Watching straight pornography as a gay man is strange but often fascinating business. Mostly unattracted by the women who are presented as the central objects of the viewer’s gaze—and only intermittently distracted by the men, the appeal of whom varies drastically in straight hard-core—my attention is freed up to notice other aspects of these films, such as their formal qualities (their construction, generic conventions, production quality), as well as what we might call their political unconscious. Paying attention to both of these aspects of a film like Debbie Does Dallas (dir. Jim Clark, 1978) helps us to understand its significance within the hard-core genre. Debbie Does Dallas’ status as a classic (its popularity is arguably rivaled only by Deep Throat) rests as much on its formal components as on the logic of its sexual economy.
There may not come a breezier comedy this summer than Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, a beautifully wrought character study driven by a winsome performance by Greta Gerwig (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach, as it turns out) in the title role. The film spans a year or so in the life of Frances, a dancer, as she stumbles through a series of jobs and New York apartments, makes a series of bad financial decisions, and tries to keep a relationship going with her best friend and sometime-roommate, Sophie (“we’re basically the same person with different hair,” Frances claims).
Things have been quiet here at Primal Scenes for the last few weeks, mainly because I’ve been on vacation. So, as a way of diving back into my survey of “porno chic,” I’d like to return to the question of sexual orientation as it gets represented in hard-core porn, and what function the films’ acknowledgement of or blindness to the existence of multiple sexual orientations might serve. If The Opening of Misty Beethoven is an ostensibly straight porn film that demonstrates an awareness—however problematically—of the existence of homosexuality, Joe Gage’s Kansas City Trucking Co. and its sequel, El Paso Wrecking Corp., are good examples of gay porn films the appeal of which depends crucially on the presence and the pretense—however unconvincing—of heterosexuality. While defiantly gay, Gage’s films unapologetically fetishize straight, closeted, and/or butch men (it’s a trope that persists today in the form of online gay porn sites which advertise “straight” models). If Gage’s main character, the tall, dark, lean, bearded trucker Hank (Richard Locke), is presented as exclusively homosexual (a perfect Kinsey 6, as it were), the supporting players in both films are often presented as sexually frustrated straight guys, unhappily married or saddled with girlfriends who won’t put out, driven into the more receptive arms—and hands and mouths—of other men.
|The girl-girl scene as appetizer: Terri Hall and Jacqueline Beudant in The Opening of Misty Beethoven.|
It’s a given that sex scenes between two or more women in mainstream pornography are usually aimed at the straight male viewer, and are usually presented as merely the appetizer to heterosexual coupling’s main course. Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)—a superb film, by the way—offers us as good an example of this as any. Terri Hall and Jacqueline Beudant act out a seduction scenario that ends with Hall going down on Beudant, whereupon Hall transfers her attention to Jamie Gillis and the straight sex commences. In the context of the straight porn film, even the girl-girl scenes such as this one could be considered straight sex insofar as they serve the interests of a heteronormative logic, according to which “cock and cunt will come together,” to quote an old schoolyard chant. As Heather Butler has noted, it’s proven difficult to unearth any authentic lesbian pornography from this so-called golden age of hard-core. What sex between women is there (and there is quite a lot of it) almost always seems to have been made by straight filmmakers, with straight actors, for straight audiences.
Jeff Nichols’ Mud is a lovingly old-fashioned boys’ adventure story of the kind that they don’t make much anymore. It’s set in rural Arkansas in what I guess is supposed to be the present, but it’s a 2013 by way of 1972, free of cell phones, video games, and laptops. Fourteen-year-old Ellis and his buddy Neck (short for Neckbone) communicate via walkie-talkie instead of text message, and when Ellis wants to call up his crush he has to look up her family’s number in the phone book.