SAN FRANCISCO — It was this time last year that India Summer and Mickey Mod shot a steamy polyamorous "date night" scene in the Mission's venerable Victoria Theatre. This weekend upwards of 300 guests crammed into the same venue to watch the San Francisco premiere of "Marriage 2.0," an ambitious erotic love letter to the Bay Area and its adventurous community.
"We set out to show what could be done with this type of movie," says director Paul Deeb, who worked closely with screenwriter Magnus Sullivan to craft the sprawling tale of India's struggle with the moveable boundaries of her relationship. "And the reward is that this is a film that in many ways exceeded our expectations."
Deeb also edited the footage shot by a team led by porn veteran Alex Ladd.
In addition to the century-old Victoria, locations for "Marriage 2.0" include bondage dungeons, sex salons, waterside homes in Inverness and Sausalito, a houseboat in Oakland's Jack London Square, the Embarcadero, windswept beaches, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Reviewers note the parallels between Golden Age porn — much of which was shot in San Francisco — and this contemporary story. In fact, despite the occasional nods to social networking and online hookup culture, both the film's budget (the producers are hesitant to divulge a figure but the 10-day principal shooting schedule, locations, large cast of featured and extra players, catering, and transport suggests a ledger in the upper five figures) and its 60-page script laced with dramatic monologues and comic relief are a throwback to a time when porn could afford to be more experimental.
The question is, can movies like this one continue to flout porn's formula, one that in years past was a proven moneymaker but is now a study in diminished returns?
"I've never been in a movie this big before," says Ryan Driller, whose character tries to balance a primary relationship with India, 40, and secondary partner Dylan Ryan ("What is she, 28?" says India's character in a moment of jealous despair). "I'm not sure how sustainable it is."
Indeed, the buzz at the premiere was one of accomplishment and doubt. Accomplishment because, as Summer says, "the movie is just so good."
In that "Marriage 2.0" has already brought home honors from New York's Cinekink and Montreal's Feminist Porn Awards since its official release earlier this year, that it has enjoyed screenings at college campuses and a network of home parties as well as January's XBIZ 360, and that its reviews have been overwhelmingly positive with raves in both the adult press and mentions in more mainstream media, Saturday's San Francisco event was a homecoming, with castmembers Summer, Mod, Driller, Dylan Ryan, Andre Shakti, Christian Wylde, Juniper Gold, and Daisy Ducati on hand for the rare experience of seeing themselves on a movie screen, just like their porn forebears Jamie Gillis and Georgina Spelvin did a generation ago.
Of course, Nina Hartley, 56, who plays India's mother in the movie, remembers the time when audiences would regularly watch porn in theatres.
"It's good to see people lined up outside a theatre in the Dirty Old Mission again," she says.
Also at the premiere were Carol Queen, Ph.D, sex educators Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski, soul musician LaeCharles Lawrence, and "Sex At Dawn" author Chris Ryan, all of whom make cameos in the movie. Greeting guests was a contingent of the international charitable organization the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in full habits and kabuki makeup.
But doubt abounds that, without a distribution system outside of the porn industry — a distribution system that will market "Marriage 2.0" more like an indie film — movies of its scope can't be made with regularity.
"A movie that has done this well, that has been reviewed this well, that [still] does not make a return on its investment doesn't bode well for the future of [adult] content," says Sullivan. "You can forgive a gonzo movie that makes $15k and costs $10k, but a movie like 'Marriage 2.0' should be the missing link for adult — a film that does the one thing that mainstream Hollywood can't do: show hardcore sex."
The movie begins. There are cheers for the castmembers in the audience. When Queen appears, interrupting an intense scene between Summer and Driller set to Deeb's pounding drum score, she gets a riotous laugh. Daisy Ducati shows up onscreen and someone in the Victoria's balcony — where there is a minor orgy going on — shouts "You sexy bitch, Daisy." It's a night that would be familiar to a Porno Chic audience from 1972.
At a Q&A following the movie, Summer and Dylan Ryan say that they based their characters in part on their own experiences in open relationships. Chris Ryan, who plays himself in the movie (as one of India's documentary subjects), says, "I guess there's a little bit of me in my character, too."
"We know the movie itself is an event," says Sullivan, who also co-produced "Marriage 2.0" with his company Lionreach Productions and Adam & Eve. "Bringing it home to San Francisco at the same theatre, and inviting friends, family, and strangers, with the red carpet and a bar, really ties in with the community spirit of the film. It was a labor of love, literally."
Adds Summer, "We just need more people to see it."