4.5 Stars
Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92 minutes
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Ah, another porn documentary. Strangely, this topic never gets tired. Don’t confuse this with the Sheen brothers film about the San Francisco’s Mitchell brothers; this is something else. While “Rated X” is not the first documentary on this subject (more like the eighth I know of), this is probably the first I’ve seen where an outsider examines the modern porn industry without any preconceived judgements or condemnation. Tough questions are asked and answered. Sometimes it takes a new guy to do it right, and in this case it’s first-time director Dag Yngvesson.
It all started simply enough. Dag wanted to do a documentary about porn, so he contacted an industry advocate who starred in a half-remembered flick of his youth, Bill Margold. Bill becomes Dag’s gateway into this world from its fringes. The filmmaker and the audience soon learn the terminology and the techniques of making a porn film. History isn’t really important. We’re here to see the industry as it exists RIGHT NOW. We meet actors and filmmakers. We meet casting agents, and see how people enter the industry. Dag wanders so far in that a desperate and strapped director begs him to shoot the film for his next porn film. He reluctantly excepts, and his education continues.
In person, Dag comes off as a big, friendly, Scandinavian skateboarder. He never strikes you as pushy, and people like him. He uses this to his advantage, and never stops asking the difficult questions. An ambivalence expresses itself as we see both the seductive and the ugly side of the business. Producers are in denial about the rampant racism. The actors in denial about their AIDS risk. The shameless exploitation of women is no more blatant than when a casting agent insists on “test-driving” starlets on camera himself before bringing them into the industry. We see some noble souls, some despicable human beings, and everything in between. There’s too much sadness and desperation to go around. Dag’s greatest example and subject is porn star, Jeanna Fine. Over ten years, she’s battled the industry, her own demons, and heroin. Now clean with a husband and child, she’s making a comeback. The saddest part is that unlike other actresses, she seems smart enough to really understand what she’s been through, though a protective shield of denial is visible here, too.
Porn’s a great subject for a documentary. It’s always about sex, desperation and life on the edge. Everybody’s a drama queen. The usual problem is too much moralizing and too little compassion. It’s easier to play up the tabloid sensationalism than to depict a balanced picture of some of the very damaged souls. The best doc I’d seen to date was Juliet Bashore’s “Kamikaze Hearts” from 1986. It followed the very self-destructive porn star Sharon Mitchell and her lover, Tigr Mennett. Surprisingly, Sharon is alive, well, retired and heroin-free today and works to keep the industry free of AIDS. I’d like to think this bodes well for Jeanna. “Kamikaze Hearts” may have been a wake-up call for Sharon. “Rated X” should definitely serve as one for the business, today. As informative as it may have been for me, the film lays out for the producers and distributor the problems they can actually fix. A great film can be as educational for its subjects as it is for its audience. I suppose wall-to-wall nudity doesn’t hurt either.

Posted on July 7, 2001 in Reviews by

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