A celebrated porn director looks back on the bawdy soul of his genre’s golden age in this frank, psychologically probing debut memoir.
Brown, who left behind this manuscript upon his death in 2012, recounts his 1967 epiphany when, as a film hobbyist roaming New York City, he discovered legions of men, and some women, eager to pose suggestively for his 16-millimeter camera. Some allowed him to film them having sex, and what began as a fun outlet for his own fantasies burgeoned into a business with the rise of the hardcore pornography industry in the early 1970s—a time when porn films ran in theaters, had press screenings, and got notices in mainstream publications, such as Variety, Interview, and Esquire. (Appendices cover the author’s filmography and glowing reviews.) Brown, a gay man who made both gay and straight porn, portrays his films as exercises in sexual humanism with upbeat stories and an emphasis on his actors’ pleasure. Central to his productions was an extensive casting process featuring interviews with performers about what kinds of sexual practices and partners they liked, so he could couple compatible actors in genuinely erotic scenes. There is much explicit, though not sensationalistic, play-by-play, but the focus is on emotions and personalities: most of the book consists of vivid, well-observed profiles of porn actors in which Brown tries to suss out what makes them tick (and who makes them climax) by playing both therapist and matchmaker. “I wanted to use him but was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to find his perfect cowboy ideal for him,” he writes of one Marlboro Man–obsessed prospect. The result is a parade of quirky character studies, including cross-dressers, BDSM enthusiasts, brazen showoffs—one actress rented a print of a film in which she appeared, for a gathering of her friends—and introverts who blossom for the camera. The common thread, Brown contends, is their drive to self-actualize by becoming the stars of their own life stories. The author’s liberationist take on ’70s porn sometimes feels a tad idealistic, but his warm empathy and unblinking eye for psychosexual foibles keep it grounded.
An engrossing panorama of porn’s heady past.