Oh dear, my last stand-in for Penelope. She’s coming back from Europe next month, and won’t this column be cosmopolized!
I finally had to watch MADE IN SECRET: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective. Unsurprisingly, it’s been getting lots of screenings around North America (hint to filmmakers: put “porn” in your title, then retain street cred by saying “porn” is the wrong word). It’s a feature-length pseudo-doc about a group-sex club who seem to have created a whole new sexual identity: auto-erotic reality-TV-osexuals.
Not really a documentary, more like reality TV: the film’s website claims that the porn-making collective formed only in order to document themselves (but in this world of hoax-on-hoaxon-hoax, maybe they’re just shy). Essentially, what you’re seeing is a performance of a documentary about a performance of a porn collective. We don’t get much of the actual porn, because the group has decided never to show it to outsiders (though, again, that decision might just be a pretext, an excuse to keep their gitch on).
It’s this careful secrecy—what goes in the group stays in the group—that, for me, distinguishes this bunch from a video collective in the straightforward sense. Their video-making is a complex ruse; the committee-meeting format is a bizarre, hyper-Victorian social lubricant. The real nitty-gritty is that they have sex together, fetishizing the filmmaking-process as others might fetishize a soiled undergarment or a picture of Sammy Davis Jr. in the bedroom. The movies they make are like painfully-slow swap parties, punctuated by votes, storyboards and tech rehearsals which seem to excite them. One guy claims to
have kissed his first boy during shooting; the camera-operator, his girlfriend, says it excites her. Is this an indie-media revolution, or just foreplay? And is the double-layer of a faux-collective, created for the purpose of documenting itself, just a hard-to-unbutton social lingerie?
MADE IN SECRET, which plods a bit despite the editor’s smooth respect for pacing and flow, has a couple of clumsy intrusions by some Wet Spots songs (an attempt to create sex-pop synergy?). Sure, there’s straightforward exposition at all times, but it’s not like Capturing the Friedmans or anything, charged with tense energy from start to finish. But about an hour in, things get really interesting when the camera lingers for twelve minutes on a single debate at the
collective: after watching BikeSexual, their latest film, one member of the group is excited to show it at a private indie-porn festival in Portland. To complicate matters, another member, who was away during this particular production, is tongue-tied and horrified by the proposed breach of secrecy.
This debate exemplifies the very core of the pornography debate: the straight (but apparently bi-curious) hot chick, who wants to show off their film, squares off with the not-attractive-by-currentmainstream-rules, apparently-trust-challenged lesbian. The former is just the demographic whose social status could be increased through pornographic publicity; the latter is the type for whom mainstream show-biz is the most destructive and oppressive, and who sounds like she joined the collective specifically for the revolutionary internal dynamics, not to crank out product.
The way the collective resolves this dispute—a hair-pulling 10-hour meeting in which they think about dissolving when they fail to reach consensus—says something about the benefits of such a society, but unwittingly reveals the inherent contradiction of a “private porn.” The problem with porn is not just the gender hierarchy which mainstream society imposes on it. It’s also the commodification of sexuality, the transformation of sex from a participatory act into
a spectatorial one. If the EVPC’s movies end up gathering dust in a drawer, or sitting at the video store next to Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS, what’s the difference?
What ultimately disappoints about this film, however, is that the clever “what-is real-and-what-isn’t?” format belies the very principle they claim to be pursuing: honesty and intimacy in media production, rather than a top-down broadcast and one-way PR bullshit. That the porn may not really exist at all makes us question their commitment. Why are they afraid to show what’s really sexy? Why are they teasing us with all this utopian porno promise and then pulling out at the last minute? The challenge they throw down to themselves, their critique of the mainstream porn industry, could fairly be phrased thus: “That’s not sexy. My friends and I are sexy.” Is that really a revolutionary challenge?