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Fallen Angel

Nate Sugar
It's always difficult to pinpoint the exact moment a new genre emerges in music or film. There are some who say punk was born on Nov. 6, 1975, when the Sex Pistols climbed onto a London Stage. Others say it happened the year before, when the Ramones made their debut at CBGB in Manhattan.

It's no different in the adult world, where new genres seem to pop up every few weeks. Take alt-porn, the burgeoning genre that combines a punk aesthetic with hardcore sex. Did it start with director Eon McKai's "Art School Slut" DVD or with girl websites like BurningAngel.com?

The exact origin may be up for debate, but one certainty is that Joanna Angel, one half of the creative force behind Burning Angel and the star of several of McKai's movies, has become the face of alt-porn and one of the fastest rising female stars on the scene.

Not bad for a college student who had never even seen a porn video and didn't lose her virginity until she was 19.

"I was a waitress in college," Angel tells XBIZ. "I got fired from my job for wearing a wrinkled apron. OK, it was a little more than that. I was a terrible waitress. I thought about going to grad school, but then my college roommate [Mitch Fontaine] asked me to start a porn website with him. That sounded a bit more interesting than going to school for four more years."

Angel admits that early versions of the site were less than impressive, thanks in part to her lack of even the most rudimentary programming skills.

"If you saw the first version of Burning Angel, you'd probably have no respect for me anymore. The pictures were hideous," she says. "Some of them were like, upside down and really blurry. Most of the links didn't work, and were weird HTML codes everywhere because things were coded improperly. It wasn't a very organized venture."

The fact that the site survived and, in fact, prospered despite its flaws is a testament to the appeal of Angel herself and the image she projects, which she admits is a much-louder, more-outspoken and more-outgoing version of her pre-porn self.

An Angel is Born
While Angel was working with her roommate to create Burning Angel, channeling all of her twisted little fantasies into HTML code, she also was subconsciously creating her porn persona, Joanna Angel.

"She is kind of who I always wanted to be, but was always scared to be," says Angel, who graduated with a degree in English. "Pornography brought the 'I-am-woman, hear-me roar' out of me."

Once the genie was out of the bottle, there was no stuffing it back inside. After a trip to the Adult Entertainment Expo, Angel decided to go all-out, changing Burning Angel from a website with softcore nudes to a hardcore porn site. When she and Fontaine finally scraped together enough money for a camera, they immediately went to work filming videos for the site, with Angel directing.

This was when Angel was still based exclusively out of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. It wasn't long before the San Fernando Valley came calling. Last year, she was hired by VCA to write and direct her first feature film, "Joanna's Angels." The Village Voice called the movie, "a funny, campy, silly punk porno that makes fun of the epicenter of adult film and of itself," and the New York Times wrote a feature on Angel. It was official: She had become a porn star; and more than that, she had become a porn star of the rarest variety — the crossover porn star with mainstream hype.

That's not to say Angel is taking any of it, or herself, all too seriously. "Joanna's Angels 2," shot last December and written by Angel, satirizes the whole alt-porn movement. In the sequel, which she also wrote, the president's daughter has been kidnapped and won't be returned unless all things alt are made illegal.

Whether Angel finds all the hoopla amusing, others in the adult industry, especially those who recognize her propensity for generating profits, are duly impressed. VCA Pictures this year signed her to a directing and performing pact, while Pulse snatched up distribution rights for a planned six releases this year from Burning Angel Productions.

Art Meets Business
While there's no doubt that Angel is an astute businessperson, turning Burning Angel into a mini Internet empire and parlaying her online success into Porn Valley power, she also is undeniably committed to looking beyond the bottom line, blurring the lines between business and art and sometimes sacrificing the former for the latter.

In making both "Joanna's Angels" and the sequel, for example, she sank her director's fees back into the movies. "I think that business is an art, if you look at it the way I do," she offers.

And rather than turning Burning Angel into a porn wasteland of picture sets and videos, the site still dedicates large amounts of its resources to items such as band interviews, music reviews, erotic fiction and social commentary — one topic, by the way, that Angel isn't shy about, especially when it comes to adult entertainment's role in society and the public's perception of it.

"I think that porn is a place where people's sexual fantasies can come to life," she says. "I think it's a place where people can see things they're scared of or things they're infatuated with but scared to talk about out loud. I think that everyone has a sexual demon inside them, but for some reason, pornographers get a bad rep, as if they're doing something wrong and dirty — even though the same people who [put them down] are jerking off to the movies they're condemning.

"In the last few years, a lot of really interesting and creative people have been honest enough to put their sexual demons on film," Angel adds, "and it's changing pornography as a whole."

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