[28 April 2003]
Before watching Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, I felt obliged to rent one of Jeremy’s 1,600 adult videos. I rummaged through the straight porn section of my local video store and stumbled on a copy of Ejacula 2, a porno parody of Dracula featuring Jeremy as a hunchback servant to a den of vampires who get down and dirty with their victims before biting their necks. As expected, Jeremy shows off his 9 3/4” endowment, but I was intrigued more by the scenes in which the porn star was doing something you rarely see in adult movies—acting.
Jeremy’s campy performance in Ejacula 2, which requires him to walk with a clubfoot and eat live worms on camera, is the comic relief in this otherwise dull, humorless, and cheesy porno video. While Jim Carrey has nothing to worry about, I admit being surprised that Jeremy’s talent is not limited to below the waist. Then again, most of what Scott Gill’s documentary reveals about the 48-year-old actor—one of the few heterosexual adult male performers to achieve icon status—is likely to challenge any preconceived notions you may have about the life of this bona fide porn star.
Employing a visual and narrative style similar to the celebrity profiles produced for E! Entertainment Television, Gill offers film clips and interviews with the subject as well as his family, friends, and fellow thespians. Born Ron Jeremy Hyatt in Queens, New York, to a middle class Jewish family, he admits to having a need since childhood to “be in the spotlight.” After a short stint as a special education teacher, he pursued an acting career in New York, but he was sidetracked when his girlfriend sent a nude photo to Playgirl and he started to receive offers to appear in adult films.
Jeremy speaks openly about his early career failures as an actor. This honesty, whether the subject is sex, his monthly HIV test, his appetite, or his past girlfriends, makes him an engaging subject. His former co-stars Sharon Mitchell, Jane Hamilton (a.k.a. Veronica Hart), and Tabitha Stevens are quite candid in sharing their opinions about Jeremy’s body, eating habits, and work ethic. But they all agree on one thing: Jeremy is just an honest, ordinary guy with a very large penis.
“Ordinary” is the key word here. At 5’7”, 200 pounds, Jeremy, nicknamed “The Hedgehog,” is hardly a looker by Hollywood standards. However, as he admits, his ordinary looks are the reason he has developed such a loyal following among male viewers. “They see a schlub like me get lucky,” he explains. “There’s hope for everyone else.”
Throughout the film, his young male fans sing his praises and repeatedly credit him for teaching them how to perform various sexual acts on a woman. In one of the film’s funniest moments, a college fraternity in conservative Orange County, California, throws a party to celebrate his honorary membership. On seeing him, the guys raise their hands and proceed to bow down in his presence. When Jeremy learns they have inducted him, alongside the frat’s other celebrity brothers—including Ronald Reagan—he turns to the camera and, pointing to Reagan’s picture, quips that if his father knew this, it would send him straight to his grave.
Jeremy here appears a bit overwhelmed by the response he gets from his fans. Yet Gill shows us how hard he works for it in the film’s final section, which focuses on the actor’s unyielding pursuit of fame. There is an air of desperation surrounding his short stint as a rap artist when he recorded “Freak of the Week” in 1996 with Polo from Kool G Rap team. His stand-up comedy routine echoes Minsky’s Burlesque, in the tired, unfunny sex jokes he delivers to a generally unresponsive audience.
His friends, particularly Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein and Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis, are not exactly kind when it comes to Jeremy’s (lack of) talent. “He’s the worst act in show business,” Lewis observes, “He has no material, he has no presentation, and he has no timing.” Yet, Jeremy appears to be unaffected and continues to play nightclubs and accept even the tiniest of roles in feature films, a list that include Killing Zoe (1994), Meet Wally Sparks (1997), Detroit Rock City (1999), and Rules of Attraction (2002).
In an era when sex scandals and reality television shows can turn ordinary citizens into stars—some for even longer than 15 minutes—it’s sad to see someone like Jeremy, who already has a fan base, have to work so hard to be accepted as a performer in non-pornographic films. Perhaps Jeremy is simply unable to shake the stigma the mainstream entertainment industry still attaches to the adult film genre (for that reason, studios have order directors to cut his scenes from films). He has also been in the adult film business for 25 years, which certainly makes the transition all the more difficult.
Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy should satisfy his loyal fans and provide those unfamiliar with his life and work a comprehensive overview of his career. Two separate versions of the film are currently in release: R-rated and “Uncut and Unrated” (the latter contains adult language and nudity), though both contain plenty of extras, including deleted scenes and an amusing commentary by Gill and Jeremy. I suggest renting the unrated edition because it runs one minute longer than the R version and, if Jeremy has taught us anything, it’s that size definitely does matter.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/porn-star/