THE ADULT FILM MINUTE: Once per month, except for occasionally when it’s more frequent than that, Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals will be telling us a little bit about what’s going on in adult entertainment and why it should matter to you.
[Unless otherwise indicated, all the links hereafter are NSFW.]
Dana Vespoli has been described as a feminist that’s been shunned by feminists. Why? Maybe it’s because she makes porn.
Dana got into porn in the early 2000s at the age of 31. Today, with 300+ scenes under her belt and more than 100 director credits to her name, she is one of the most prominent figures in adult content production. She and I have discussed (SFW) whether or not feminism and adult entertainment can coexist and we’ve also been on panels together talking about women’s experiences in porn (trade show seminar stuff), but we’ve never actually talked about her work specifically before. I decided it was time to change that.
Dr. Chauntelle: So, first and foremost, are you a feminist that’s been shunned by feminists?
Dana Vespoli: I am, indeed, a feminist. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been shunned by all feminists — certainly some — as a lot of my work can be seen as challenging. Scenes that involve rough sex or women contorted in pain confuse a lot of people. They ask me how I can possibly want to show women hurting and call myself a feminist. My answer to that is that I refuse to police women’s sexual pleasure, in whatever way it manifests. I will also never infantilize a women by telling her that what she enjoys is not good for her. Many women enjoy some pain, myself included. I don’t watch BDSM scenes and see victims. I see people pushing themselves and each other to another level safely and feeling good about it.
What is your work’s overarching mission statement — like, its vision?
I make porn as a way to explore and to better understand human behavior and human interaction. That sounds very sterile and unsexy, but it’s true. My movies are about more than the physical act of f*cking – they are about how we connect, or don’t. How we relate to each other and how we identify ourselves and each other. I am not trying to reinvent the wheel, and I’m far from the industry’s best shooter or performer – my goals are just very different. I am preoccupied with the psychological aspects of sex and intimacy.
If you were to imagine yourself in the overall fabric of porn production and wider culture, where do you fit in?
If porn was rock n’ roll, I’d be The Velvet Underground.
I love Dana’s work (obvs) – some projects more than others, but all of it together as a collective vision is amazing. Here are three examples that I think showcase her scope as a director.
1. [XXX] Loves Girls
So far, Dana has directed two titles in this star showcase* series from Sweetheart Video, Remy [LaCroix] Loves Girls and Jessie [Andrews] Loves Girls. Both titles follow convention for the genre – a featured star selects four women to work with in their very own showcase. Dana puts her spin on the format though with her unconventionally ordinary settings, like a picnic blanket outside, and signature camera angles. The lead-in interviews she does with the performers, however, are what’s truly exceptional.
Dana says: The Loves Girls series is [larger conglomerate] Mile High Media’s creation. When I began directing for [their subsidiary] Sweetheart Video, the series was already in place, as was the format. My intention was to, as much as possible, capture the girl’s personality and find what was unique about them. This only works if the girl is forthcoming.
*What’s a star showcase? you ask – explained more here (SFW)
This is another example of Dana taking something conventional and putting her own unusual spin on it. Evil Angel’s Hollywood Babylon is a fallen angel story about some luscious small-town girl who just *knows* she’s meant to be famous, so she moves to LA and then things don’t quite go the way she’s planned when she meets this guyyyaaaaawwwnn…
Except that nothing is what it seems in Hollywood Babylon. The film unfolds through a series of flashback interviews… or, is it an investigation? We meet a fabulous golden (fantasy?) lover, a ruthless producer, and a disturbing plastic surgeon and his equally disturbing wife, all of who are hovering around our progressively delusional fallen angel. What really happened? Perhaps it’s Dana’s ability to incorporate hardcore into the narrative, something which sets Hollywood Babylon apart from all the other movies about Poison songs, but this film is unexpected – because of the porno, we get a version of Hollywood depravity, one that we always imagine is there but we never actually get to see.
Dana says: This movie was inspired by David Lynch[’s filmmaking] and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. I’m also in love with the mythology of Hollywood and the notion of escaping to a place where you can reinvent yourself.
It’s difficult to say which of Dana’s projects fully embody the overarching theme I see connecting her work – destabilizing the ordinary. She does it in TS, I Love You and she does it in Girl/Boy, but I think she does it best in her Fluid series.
Beginning with the first installment in 2013, you can watch Dana move through this process, first via the notion of a series of films centered around breath play and water bondage – which, drowning, scary as f*ck! – and second via the scenarios in which said breath play and water bondage are invoked. Consider…
- In Fluid 1, Justine Joli is tied up in a full bathtub. In another scene, Dana gives an underwater BJ. Scary, but also two ideas that may come relatively quick if you were thinking about water and breath play scenarios.
- In Fluid 2, Dana has splash pad sex with a lactating Kayden Kross. In another scene, Adriana Chechik has a pretty intense blowbang with four others: two dudes, Dana and a strap-on, and TS performer Vanity. Gender and heteronormativity get challenged here.
- Finally, in Fluid 3, we have a scene with the least amount of literal liquid that somehow manages to be the most fluid scene of the series so far. Dana plays some sort of emotionally stunted Edward Scissorhands, and Stoya is the only thing that can unfreeze her. Reality becomes molten… or does it?
The Fluid series essentially documents a process – at first, one that’s (relatively) tentative, then moving into increasingly destabilized waters that include all sorts of gender and sexuality fluidity. It’s pretty incredible to behold.
Dana says: I really love how you describe Fluid! That series is my baby. I never know if each new volume will be my last.
Dana is like a magician. She distracts us with the intensity of hardcore, while presenting us with a wider endeavor – a more complex look at sexualities, gender, porn, and life, like, in general.
Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist specializing in gender, sexualities, work and organizations, media and technology, and popular culture. Her book Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment comes out this July. Team #pinkbanana
PS You know you remember this song – “Fallen Angel” from Poison’s Open Up and Say… Ahh! (1988)