Porn Shutdown

Monday, April 25, 2005 by

The porn – sorry – adult entertainment industry is now a multimillion-dollar business and has undergone an image overhaul in the last few years as it aims for mainstream appeal. Helped by the success of films such as Boogie Nights, it now portrays itself as respectable entertainment for mature audiences. So what better time for Channel 4 to start a season of industry exposés under the moniker “Dark Side of Porn”? The first programme in the series, Porn Shutdown, deals with the temporary closure of movie production following an HIV scare, which rocked the industry in 2004.

Starting with a brief beginner’s guide to the home of adult filmmaking, the San Fernando Valley (or “Pornoland” as it is constantly referred to throughout), the programme offers a fairly incisive look at the repercussions and reaction to the news porn star Darren James has been infected with HIV after returning from Brazil. A fair amount of screen time is devoted to a Medical Healthcare Foundation set up by former porn star Dr Sharon Mitchell, AIM, which is completely autonomous and free from the prejudices and intervention of the authorities. Throughout, she comes across as pretty straightforward, intelligent and honest about the world in which she works, and, in turn, it seems the industry values her contribution.

Of course no documentary about pornography can be seen to show it in a positive light, so the inclusion of a young innocent woman corrupted and abused by the adult entertainment world was quickly rolled out. Here we were introduced to Laura Foxx, a naïve Canadian who was, on her first film, the unfortunate performer who discovered she’d been infected by James. Although she was not the only one to be tested, the hook of the documentary rests on whether or not she’s going to develop full-blown AIDS, a question that remains unresolved until the final minutes, as Porn Shutdown takes a detour to explore the more underground side of the business.

The world of so-called “gonzo porn” is not, as its name suggests concerned with those who are turned on by Muppet-on-Muppet action, but instead conforms to the stereotypical view of the genre held by the average viewer; misogynistic, violent and degrading. Filmmakers Max Hardcore and Ron Black are introduced and given free range to explain their product and outlaw status from the more respectable condom-wearing community. The programme is non-judgemental of its subjects, but some of them don’t exactly do themselves any favours. However, the inclusion of actual footage here seems unnecessary. Being told by the filmmakers about the action in such films as Cockhounds is surely enough, without having to see an excerpt. But then, would the programme get viewers if there wasn’t the promise of a little bit of flesh?

Juxtaposing this disturbing tone is the narration, which adds some perhaps unintended laughs as Christopher Eccleston lends an authoritative, unemotional tone to proceedings. He begins with dialogue reminiscent of the speech he gave Rose in the opening episode of Doctor Who, but instead of discussing the facts and figures of the Earth’s rotation, he provides similar mind-boggling numerical date about the sex industry: “[Every year] 400 porn films are shot here … more than 1000 porn stars … have sex up to 40 times a month (and) 60 gallons of semen are ejaculated for the cameras.” It would also appear the voiceover has been written with an alien audience in mind, as Eccleston helpfully explains to us, in his northern deadpan drawl, “booty … means ‘anus’.”

Overall, Porn Shutdown is an interesting documentary and despite the obligatory naughty footage, it is a far less sensationalist programme than expected. However, the biggest flaw is the suspiciously absent Darren James. Certainly it would have been the norm to have some onscreen text explaining his non-involvement, but there is no explanation for why he does not appear, or indeed what’s become of him. For all the viewer knows, he could be dead or – more scarily – still working somewhere in Pornoworld. But to its credit, the show genuinely attempts to bring to the screen a part of the sex industry that has not been seen before, and the strict self-imposed medical regulations established by Dr Mitchell’s clinic. The fact the virus was detected and film production stopped whilst anxious performers awaited test results, is a validation of what she has set up.

Whilst at times undeniably hard-hitting, the programme is balanced by that commentary. Where else do you get to hear a Time Lord saying “split that booty”? Although, with the current tone of the evolving relationship between Rose and the Doctor, more of the same may be on its way soon.


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