WHY are porn films so bad?
I don't mean 'bad' in a moral or ethical sense. If you think porn is bad that way, then move along, nothing to see here. I mean bad as in bad art. Uninteresting. Boring. Stupid. Throw-a-book-at-the-television annoying.
Damn. You'd think it would be impossible to make sex dull, wouldn't you?
I didn't feel this way at 16 or 17, when I encountered my first pornographic novel, or around 19, when I saw my first pornographic film. Oh, my god, I thought, this is...just...amazing... I had never imagined anyone would dare to do something like this. Oh, my god, they're actually fucking!
Ahem. Yes, they were actually fucking. And once the initial thrill wore off, I realized that that's about all they were doing. God knows, they weren't acting, unless you count the women's orgasms. And even those weren't very convincing acting.
In fact, it was the same kind of thrill I had when I first saw a Mighty Mouse cartoon at around age 6. Oh my god, this is soooo cool! I was just entranced. o/~ Here comes Miiiiighty Mouse, to save the daaaaaaay! o/~ Mighty Mouse cartoons were about the coolest thing I had ever seen.
Now, as I got older, eventually the thrill of Mighty Mouse wore off, but I discovered new film, video, and books that I hadn't been able to appreciate at age 6, but that at age 10 or 12 were suddenly fascinating. And when my interest in those lagged, I discovered new books and film that were of interest to adults. (I ran out of cartoons that would hold the interest of an adult, though, until I discovered anime.)
The problem with porn, as I see it, is that it is forever stuck at age 17. It can't get over how exciting it is to have people actually fucking. Once you get over that, and want more, porn has no more to give. People fucking, over and over again, is all it's about. There's no porn for adults, the way there are books and film for adults. This sounds silly, doesn't it? Porn is, after all, 'adult' by definition. It's sold in 'adult' bookstores, played in 'adult' movie theaters, sold on 'adult' websites. But if you compare it to other art forms, it has none of the values that hold adults' attention.
Imagine the coolest scene in the coolest action movie you've ever seen. Say, the lobby firefight in The Matrix, or the chase scene in Bullitt, or your favorite martial arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now, imagine a movie made up of nothing but that scene, played out again, and again, and again, for 90 minutes, with slightly different actors, but the same damn scene, coming around time and again. No matter how cool it was the first time you saw it, by the 20th iteration, you'd be ready to pull your hair out. That's porn. Or at least, that's most of the porn out there, as far as I can tell.
The other curse of porn is lousy production values. Bad acting. Bad lighting. Bad editing. Indifferent music. Sets that look like the home of Ward and June Cleaver. No script. No plot.
Okay, okay, you get the idea. On one level, it's obvious why porn is so bad. But on another level, why does it have such poor production values? Why can't filmmakers make good porn?
There actually was a trend toward serious porn in the early 70's, when the then-new movie rating system allowed it out of the closet and into mainstream theaters for the first time. Behind the Green Door, The Devil in Miss Jones and Memories Within Miss Aggie were attempts by porn directors to crack the mainstream market with serious erotic films. I haven't seen Green Door or Devil, but I saw Memories when it first came out. As film, it wasn't very good, basically a rehash of Faulkner's 'A Rose for Emily', with sex added. Still, it was a attempt to have an erotic film about more than just fucking.
But that trend disappeared. After the early 70's, erotic films retreated into their own little world of XXX movie theaters, and later onto video. They lost all pretense of trying to be art.
Written erotica has done better. There has always been a tradition of serious erotic fiction, which is alive and well today. Hell, look at slash. Yes, there is lots of PWP, but there is a ton of serious slash erotica as well.
So why not film? Why do porn movies have to be so dreadful?
I think there's evidence of a strong public desire for something better. Look at the popularity of a film like 9½ Weeks, which has very strong erotic elements, without quite crossing the line into porn. Look at how many non-porn films have scenes of lovemaking in them, that are sometimes more memorable than the rest of the film. I think there's a substantial public out there, beyond hard-core sex addicts, who would be interested in good erotic film, but have little interest in the junk that gets churned out today.
So why isn't the public getting good erotic films, like they're getting action films, or sf films, or romantic comedies? I think think of two reasons off the top my head:
1. The rating system. The NC-17 rating (previously 'X') is a stigma. It sends
any film that bears it to a ghetto. Many theaters just won't run the NC-17 film,
newspapers won't review it or even run advertisements for it. It's a death
sentence for a mass-market film.
2. American prudery. I suspect that many more people enjoy erotica than are willing to admit it. Even those who would go to see a good erotic film in a theater would be embarrassed to be seen going to one by their neighbors. Film erotica is thus limited to direct video sales, and even most rentals are out, because mainstream rental places like Blockbuster won't carry erotica.
Anyone else? Why is there so much dreadful porn? Why is there so little good porn?