. Many are convinced she died of an overdose in 1986, others think her parents rescued her from the industry and she is leading a quiet life now.

Bob Burke, the film’s home video distributor, tried to find her and tracked down her parents. He claims that he got the impression she had a nice life. The show hired a private investigator to find her, but he apparently couldn’t.

There are layers of regret in those involved: Kerman, in particular, feels like he wasted his life. They talk about the casualties of the porn industry, about the aftermath of being a porn star, about not making any real money with it.

The FBI agents, too, all had a rough time after this operation. Livingston had a hard time going back to a normal life and is still affected by it. But this changed the FBI’s rules – no one can go undercover for more than 6 months now.

While this episode isn’t nearly as in depth as ‘Inside Deep Throat’, it’s nonetheless a pretty good look at what took place behind the scenes. It’s certainly a memorable segment – and it has been released separately on home video.

4. Death of a Porn Star 7.5

Born Eve Valois, Lolo Ferrari was a pin-up model whose claim to fame was the Guinness Book World Record for the biggest breasts. She peaked in the mid-’90s and died under mysterious circumstances on March 5, 2000.

This episode is a profile on her life. And death.

Since Ferrari was French, thus most of the people around her were as well, the episode is mostly in French, with English subtitles. And while its premise is exploring the events surrounding her death, it’s mostly a bio.

The show explores her childhood, how a lack of love from her parents instilled in her a lack of self-esteem and a desire for validation. She was vulnerable to the attentions of Éric Vigne, who would end up being her husband.

Some experts believe she suffered from body dysmorphia: she had 22 surgeries in just 5 years, changing her face and increasing her bust to 55J (essentially, imagine two huge gym balls wrapped in stretched skin).

Yum.

There’s controversy over whose idea it was: Eric’s or Lolo’s. And some have criticized her surgeon for his poor ethics, for allowing her to be transformed into a freak. He defends himself, saying she was happier for it.

But Eric may have precipitated her metamorphosis. He dressed in drag all the time and had a peculiar self-perception, so some critics claim he designed her in the way he would have liked to look, based on a drag queen he liked.

Interestingly, she didn’t want her lips touched – anything, but not that. She also didn’t feel that her breasts were sexual; she didn’t like them to be part of sexual activity. And yet they were the two things she obsessed on.

What’s really sad is that her own mother, when speaking of her daughter’s metamorphosis, actually describes her as a “monster”.  Ouch. You can see just how upset she is that Eve would turn into this freakish Lolo Ferrari.

Lolo got started making money as a model, but modeling has its limitations; people always want younger models and she was eventually replaced. So Eric pushed her into prostitution – and got himself arrested for pimping.

Desperate for money, she eventually did porn. While she only made three films, she regretted it: these films were re-edited and re-use countless times and, after this, people only saw her as a porn performer, not a model.

In a last ditch effort to salvage her career, they went to the Cannes Film Festival to gain attention and land her some sort of contract. It worked: She got work in low budget films, and even got a recording contract.

By the end of 1996, she was a worldwide sensation. But it was short-lived: come 1998, her popularity was already fading. Sadly, she was addicted to the attention. And pills. Lots of pills – which she took for her severe anxiety.

She knew it was killing her but didn’t know how to stop.

By 1999, she couldn’t even find work in German night clubs. She started having trouble breathing and had back problems. And, on Mar 5, 2000, she was found dead after having taken three boxes of anti-depressants and tranquilizers.

The autopsy determined the cause of death as overdose. But her mom insisted on a second autopsy: her parents believed that her husband, Eric, killed her because her career was in decline and he had someone else.

The second autopsy took two years to get and suggested the possibility of asphyxiation. Eric was jailed for a year, but was released with no charges. He was eventually cleared, in 2007, of all the charges against him.

Unfortunately, at the time that the documentary was produced, in 2005, the courts hadn’t yet decided if he should even go on trial. So it left us hanging, with no proper closure. I found that extremely disappointing.

I was also disturbed by the freakshow on display. I was having dinner while watching this, and for the first time in memory, I had to stop eating because looking at Lola made me slightly queasy. This never usually happens.

Ultimately, ‘Death of a Porn Star’ was a good overview of Lolo’s career – but it takes 37 minutes to set up her life and death, leaving only 10 minutes to discuss the case itself. So it doesn’t really support its title.

With adjusted expectations, however, it’s decent enough.

Ultimately, this first series of ‘The Dark Side of Porn’ left me feeling a little icky. Perhaps that’s the intention, but it forces you to face the reality that there’s exploitation and unhappiness beneath the surface. One could argue that this is the case for any industry, but the adult entertainment world takes it to another level.

Whether it’s because it’s been run by men (who were often associated with the underworld), because many of the performers got involved out of desperation and made choices they would later regret, there are a lot of casualties; few are the people who walk out of the industry unscathed and/or in better shape than they were going in.

When you think of sex, you want to think pleasure, not exploitation and self-destruction. The point of sex is to get off and pornography provides fantasies that allow people to escape into the world that turns them on. A documentary series like this one brings it all back down to earth and makes you want to take a long hot shower.

But it’s important to be aware of the issues too. One can’t just ignore the fact that these things happen and blindly imagine that it’s all cake and roses. In fact, that’s part of the reason why some people get drawn to the industry, in a naive hope that fame and/or wealth are within easy reach. ‘The Dark Side of Porn’ proves it’s not so.

So it’s well worth watching. Then clean and rinse thoroughly.

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

Nudity: 6.5
Sexiness: 2.0
Explicitness: 4.0

Dates of viewing: March 26-27, 2016

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