I’m beginning to understand that all of these films are going to be tough, but that they’ll each be tough in a different way.
Episode 2 was difficult because of a lack of planning and clear vision that left us feeling as though we didn’t execute the film to the best of our abilities. This film – about a weekly karaoke night attended by pornography fans and performers – proved difficult not because of our approach, but because of the material. We expected that we’d find misplaced desire; we expected that there’d be lonely fans and we expected that some of the women might seem troubled. Still, we weren’t prepared for the darkness and the sadness that we would find. At least I know that I wasn’t.
Reading this — having watched the film – you might find yourself thinking that it didn’t seem that dark, that there must be something you’re missing, or there must be something that was deliberately missing from the film. You’re right. Follow that assumption. Go further, follow other assumptions – watch the film again and this time — in the ellipses between cuts — make further assumptions about what was discarded or lied about or undisclosed. Let those assumptions become darker, think the worst, tell yourself the saddest story and you still won’t come close.
There’s an entire day of shooting that was not included in the film. Several days after the initial shoot myself and a cinematographer went to the apartment of one of the performers we interviewed. It was a spare, poorly furnished ground-floor studio in an anonymous complex in the Valley: vertical blinds, nothing in the fridge, no photos, no television. There was only a bed, a wobbly kitchen table and a beat-up laptop.
Within five minutes of stepping inside – before the interview even began – the woman explained that the real reason she did pornography was because she was brutally sexually assaulted as a child. She said it flatly, the way that you might explain that you went to Law School because in your twenties you weren’t sure where to go. She said it as if her life would make more sense to us now and sadly, it did. Things got worse from there.
Why didn’t you include this?
My sense — particularly after walking out of that apartment — is that none of the women involved in pornography are in it because they have healthy boundaries. The most intimate pieces of your corpus and the emotions tied to that – your fears, your self-worth and your traumas – are put on public display and profited from, they are downloaded, used and forgotten. Why then would it matter to you if the same were done with your interior emotional life? It may not matter to you, and if that’s the case then you’re vulnerable and the hope is that someone won’t try and take advantage of that vulnerability, that they won’t use your broken boundaries for their own means. When I thought about it I knew that in some way that’s what I would be doing.
During that interview – the interview we didn’t use – the woman in question did say something that stuck with me and shaped the piece. I asked her, “When you look back, how will you remember Porn Star Karaoke?”
She thought for a moment, and then said flatly, “It’s a masquerade.”
Lastly: in making this piece and thinking about this material for the last month I am deeply indebted to Susannah Breslin and her writing. Her essay “They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?” is as illuminating as it is disturbing. We’ve never met but we spoke, particularly memorable was this exchange:
Me: I think I’m actually suffering trauma from this whole experience.
Me: I’m not joking.
SB: I know, it’s just, “Welcome to the club.” That’s what happens when functioning people step into dysfunctional worlds.