My Life in Review

Jeremy Spencer
I was reading XBIZ.com last night and saw a fellow writer pose the question: Who critiques the critics?

That got me thinking — I’ve been reviewing films off and on for a little over 10 years. Yet no one really knows what I look for when I sit down to watch a title. Everyone knows that reviews are subjective — it’s generally one person’s opinion. But oftentimes, that opinion carries a lot of weight.

I thought that I would explain the criteria I look for in this column, talk about what tickles my ivories — hey, that would be a good title for a straight film: “Tickling the Ovaries.”

But I digress.

I like to think that I’m a pretty good reviewer. The last movie that I reviewed when I was working at AVN was Jet Set’s “The Hole” directed by Wash West. I gave it 5 A’s — the highest rating you can give in that magazine — and that film went on to win Best Picture.

Not a bad way to go out.

One thing that I do pride myself on is being able to appreciate virtually every genre, every niche. There are some exceptions, of course — scat, bestiality and child pornography are absolute no-nos in my book and I wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole. (Not to mention that I’m too dainty to end up in prison — I do watch “Prison Break” but I doubt all convicted felons are that pretty.)

But there are other genres, like fisting or watersports or bondage, genres that might make some viewers squeamish, that I will watch — sometimes grimacing — but I still have the appreciation that those videos have a market. (Although, sometimes, after watching all that vanilla porn, a nice CBT video perks me right up.)

Sometimes, I’ll even pop in a straight video.

Believe it or not, if they’re done right, straight vids can really be entertaining. Coming from a gay boy, that’s a big thing. I’m a huge fan of Evil Angel product and love the work coming from Michael Stefano and Manuel Ferrara. (Which isn’t much of a stretch, considering they both worked for Evil Angel at one point in their careers.) I haven’t had much of a chance to watch a lot of straight porn lately, but what I love about those two guys in particular is the way in which they treat the girls they’re about to split open. They treat those women like princesses — well, you know, before they cum all over their faces….

I think that in order to be a good reviewer, you have to see virtually everything you can and then gauge your parameters. Can I watch this without my gag-reflex overworking itself? (Which is my way with watersports — I don’t get it but I understand the appeal. Especially of late: most folks who I speak with tell me that watersports — i.e. pissing into someone’s mouth or just urinating on someone in general — is a way of being able to safely share fluids with someone in this day and age of HIV and AIDS. Although, my gag reflex goes into overdrive when the swallowing starts….)

Well, I do have my limits.

Generally, the first thing that I look at — or any consumer, for that matter — is the box cover. Is it consistent with the studio’s theme? How much effort has been put into the box cover? Is it just a shot of a guy standing there holding his package or is something else going on?

I love the simple boxes — like COLT — and I really like the boxes that come from Channel 1 Releasing, Titan and Hot House. And FPG Entertainment is a new studio that is starting to make some really good product, including the box.

When I worked at Adonis Pictures (the company I helped start), we made posters of each box cover, so I wanted to make sure that each title had something that would stand on its own. (Some of them, I’ll admit, were duds, but I was proud of a few — “Thirst,” “Holier Than Thou” and “Bed Heads” are three of my faves.)

Photography — and Photoshop — is important.

Next, I look for my favorite performers. And if I see that two of my favorites are performing together, that gets me to snag the film even faster.

Another thing that I look for — and it’s kind of important — is chemistry.

I’ve always said that I would rather watch two relatively attractive guys having hot, sweaty sex than two gorgeous studs standing around going through the motions bumpin’ uglies.

There is nothing more off-putting that watching two gorgeous men just standing there and flicking their tongues together like they’re licking a clit. (Not that I know anything about that but I told you, I watch my fair share of straight movies.) If you’re only doing it for the money, guys, I’ll let you in on a little secret — we can tell.

I will say that three directors who pop into my head when I think ‘chemistry’ are Chi Chi LaRue, Michael Lucas and Chris Ward. (They’re not the only ones, kids, just the first who pop to my frazzled mind.) Somehow, they’ve been blessed with the ability to partner up the right models and it shows in their films.

I am also someone who appreciates story porn. As a writer (who majored in Theatre in college), it’s always fun for me to watch models work with scripts. Sometimes, you’ll find performances in there that are extremely impressive — especially if they get the right director working with them. Jerry Douglas, Wash West, Mike Donner and Jett Blakk are a quartet of scribes who are able to pull some great work from their models. (And I really like the crazy parodies coming from PZP Productions’ Peter Z Pan — there’s a lot of creativity in play there.)

Joe Gage is another director who I should just dedicate an entire column to. His marriage with Titan Media has only strengthened his talent. No one touches on taboo issues the way he does — with the exception of Douglas, of course. Whether it’s a father-son pairing, or a young man frequenting his first adult video arcade, Gage grabs the viewer with his uncanny ability to capture mood. You can actually feel the tension in his scenes. Back in the 70s, he was an innovator — 30 years later he’s a freakin’ rock star!

However, I am not above all-sex concepts, either. COLT’s John Rutherford and Kristofer Weston and Hot House’s Steven Scarborough excel in this genre — and Collin O’Neal is rapidly rising as a fine director in this area as well. Throw a bunch of hot hunks into a sex dungeon and I’m good to go.

I tend to grade ‘up’ when I’m reviewing. I’ll always make a point of finding something good about everything I watch. Which isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Sometimes, a creative scene that incorporates toys or role-playing will be extremely titillating — but it doesn’t mean squat if there’s no chemistry.

I will state for the record that if you have been successful in the industry as a producer/director/studio, I tend to hold you in higher regard.

This goes for the LaRue’s, the Rutherford’s, the Scarborough’s, the Douglas’ — these are just four of a small list of directors who I admire and expect a lot from.

Am I being unfair? I don’t think so. There’s a reason why they have lasted in this industry for as long as they have — combine the amount of years they’ve dedicated to the gay adult industry and you’re closing in on a century of devotion.

Not to mention that they’re all amazing filmmakers and generally aren’t prone to “phoning it in.”

But you can bet that when I sit down with one of their films, I’ve already raised the bar.

I do the same thing with Martin Scorsese films, though. Have you seen “The Departed?” It’s already gay porn. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio (and Mark Wahlberg, of course) with guns running around acting all macho and shit? Time to get out the lube, baby!

The only thing that is important to note is what I mentioned earlier: All reviews are subjective. It is simply one person’s opinion.

After all, one person’s trash is another one’s treasure.