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Nov 28 2006

Why I Keep Watching Porn: Jenna Loves Pain

Jlp_front_coverYet another attempt to keep this sex-writer’s blog at least occasionally focused on sex. Here’s another porn review I wrote for Adult Friend Finder and Alt.com. It’s one of my trademark blends of a smut review and a meditation on what does and doesn’t work in porn. Only this time, for a change, I get to use a piece of good porn as my example — including a scene that’s among the best I’ve seen. And I get to ponder why I keep sitting through mediocre porn in order to get to the good stuff (aside from the fact that I get paid to do it, that is). Enjoy!

Why I Keep Watching Porn
by Greta Christina

Jenna Loves Pain
Starring Jenna Jameson, Amber Michaels, Ava Vincent, Emily Marilyn, Dru Berrymore, Fujiko Kano, and Nina Hartley. Written and directed by Ernest Greene. Club Jenna Productions. 80 minutes, plus DVD extras. Available at Good Vibrations and at Extreme Restraints.

I’m so glad it turned out this way.

It could have gone either way. An SM/fetish video with mainstream porn stars and style? It could easily have been the worst of both worlds — the rote, plastic, fuck-by-numbers sexual energy of so many mainstream videos, combined with the clumsy, inept, “some guy in a basement with a camera” filmmaking technique of so many fetish flicks. Porn stars prancing around in fetish gear, giving each other a few half-hearted swats on the butt in between the standard fucking and sucking. Corporate kink. Andrew Blake on an off-day. That sort of thing.

But it’s not. It’s the best of both worlds. (Mostly, anyway.) “Jenna Loves Pain” gives you authentic, heartfelt, high-energy SM sex — with the production values of a top-level mainstream porno.

Which I have to say is a nice change.

And there’s this one scene… but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Jlp1There’s no real plot to this one. The setup is that Jenna Jameson is in some sort of secret society or private club or something, dedicated to dominance and submission. Jenna doms in a couple of scenes, subs in another, and muses to herself about “the allure of erotic servitude” and how “each of us has a dark side and a light side.” (This voiceover is one of the few real flies in the ointment — it’s insipid and dorky, and it creates an annoying distraction at some lovely times when it really shouldn’t. Fortunately, there’s not much of it.)

So it’s a plotless wonder. That’s actually fine with me. Pornos with plot are fine when they’re done well, but they aren’t very often, and a stupid porn plot is much worse than no plot at all. What I do care about in porn videos is (a) sex that looks enthusiastic and real and like the performers are into it, and (b) a filmmaking style that enhances this realness and enthusiasm — or at least doesn’t get in its way.

And “Jenna Loves Pain” gives you both.

The main thing, of course, is the sex. And the main thing about the sex in “Jenna Loves Pain” is that the performers are having a wildly good time having it. They look transported. Whether they’re being bound and displayed, or spanked and whipped, whether they’re spreading their pussies for a riding crop or offering their breasts up for clamps, whether they’re licking their mistress’s pussy or licking her feet — or whether they’re dishing out the binding and spanking and getting their assorted parts licked — they look excited, and energized, and intensely focused. And they look like they’re *there* — like they’re actually in the moment, experiencing what’s happening, instead of being a million miles off. It’s pathetic to realize how rare all this is in porn, but it is.

Plus they have orgasms. Vivid, thrashing, screaming, unmistakable female orgasms. And lots of ‘em. Again, it’s unbelievably depressing to realize how uncommon this is in video porn — but oh my God, is it beautiful to see it here.

I’ll admit that I’ve never been crazy about Jenna Jameson. She always seemed like the epitome of the generic blonde porn star to me. But she does a fine job in this video. She’s not the best thing about it — the best thing by far about this video is the scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels, which I’ll get to in a bit. But this is clearly Jenna’s video — she’s in three scenes of the four — and she more than holds her own. The enthusiasm, the energy, the feeling of focus and presence and connection in the video… a lot of it comes from Jenna, and I have to give her props for it.

What’s more, the sex is a lot more creative than you usually get in mainstream porn. You’ve got all the kink, of course… but you’ve also got frottage, and foot play, and ass licking, and a clever and sexy use of a ball gag for cunnilingus, and more. I get so sick of porn videos that run through the same five or six sex acts over and over, as if human beings hadn’t spent thousands of years coming up with thousands of variations on the classics. But “Jenna Loves Pain” has a lovely sense of freedom about it — the sense that the actors are having the kinds of sex they want to be having, instead of the kinds of sex that the marketing department told the director to tell the actors to have.

And it’s nice to see a video that freely mixes both hardcore SM and hardcore genital sex. I realize that this is more common than it used to be… but I came into porn in the ’80s and ’90s, when there was a huge Berlin Wall between sex videos and kink videos, and I still get excited about it when they mesh.

Plus there’s this scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels… but I’ll get to that in a moment. Promise.

Jlp_back_coverAs for the filmmaking style… well, it’s no “Citizen Kane,” but it more than does the job. The camerawork and editing were clearly done by people who gave a damn — not just about flashy technical tricks, but about how style can add to the sexual heat. The best example of this is how the movie uses flashbacks and flash-forwards, with quick, teasing flashes of the nastiest images — Jenna’s mouth held open wide with a metal gag, Amber Michaels writhing face down with her hands bound behind her back, a hairbrush landing on Fujiko Kano’s upturned bottom, and so on — cut in periodically throughout the movie.

Partly this is hot simply because it keeps your attention. It definitely kept my clit sitting up straight, even during stretches that weren’t quite doing it for me. But it’s also hot because that’s what sex feels like a lot of the time. When you’re fucking, you’re not just thinking of all the great stuff you’re doing right this minute — you’ve got memories of things you did a few minutes ago, and fantasies of things you hope you’ll be doing soon, all flashing in your mind like a slideshow. I do, anyway. That’s a huge amount of what keeps my libido worked up and interested. And the quick, dirty flashes in the video are a great example of how a simple stylistic technique can work to make porn feel more immediate, more urgent, more like sex.

It does overdo the technique sometimes — as well as some other tricks and effects — and sometimes it’s distracting. But I can live with that. I’d rather have someone at the editing board who’s over-enthusiastic than someone who’s just going through the motions.

And I love that the video spends time on the performers’ faces, and their whole bodies, instead of just showing you hands and toys on flesh. When a whip lands on a back or a hairbrush lands on an ass, you get plenty of images of the impact — but you also get to see the women’s faces cringing in ecstatic pain, their hands tightening into fists, their torsos contracting in shock and then opening up again to welcome the next blow. This is the stuff that actually conveys the energy of a sex scene — the stuff that shows you how the performers are, you know, feeling. And way too many porn videos forget about it entirely.

The video is somewhat uneven. Like I said, the voiceover is dippy and annoying, and the camera tricks and effects are sometimes overdone and distracting. And the scenes themselves vary in quality and heat. The last scene in particular is somewhat disappointing — Ava Vincent and Emily Marilyn just don’t seem as excited or connected as the women in the other scenes (although they do have their moments, and their scene does pick up near the end when Jenna shows up to play). Jenna’s submissive scene with Dru Berrymore is a lot stronger, and her dominant scene with Fujiko Kano is stronger still, and one heckuva lot of fun.

Jlp2And then there’s this scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels…

… which may be one of the best porn performances I’ve seen.

Ever.

No kidding. This scene is one of the most staggeringly beautiful things I’ve seen in porn, and I’ve been watching porn for years. Nina and Amber just seem so happy to be there, and so intensely focused on each other, that it made me want to cry. And it made me scramble for my vibrator — again and again and again. There’s a moment when Nina takes the gag out of Amber’s mouth, and Amber smiles — a sweet smile of wicked delight, a smile that radiates pure, spontaneous sexual joy. And when Nina’s beating her, Amber rocks her hips frantically and bucks her torso like she’s an animal in heat, like she’s getting fucked by God. It’s completely gorgeous… so gorgeous that it’s almost hard to watch. There’s a rawness to it, a nakedness that’s as much emotional as it is physical. They look transcendent. They look like they forgot the camera was on.

Of course they didn’t forget about the camera. They’re professionals. But this is an example of porn professionalism at its best. This isn’t the kind of porn professionalism that makes sure the pussy is in the shot, no matter what. This is the kind of porn professionalism that knows how to keep the pussy in the shot — and then knows how to forget about it, and just blissfully fuck.

And this is the reason I keep watching dirty videos, the reason I’m willing to sit through hours and hours of mediocre porn — because I know that scenes like this are out there. I know that this is what porn is capable of. Even when it’s not aspiring to profound insight or staggering technical skill or other qualities of Great Art, porn at its best can do this. It can give you a vision of sex at its best, at its most beautiful and most touching and most ecstatic, and make you feel it down to your bones.

It doesn’t get there very often. Even without the commercial pressures and limitations of the modern porn industry, moments of complete sexual rapture are hard to come by, and even harder to capture on film. But when it gets there, there’s no other art form that comes close. And when it gets there, it reminds you of why porn is worth making — and why it’s worth watching.

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