The Beauty Standard
Last week, I shot the last two scenes of what is, in total, a four scene release titled Sun-Lit for TRENCHCOATx. As inferred, the visual theme that ties the scenes together is natural light. And by that I don’t simply mean daylight, which is what I think of as a colorless absence of darkness during the daytime. I mean sunlight. I mean the intense golds and yellows and filtered strands that stream through windows when the sun moves and through tree leaves in the park. I mean the beams that we need in order to see dust float through.
The attraction to sunlight for me as a unifying thread is squarely rooted in the unconstrained feel of spending hours wasting away an afternoon between the sheets. For a good portion of us that territory lies in the weekend. People know what I mean when I say sex that feels like Saturday. But even more wonderful, for me, are those afternoons stolen from the weekday. They are Tuesdays in a hotel somewhere else while we wait for the intimacy of the knock that brings room service. They are Wednesdays when we’ve ditched school. They are the first Thursdays of summer. I associate these stretches of daylight not with the more extreme sports I might engage in after midnight, but rather with the rolling haze and warmth that comes from so much closeness of skin and of breath in the space of two sheets. I associate these times with wrinkled sheets.
What I tried to capture with these four scenes were four of the scenarios I remember most vividly as having taken place specifically in the afternoon. With Valentina and Jay I tried to box four straight lines around that sort of preciousness that new couples endlessly appreciate—unallocated time. They have nowhere to be. There are no phones in sight. The fans are pushing around the summer air. Valentina wears a cotton tee and cotton panties. Looking through the window, she says, The neighbors can see in.
Jay smiles mischievously. Let’s give them a show. What follows is comfortable and close. This is the sort of relationship that knows that on these sorts of days the question is not if you will have sex, but when. Most often the answer is constantly.
In the next scene I went for that feeling’s opposite. If Jay and Valentina’s afternoon was a slow and simple luxury, Manuel and Eva’s was one of urgency. I’m in love with the way we shot the intro to this scene, first for the quality of the footage, and secondly for the stark contrast it created once we caught up to Eva and Manuel in real time. We realize we’ve been watching her memories of a couple that used to be. Make up sex feels like fresh air once you’ve breathed for too long against a plastic bag.
Next we see a couple more established in their relationship. We sense they’ve been together for a while, and when Ana mentions a girl she saw in passing that day to Sean, he picks up on the nuance of the conversation. You see girls on the street every day. Why do you mention this one? As he presses Ana for more details about the girl, they whittle her away from whatever reality she occupies and turn her into a fantasy they might fancy living out. Their first time experimenting with a threesome in a spontaneous bit of role-playing leaves the audience believing that soon they’ll begin experimenting too in real life.
Finally, there is the sex you have in the afternoon because you shouldn’t be having it. Here again we find Manuel, and understand where he went when he left earlier in the movie. Karlee is in a place in her own life that is also in upheaval, and the two of them come together out of a mutual tailspin more than a mutual attraction. The sex is riddled with the raw edges that each is smarting from. When it is over, Karlee stands to leave. Having found release from that pent up tension she has new clarity. She draws back into herself as she looks at Manuel. She makes him leave too.
As a whole, I think this movie is the most compelling one I’ve made. While I remain steadfastly proud of the stories told in Misha Cross: Wide Open, Carter Cruise: Wide Open, and The One I Lust, those movies were all star showcases, which means all four scenes of a given movie feature the same performer performing different scenes. The limitations of a star showcase are that they mostly appeal to existing fans of the star in question, and hopefully pick up a few new fans for the performer along the way. In Sun-Lit I was able to bring in a diversity of beauty standards. And maybe that’s the thing I sat down to really talk about. See, we’ve shot Valentina Nappi on repeat. She is perhaps one of my favorite performers of all time. Manuel accuses me of having a crush on her. But whatever crush I might have is not a schoolgirl crush, per se. I just constantly find myself tripping over her movement on camera. I like the way her face looks on screen. I like the thickness of her accent. Her body to me is deeply female in a way that is timeless and not the effect of culture right now. Her body is was deeply female in renaissance paintings, in Victorian fashion, and in the writing of Henry Miller and of Bukowski. Hers is not a figure that goes in and out of style. Porn sits like a time capsule in the sense that its most popular performers of a given time often have a very similar style of body and look to them. I’ve seen it change in the time I’ve been in the industry. When I came in, for example, I was in style—blonde hair and fake tits. Today, the brunette with the natural chest and the notable ass is in style. Not that other looks and body types are not attractive in their own right as well as to fans who prefer other looks, but there is always a dominant trend. Valentina has that sort of innate womanly mystique that is timeless.
Then of course there is Eva Lovia, whose fans practically hyperventilate every time she releases new content. She’s hot right now as well as hot in the sense that she probably has a lot of free drinks sent her way if she walks into a bar. Despite the fact that we never overlapped as contract girls at Digital Playground, I always feel a sense of camaraderie with past and present contract girls. They’ve experienced a side of the business that I’ve experienced, and for that reason alone I feel like I can relate to them. And there’s Karlee, with her big bounding smile and that impossible chest. She could be the girl next door if you chose your house right.
Finally, I booked Ana and Elsa together. I chose them based on a photo pulled from Madonna’s book, Sex. Frozen references aside, Ana and Elsa are a perfect match. Both women have petite upturned noses, large eyes, a small handful of breast, and a chiseled ass atop long legs. I could imagine them perfectly replacing the two women in the photo, both made up with big hair and just enough clothing to have something to strip from. Elsa would be in the middle, sandwiched between Ana and Ana’s onscreen partner, Sean. The visual contrast is beautiful, with Elsa’s chin tipped back into Ana’s kiss, Sean’s hand on her thigh, their yin and yang pattern flashing black and white and black again.
I’ve always brought the argument up in my close circle of friends that part of the reason women are never quite satisfied with the way that they look is that there is more than one look to achieve. For years I fought my weight—and unhealthily in many cases—because I didn’t like the thickness of my thighs and thought my ass looked too big when I stood. Then one day I woke up and saw on the scale a weight so low I’d never seen the number staring back at me in my adult life. The feeling was nothing shy of elation. A week later I grew self conscious again of my shape in the mirror. My breasts were now too big on my frame and my ass looked flat. In another stint I worked out in the boxing gym harder than I’d ever worked in my life and reveled in the shape of the muscle tone in my legs only to quit all exercise cold turkey the morning I stood naked under top down light in a bathroom that had enough mirrors that I could see the muscles bulging in my back. Still other times I’ve thought I was too soft along my hips only to miss the way the curves felt once they were gone. The truth is that it is too easy for one’s bodily ideals to just move a little ahead of whatever place we occupy at the time.
I picked these women because I love their bodies, each as different from the next one as they are. I hope they see in themselves what I see, and what undoubtedly their fans are seeing. There has never been a single standard for beauty. Beauty lies in context. That is how flaws so easily become a distinguishing beauty mark. They add the grit that makes it compelling. So maybe I should say that these five women, rather than being the most visually beautiful to me, are the most visually compelling. The same way their different vignettes each approach the feeling of sex in the afternoon from a different angle, each woman in this movie possesses a different look that comes together in a way that when I look at them, I can’t look away. Here’s to grit in the sunlight.