In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim ingrained himself in American popular culture with his release You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, more than peers like Basement Jaxx, Armand van Helden or The Chemical Brothers. The video for “Praise You” won some MTV awards, “The Rockafeller Skank” was used in soundtracks, and the later “Weapon of Choice” video featured Christopher Walken dancing and flying around a hotel.
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In the world of adult films, the word “star” is used loosely, not literally. There are very few names within said bulging billion dollar industry that are recognized outside of it, and most of those - Linda Lovelace, Ron Jeremy, Jenna Jameson - lack any real meaningful mainstream credentials. No, the famous people in porn as noted for their proclivities, not their personalities or their non-physical performances. Granted, today’s member of the XXX media are far savvier than their smut peddling predecessors - and nowhere is this more obvious than in Blue Underground’s ongoing release of Al Goldstein’s infamous Midnight Blue TV program. Up to Volumes Six and Seven, these latest installments focus on the infamous names and faces/forms of ‘80s and ‘90s erotica, and what we eventually learn is that while celebrated in the sack, these people are unimpressive interview subjects.
First, some background. Anyone who still speaks to him will attest to the fact that Al Goldstein was and remains an angry, bitter little man. He’s an admitted pornographer and one horny old bastard. For decades, he was the guiding light behind Screw magazine, the only notorious skin rag never to make the leap to mainstream acceptance. Even Hustler found its way into more American homes than Al’s newsprint novelty. The basic explanation for the lack of worldwide success can be attributed to the fact that Screw was available mostly in New York. When he tried to take it national, Goldstein found himself battling the same censors that were giving Larry Flynt carnal conniption fits. Another reason why Screw wasn’t more popular was because many saw it as nothing more than Al’s personal propaganda factory. It featured his rants on all manner of subjects, self-serving reviews of Screw-sponsored products, and an overall approach that reflected Goldstein’s editorial philosophy—which was basically, “Love everything I do, or go to Hell.”
In 1974, Al took his mind for the media visual and started up a cable access show. Originally utilizing the magazine’s moniker, the title was later changed to Midnight Blue and the rest, as they say, was New York television history. More or less a weekly video version of his sleazy periodical, it featured off-the-wall interviews, exciting sexposés, reviews of current X-rated fare, and those time-tested middle fingers to figures both public and personal. Sometimes, it was Goldstein leading the way. Other times, his producer and show co-creator, Alex Bennett, stood in for a segment or two. While it was never a certified classic of the outsider talk show genre, it was a clear cult phenomenon, and paved the way for public access to go more puerile and perverted. Now, thanks to the Big Blue U, we get a chance to witness the wackiness, the weirdness, and the wantonness of Goldstein and his TV tenacity. But while other installments offered a more varied look at his guest list, this is nothing but porn stars doing what they do least effectively - talk.
That’s not to say that every Q&A here is a waste of time. Vanessa Del Rio starts off Volume Six in a very upfront and sultry manner, though her partner in patter is the very definition of a dirty old man. He’s all flopping tongue and groping mitts. Later on, both Veronica Hart and Nina Hartley prove why they are still part of the business some two decades after they first go their start. They are knowledgeable, personable, and more than able to hold their own with an often crude Goldstein. But when put up against their Hall of Fame betters, era-specific entertainers like Annette Haven, Desiree Cousteau, and Kristi Lane lack impact. Luckily, the male part of the DVD - Ron Jeremy, John Leslie, and stud turned director Paul Thomas (Mr. Vivid himself!) - provides a wonderful bit of on the job perspective. Since he’s clearly not interested in their private parts, Goldstein actually conducts informative and insightful conversations.
Volume Seven sees the same pattern, except with even more questionable “star” quality. Both Tom Byron and Randy West are a delight, delivering the kind of backstage drama and intrigue we come to such a collection to hear about. They are upfront, honest, and quite committed to their craft (both before and behind the camera). But when we start maneuvering through the hodgepodge of honeys on display, as a Viper meshes into an Ashlyn Gere who then drifts directly into Jenna Fire, we become disoriented. Sure, Christy Canyon is memorable, but it might have more to do with her DD mammaries than anything she says about being in porn. Besides, the questions are always the same - “How did you get your start?”; “Do you like having sex onscreen?”; “Does it bother you to have so many different partners?”; “How long will you continue to do adult films?” By the fifth or sixth Q&A, the sameness really stunts the entertainment value.
Of course, Goldstein knew which side of the bread his bare bodice butter was spread and viewers who only want to see naked girls (and the occasional guy) in all their unshaven, un-retouched glory, will be happy with the ample flesh offered as part of the overall Midnight Blue experience. There are even a couple of hardcore moments that apparently snuck in uncensored before going out live across the greater Manhattan area airwaves. Between the archaic, hilarious phone sex ads, the occasional laugh out loud commercial for “specialty” bakeries, and the mesmerizing escort offer from a bi-sexual “hunk” who looks more like an insurance salesman, The Midnight Blue Collection has its terrific time capsule pleasures. But if you want real insights into this particularly ‘smutty’ side of show business, you’ll be better served by the DVD’s main bonus feature.
Called “Money Shots”, this text only take on the material, acting like a combination commentary track and biographical back-up, gives us a great deal of the information the interviews do not - especially in the “where are they now” department that the show couldn’t possibly address. The data is often delivered in a very tongue in cheek manner, especially when some of Midnight Blue‘s more baffling segments (including an old crone who gives out unsavory sex advice and a creepy “Uncle” character who advertises bizarre/fake sex devices) show up, but for the most part, we are treated to personal profiles and insightful trivia. Elsewhere, Volume Six sees Goldstein roasted by legendary media misanthrope Wally George, while Seven shows Mr. Screw giving porn princess Jenna Jameson a big “F*ck You!”
That was typical of Goldstein - biting the hand that was supposedly feeding him. It is an attitude that pervades almost every aspect of Midnight Blue. Instead of engaging his already open-minded audience, he decided to bash them over the head with his beliefs. For many, that was an easy trade off for the chance to see some otherwise illicit material. But in today’s free-for-all media, where even the most outrageous of XXX concepts have gone mostly mainstream, such stridency is a big fat flesh feast turn off. Because it offers more than the nubile acknowledging their limited cultural significance, Porn Stars of the ‘80s/‘90s is an interesting experience. While it remains a curiosity, it’s the kind of oddity that’s easy to enjoy.
Am I weird? I don’t get Michael Jackson, any more than I get Britney Spears or the Jonas Brothers. I don’t quite get why he was such a big deal, and why the nation needs to mourn him collectively by playing his mostly mediocre music. (From his solo career, what is any good other than Off the Wall and “Billie Jean”?) I do get that he sold a zillion albums and was among the two or three most famous people on the planet, but what of it? Because of his fame—because, intentionally or not, he crossed some sort of line into a level of stardom that shouldn’t be reached—he had ceased to be a true object of human sympathy, because no one could know his experience. Bob Rossney (via Boing Boing) explains this well:
It strikes me that it never even occurred to me whether or not to forgive Michael Jackson. In my mind, he was so far away from normative that the question of forgiveness seems totally irrelevant. Not that his no longer really being human in any meaningful sense justified his actions, or mitigated the harm he did, but that it makes no more sense to judge the morality of his actions than it would to judge Henry Darger’s. Their creepiness, sure. But this was a man (it’s a mark of how profoundly damaged Michael Jackson was that it feels strange to call him “a man”, just as it feels strange to recognize that when he died he was older than the President of the United States) who spent every day of his life embedded in a matrix of perverse incentives. The terrain of his personal landscape was unrecognizable. I can understand the choices that my cat makes more deeply than I could understand the ones Jackson made.
It seems as though people are trying to resurrect the legend after the fact, as if to excuse the way our adulation destroyed him while he was alive. As Generation Bubble puts it:
To borrow the words of Z-Man, the villain of Russ Meyer’s immortal Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, pop superstardom was Michael Jackson’s happening, and it freaked him — as well as us — out.
On “Stillness Is the Move”—maybe the best song in the Dirty Projectors’ catalog, period—Dave Longstreth laces the track with his intricate spider web of guitar notes, while Amber Coffman turns in some stunning vocals, and paints herself as a rangy torch singer.—Matthew Fiander