Joanne Cachapero: What can you say about a porn historian like Jim Holliday?
Gram Ponante: Nothing that he hasn't already said about himself!
JC: A former carnival barker, Holliday was in many ways the quintessential pornographer. A well-versed and insightful critic, writer and trivia master, Holliday established a reputation as a director distinguished enough to see his name above-the-title of a slew of releases during the 1990s and up until his death in late 2004.
GP: Holliday had the opportunity in the transitional period between features and gonzos to create his own world, which came to be known as "Jimmyland." No porn director before or since has had such a discernible style. But to me, his style got in the way of his real talent: his affection for certain women and his ability to get joyful performances from them.
JC: According to industry veteran Bill Margold, a close friend of Holliday's, all of his movies were "marshmallow rainbows" — like some gooey treat you'd get on a hot summer day; the kind of irresistible junk food that leaves your hands all sticky and gives you a sugar rush.
GP: VCA is re-releasing several of Holliday's titles, as the company's library is vast; there is a small but dedicated group of "classic" porn collectors, and of that group, Holliday's work is the biggest draw.
JC: He could put together a lineup of a dozen or more female performers like no other. Holliday's "Angels" included many well-known names: Sydnee Steele, Tabitha Stevens, Julie Meadows, Tiffany Minx, Shyla LaVeaux and above all Jill Kelly. Each one as sweet as cotton candy and hot as jalapeños — paired with each other or a good-looking stud, and then just let 'er rip for some sizzling, though formulaic, on-screen action. At least that's what happens in "High Desert Pirates," the third disc of this four-disc set.
The premise of the story is ridiculous — a gang of half-naked outlaw pirates prowls the Mojave Desert, hijacking unwary truck drivers so they can steal their cargo.
Riding a ghost ship, ala the Flying Dutchman, across the barren desert on moonlit nights, the pirate girls also ride several of the long-haulers, in exchange for the truckers' silence.
I guess if I were pulling a trailer full of frozen chickens bound for the local Albertson's, I'd gladly exchange them for a blowjob and some anal from the likes of Katie Morgan or Kylie Wilde.
GP: I almost don't follow you, Joanne. You're not in Jimmyland yet. My favorite of the set was "Brown- Eyed Blondes," about a hard-workin', hard lovin' girl band called, at various times, The Surf Slits.
The great attraction of Holliday's work was his ability to bring smiles to the faces of his female talent. That makes up for any masturbatory haiku or Aren't I Clever riff for his friends. Holliday put these women on pedestals and they responded with enchanting performances.
But there is a dynamic in Holliday movies that pops up just as much as cheerleaders and nurses: the Dirty Old Man.
In "Brown Eyed Blondes" and "Absolutely Adorable" we are treated several times to the boorish fellow whose words either go over the girls' (and the audience's) heads or have an impotent aggression to them. In "Brown Eyed Blondes," weasely band manager Jack Spangler treats the girls to the following line: "Are those twats edible or are they just festering sludge?" Not getting any lately, Jack?
JC: In "High Desert Pirates," the sexy outlaws are pursued by an unlikely doofus named Bongwater Bates, assistant sheriff of Cat Shit Gulch, Calif. (played by Root Loggins). He's not a "dirty old man" so much as a bumbling idiot.
There are plenty of arcane, nonsensical, obscure references in this movie, which is part of what defined Holliday's style.
A dramatic voice-over by Margold reading a poem that mentions Huck Finn, the Jolly Roger and "you motherfuckers of the Seven Seas." There's a haiku. There's rollicking, Las Vegas-style piano and bottleneck guitar, reminiscent of Del Shannon. And there's a running gag; in every scene someone utters a line about having their asshole licked.
Granted, the dialogue is cheesy and the girls' acting abilities are limited. But this ain't Shakespeare — it's a porno — a trip to Jimmyland, where all the girls are cute, silly, mostly blonde and super-horny. You can definitely make the argument that Holliday is self-indulgent in the extreme, but I'll bet that "dirty old man" vibe you picked up on appeals to his fan base — the porn connoisseurs you referred to earlier.
GP: That's where I get off, Joanne (or don't). I'm into the cute, silly and super-horny girls, but even if it were Shakespeare it would have no place in porn. The masturbation is supposed to be on my side of the screen. Instead, we've got performers uttering dialogue that they don't even understand. In the worst cases, it reinforces consumers' belief that porn performers are stupid.
JC: A trip to Jimmyland is also a trip back to a time when there was no fish-hooking, not much slapping, nothing too degrading or excessively extreme. Just hot sex and girls having fun in the hot sun with any absurd excuse to fuck like bunnies. It works because it's a light-hearted romp.
In "Trash-Talking Coeds," Holliday has pieced together extra footage from various sex scenes and put it all together in a more coherent format.
Don't let the title fool you; the "coed" premise is dropped halfway through the movie, which actually turns out to be a sexed-up travelogue. Holiday and Jill Kelly set up each scene with intro segments filmed at various locations in L.A., loosely based on Randy Newman's "I Love L.A."
GP: While Holliday was not able to snag the rights to Newman's song (and I bet Newman would have appreciated the tribute, because porn is part of L.A., too), he was able to get surf guitar legend Eddie Bertrand to help the girls along in "Brown-Eyed Blondes."
JC: "Coeds'" sex scenes feature great pairings of performers at the beginning of their careers, before they became big names — Mark Davis and Tiffany Mynx, Julie Meadows and Evan Stone, Tabitha Stevens and Devin Wolfe, Felecia and Sydnee Steele, and special "Angel" Shyla LaVeaux, again, with Evan Stone.
But none of those couples show the great chemistry that goes on between Holliday and Kelly, who flirt and kiss and tease each other like shy school kids on a prom date.
GP: This is where Holliday stands in for the consumers. They want to be the older dude pulling the vivacious bird. And Holliday's love for Kelly is apparent.
JC: And you suddenly realize one of the reasons Holliday is a great pornographer is because he's also the quintessential fan boy.
GP: And today we've got XFANZ!
JC: His adoration of the blonde goddesses surrounding him is so obvious, it's easy to see why he was able to often persuade the girls to work for less than their usual rate and pack his movies full of luscious, leggy talent.
At the same time, he treats his audience to the ultimate insider's POV. For all the weird metaphors, trivia and nonsense, after a while you start to feel like you're in on the joke. And what porn fan wouldn't want to be in Holliday's position? His world is populated by an endless supply of trashy coeds, naughty nurses, nympho cheerleaders and perky pirates.
GP: … Mixed with his need to prove that he's smarter than they are.
JC: Holliday's greatest ability was giving his audience what they wanted in terms of fluff, fantasy and frivolity. Like a walk down the midway at a state fair, with pretty girls in short-shorts and skimpy tanktops bending over at the ping pong ball pitch, their firm thighs lined with the red glow of summer's first sunburn, while the sly carny tries to sneak a look up a skirt or down a shirt — that's what a Jim Holliday movie is like.