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Porn Defends the Money Shot 

Critics gain ground, demanding condom use to control AIDS

Thursday, Sep 29 2011
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It's the staple of porn and an element of Americana so pervasive that it has become a term to describe any crescendo in pop culture, from a game-winning basket by Kobe Bryant to an emphatic punch line by Sarah Palin.

More than 20 years ago Jeff Koons made his soon-to-be wife, porn star La Cicciolina, the star of his explicit Made in Heaven series of huge photo portraits, which, in part, glorified and immortalized the money shot, giving it a place even in the world of haute art.

Almost everything in adult video leads up to the final "pop," as those in the business call the visual release of semen. But most of the rest of the time is spent setting up shots and adjusting body parts for the perfect lead-up. Behind the scenes, it actually can be tedious to witness. And there's no fast-forward.

click to flip through (6) PHOTO BY STEVE APPLEFORD - Ava Jay
 

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Watching Star Wars XXX: A Porn Parody (due for an Oct. 10 release) being made this summer was certainly anticlimactic. Billed as the most expensive adult film ever, its production was as professional and deliberate as any big-budget Hollywood project: Take after take, flubbed lines, megaphone instructions to the cast, minutes if not hours of breaks to set up shots, makeup, wardrobe, extras walking around in stormtrooper costumes.

Even a furry Chewbacca look-alike paced the set — a stuffy warehouse just west of the Los Angeles River downtown — letting out the occasional, wistful growl.

And Princess Leia. Oh, Princess Leia — played by Vivid Entertainment's newest contract star, Allie Haze. If not for Haze strutting around the set, her hair in trademark buns, her obscene curves visible beneath a sheer white gown, it all would have been an absolute bore.

In the last few years, the rise of free online porn — content-rich sites that tease viewers to subscribe for more — and pay-site juggernauts like Brazzers have put the L.A.-based adult-video industry against the ropes. Its answer, in part, has been the high-dollar parody, designed to attract ComicCon nerds, science fiction fans and other pop culture aficionados who must collect everything within their target oeuvre.

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of porn's introduction to the mainstream via Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, it might be too little, too late.

"That's the main reason for the success of my movies — because I went after a different demographic," Star Wars XXX director Axel Braun tells the Weekly on set. "I'm not going after fans of porn; I'm going after fans of the original source material."

Braun's films, in partnership with Vivid, the industry's largest studio, have been blockbusters at a time when — as with mainstream studios, record labels and newspapers — online consumption is draining profits. Porn parodies (Elvis XXX, Spider-Man XXX) are a rare bright spot in an industry that has seen its bottom line rocked.

Filmmaker and industry activist Michael Whiteacre says porn star unemployment is high, with performers "working a lot less and getting paid a lot less. The money is just not there for these girls."

And so many adult actors, particularly the women, are devolving to work as "escorts," a kinder term for prostitutes. Former performer Gina Rodriguez says that if the girls last one year in porn movies — most last only three to six months — they get hooked on the relatively big money and gravitate toward prostitution when the film producers seek fresh new faces and bodies.

"It's a money trap," Rodriguez says. "They take in the 18-, 19-year-olds, and within a year they'll be into escorting."

In the past, a porn star taking money for off-camera work might not be a big deal. But the straight-porn biz is under attack for its general refusal to use condoms — even on uber-mainstream sets like Star Wars XXX, where producers say prophylactics are optional, but nobody uses them. Porn leaders insist that once-a-month testing of performers keeps the L.A.-based pool of workers safe from the likes of HIV.

But when straight-porn actors take side gigs as prostitutes to make a living, having sex with strangers off-set, that changes everything. They're quietly going outside the safe pool. Some are almost assuredly not using condoms, then returning to local porn sets — 200 porn productions pull permits every month in the City of Los Angeles alone — without a word.

The L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is on a mission to get state and local authorities to enforce condoms on set. On the surface, it's not a bad idea, especially if porn stars freelance as hookers.

But here's the key stumbling block: That would also mean the end of the industry's bread and butter — the sacred money shot, shooting semen and all. Industry leaders are fighting tooth and nail against condoms. Even a relatively mainstream filmmaker like Braun says condoms would push production out of state because the mostly male viewers just don't want to see films where a key component is sheathed in latex.

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