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AS THE YOUNG WOMAN in the movie gulped down her second helping of excrement, one had to wonder how a film critic would begin a review of this video, whose shit-eating subject, Mako, is also slapped, finger-gagged to vomit, raped and forced to drink her own urine — all for real. Would it be, “The camera loves Mako, make no mistake …”?

(Click to enlarge)

Mako’s First Time Scat was an exhibit in the federal obscenity trial of self-described “shock artist” Ira Isaacs, a local porn auteur accused of distributing this and another “scat” movie of his own creation called Hollywood Scat Amateurs #7, along with a Dutch bestiality film, Gang Bang Horse. (See https://blogs.laweekly.com/ladaily/trials/ for daily trial details.)

Isaacs, 57, cuts both a soulful and cunning figure — part Times Square barker, part outsider artist. He wears black sports coats and open-collar shirts, baggy trousers, white socks and loafers. His very black hair is swept back and tied with a band, and a smidgen of a goatee clings to his chin.

A South Bronx high school dropout, Isaacs came West in 1978 and, after knocking about for eight years (he briefly worked in L.A. Weekly’s ad department), formed a business designing artwork for fliers and coupons for dry cleaners, pizzerias and dentists. In 2001, he formed L.A. Media and Stolen Car Films, which specialized in producing and distributing scat fetish movies in which young women smear themselves in excrement and eat it. He claims there is no actual sex involved.

“I don’t have that much talent to compete with great artists,”* Isaacs says in his New York accent. “I chose shit to get to the fucking edge.”

Saying he went over that edge, the FBI raided Isaacs’ Koreatown offices in January 2007. “The FBI guys were really nice,” Isaacs says. “[One] asked me, ‘How do you get girls to eat shit?’ I never had a problem getting real pretty girls for $500 or $600 — they were attracted because there’s no sex involved and such a little audience for these films that no one’s going to recognize them.”

That July, Isaacs was indicted on six counts of importing and distributing obscene materials — counts eventually reduced to four. Isaacs didn’t contest the charges — only the government’s claim of obscenity. He says he was offered a plea deal of four months in prison and four months of home confinement, but decided to stand up for artistic expression. Isaacs’ eagerly anticipated day in court had barely begun, however, when a much bigger spectacle overshadowed it.

DURING THE FIRST MORNING of testimony, on Wednesday, June 11, an online L.A. Times story by Scott Glover revealed that the presiding judge, Alex Kozinski, had a personal Web site loaded with sexually explicit images and copyrighted MP3 music files. Kozinski, a Reagan appointee, is chief justice of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a widely respected jurist known for his libertarian tilt toward free speech. A Romanian native who speaks with a charming Old World accent, he’s also a maverick given to rhetorical flourishes.

Kozinski told Glover he mistakenly thought that his site’s X-rated material, which Kozinski said was shared only with friends, was password-protected and inaccessible to the public. He downplayed the material as a humorous collection of salacious and vulgar odds and ends. And in fact, the explicit images tend toward spoofs and bad humor. The news, nevertheless, exploded into a national story. Kozinski suspended the trial for 48 hours, and on Friday faxed a 50-word announcement recusing himself and declaring a mistrial.

Two views of Kozinski quickly emerged. The first was that of a reckless pornbroker, a judge with a troublesome lack of trial experience whose vanity led him to this professional precipice (he once nominated himself in an online “Judicial Hottie Contest,” and his site posted a link — www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdjCdbGucCU — to his appearance on a long-ago episode of The Dating Game).

But others argue that Kozinski’s online album was aimed at jokes, was not obscene and was only occasionally pornographic. His supporters say he was the victim of disgruntled attorney Cyrus Sanai, who was not connected with the case but was bent on trashing Kozinski because of the judge’s published remarks on a divorce case involving Sanai’s parents. Just before the Isaacs trial, Sanai leaked to the Times’Glover a CD filled with images from the judge’s site. (Sanai told L.A. Weekly he’d been “shopping” the story since January to The Wall Street Journal, two legal newspapers — the Daily Journal and The Recorder — and the L.A. Times’ Henry Weinstein, who is no longer with that paper. Nobody bit — until the Times saw the CD the day before the jury was sworn in.)

“My views on pornography,” said Sanai, “are probably not very different from his. The difference is that I don’t put pictures of it on a Web site called CyrusSanai.com.”

Nevertheless, Sanai successfully tainted Kozinski using the country’s snickering preoccupation with sex, and the media’s urge to blow up any story with a whiff of it. Now, a federal judge will decide how to proceed, at a hearing on June 30.

EVERY GENERATION OF FILM censors has looked at the shattering of an old taboo as though that taboo were the face of Medusa — a monster so hideous that its appearance would spell the end of civilization. Four-letter words, partial nudity, full nudity, penetration, homosexuality — each of these escalating provocations on movie screens was met with outrage and police raids before eventually becoming more or less acceptable. Antiporn groups see prosecutions of such tiny, niche porno creators by the federal Anti-Obscenity Task Force as a waste, however, when other obscenity, such as child porn, is more widespread.

As narrative themes, scatology and coprophagy (the eating of feces) have always occupied a far, dimly lit corner in art. Jonathan Swift’s long-suppressed 1732 poem, “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” is a gross-out inventory of a goddesslike woman’s chamber, from soiled undergarments to the contents of her commode. (“And up exhales a greasy Stench/For which you curse the careless Wench.”) In the 1970s, movie audiences watched Divine downing some canine doo-doo at the end of Pink Flamingos, and saw Italian boys fed human shit by Mussolini loyalists in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. More recently, in online footage called Two Girls, One Cup, a pair of Brazilian gals ate shit and vomit while also upchucking into each other’s mouths.

Don’t look for creators of this stuff to win support from the mainstream adult-entertainment industry.

“We at Vivid applaud his prosecution,” said Vivid Entertainment’s Paul Thomas of Isaacs. Thomas, a veteran film director for Vivid whose porn acting credits stretch back to the 1970s, added, “Freedom of speech carries with it responsibility. It was never intended for there to be videos of people shitting in each other’s faces.”

Nor does Isaacs’ lawyer, Roger Diamond, make any excuse for it.

“It’s disgusting,” Diamond said before the trial. “It’s the worst of the worst. It’s not erotic material.”

BEFORE THE JURORS VIEWED Mako’s First Time Scat last Wednesday, they had squirmed through a two-hour saddle-masochism epic from the Netherlands called Gang Bang Horse, in which a young woman in the countryside dismounts her stallion at a paddock, slowly strips off her riding clothes and proceeds to fellate two horses before having intercourse with them. As with Mako’s First Time Scat, a moviegoer’s thoughts wandered: Did the actress have her bright-red nails done especially for the film? Why the pearl necklace? And what was with that Brazilian zombie-movie electronic score?

Judge Kozinski had moved the jury from the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles to a more comfortable auditorium in the 9th Circuit’s appellate palace in Pasadena. The court recessed before jurors saw Isaacs’ Hollywood Scat Amateurs #7. They would never return. Soon after, Kozinski invited a judicial inquiry into his conduct regarding his Web site — one that could, among other things, look into the age of a naked young man seen fellating himself at a computer terminal.

Before the trial began, Isaacs had wondered aloud what the next frontier of shock would be after scat. For now, though, wallowing in shit is the gold standard of shock art. In this sense, scat has now smeared a once-respected judge’s reputation — an almost self-fulfilling example of life imitating art.

* Editor's Note:  An earlier version of this story inadvertently left the word great out of the following paragraph: “I don’t have that much talent to compete with great artists,” Isaacs says in his New York accent. “I chose shit to get to the fucking edge.”

LA Weekly