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This Reelist is Rated R

Like Sasha Grey in Steven Soderbergh's upcoming The Girlfriend Experience, other adult starlets have made the jump to mainstream films. We explore the results, from John Waters camp to a brilliant Turkish-German flick. (The content within is safe for work!)

Sasha Grey is the most modern of porn stars. A 21-year-old child of the Internet age, it's plain to see—via her MySpace page, writings, and interviews—she's a self-actualized sexual superhero: "I am Sasha Grey. There is no other. This is only a brief dossier because I'm not dead and I don't feel that a complete biography is yet warranted." Writer Molly Young of the blog This Recording rightly notes that there's "something of the hero's quest to her self-presentation."

Grey's persona is fascinating. Her likes and dislikes, from Jean-Luc Godard (she recently blogged, reverently, about seeing Made in USA in the theaters) to Nietzsche, are well detailed on the Web, and she's been able to make clear—despite embarrassing appearances on The Tyra Banks Show—that porn has been her choice, and she's "expressing it in a sex-positive way." Whatever your opinion of her pursuit, this "existentialist, pornstar, and artist" (her words) has an undeniable star quality that has and will, likely, translate winkingly over to other artistic pursuits.

Who knows if her upcoming starring role in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience is a one-off. It's an interesting choice for both actress and director, and it should cement Grey's status as somebody fluent in the culture of cool, from porn to film to music.

Grey is probably the future of adult-star crossovers, and this week's Reelist takes a look at other adult stars who have had major roles in films. The results, so far, range from plenty of genre and European flicks to John Waters (of course). It will be intriguing to see the evolution of these migrations. As porn culture becomes more accessible via the Internet (and hey, don't forget, in ways both empowering and infuriating, there is a stripping stripper who stripped who recently won a Screenwriting Oscar), the adult actor stigma should start to shift, and potentially disappear. Although that may have to wait until the kids who grew up thinking that "the Internet is for porn" (as Avenue Q put it) are the ones in power, developing movies.

[Note: this piece focuses on films where adult stars have played significant roles, as opposed to raunchy comedies where there tend to be jokey cameos.]
 


 

Rabid

Rabid

Dir. David Cronenberg (1977)

Marilyn Chambers, porn star and ex-Ivory Soap girl best known for the adult film Behind the Green Door (radical at the time for showing interracial scenes), makes her mainstream debut as a biker chick in trouble whose revolutionary skin graft turns her into a rabid zombie vamp with a taste for blood. Cronenberg's commentary on public health, zombies, and sexuality needed someone up for the creepster's unique body horror: this infected lady eventually turns Montreal into Canuck chaos, against which the government is helpless. The ever creepy and ethereal Sissy Spacek, fresh off Badlands and Carrie, was Cronenberg's first choice for the role. After the studio vetoed her and her Texas accent, the Canadian director—on the advice of producer Ivan "Ghostbusters" Reitman—went with Chambers. Despite Rabid, studios wouldn't take a chance on Chambers, and she went back into the adult industry.

 

Cry Baby

Cry-Baby

Dir. John Waters (1990)

I suspect that if you're 30 or under, it's a little bit harder to think of Traci Lords as a porn star. She's been more of a film presence (ranging from B-movies to Gilmore Girls) and occasional singer for the past twenty years, as opposed to the adult actress whose notoriety stemmed from being underage. In fact, it's even sort of hard to envision her dealing with the transition to more mainstream films. Her second role, after studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, was in John Waters' teen musical spoof. Cry-Baby (a Broadway version came and went last year) stars Johnny Depp as the dreamiest delinquent. Lords was part of his tough-kid crowd, and she rocked along with sass and grace. The DVD commentary reveals a lovely, Waters-to-the-core ancedote: while shooting the film, Lords was worrying on set about some legal problems. The crew, noticing her distress, eventually commiserated with their own stories of breaking the law, culminating with the little old lady working on costumes saying, "Don't worry, honey, I murdered somebody!"
 

 

Anatomy of Hell

Anatomy of Hell (Anatomie de L'enfer)

Dir. Catherine Breillat (2004)

Perhaps it's best to leave this review to Roger Ebert, who quips: "[This] plays like porn dubbed by bitter deconstructionist theoreticians." It's a curious film in the curious career of French director Catherine Breillat, who has explored female sexuality through the eyes of teenage girls (36 Fillette and the successful Fat Girl, available on Criterion DVD) and analytical women (Romance, about a woman's search for an orgasm, also has notorious sex scenes and porn stars). Anatomy of Hell, however, is a grueling exercise in "French" explorations of gender and sexuality, where a sucidal woman, known only as The Woman, is rescued from her latest attempt by a gay man, known as The Man (played by Rocco Siffredi, the Italian porn star; both of his mainstream films were Breillat productions). She pays him money to watch over her for four nights, and they talk and talk and theorize, and grossness ensues. It involves tampons. Gender politics were never so French! Probably the film on this list you don't want to see.


District B13

District B13 (Banlieue 13)

Dir. Pierre Morel (2004)

This Luc Besson-written-and-produced French genre flick was the first major role for Dany Verissimo. She's mostly required to play "the girl/damsel-in-distress." That said, it's probably not a bad entry point for a young actress: she's mostly required to scream, look pretty, and handle a gun, and it's led to a solid career. The real appeal of the wildly entertaining District B13 comes from parkour ("the art of movement") founder David Belle in the lead—his is a jawdropping talent, as he literally leaps tall buildings, no CGI involved, like a real-life Spiderman/Superman without the strings. Look for the sequel, District B13 Ultimatium, to hit U.S. theaters this summer.

 

 

  

Head On

Head On (Gegen die Wand)

Dir. Fatih Akin (2004)

Akin's second movie is an incredible, visceral film about two Turkish-German immigrants who meet at an insane asylum, start a marriage of convenience, and then deal with the ultimate violence and actions that define their lives. Co-star Sibel Kekilli was just 23 when she debuted in this film. It's an acting tour-de-force; she's required to move through many personas, from crazy punk rock babe to threatened Turkish girl (honor killings have a role in this film) to the low-life of a nihilist. It was a bit of a Lana Turner story for Kekilli: she was plucked from the Cologne (Germany) mall and landed the role over 300 other actresses. However, after the film won the Golden Bear at that year's Berlinale, the ensuing publicity meant that a tabloid broke the story about her work as a porn actress prior to this film. The media controversy led to Kekilli's father stating, "I can never forgive her for it. I don't want to see her ever again." Kekilli, on the other hand, called out the tabloids while accepting an award, referring to the situation as "media rape." She's still acting today.
 



The Girlfriend Experience
will screen in the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival Spotlight section. Tickets are available for the general public on April 20. The movie is scheduled to open theatrically through Magnolia Pictures on May 22.

Festival '08 alum The Auteur, a Portland-based spoof about a "the Kubrick of porn," is now available to watch at Jaman.com.

The tragic life of porn star Shannon Wilsey (aka Savannah) has been a muse as of late to rock band Okkervil River. Click here to watch a performance of the song "Starry Stairs." Pay close attention to the lyrics.

Do read hyper-blog This Recording's excellent piece by writer Molly Young, "Deconstructing the appeal of Sasha Grey."

 

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