Photos by Ted Soqui
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
–Rutger Hauer, in Blade Runner
“LOOK AT THAT SHOT, YOU GUYS. YOU SEE THAT?”
A girl in heroin shades and a bemused stupor is being physically lifted into the camera as a giant hand with a death's-head ring rakes aside the crotch of her tiger-striped bikini bottoms.
“All these people can joke about GM Video,” says a much younger voice, “but we're here. Fucking Lake Havasu, GM Video, fucking Garvey . . . Kid Vegas . . . Johnny Toxic . . . George Martin.”
The girl leans back into the well of a speedboat, her red Mardi Gras beads pooling on her chest. She alternately fellates the man to her left and then the man curved over the top of her — bald pate, goatee, bathed in tattoos — who probes her with a studded tongue. It's hard to tell how much the girl is into all of this, though she does manage to smile for the camera — or at least to revel momentarily in its attention.
“Leave a spot for us,” says the first voice in an offstage whisper, as the camera jockeys for a better angle. Various lookouts can be glimpsed through the tangle of bodies. “Colorado River,” says the man to her left as he ejaculates into her hair. The bald tattooed man whispers something in her ear, then disengages and masturbates onto her stomach.
“Load warriors! Another cum-soaked holiday weekend, brought to you by GM Video.”
THIS SCENE APPEARS IN SOMETHING CALLED GIRLS GONE WILD/TOTALLY Exposed: Uncensored and Beyond, Vol. I. What separates it from your garden-variety porno is that it occurs roughly in real time, in a real place — Lake Havasu's Copper Canyon, on the California-Arizona border — and, at least by implication, involves a hapless stray from a recent Labor Day Weekend celebration. Over the course of 20 years, the long weekend has evolved from a family boating holiday into a flotilla-based bacchanal and open-air orgy, where women from all walks of life, for reasons known only to themselves, come to engage in public sex, spontaneous nudity and competitive abandon. If they are aided in this process by copious amounts of alcohol, the blistering high-desert sun, the magnetic gaze of the camera lens and the forced party-girl camaraderie, then so much the better. And, perhaps not incidentally, they have reconfigured the pornography business in the process.
Girls Gone Wild was launched four years ago as a series of specialty adult videos — part war footage, part nature documentary — filmed in public and without permission at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, spring break in south Florida, and Lake Havasu over Memorial and Labor Day weekends. Originally sold by mail order through cheesy late-night TV ads with signature Caribbean steel-drum music and good-natured frat-house complicity, it began as a spontaneous compilation of young women flashing their breasts for the camera and, as brand awareness spread, quickly became a record of something more akin to soccer riots or sexual anarchy. The commercials also include a prominent Web-site address, where alongside “College Girls Exposed” and “Sexy Sorority Sweethearts,” special “Deluxe” editions feature explicit hardcore inserts and interior sex scenes — cleverly establishing an alt-porn beachhead on network TV, much like those K-TEL collections of Slim Whitman or Boxcar Willie that once challenged the music industry's chokehold on commercial product.
“Kristen” works the pole
The series is the brainchild of 27-year-old Joe Francis, the reality guru behind Banned From Television, a three-volume “true gore” clips collection of public executions and people being hit by trains, for which he was ä successfully sued for $3.5 million for stealing the concept from the man who had pitched it to him. (Francis terms the lawsuit “frivolous,” and claims he settled for “pennies.”)But even more than that earlier experiment in reality TV, Girls Gone Wild has become a marketing juggernaut. According to an inside source, the series provides an estimated 100-to-1 return on its meager investment and frequently shows up in the list of Billboard Top 30 retail sellers. Yet much of that footage comes in over the transom, purchased from private vendors. And one vendor in particular supplies virtually all of the Lake Havasu footage — GM Video.
GM Video is the province of George Martin, a 58-year-old entrepreneur, family man and former nuclear Research and Development man, who, in the middle of a career slump shooting wedding videos, stumbled onto the party scene at Arizona's Lake Martinez and inadvertently pioneered the amateur porn market. He launched GM in 1981, a year before Homegrown Video, the acknowledged market leader. GM currently offers over 200 specialty titles. A few years ago, George discovered that Francis' Girls Gone Wild team would gladly recycle his footage, often with his spirited GM Video tags intact — Load Warriors! As a result, his sales skyrocketed. He now moves approximately 8,000 tapes per month, most of it through retail distributors (as opposed to mail order), and is currently building a warehouse on his 10-acre property in Fallbrook, near San Diego, to handle the ramp-up in business. His wife minds the store while he's away on shoots, his younger sister designs the box covers, and his only daughter, 32, oversees shipping and packaging when she's not raising his three grandkids. He tries to produce six titles a month, but claims his distributors could easily handle two and a half times that.
Toward that end, George and his elite squad constantly wage what amounts to military assaults on festivals and spectacles throughout the hemisphere: Fantasy Fest in Key West, Florida (a kind of Carnaval held during Halloween); strip clubs in San Felipe, Rosarito and Cancun, Mexico; the Hedonism resort in Negril, Jamaica; biker rallies in Sturgis, South Dakota, and Laughlin, Nevada; the Gay and Lesbian Festival and Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco (the latter “for the leather community”); the Over the Line Tournament in San Diego (a three-man-baseball league with over 900 coed teams, noted for its filthy team names and spirited female mascots); the Ponderosa in Roselawn, Indiana (a twice-yearly nudist convention favored by the porn elite); the Testicle Festival in Clinton, Montana (a kind of biker/ mountain man gathering of the tribes); and, he says, “a couple of secret spots which I won't reveal because my competition follows me around.”
George, very much the patriarch, with a lion's mane of white hair and an Einstein mustache, is affable in the extreme, and surrounds himself with a bomber crew of former skate punks, extreme-sports veterans and punk rockers — a Boogie Nightsstyle extended family of tattooed boys, strippers and strays to whom he administers counsel, wisdom and unconditional support. This past Labor Day, 29-year-old skate punk and party boy Darby Conley and part-time porn chick Bianca were dispatched to the Lake of the Ozarks in Arkansas, while George himself headed up the crew sent to capture the party scene at Lake Havasu. (The final member of their trusted contingent, black ex-boxer and all-around badass Jim Pitts, just a year younger than George, sat this one out.) We have come along on the Havasu trip to observe and figure out just what skills a person must master in order to separate a boatful of coeds from their clothes and inhibitions.
Also on this trip is Keith Kooiman, George's chief cameraman and first lieutenant — small and wiry, with a shaved head, a discernible temper and a way with the ladies. Keith is 35 now, but still very much the punk rocker; his theme song is the Descendants' “I Don't Want To Grow Up.” He's a black belt in various martial arts, was an all-state wrestling champion in high school, and displays a certain hallmark fearlessness in both his camera style and his personal demeanor. Among his numerous tattoos, the one on his ankle is a tarantula with the words Creepy Crawl — the old Charles Manson term for nocturnal recon missions. “That means whatever you do, I'll always win,” he explains. “You stand in front of me, I'll creepy crawl right over you.”
There's also Willie Jacobs, who serves as this weekend's on-site security and aide-de-camp. Willie is the silent type, seven years clean and sober, with a long black ponytail and an unsettling likeness to Furio, the Sicilian enforcer on The Sopranos. Ever since his ex-girlfriend got a year and a half “up north” for stabbing another girl, Willie spends most of his time either working the graveyard shift at a Santa Ana porn shop, or shooting pool six hours a day at the California Girls strip club, making this something of a busman's holiday for him. A self-proclaimed observer, albeit one immune to the temptations of the constant nudity surrounding him, his strength as a bouncer is that his boundaries seem extremely well-defined. “I don't like the word security,” he says, “because then everyone thinks I'm here to fight. But once I get riled up, I'd rather hit something to calm down. If I walk away, I'll only take it somewhere else.”
And then there are the half-dozen girls George has brought with him, all between the ages of 19 and 24: Brandy, a pneumatic blond who is Keith's sometime girlfriend; her best friend, Cleo, who is half-black and half-white, and along for the first time; Kristen and Natalie, also friends with Brandy; and Jessica and Rosanna, best friends who share an exotic Latin-Polynesian heritage and were discovered by George on his last Havasu trek. George and Keith repeatedly stress that none of these girls is paid to be here, and that nothing is expected of any of them. (Even so, none of them want their real names used — although, unlike porn actresses, they don't seem to have professional aliases already picked out.)
The bulk of the filming occurs in Copper Canyon, a secluded cove. There's something called the Sandbar, which was shut down by zealous law enforcement a year ago to combat the sort of institutional hedonism they feared was taking permanent root. Farther down the river is Parker Dam, where several floating bars host wet T-shirt contests. And there is the Channel, the central drag of the Colorado River, anchored on one end by the reconstructed London Bridge, bought and shipped here stone by stone in 1968 and dedicated in 1971. (Not the London Bridge which inspired the nursery rhyme and the title of My Fair Lady; that was dispatched in 1014 by one Olaf the Norseman. This bridge was built instead in 1831 and bought a century and a half later by real estate bandits for its kitsch allure to gullible Americans. But no matter.)
“There was a time when I felt like I owned the river,” George says today of this part of the Colorado. Situated along state lines, the river has no shortage of police presence — and no clear lines of jurisdiction. Overseeing it all is the Lake Havasu City Police Department; the Mojave County Sheriff's Department, which polices the Arizona side in a reportedly perfunctory fashion; assorted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management agents; at least one Coast Guard boat; and the dominant presence on the lake, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, with whom George has a long and complicated history. He makes no secret of his disdain for their “Gestapo” tactics (he once read from Mein Kampf during a court appearance to make a point), or for the “far right Christians” whose bidding they presumably do.
“[The Christians] put pressure on the authorities to make a lot of arrests up here to stop people from coming. A girl may be flashing up and down the river here, and the police will pull up immediately and threaten her with jail. Then all of a sudden she's labeled a card-carrying sex offender,” George says, working himself into a mild lather. “Now, everybody knows not to do that under London Bridge, where there are children. Of course not. We're talking down the river . . . Gladiator is one of my all-time favorite movies, which I've seen about seven times. They cut a lot out because they didn't want to show the Christians being fed to the lions. [But] I really think if history was a little different, and more of them had been fed to the lions, we wouldn't have the problems that we do today.”
OPERATION: ENDURING STAMINA
FOR A PORNOGRAPHER, GEORGE SEEMS A FAIRLY reluctant one. He is fond of statements like “Not bad, an old fart like me running around with all these young girls” or “Most guys don't see this much pussy in their life,” but you can tell his heart's not really in it. Get him started on anything technical, though, and you're in for a welter of horsepowers and calibers and payloads. That goes for the car he drives — a 260-hp Acura NSX with a V-Tec engine and 6,500 miles on it. It's true of his pride and joy, a pair of matching .44 Desert Eagle pistols (he used them against Arizona's indigenous coyote population when he lived in Sedona, but was forced to leave them at the border when confronted with California's more stringent gun laws). George's politics seem of a piece with the “Live Free or Die” banner that flies from the bow of his 26-foot pontoon boat, atop the flagpole that currently doubles as a stripper's pole. “I'm a staunch First Amendment advocate,” he declares. “I think it's worth all the other amendments put together. But without the Second Amendment, it doesn't mean a thing. If they take the guns, they can interpret the other amendments however they want.”
Left to right: “Amber” and “Rosanna” and “Kristen”
The son of a Navy weatherman stationed in Point Loma outside San Diego, George also has an affinity for rocketry and pyrotechnics that goes back to childhood. A rocketry exhibit at his seventh-grade science fair landed him a meeting with Edward Teller, the father of (and chief apologist for) the hydrogen bomb. His experiments making bathtub nitro or C4, or launching a hamster to 25,000 feet from the Anza-Borrego Desert floor using a mixture of potassium perchlorate and powdered aluminum — “the same stuff they used in the SRB (solid rocket booster) on the shuttle” — got him assigned as a Palmer tank commander with the 108th Cavalry during Vietnam (although his division never saw combat), and later, the R&D position at General Atomic. (The hamster, alas, was not so lucky: It died from pulling too many g's, reaching 2,000 miles per hour.)
It's not surprising, then, that George approaches his video work with a warlike mindset. “This is a military mission every time we go,” he says. “We usually join forces with a houseboat, because it's a bigger platform. It's usually guys having a bachelor party or something, and we'll help them out — beer, whatever they need. We come bearing gifts.” In addition to the girls themselves, these gifts include Mardi Gras beads, the standard currency in inducing toplessness; plenty of Coronas and Smirnoff Coolers; and surprisingly little food (one surmises the girls perform better on a liquid diet). There are also certain specialty items — in this case, an assortment of brightly colored dildos and, for reasons we will discover later, a white inflatable pig. As we load up the boat with provisions on Saturday morning, Natalie silently inventories the tools of her trade. She has her hair in side pigtails, which accentuates her kewpie-doll appearance, and she's wearing a GM halter top that reads “Party Girls — Wanna See My Tits and Ass?” The guy in the next boat takes the bait.
“Hey, can I see your tits?” he tries to ask innocently.
“I'll tell you what,” Natalie says without looking up. “I'll let you see my tits if you'll let me fuck you in the ass with this vibrator.”
“Uh, no, that's okay,” the man replies, clearly shaken.
By the time we pull into Copper Canyon, it's mid-morning and there are maybe 15 boats in the cove. After some initial reconnaissance, we dock next to a houseboat rented by Mike from San Diego, who is celebrating his birthday. It's clear that George's reputation precedes him, but having six girls in bikinis dancing to “Barbie Girl” or “Baby Got Back” and occasionally feigning sodomy when the mood takes them only bolsters his air of authority. Women are clearly the coin of the realm here, and they guarantee us safe passage. But that isn't to suggest that this crowd is all frat boys and Hell's Angels on holiday; most boats have at least one female on board, and there are boatloads of women who are clearly here to party.
Docking on the other side of us is Temecula Ken, a part-time pornographer who has brought along a couple of his ingénues. These include Darian, who has giant iron crosses and the word Ari tattooed on her lower back, and Delilah, who embodies the word hard-bitten. She will be the first on the stripper poll.
Once we're securely in place, the other boats creep forward until they completely surround us, like those ghostly Hmong tribesmen who come out of the fog near the end of Apocalypse Now. The cove itself is maybe 70 yards across and completely surrounded by rock cliffs, so that there's no land on which to congregate, leaving all activity to take place in the water and across the surface of the 50 boats that will eventually be rafted together. The land is a Chemehuevi Indian reservation at any rate, which is what keeps the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department collected outside the double line of orange buoys that mark the official entrance lane to the cove. The sheriffs can technically intervene in the event of “lewd acts” or public nudity, but generally try to keep their distance.
George takes out an Instamatic and flashes some cheesecake photos, but it's more to get everyone in the mood than anything else. Brandy wears an “I Ran Your Man” T-shirt and busies herself passing out GM nipple stickers, the size of 50-cent pieces, to all the girls. Kristen occasionally works the pole, pulling the crotch of her bikini aside for Keith's camera so that her piercings and her braces catch the morning light in tandem, while Jessica and Rosanna commandeer the back of the boat for some sunbathing. Both have long, straight hair, and Rosanna also has braces and, through her lip, a silver hoop, which vaguely resembles a fishhook.
Keith Kooiman grabs some footage.
“Watch out for Rosanna,” says Keith. “The quiet ones are always the wildest.”
A local radio station broadcasts live from a rival houseboat across the lake, and as the on-air personalities work the crowd over loudspeakers, girls in bathing suits toss promotional bottles of fruit-flavored Snapple to those in the nearest boats. Some idiot in an Achilles cigarette boat has moored behind us with his 6-year-old kid in tow, while his buddy tries to get some video footage of the girls — “amateur” photography being the latest in get-rich-quick schemes among a certain mentality. The girls see the kid, cover themselves up and sort through the beads instead, providing an opportunity for a much-contemplated question.
So what is it with these beads, anyway?
Jessica looks suddenly sorry for anyone who might have to ask such a question. “It's how we keep score,” she states in a simple declarative sentence. “Rosanna and I compete to see who can get the most.”
Everyone seems to be waiting for something to happen, although they would be hard-pressed to say exactly what.
“It's not crazy time yet,” Brandy says.
“Y'ALL GONNA MAKE ME LOSE MY MIND”
WATCH ENOUGH GIRLS GONE WILDSTYLE TAPES, AND you get the impression that a sea change is under way. Nudity and expulsion from the garden is big in the Western canon, and each subsequent generation finds new ways to re-enact it. At Burning Man just as forthrightly as at Woodstock, public nudity is a testament to the new social contract — innocent, communal, creative, free of society's strictures and moral contradictions. This is something altogether different. Certainly places like New Orleans have always possessed a certain laxity as to — well, everything, clothing included. But with the widespread proliferation of these tapes — or instantaneous Internet access to pornography, or an African-American renaissance that substituted rap-era sexual flagrancy for rock-era blues-based mythic innuendo, or sexual infantilism in the movies, or pop-cult fetishism, or MTV authoritarianism, or whatever it is — something has shifted in the last few years. Sex is overground now, airborne and particulate. It's been mainstreamed — not assimilated or appropriated, as in advertising or fashion, but brought wholesale into the mix.
Girls Gone Wild is a symptom, certainly, but it's also an agent of this change. The presence of the camera crystallizes choices, leeches potential behaviors from beyond the guarded will, a phenomenon to which the 20th century has given ample testimony. The camera has brought with it a liberation that is also strangely comforting. At a place like Lake Havasu, there are now more video cameras on hand than at your average airport or casino. Whatever happens there will be infinitely documented, and given that, the possibility of rape or sexual violence is now suddenly diminished. Whatever errors in judgment may occur, whatever embarrassments enter the permanent record, they almost certainly won't be violent or fatal. ä And so, in the brief history of these tapes you can plot the change almost geometrically, as more and more people are drawn in by the hedonism, as once outré behavior becomes institutionalized, as what was once the province of strippers or showgirls or porn stars becomes a semi-legitimate means of self-expression.
Or at least that's the perception.
“A lot of these girls have great family lives,” observes George, albeit from a tradesman's bias. “They're brought up right; their parents have money. It's not trailer trash. I don't know what it is. I think they just love their bodies. Maybe because there's so much girl-girl now. A lot of these girls will not have anything to do [publicly] with a guy — just girl-girl.”
A recent Inside Edition segment dwelled on Girls Gone Wild's seemingly predatory use of unsuspecting subjects. It featured the plight of a Florida State University student who was filmed topless on Bourbon Street and later appeared on a GGW box cover, for which she successfully sued for a cash settlement. George, predictably, has little sympathy for those who appear naked in public and later claim they are being exploited. He insists that he's had only one complaint in 20 years of filmmaking — from a woman he filmed at Mardi Gras. “I'm not sure what she did to this day,” he says. “I think she was bent over a railing spreading her ass, and she was too embarrassed to tell me about it.” Her lawyer requested $5,000, George referred the matter to his own attorney, and that was the end of it.
“If they don't want to be in it, then I'll take them right out,” he states unequivocally. “If they want $200, I'll give them $200. If people don't want to be in it and I know it, I cut them out — they're absolutely not in the movie. Most companies won't do that, but I'll do it in a heartbeat. If it's already out there and someone calls, I'll tell her, 'It's already out there, but I'll take it out of the next one.' I'm not out to offend anyone.”
But what about those who are filmed unawares, or who are seized by the buoyancy of the moment and later regret it, or who don't mind being filmed but resent participating in a commercial venture — especially if they go unrewarded for it?
“Then why did they take their clothes off in a public area?” he asks. “I tell you what. You get yourself an attorney, and if you have enough money — because I have enough money — then we'll fight.”
“I LOVE IT WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER”
BACK AT COPPER CANYON, THINGS ARE HEATING UP — both literally and figuratively.
Here's how it happens:
Kristen and Jessica work the pole. The other girls fan out across the gathered boats — meeting girls, chatting up guys, posing for pictures. But it's all about the girls. The new girls. George's girls are there to seed the clouds. They are the Judas goats — trained to lead the other sheep to the slaughter, allowed a side exit at the penultimate second. “Will you show my boyfriend real quick?” Brandy will ask, pointing out the camera. “Let's do it together.” It's also vaguely cultlike, to the extent that everyone is made to feel welcome, like they're part of something. Or like coyotes, for that matter, who often send a female in estrus out to lure unwitting dogs back into their circle, where they are then attacked and eaten. Sometimes the new girls come back over to the boat — to flash, to join in the dancing, to put on a show. Sometimes the effect is just the opposite: Other girls, isolated around the cove, begin to resent the attention these girls are receiving and rise to the unspoken challenge. Anyone willing to toe the line incrementally farther back gets her moment in the sun. Topless becomes de rigueur, then someone goes bottomless. Bottomless loses its cachet, and someone uses a vibrator. Two girls trumps one. A blowjob trumps a solo act. And so on throughout the afternoon.
George's girls cede the attention when it's merited. Their agenda isn't to win the competition they're engendering; it's merely to up the stakes. They are cheerleaders as much as anything, and the dynamic is that of a pep rally. Big hugs every time someone does a crotch shot. Pretty soon other girls make their way over to use the stripper pole — exotic dancers, exhibitionists, spirited amateurs. The girls in the next boat over take turns fellating one of the guys with them, while another gets it all on tape. At one point, Brandy sprays Cheez Whiz on her nipples and has guys lick it off, but Keith, jealous, puts a decisive stop to that. The men in attendance are relatively uninvolved in all of this, superfluous really, except as members of the gallery, observers at the tennis match. You could follow the proceedings silently just by watching how their necks crane. George and Keith use them as a kind of windsock, instantly calibrating the subtle variations in direction, the invisible rises in heat or pressure, as half a dozen variables compete to find their own level. They both stay on top of the action — Keith darting in and out between people's legs, shooting low-action, diving into the fray, George tethered to the boat and its immediate surroundings.
Willie Jacobs guards the talent.
Eventually, a natural stage emerges on the roof of the houseboat. Kristen dances in a leopard-spotted cowboy hat, and soon Brandy and Rosanna join her. Three girls onstage for the first time gets the crowd's attention, and at least one enterprising reveler climbs up on the railing below so that, by lifting himself up with his arms, he has a ringside seat. A roar goes up from the crowd when Kristen unwraps a 10-inch strap-on dildo from a beach towel and begins to secure it to herself with various harnesses and leather straps. First she enters the white inflatable pig from behind, resolving at least one of the day's unanswered mysteries. Then Rosanna wriggles out of her bikini bottoms and lies down on the deck, allowing Kristen free access. Soon she's on all fours, and Kristen works her from behind — first vaginally, then anally. At the end of their little show, Kristen kneels in the face of the guy on the railing, proffering up this imposing flesh-colored strap-on as a spoil of war. The crowd begins to chant: “Suck it! Suck it! Suck it!” The guy takes a moment to decide, weighing his various lingering motivations (e.g., fear versus desire), the reptile brain overloaded with too many impulses working at cross-purposes. Finally he shakes his head. He can't do it. From the back, someone shouts, “Pussy.”
Then it dissipates again, and attention spins on around elsewhere, until the next thing. This is when George and his crew go to work. Word comes down that there's a porn girl in the crowd, Paige, who has her own Web site. Various runners are sent back and forth, then Paige pays a social call, accompanied by her boyfriend. She has purple hair, nipple rings and a huge butterfly tattooed on her lower back. Her boyfriend huddles with George for a second. It's agreed she'll do a scene. She poses with her ID to verify she's of legal age, as per Title 18, USC Section 2257, and then goes down on Brandy, at Keith's encouragement, within a natural pit formed by cheering girls, apostate cameramen from Temecula Ken's crew, and zealous oglers hanging from the riggings. The effect is roughly that of a cockfight on a pirate ship. Brandy moans and writhes believably, until about halfway through, when her moans lose their theatrical quality and border on high-pitched screams. It's clear to everyone when the scene is over.
“She is so good!” Brandy gushes to anyone who will listen. “You have got to try this.” George arranges a second scene, this time with Rosanna, and halfway through Rosanna leans over and bites Keith, who is close in to get the shot, on the shoulder.
“Ow! She fucking bit me!” Keith says.
Throughout all this, Paige's boyfriend loiters off-camera and tries to look casual. “It's okay, we're swingers,” he says, fingering the St. Christopher medal on a chain around his neck. Later, after Paige disappears somewhere, he can be seen forlornly holding her purple nylon bag, awaiting her return.
Meanwhile, on the houseboat, an altercation is brewing off the port bow. Five Latino gentlemen, drawn into the spirit of camaraderie, decide they'll climb up onto the boat. Mike and his friends, white guys from San Diego, beg to differ. Things get ugly quickly as they shout at each other across an invisible line drawn in the water.
“Yeah, bring your punk-ass up here — bitch!”
The threat of an all-out fight subsides after several tense minutes, but not without recriminations, and the incident continues to marinate in an unhealthy brew of shame and vengeance. Mix alcohol with nudity, and the mechanism for forward momentum is going to operate independently of the capacity for reasoning. That's why you have giant guys working at strip clubs, to enforce the one simple rule: Never, ever touch the girls. They keep the rule simple because they want you to remember it.
“Most people are very cordial about boarding other people's boats,” says George. “Then they get drunk and they forget. They don't mean to do anything bad, like trip and fall or spill beer everywhere. They're just having a lot of fun. And there's a lot of tolerance about that. It's just when you get people who force themselves onto your boat because they want to watch the action from a better vantage, and you ask them to leave and they don't, then somebody like Willie has to throw them off the boat . . . Our girls are pretty tough anyway. They're pretty wild out there, but don't mess with them. We've got some that like to be messed with, and sometimes we can't figure that out, so we just kind of back off. As long as they don't get in a situation where it gets real nasty, because we'll put some weight on whoever. Or the guys will. I won't anymore. I'm out.”
“Hey, you — big guy,” says one of the girls who administered the blowjob earlier. “Come over here.” The biggest of the Latino guys approaches her boat, glowering. They quietly exchange a few words, and then he climbs into her boat. Immediately, she pulls his trunks down and gets busy. His friends erupt in hoots and shouts, while he stands there smiling sheepishly. After the money shot, she slaps him on the ass and smiles, then goes back to her friends. Spotting the cameras whirring, he gives the tiniest of shrugs, almost apologetic, then puts his hands together in front of him as if in prayer, and dives into the water. And so another incident dissipates.
“Hey, George!” Keith calls from the front. “Check this out! I got the hottest shot ever. Two girls pissing. One stream went this way and one went that way.”
“EVEN WHITE BOYS GOT TO SHOUT,
BABY GOT BACK”
ON THE WAY BACK IN FROM THE LESS-PATROLLED waters of Copper Canyon, we take a victory lap through the Channel, a more dangerous place for girls gone wild. Unfortunately, Brandy forgets and flashes a woman — just for a second — in an effort to get her to flash back for the cameras. George barks at her to stop, but it's too late. We've been spotted. A bullhorn instructs us to pull the boat to shore. Two Lake Havasu policemen are waiting. Luckily, it's the Arizona side.
Brandy throws on a T-shirt and sandals and loses her Mardi Gras beads, then steps off the boat and into custody. They don't have handcuffs, no doubt due to the busy weekend, so they restrain her wrists with a shoelace. Keith is off the boat in a heartbeat, in the alpha cop's face — arguing, threatening, wheedling, cajoling. Brandy tries to keep up a gruff exterior, but it cracks within minutes and big tears well up. This is her first run-in with the law, and she's convinced her fate is sealed, that the attendant photos will haunt her for life.
“I've never done anything like this in my life,” she says between sobs. “Don't take my picture.”
Now, even the cop is trying to calm her down. “Listen, this isn't a major thing,” he tells her. “It's disorderly conduct is all. You'll be out in a couple of hours.”
This is slight consolation, and she is led away, sniffling, in shoelaces.
IS IT REAL OR IS IT MAMMAREX?
BRANDY IS HELD FOR ROUGHLY SIX HOURS BEFORE being brought before the judge in a group of 30 other girls. George stays out of it. He's learned from experience that his presence tends to make these situations worse, not better. She is charged with disturbing the peace, fined $300 — which Keith pays — and released. She says that they took away her jewelry and body piercings, that the male officers searched her while a female officer watched, that no one was allowed to change clothes, and that some girls were denied feminine-hygiene products and were bleeding through their bathing suits.
George is no stranger to the courthouses and police facilities of Lake Havasu City. He's been arrested at least once, for firing a paintball gun in the general direction of a former employee, now a competitor, out on the lake, for which he pleaded no contest to simple assault and avoided jail time. Once, seven or eight years ago, his bodyguard, Dennis, who looks like a biker, shut down a group of rampaging skinheads trying to board the boat by leveling a loaded .45 at them. And because they operate with extremely lightweight UX1000 and 2000 cameras, and shoot virtually everything they see, George's crews often end up with footage that the news crews, with their Beta-Cams, can't get, and that the police invariably want. When a man was murdered at the cove, George made his footage available to authorities, who had a description of the suspect. “Believe me, we don't miss anything. We don't miss the Tampax being pulled out and thrown into the crowd, as crude as it may sound — but that's real.”
George was surprised, then, several years back, when the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department charged him with filming a lewd act in public after receiving a complaint that someone was having sex behind a blow-up green dinosaur. “We were all going through our tapes saying, 'Where the hell is a blow-up green dinosaur?' They had their dates all mixed up. They had the year mixed up. They had no clue.” The court battle lasted four years, cost GM $80,000 — and the state of California an estimated $1,200,000. Eventually, when the prosecution failed to produce a videotape depicting the alleged offense, the case was thrown out without a jury ever being brought in. This was after it was pointed out that if the rocks are the same and the people are naked, any identification of a particular date and time will remain largely a matter of conjecture. (“Was it real or was it ä Mammarex?” George asks.) Unable to find an attorney willing to take his proposed $40 million countersuit on contingency, George reluctantly let the matter drop — turning down an opportunity to go on Nightline.
“SO LADIES (YEAH), I SAY LADIES (YEAH!)”
ENTERING COPPER CANYON AGAIN THE NEXT MORNing, our boat runs over a buoy. Police cruisers descend on us and momentarily take George off the boat, while Willie dives underneath and frees the prop. For once, George's notoriety comes to his aid: The cops all know him by name. The girls know the drill and flirt with the officers on the second boat. “What's your phone number?” Jessica calls out. “911,” one of them shouts back. “You can strip-search me anytime,” she yells as he's leaving.
Things on the boat gear up more effortlessly today. At one point, a naked woman shows up, open to suggestion. Before long, a crowd of guys has talked her inside the cabin of the houseboat and has her spread-eagled on the couch. Four or five of them have their fingers inside her. She can't stop laughing, but she seems coherent and willing. Soon, Mike is offered up from the crowd with a condom already in place, and it seems as if actual sex will occur — something that has been noticeably absent from the proceedings — but negotiations break down when she doesn't want to go any further.
“She doesn't want to fuck you, bro,” someone says, and the crowd disperses. Then, from an opposite entrance, an enterprising chap appears wearing a motorcycle helmet affixed with a giant rubber dildo. “That is gonna get put to use, I guarantee,” somebody else says. The synchronicity of the moment overtakes the crowd. A cheer goes up as the naked woman is brought back into the houseboat. This time she relents, and the man in the helmet kneels before her, putting the dildo first in her mouth, to lubricate it, and then into her vagina, as guys on either side of her hold her feet. People are crammed up against the windows of the houseboat now, and the roof starts to creak from the additional weight of those hanging over the edge. She continues to laugh.
Two girls stop by on their way to the roof to join the reinvigorated party there.
“What's going on?” one of them asks.
“You'd better see for yourself,” one guy tells her, and the crowd parts momentarily in case she envisions a role for herself in the proceedings. “That is some fucked-up shit,” she says and continues on to join the dancing girls on the roof.
Steve, a tall, well-chiseled carpenter on L.A.'s Paramount lot who sometimes works security for George, has been coming here since '91. “That's nothing,” he says. “Last year, we hooked a dildo up to a Makita screw gun [a hand-held power drill]. We had girls spread wide open . . . It's an adult playground gone wild. I've seen a cucumber up the ass, a Jack Daniel's bottle up the ass. She pulled it out, took a swig, put the top back on and crammed it back in. Dude, that's pretty wild.”
This is Eyes Wide Shut meets Animal House.
“We have gone to the edge a little bit,” George admits. “Absolutely we have. And sometimes you wonder, 'Why do you do that?' I'll tell you why. Because when that snowball starts rolling down the hill and starts picking up momentum, and your competitors are biting at your heels, you've got to come up with something else. So you've got to keep a real good frame on things. You really do. Especially at the river.”
Back outside, a steady stream of guys have been trying to force their way onto the boat, and Willie has had to get physical.
“Get some of these people off the boat,” George, suddenly upset, calls down. Keith makes a beeline for the stern, where a couple of young guys are taking it easy, and tells them to get off the boat.
“Fuck you, man, we're with the girls,” one of them says.
Without a pause, Keith punches one of them in the face, pushes him off the back of the boat, and dropkicks the other one in the side of the head. Whoomp — there it is. The second guy crumples and rolls over the side, and his friends have to haul him onto a nearby boat, where he's visibly dazed.
Unfortunately, this happened to be Kristen's boyfriend in civilian life, as well as a friend of Brandy's, and all hell breaks loose. The girls are now divided down the middle. “I am so embarrassed,” Kristen says as she and Natalie gather their things to leave. They beseech Brandy to come with them. Brandy is torn, but finally leaves with her friends. Keith goes back inside the houseboat to cool off. “I feel bad now,” Keith says. “Did you see me nail that guy?”
To pick up the slack, Delilah works the stripper pole, coating her hands with her own natural lubricants as a resin. Hanging upside-down, she bites the cap off a bottle of beer and pours it down her chest. She has an actual Hell's Angel in tow, a huge guy with his colors tattooed on his arm, and she gets him past Willie and onto the boat, where he sits at the base of the flagpole like any five Marines guarding the high ground. Her friend Darian comes aboard as well, providing the opportunity to solve another of the day's nagging questions.
What does that tattoo mean — the iron crosses and the word Ari?
“It's not racist,” she says, apologetically. “It's my oldest daughter's name.”
Delilah has a Mad Hatter's top hat on now and is displacing a fifth of gin into a bottle of Orange Snapple. Mike wanders out onto the boat and makes a gesture for a woman dancing on the roof to flash her breasts. She looks down at his shorts. Him first. However, this is one trick Mike never tires of, and he lowers his shorts to his knees, revealing himself in his full glory. She rolls her eyes and lowers her own bottoms, completing the transaction. Delilah gets back on the pole, but almost immediately becomes incensed at someone above who has doused her with water, making it harder to perform her routine. Words are exchanged, and she tries to get her biker friend to send a message, but there's about a 12-foot drop from the roof of the houseboat. Unfortunately, Delilah is not the type to let these things go, and she scales the railing until she's in some guy's face and backs him down to her satisfaction.
“I don't get called trash by no one,” she says.
Later, on the way back across the lake, we see Delilah on the deck of a police cruiser in handcuffs. “You know,” confides Willie, “she reminds me a lot of my ex-girlfriend.”
GIRLS GET PAID
WHEN ASKED, THE GIRLS INSIST THEY DO THIS FOR fun. They deny that it's for attention, or — citing a lack of sexual gratification in the act — that they are exhibitionists, and claim they have internal limits on what they will and will not do, and that things that might be appropriate on the lake would not be elsewhere.
Cleo, who for the most part avoided taking her clothes off the whole weekend, claims her limit is flashing her breasts. Except that just before we left the cove on the last day, Cleo met someone named Scooter with a double tongue stud and a massive member, and, at Keith's urging, she fondled it on camera.
“Oh, I did,” she says. “I forgot about that. I was a bad girl. That's when I got too drunk; I shouldn't have done that. Plus he was really hot. But guys don't want to see girls grab another guy's dick.”
She seems somewhat distressed to learn that, well, no, in fact, that's not entirely accurate.
“If my face isn't on it, I don't care,” she decides.
Rosanna is less inhibited on camera and admits to occasionally being with women in real life, but still draws the line at onscreen sex with men. “I don't know if you saw what I was doing yesterday with the other girls, with the strap-on,” she says, “but I think that's way different than actually doing it with a guy on camera. It wasn't for love — it was for fun.”
But the girls do get paid. “I'll pay you for the model releases, and I'll pay you for the scene,” George says. “Anywhere from a hundred to 500 bucks.” This is confirmed by Rosanna, who has made as much as $300 per day.
“I don't think I'm getting paid,” Cleo says.
“Well,” Rosanna explains, “I get paid because I do a lot.”
“I grabbed that guy's dick,” protests Cleo.
“Whoever George brings up here, he's going to expect a little something, you know what I mean?” Rosanna says. “In other words, you can't go on the boat and act like you just want to enjoy the ride.”
Neither girl has ever danced professionally, but Rosanna at least entertains the possibility of one day doing adult films. “If I was going to be a porn star,” she says, “I would have to be older, late 20s or early 30s. I'd rather do stuff like this for now.” She currently works as a high school driving instructor. Cleo is a telephone operator.
The other revelation they volunteer — as if it weren't evident from hanging out with them for three days — is that whatever happens at the river, they're not really all that wild.
“I met guys all night long,” Cleo says. “Hot guys, like kissing guys and having fun. But all the guys I met out here, they're going to think I'm a hootchie.”
“The guy on the river? That guy's a slut. He would expect to have sex with me — that's why I wasn't going to tell him where I was. I mean, last night, none of us got with anybody. And I think tonight none of us will probably be with anybody. [Rosanna] kissed that guy, but if she wants him to like her, she's not going to do anything with him, you know?”
Also getting paid are the handful of male porn stars GM has brought with them on occasion to the river: Kid Vegas, Johnny Toxic, Bruno — all those names that showed up in the opening scene with the girl in the boat on the river.
“That's Bruno's girlfriend,” says George, amazed that anyone could have found that scenario even remotely disturbing. “It's all model-released. That was a scene — that's separate from all the public stuff. Those were my cameramen.”
George seems to realize the disparity between the subterfuge of staged action and the consumer need for plausibility, the line between pro and amateur, realism and reality, the paradox of the Penthouse Forum. Reality TV is often seen as the abdication of dramatic ideals by a public that's willing to settle for anything in their entertainment. But it's actually the flip side of deserved successes like The Sopranos or The West Wing. Because reality TV is a reinvigoration of the element of show business that traditional television has systematically extinguished: spontaneity. Of course, television being what it is, its powers that be can't leave well enough alone, and so they are once again in the process of controlling it out of existence, just as they did to quiz shows, comedy-variety and live drama the first time around.
But the porn industry endured this crucible a decade earlier. The solution, in that case, was amateur porn, where volunteers replaced the professionals. “Amateur, as a rule, has no production values, but it's really hot because people are really into it,” explains an online porn columnist. “[GM] falls into what we call specialty. Specialty is not hardcore — it involves nudity but not actual sex.” Of course, those distinctions become a bit blurred on the field of battle. But GM's niche is that it was the first to bring amateur or specialty out into the world, to give it a documentary framework. And so, despite the handful of hardcore titles in his catalog (e.g., The Doctor's Exam), George still bristles at the term “pornographer.”
George Martin salutes his audience.
“I don't consider myself a pornographer,” he says. “You've got to remember, I film mostly amateur. If I did too much pro, my customers would go, 'What the fuck are you doing? We don't need anymore of that pro stuff. We want what you do, George.' They'd rather see a girl going around in a boat in front of the Sundance Saloon five times, and she hasn't taken her top off yet, and everybody's begging, on their knees, 'Come on! Please!' And finally she gives a little flash and everybody goes, 'Oh, thank God.' That's worth its weight in gold right there.”
Back at the hotel, we come upon Delilah, still in her bathing suit, sitting on the steps and regaling several guys with her story. “Dude, did you see me?” she asks. “I totally dogged the cops. I was swimming boat to boat, trying to get away from them. One of them finally caught me up here on the bridge. He ran a check on me, but I'd memorized my girlfriend's Social Security number, so the name came up clean. The cop told me he'd never had a chick outrun him like that. I've got a $50,000 bond in California. I'm not even supposed to be out of state.”
Delilah borrows a towel to wrap around her waist and heads back out into the night. “George, I'd love to work with you, man. You just say the word. Oh, and Keith” — and this is her exit line — “Sweet kick to the melon, dude.”
“Yeah, you saw that, huh?” Keith says.
“We'll take her with us to Sturges,” says George, after she's gone. “Let her bring her own friends. The bikers will love her.”
* * *
“Where are your clothes, young lady?” Keith asks a woman in a black bikini who seems to be having trouble walking straight. It's nighttime and we're coming back from the bar.
“I'm going up to get them right now,” she says.
“Have you been out on the lake all day?” George asks, making conversation.
“Yeah. I saw the most disgusting things today — a woman having her pussy licked out by five guys, and sucking three guys' dicks. She had issues.”
“Where was this?” Keith asks.
“On the Sandbar.”
“I thought the Sandbar was closed,” Keith says.
“No, the Little Sandbar,” she says. “It's farther up.”
George and Keith stare at each other for a second. Girls gone wild, and they missed it?
“It's okay, George,” Keith finally says. “We got some good stuff.”
But George looks faraway, already planning his next move. Load Warriors never sleep.