Simultaneously, in adjacent screening rooms at The Knitting Factory in Hollywood – a woody, comfortable venue known mostly for featuring bands of all renown – the actual screenings themselves began, kicking off two days of eclectic erotic features, mini-features, shorts, music videos, panel discussions, signings and of course parties.
The panel - entitled Erotica Today and moderated by XBIZ Video magazine Managing Editor Steve Javors - featured venerable masters John Stagliano and Andrew Blake, smart and sexy director/performers Joanna Angel and Dana Vespoli, and the New York-based but learning-to-love-LA Joe Gallant.
A video montage showcasing the panelists’ work was screened beforehand on screens of various sizes scattered around. Afterwards, as the panelists spoke, people moved in and out of the screening rooms, creating a cool festival vibe.
For the next two hours, addressing a large room filled with people in chairs, sofas and even at a bar open for business, the panelists engaged one another and the audience in a spirited free-ranging back and forth on such issues as the difference between erotica and porn, the meaning, purpose and future of gonzo, how to shoot the best sex, New York influences, among many other esoteric subjects.
John Stagliano was especially eloquent talking about a commercial and creative mode of expression he’s been working in “from the beginning,” as he put it. His influence, as both a commercial pioneer and genre-creator, on the younger panelists and on the industry as a whole, was eagerly acknowledged, but his ability to explain in active and almost urgent terms why he does what he does obliterated any sense of encroaching age. He came off young and vital considering how long he’s been around.
Andrew Blake too exhibited an immediacy of engagement in the art and technology of his medium that stripped away the years, a wonderful thing considering the fact that the years are still there to bolster the passion. A master of tone and technique, he said he has turned down mainstream directing offers in order to maintain a creative control and integrity that he does not believe he would be able to maintain outside adult. Still, he is as current as anyone in his determination to succeed commercially and artistically in a digital world where the scourge of piracy is preeminent.
Much younger but also fully engaged in her art and business, Joanna Angel exuded an athletic (acrobatic?) verbal vigor. Having stumbled into porn by the rare route of her own website – shooting stills and then video of herself for herself – she has become a bone fide crossover star and a darling of the mainstream media.
Turning the dull stereotype of the tatted Alt-girl on its head, Angel engages in an incessant and organic process of self-evaluation. Asserting that performing is still the most fun for her, she expressed a dogged determination to create a positive and creative atmosphere on her sets for the benefit of those she shoots so that they “feel as special as possible.”
Dana Vespoli is dark, gorgeous and soft-spoken, but her tactile ferocity as a director shone through when she spoke about how her preferences when she was performing inform her choices as a director now.
“As a performer I liked directors who just let me fuck,” she said. “I’m voyeuristic and like to try to find the authentic moments, the moments of surprise. Now I encourage my performers to just fuck and let me watch.”
Joe Gallant could not help but bring a decidedly New York perspective to bear, more so than even fellow-New Yorker Angel. He spoke beautifully about using the city as a backdrop, character and inspiration in his films. He called porn the “last frontier of creativity,” and like all the directors on the panel he emphasized and indeed embraced the evolutionary and revolutionary nature of erotic cinematic expression.
One could not help but feel a certain level of pride listening to these different generations of pornographers talk about their craft as calling, not only because they have also attained a level of success at their chosen profession, but because it is a simple human pleasure to experience people living what they love.