Monday, May 16, 2005

Book: The Other Hollywood, by Legs McNeil & Jennifer Osborne (2005)

The full subtitle of this book is The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry. I’m going to pause here so that we can get the snickering out of the way.


Thanks to an Irish Catholic (and thus repressed) adolescence, my experience with pornography has been limited to listening to my college friends recount the plot of a hardcore gem called HEAD GAMES. It’s also thanks to said Irish Catholic adolescence that I recall this synopsis in detail. (To this day, I will not eat any salad dressing that I did not apply myself. Don’t ask.) I even remember the movie’s theme song, which my friends insisted on singing for me.

And yes, it is better than the Foreigner tune of the same name.

McNeil’s PLEASE KILL ME is widely regarded as the definitive history of punk music. His take on the adult film business promised to be every bit as exhaustive. And as regular readers of this site know, I am all about self-improvement.

The authors of THE OTHER HOLLYWOOD talk to everyone connected with porn, not just performers and producers but law enforcement officers, organized crime figures, even Academy Award-winning producer Albert S. Ruddy (who points out that one of the top distributors of pornographic films also released THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a different kind of skin flick.)

The book does a good job of recounting the industry’s early years, the evolution of ‘nudie-cuties’ and stag films into hardcore. The sections on DEEP THROAT include plenty of quotes from star Linda Lovelace, making it a strong complement to this year’s documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT.

There are choice details galore. An FBI agent who became too closely attached to his cover reminisces about tipping cocktail waitresses with pairs of Jordache jeans. The script to John Holmes’ first ‘Johnny Wadd’ movie was written on the back of an envelope.

But 590 pages is a long slog, especially when many of the participants have similar stories that they don’t tell very well. (One porn actor says, “Fame is a barbed wire treadmill.” In the words of R. Lee Ermey in FULL METAL JACKET: “You think you’re Mickey Spillane?”) Some of the editorial choices compound the problem, like cutting back and forth between events linked only by chronology. The authors also decided to write out “ha ha ha” every time one of the interviewees laughs. It’s amazing how a little thing like that can grate on your nerves.

As porn becomes more corporate and more pervasive in society, the book becomes shapeless. McNeil and Osborne seem to lose interest as outsized personalities like Lovelace and Holmes fade from the scene. Which is unfortunate, because it’s precisely that story – of an industry gone mainstream that is now dominated by multi-national corporations – that needs to be told. In many respects, THE OTHER HOLLYWOOD isn’t so much like BOOGIE NIGHTS as it is Martin Scorsese’s CASINO: an almost fond look back at a disreputable business before it became a business.