So I was watching a movie musical on TV (actually, I was watching “Top Secret,” which has a sequence making fun of movie musicals), and it occurred to me that there’s an interesting similarity between musicals and porn.
Here’s what it is: Nobody watches musicals for their plot. With some notable exceptions, the plot of a musical exists solely as filler: to provide some sort of excuse for the music/dance numbers, and to get from one number to the next. And of course, the same is true for most porn. There are exceptions, of course; but in the overwhelming majority of porn, the plot — if there even is a plot — exists solely to set up the sex scenes.
So here’s what strikes me as unfair. Nobody really objects to plotless movie musicals. Many a musical ranks high in the pantheon among fans of the genre despite its laughably predictable story. As long as the music and dance numbers are superb, people are perfectly happy to grant full marks to a musical, even if the plot is a dumb, hackneyed, formulaic joke.
But people constantly use the plotlessness of porn to point out its worthlessness or triviality. And I don’t think that’s fair. If you think “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” is a great musical despite its silly plot, then you should judge “Barbara Broadcast” or “Slide Bi Me” on the same basis. If a porn movie has great sex scenes — sex scenes that are passionate, enthusiastic, affectionate, fierce, beautiful, wild, or in any other way inspired and inspiring — then it makes no more sense to lambaste the thinness of its plot than it does with “Gold Diggers of 1935.”
After all, I’d sure rather see a porn movie with great sex and a dumb, pointless plot than one with a great plot and dumb, pointless sex. In fact, my biggest complaint about mainstream video porn isn’t the repetitive, predictable, formulaic plots — it’s the repetitive, predictable, formulaic sex. I have actually seen porn videos where I’ve fast-forwarded through the boring sex in order to get to the next bit of interesting plot. And I don’t count those videos as successes.
Now, it’s certainly true that a good, genuine plot can help a musical along. I’d even argue that it usually makes the difference between a good musical and a great one. A good movie musical can certainly carry itself on the strength of its music and dancing — but a great musical, a musical like “Cabaret” or “The Music Man” (or, I would argue, “Once More With Feeling” from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), is great because it’s a whole movie, a real movie, a movie that transcends the limitations of the genre even as it embraces it, a movie that expresses something other than “Singing and dancing is fun.”
And porn is much the same way. The rare examples of truly great porn are, in my opinion, the ones that work as whole movies, the ones where the sex is blended into the story as a natural next step for the characters to take, and you care about the sex more because you care about the characters. I agree that that’s a noble goal to reach for, and I’d love to see more pornographers reaching for it. But it’s also an extremely difficult goal, especially given the limitations of porn production (see my review of “Dream Quest” and my comments about the inherent difficulties of a collaborative porn medium). I applaud it heartily when I see it… but I applaud almost as hard when I see a series of vastly entertaining sex scenes, stitched together with a bit of dental floss.