November 1997
s m u g
bumping uglies
by Todd Levin

*

Porn in the USA - By the People, of the People, For the People

I have been incredibly cranky lately. As much as I hate to bring my personal grief into my work, I know the readers, wise in their ways, would feel collectively cheated were I to carry on, writing with half a heart to deliver the goods to you, while repressing my occasional moodswings and fits of nearly clinical depression (both of which can be cured with Dr. Toddís Handy Anti-Depressant Home Kit - haircut, shave, hot shower, and ĺ" nail through base of the skull to insure a hasty release of those darn little "depression demons").

I am a traditionally happy person. I greet strangers with a smile. I wear fashionable spring colors that complement my eyes and skin tone. I listen to socially acceptable, radio-friendly pop music. I kiss babies and make sure to keep my mouth closed. What reason would I have to harbor malign feelings? What would turn an otherwise collected, personable writer into someone who is not responsible for even his most nefarious actions? (by writing that, I am hoping to be absolved for all future acts of evil which I might commit but havenít yet planned) What cosmic-ill would cause me to write an unnecessarily heady, lengthy, and generally unfunny intro paragraph to my column? Iíll tell you: too much sub-par amateur pornography.

I like amateur porn just as much as the next person. Actually, in many instances in which Iíve polled the person next to me, I have discovered that I might like amateur porn just a little bit more. Nonetheless, personal tastes aside, there is clearly good amateur porn and bad amateur porn. Some people have a natural flair for the stuff, it seems, and if it helps to improve a coupleís sex lives while I watch their coitus in the disturbingly silent darkness of my New York-style Ĺ studio apartment, standing (because the apartment is a bit too small to accommodate most horizontal postures), dressed only in an oversized corduroy diaper and gold-filled cornucopia necklace (which I wonít take off for anything!), then so be it. But there are other instances where I have been very badly burned by the promise of a no-holds-barred weekend of low-fidelity amateur porn, only sit through the unbearably awkward and poorly paced sexual oeuvre of, well, a completely amateurish amateur.

So, I would like to offer a set of easy "doís and doníts" for the would-be amateur pornography directors out there. This is not gospel, but a guideline, just as Strunk and Whiteís Elements of Style is really just a guideline for technically good composition and Sanford and Son is merely a guideline for getting into the junk trade business. But I will attest to having completed a great deal of research, unlike Strunk, Sanford, Son, Bubba and Grady. (youíll notice I have conveniently excluded White, the real genius behind Strunk and White, who was eventually cheated out of his share of the Elements fortune, but went on to recoup his losses with the very popular, House of Style - only to be cheated out of his cash yet again in the second season by the Viacom Company over a technicality in his contract.

White was left penniless, dangling precariously from the participle of sanity and was last seen wearing prison blues after a botched bank robbery which was modeled after the fictional robbery in his moderately successful geriatric heist film, Going in Style.) Sure, I didnít go to film school but I can say confidently that I have sat through enough consecutive hours of amateur pornography to a) suffer minor, and on two occasions major, superficial skin irritation, and b) know what works and doesnít work on tape for the home pornographer.

With that in mind, hereís a fairly simple primer for getting started: five quick doís and doníts for all aspiring amateur adult filmmakers.

  1. Please remove all national brand products from the mise-en scène. Itís unprofessional. I know Pepsico® is not paying you and your wife for product placement so I donít want to see a stray can of Diet Pepsi® on the nightstand next to the action. This can be really distracting, especially if the viewer has just eaten a huge bag of Chips Ashore® ("The Little, Delicious-seeming Cookie Packed with real Sea Salt"™) and has built up a man-sized thirst. It can also be a potential turn-off. For instance, if you are lactose-intolerant and you catch a glimpse of a half-eaten Heluva Good® Cheese party ball and some Ritz® crackers on a cheeseboard, chances are good - if you donít have a dangerous physical reaction - you are going to have a hard time paying attention. So, unless Dominos Pizza or Encyclopedia Britannica has decided to endorse your homemade sexual epic, please try to clean up the place before shooting a porno there.

  2. DONíT: spend too much time in the exposition. I realize most amateur pornographers are pretty eager to put themselves in front of and behind the camera. But that is no excuse to become overly wrapped up in the process, forgetting that the audience is really yearning to see some old-fashioned mutually consensual fingering.

    Recently, I was watching an amateur couplesí video, The Magnificently Hung Andersons, and the married couple literally spent 35 minutes mulling over old photo albums and high school yearbooks before getting into it. The sex scenes were brief and uncomfortably sandwiched between exhaustive phone conversations and monologues about lawn fertilizers, the yippie movement, and an irritating, meandering argument 40 minutes into the video about whether Thelma and Louise would have been a better feminist film if weíd seen the two characters actually plummet to their deaths in the final scene.

  3. Three words: Lighting, Lighting, Lighting!! Good lighting is essential to the enjoyment of any personal fantasy as realized for the straight-to-video audience. In other words, watch the fluorescent lights. I realize budget is an issue, and many of these films are shot on location in rumpus rooms and suburban kitchenettes, but honestly, I saw one amateur porn that was so washed in bright fluorescents, it looked about as sexy as a video of orthoscopic surgery. (Ironically, on another occasion, I actually mistakenly rented a video on the reparation of human hinge joints through modern prosthetics when I meant to rent a hardcore amateur porn. Honest mistake. And yes, I still ejaculated with the fury of a thousand sixth graders at a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party, but this should in no way undermine my point that good, romantically dim lighting is important in any amateur adult film production.)

  4. Please, for the love of God, find a way to edit out pre, mid, and post-coital flatulence. (unless, of course, your film is being considered for inclusion in the "Mondo Methane" erotic video collection)
  5. Hereís an easy policy: No pets. This is not your family vacation. This is for consumption, and this means there is no excuse for using up the last free fifteen minutes on your videotape by shooting your cats and dogs sleeping, playing, or wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses. If I can cite by example, I was watching Bob and Carol and Peanut and Captain Wiggles, which, in all other aspects was a fairly successful amateur film (a strong dramatic arc, plus a healthy number of scenes depicting a pair of strung-out newlyweds doing things to a Holiday Inn bed that even the most vicious despot would not do to a prisoner of war), had at least three scenes in which the auteur tried to sneak in footage of their pets.

    Granted, one of those scenes was a very funny feline reaction shot that provided some much-needed comic relief. But why did I have to sit through 12 solid minutes of their jack terrier sitting up on a stool and shaking hands with neighbors in exchange for puppy treats. Contrary to what certain unfortunate felonious blemishes on my otherwise squeaky-clean public record may indicate, house pets have absolutely no place in your intimate couplings. I learned my lesson with 200 hours of community service; youíre getting off easy.

    Yes, these are merely loose technical guidelines. Obviously, I have not written the book on shooting amateur porn (but I am under contract to do so. Look for "Just Like Mom Made, but Without the Lumps: A Veteranís Guidebook to Beginner Amateur Pornographers," coming next Christmas from University Press). Most importantly, please just try to remember this: you are the artist, but as such you have certain responsibilities to your audience. Even if your audience is a small subgroup of creepy, venereal, social reprobates who are willing to pay good American cash to watch an average-looking couple going at it on a trundle bed in the spare room of their split-level ranch home.

    *

    letigre@smug.com

    *

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