(This review originally appeared at ReelFilmNews.com on May 3, 2013.)
It goes one of two ways when looking at performers in the adult entertainment industry in America. On one hand, you’ve got the people who watch pornography or look the other way, allowing it to be just another facet of life; on the other, you have the people who revile the industry and all who work inside it. Regardless of your viewpoint, when you consider it carefully, these people are only doing a job. When you’re getting paid to do something, be it working at a desk, shoving a puck around on a sheet of ice with a hockey stick, handing drive-through bags of food out of a restaurant window, or legally having sex on camera, it’s just work. And nobody knows it like the women in Aroused, a new documentary which aims to shed a little candid light on women in today’s adult film industry.
Esteemed photographer (and Aroused‘s director) Deborah Anderson tackles this subject with an open mind and heart, as she sets up a photo shoot with women currently working in porno. It’s a relatively tame photo shoot in comparison with what these women may be filming later that day or in days to come – Anderson wants to focus on the woman and her sensuality, not her sexuality (the difference of which is discussed at length during this documentary). And in trying to get that sensuality, she starts dialogues with each woman, trying to get under their skin and into their souls. It’s a very personal, very intimate approach she uses, and what winds up on camera gets to be very revealing and very real, sometimes to the point of tears. Some of what each woman says feels a little canned at first, but as the layers get peeled back, the guards come down and we finally get unfettered glimpses into each woman’s psyche and history. A fictional television spaceship captain (Malcolm Reynolds from “Firefly”) once said, “I’ve seen you without your clothes on before. Never thought I’d see you naked.” And we get to see these women very naked in that figurative sense. SPOILER ALERT: for those of you who think these women are damaged, you’re going to be surprised to find out that they’re a lot like us.
There are no “failed actress” stories to be found here; all the women knew what they were doing when they signed up for this line of work. Stories of drug use and failed family relationships are told, but so are stories of loving families and religious leanings (which came as a little bit of a shock to me). There’s no myths or truths to be dispelled or disproven; each woman’s story is different, from the youngest (23-year-old Ash Hollywood) to the self-appointed “old girl” in the movie (36-year-old Francesca Le). There are humorous and not-so-humorous stories about various jobs or events in their backgrounds which made them who they are today, and the time Anderson spends with each woman is well-spent, capturing them at their least glamorous and at their most vulnerable. At the very beginning, actress Misty Stone is very surprised at Anderson, saying that Anderson valuing her as a woman and a person makes her feel great, in contrast with the way she is often treated on film sets.
Aroused seems to be split between the makeup chair interviews and the actual photo shoot. In both milieus, we see the parts of them that the world never sees in their 20 minute scenes in their films – the joys, the pain, the ambition, and other very personal aspects of their lives are laid bare. I’m reminded of the scene in 1997’s L.A. Confidential where Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), a high-priced call girl, takes Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe) into her own private bedroom, away from the glamor and glitz of her profession, allowing White that private access into her life. In essence, this is exactly what Anderson does with her film. When the makeup, cameras, and lights are turned off, who are these women? Aroused answers those questions and beyond with this look at the women in the adult industry, not just the performer.
FINAL GRADE: A-
Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa