Thinking XXX (Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, 2004)
I've been stepping up my watching of documentaries these past few years. Sort of a combination of feeling like too much of the time I spend in front of a screen is wasted and wanting to find out more about subjects that I know nothing, or little, about. It's not that much of a sacrifice when you've got stuff like this out there waiting to be seen. Celebrated photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, while taking the photos for his book XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits, decided to film the process as well. The result is a fascinating look at the people behind the porn, as it were.
One (or, at least, I) always expects porn stars to be nice, bubbly, somewhat vacuous. I know, prejudice is a horrible thing, but there it is. And to be fair, a few of the folks who get camera time here come off exactly that way. But the majority are quite another thing entirely. Everyone, by now, knows the Jenna Jameson story, how she went from being "just another porn star" to being one of the biggest movers and shakers in the adult entertainment industry. (One of the interviewees notes that the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Jenna Jameson was the series' most watched episode of all time.) that sort of drive, intelligence, and ambition is very well represented here, and by many more stars than Jameson. Yeah, there are a lot of naked bodies to look at, and they're aesthetically pleasing, but the flesh on display is not the only attraction here; these people, and the other commentators Greenfield-Sanders ropes in to give their opinions (among them Gore Vidal, Nancy Friday, Karen Finley, and John Waters), really have interesting stuff to say about the business, about their lives, about the cultural mystique that allows such an industry to become the billion-dollar juggernaut it is. These is good people, these is! (And I had no idea Nina Hartley was still making movies-- I remember her from almost a quarter-century ago. More power to her!)
As well as all that, there's what (I assume) Greenfield-Sanders originally set out to document, the art of composing the pictures themselves. He works on antique equipment, so this isn't just a documentary about point-and-shoot camera technology. Even if it were, his idea here-- portraits of the stars clothed, then nude, in the same positions-- required a lot of forethought, a lot of retakes, and, no doubt, a lot of patience from everyone involved. Ever wonder what goes into one of those big coffee-table books of photography? I have little doubt that what Greenfield-Sanders shows us is no more than the tip of the iceberg, but it's enough to get a person wondering.
Rent this, send the kids to bed, and watch it. Prurient interests aside, I think you'll learn something. This one was definitely not filed in the "wasted time" folder in my head. ****