LOS ANGELES — The Hollywood Walk of Fame bustled with tourists marching over the names of famed figures who have since faded from the collective consciousness. These monuments to the former giants of mainstream media lay underfoot, collecting the grease of street food, wadded flyers announcing the impending apocalypse and the emissions of apartment dogs. Several stories above this famed sidewalk, another kind of Hollywood star waited outside the OHM nightclub on Thursday night to be recognized at the 33rd Annual XRCO Awards.
The adult film awards kicked off with a video interview of the late Bill Margold discussing his role in the industry as an actor, director, the director of the Free Speech Coalition and cofounder of XRCO. Much of what he said, however, was drowned out by the murmur of adult stars moving from the bar to their seats and chatting about which awards they hoped to win. Margold might have seen the poetry in this, the fact that critics are meant to provide a backdrop and context for the true focus of the industry. Indeed, the reviewers and those throwing the event lurked in the background, unnoticed behind the young starlets spilling out of flashy dresses. They stood alone in corners, or holding up pillars, anonymous.
Evan Stone kicked off the ceremony by raising a toast to Bill Margold before announcing the 2017 Hall of Famers: Darla Crane, Raylene, Eric Masterson, Ruby and Caballero/Andrew Blake.
Among contemporary performers, Vicki Chase quickly distinguished herself, winning twice for “Orgasmic Oralist” and “Orgasmic Analist.”
“I don’t know if this is my third or fourth XRCO award, but I’m humbled every time,” she said. “Thank you to all the critics for loving what I do.”
The event co-host, Angela White, won the unofficial award of racking up the most comments from presenters on her cleavage bubbling out of her tight, blue dress. She also took home two actual awards for “Best Girl/Girl Series” and “Best Gonzo Series.”
“The XRCO Awards are not only a celebration of our industry but also of the critics and reviewers that give so much love to it,” White told XBIZ of her win. “I think it is important to recognize the integral work that critics do behind the scenes to help elevate and legitimize our industry to naysayers and detractors.”
Xander Corvus proved the most memorable presenter of the night, commanding attention from the unruly crowd by yelling at them to support the nominees and quieting them down so the winners could speak. Brad Armstrong acknowledged this while accepting the trophy for his “Best Release” win for “Preacher’s Daughter,” which featured Xander as the lead.
“Xander, after seeing you up here,” Armstrong said, “I think you deserve to host an entire show.”
Joanna Angel also thanked Xander when accepting her “Best Comedy” win for “Cindy Queen of Hell,” saying, “Thank you Xander. I could not have directed this movie without the devil himself.”
Shyla Jennings broke Jenna Sativa’s streak of wins for “Best Lesbian Performer,” though in a way Jennings brought Sativa on stage with her.
“And I love you Jenna Sativa,” Jennings yelled. “I just want everyone to know that.”
Stills by Alan won a second year in a row for “Best Director (Web).”
“I want to dedicate this to all of the other photographers out there who don’t have awards,” Alan said. “This is for all of us.”
As the show progressed, the usual winners stacked up awards: Wicked’s feature directors Brad Armstrong and Axel Braun, and the reigning king of cinematic sex scenes, Greg Lansky.
Taking the stage for his first win of the night, “Best Director (Non-Feature),” Lansky thanked the people who put on XRCO each year without getting paid. He exited the stage with his pro-performer mantra, reminding the audience that porn stars are “fucking artists.” Spreading the award love, Lansky had Vixen Angel of the Year, Kendra Sunderland accept Vixen.com’s awards for “Best High-End Web Site” and “Best Gonzo Movie.”
“I guess I’m starting to get the hang of this parody thing,” Axel Braun joked when accepting his seemingly hundredth award for his work directing parody films. “XRCO is all about unsung heroes, so I’d like to thank Shaun Rivera, my lighting guy, who has been lighting my shoots for fifteen years.”
Many of the awards were a foregone conclusion, celebrating the bigger studios and the most acclaimed performers and directors. Without question these industry titans built their reputations on talent, dedication and hard work. However, this homogenization of winners also reflects the thinning talent pool in erotic films, as fewer studios have the budget to produce quality films, and as more of the emerging talent in porn turn to the internet.
The crowd dissipated as the list of potential winners shrunk.
When the final category, “Female Performer of the Year,” was announced, I found myself sitting alone in a booth. Nearly all of the center tables were vacated by performers who returned to the bar or headed home, a few grumbling about not winning. Their seats were filled by photographers with their fingers trained on their cameras’ triggers, PR agents taking notes for the press releases they would issue in the morning and critics circling the winners on their programs. These holdouts sat alone amid collections of empty bottles and half-full glasses. These were the same devotees who had remained in the industry for decades, through cycles of boom and bust. These were the people who would never be honored on stage or stopped in the street by fans. These were the people who recognized emerging talent, honored the workhorses of the industry and nominated former performers into the Hall of Fame. These would be the last people to remember the names of starlets long after they faded from the spotlight. And, ultimately, these were the people who would write the history of porn.
Inevitably, this year’s list of winners would be buried beneath the names and fresh faces of stars to come. Trophies would collect dust and be relegated to attics on their inevitable journey to the trash heaps of history. These wins would become footnotes on Wikipedia pages that would eventually be deleted for lack of relevance. In the end, it’s not the awards you accumulate that matter — it’s the awards you give away and the people you thank that truly counts for something.
On that note, this write up, and ultimately the XRCO Awards, are a thank you to all the anonymous people whose faces are obscured by cameras and notepads, who stand just off stage and behind the velvet ropes of red carpets. This is devoted to Bill Margold, and people like him, who illuminate others with their reviews and camera flashes.