The Dark Side of Porn: Series 2

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

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The Dark Side of Porn: Series 2 7.5

eyelights: the variety of its subject matter.
eyesores: its disturbing quality.

‘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. Amateur Porn 6.75

In what amounts to nothing more than a carbon copy of Series 1‘s “Diary of a Porn Virgin”, this episode takes a look at the world of amateur porn – this time from the perspective of Ellie Lartey, a porn filmmaker, James Edwards, a porn filmmaker and performer, and Anthony, a porn hopeful.

Ellie is a pretty bold character who goes out on the streets asking men if they’ll try out for her porn films. She claims that 1 out of 6 guys say yes, but that few actually show up. To make matters worse, of those who show up, very few can perform on demand – as clearly illustrated here.

We also see her meet with a couple who will pay for her to film them having sex, with the idea that they might get into porn. They all agree on the terms and immediately go to a hotel and shoot a scene. Ellie is also seen showing her first DVD to her extended family for feedback. No joke.

James Edwards is a guy who’s lived a hard life, born with a spinal condition that has drawn no small amount of bullying. His self-esteem is damaged, and he claims that he loves to be watched having sex. So he started filming himself with his exes – with the help of his son, doing the camerawork.

Seriously.

We also meet one of James’ exes, who was talked into doing a film with him, and is regretting it now that he’s planning on releasing it in a DVD collection. He’s had everyone he’s filmed sign a release form, so he’s legally entitled to do it. But should he? James comes off as a really selfish jerk.

Anthony has tried to make it on television and failed. At his age, he feels he has few options left to him, so he decides to try his hand at porn. It was unusual to me because he looks far too cool to be doing porn – this is a guy who seems to have his head on straight, who meditates, …etc.

Coincidentally, he hooks up with Ellie, and we get to watch them collaborate and see what happens behind the scene with new recruits. Unfortunately, it makes the doc feel sort of limited in scope, because it doesn’t explore amateur porn – it explores a couple of amateur porn producers.

2. Me and My Slaves 7.5

In this episode, we follow Rick, a BDSM master who has decided to retire after well over two decades in the profession. He’s had enough. We explore his background, see his workspace, meet some of his clients, see him at work in his dungeon and even see him with his client after the sessions.

What’s interesting about this episode is that it’s more in-depth than most of the others (it’s also longer, at one hour in length) and it finds the narrator commenting on some of what we’re seeing, sometimes wondering how Rick will ever manage to put this lifestyle -and the money- behind him.

Rick comes off as a fairly self-aware person: He admits to liking being in control, even inflicting pain. That’s why he’s so good at it and has repeat customers. But he’s found religion, and is conflicted about the nature of his work even though he doesn’t really feel he’s doing anything wrong.

Ultimately, we watch him tear his livelihood apart, with nothing to fall back on. He decides to return to boxing, even though, at his age, it’s a pipe dream. Any other potential professions that the filmmaker suggests to him, he dismisses immediately; it’s as though he’s setting himself up to fail.

There’s obviously a lot of damage from past experiences informing his behaviour: He used to be bullied at school, used to shoplift, was prone to depression and attempted suicide, was raped by a couple of men, was a rent boy, and was even forced into submission once. It all led to his current career.

So it’s not unsurprising to see him feel insecure about his future, now that he’s putting all of this behind him. He has no money saved up, nothing to fall back on (he had been promised to be taken care of by an older client, but it didn’t pan out) and he doesn’t know what’s in store for him now.

It was an interesting episode from a psychological standpoint. But it was also a very challenging watch on other levels, because we see (and sometimes hear, when it gets too graphic!) some pretty traumatic stuff – physical and sexual abuse that is a turn on to some but that can be a real put off.

But, I suppose, that had to be expected given the subject matter.

3. Hunting Emmanuelle 7.5

In a similar vein as Series One’s “Debbie Does Dallas Uncovered”, this episode takes a look behind the big red curtain at the history of the iconic softcore porn film ‘Emmanuelle‘: how it got made, how it became such a success and what happened to its star and the filmmakers in its aftermath.

‘Emmanuelle’, like ‘Deep Throat’ is one of those landmark films in adult entertainment: it was so popular upon its release that it was gradually making more money every week, eventually raking in 300 million dollars after playing in some cinemas for years. It’s since become a huge franchise.

The episode does a good job of explaining how the sexual revolution set the stage for ‘Emmanuelle’, how they cobbled the film together with no script, no licenses, and no filmmaking or acting experience. Even under threat of arrest and censorship, the filmmakers forged ahead til completion.

The film also discusses the phenomenal impact that this had on its star Sylvia Kristel, who was plucked out of obscurity and became the poster girl for the so-called “liberated woman” overnight. Suddenly, she was a pop culture icon, in high demand by the public and in a permanent spotlight.

But it also took a tremendous toll on her. She made two more ‘Emmanuelle’ films, but her anticipated Hollywood breakthrough never took place, and she tumbled into cocaine addiction and financial ruin. The media and feminists could also be harsh to her, and she also faced a few health issues.

And yet she claims to have no regrets. The most appealing part of this episode is that it features then-recent interview segments with Kristel, and she is very mature, down-to-earth and appreciative of the opportunities given her. She seems to have weathered it all well, ultimately.

(As a side-note, I found her more elegant and attractive as an older woman than she ever was back then. But, then again, I’ve always liked mature women).

So, while “Hunting Emmanuelle” doesn’t delve particularly deeply and doesn’t dish out that much dirt, it’s still a good overview of one of the adult world’s most remarkable success stories – not just from a box office standpoint, but also in the way that it impacted our culture over the years.

4. Does Snuff Exist? 7.0

Well, this one wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. It explores the seedy side of snuff cinema, which apparently has its roots in the Manson Family murders, because they apparently filmed their rampage – but the footage was never recovered and for years people sought out this most rare artifact.

Then came a film called ‘Snuff’ seven years later. It portrayed what was then claimed to be an on-camera murder – with “behind the scenes” footage of the making of the film showing the filmmaker lose control with his actress. It was so popular that Hollywood treated the subject with ‘Hardcore’.

‘Cannibal Holocaust’ only cemented the genre’s notoriety, with its realistic and credible “found footage” of a film crew being murdered by Amazonian cannibals. It was so controversial that its director, Ruggero Deodato was sued by Italian courts and had to prove that his actors were still alive.

The documentary goes through a series of other supposed snuff films, trying to establish what is real and what isn’t, ultimately proving that all of them were staged. Some of its interview subjects conclude that, while no real snuff film has been officially found, it surely exists somewhere.

In fact, with technological advances through the years, first with VHS and now with digital camera, it makes it all the more likely that someone, somewhere, has filmed a snuff film. And it could easily be distributed, what with the internet now providing access to much wider markets than ever before.

The episode suggests that human nature is such that it’s just a matter of time: case-in-point, the internet is rife with “snuff” sites, hooligans regularly film their random acts of senseless violence as entertainment and the Al-Quaeda beheadings were shown everywhere and watched by everyone.

We truly have a dark side.

My only issue with this episode is that it doesn’t delve into the psychology behind snuff – both the making of and the attraction to it. Granted, that wasn’t its premise, but it’s what I would have liked to have explored. Because, ultimately, if it’s supposed to titillating for some, I want to understand.

Because, I really, really don’t get it. A morbid fascination I can sort of understand, in the same way that some people will stare at a car accident. But how watching someone get murdered can be sexually stimulating for anyone is just so far out of my headspace that I can’t put the two together.

For good or bad, this creepy episode doesn’t even try to.

5. The Real Animal Farm 7.5

Well, if episode four of this series wasn’t shocking enough, episode five adds to the misery by discussing the popularity of bestiality. I didn’t know this, but apparently it was a thing in the mid-’70s, with a film that everyone knew as “Animal Farm” – even though there never such a film.

Apparently, what most people call “Animal Farm” is one of many compilations of scenes showing Danish performer Bodil Joensen having sex with various animal, who gained worldwide fame with the 1971 film ‘A Summer’s Day’, which was shown and won the Grand Prix at the Wet Dream Festival.

The episode explores Joensen’s history, how she was raised by her single mother, a cruel religious zealot who even beat her when she was raped as a child. She sought solace in the company of the farm animals, to the degree that she eventually opened a farm and animal husbandry business.

When her business started to fail, she resorted to making bestiality shorts with a local filmmaker. She apparently had no qualms about it, since she loved the company of animals more than most people. But her notoriety never translated into financial success and her life spiraled downward.

She died young, at 40, destroyed by alcohol.

Ultimately, this episode wasn’t nearly as vile as one might expect: it doesn’t show anything objectionable and instead it painted a sympathetic portrait of a woman who struggled her whole life and, for a moment, saw a light at the end of the tunnel – a light that extinguished itself too soon.

Interestingly, at the time this episode was being made, pornography was discussed in the UK Parliament, with legislation to limit the types of porn being available in the country having been introduced. The filmmakers suggest that Britain has long fought against pornography – as much as drugs.

Is it a war that they can win?

Well, with this second series, ‘The Dark Side of Porn’ really earned its wings: it got REALLY dark. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, though it was certainly informative on some levels. Would I recommend it? Only to those who can stomach its subject matter. And most will absolutely not.

Approach with caution.

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

Nudity: 3.5
Sexiness: 1.5
Explicitness: 5.0

Date of viewing: May 2016

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