FILMMAKER FLASHBACK: SUMMER, 1993
Leading up to our 18th birthday, I’ll be revisiting on the blog one issue of Filmmaker a day. Today’s is Summer, 1993.
Summer, 1993 is another issue whose content didn’t make it over to WordPress. Our cover story was Alison Maclean’s Crush. Sande Zeig interviewed Sally Potter about her Orlando, which was just reissued by Sony Pictures Classics. John Woo, John Greyson, and Ross McElwee were all in the book along with an article tracking the development status of several beloved cult novels’ film adaptations. We also ran a great how-to by Strand Releasing’s Marcus Hu on guerilla marketing your no-budget film. Our director interview was between Ang Lee, whose The Wedding Banquet had taken Berlin by storm, and Tony Chan, whose Combination Platter won the Screenwriting Prize at Sundance. Lee’s career is well known, but after looking at this table of contents I wondered what happened to Chan. Well, Chan writes on this artist page:
I studied film at School of Visual Arts, New York. After graduation, I wrote, produced and directed my first feature film, Combination Platter. The film was awarded the Best Screenwriting Award at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival.
I moved back to Hong Kong when I was hired by Warner Brothers to development some film projects. In ’06, I was hired as one of the screenwriter for Alexi Tan’s Blood Brothers which was selected as the closing film for the 2007 Venice Film Festival.
This year Chan completed his second feature, Hot Summer Days, which features a cameo by Maggie Cheung and was released in Hong Kong in February.
We also featured in this issue “Confessions of the Porn Auteurs,” a look at two filmmakers redefining aspects of the pornography industry. Wrote Holly Willis in her intro:
There have been tremendous fluctuations in the industry over the last two decades. The ’70s were arguably the height of porn production, with the films being shot on 35mm with large budgets, lavish sets, and “stars” from a budding star system. The legitimacy of porn rose in accordance, with couples lining up together to see films like Deep Throat. The advent of video technology and a swing towards more conservative morals returned viewers to the privacy of their living rooms, and the escalating budgets quickly dropped.
The decrease in costs however broadened the accessibility of the genre, resulting in the proliferation of material from a variety of sexual orientations. Gay porn grew, and lesbian porn was inaugurated. At this point, there is porn available for a large variety of tastes. The largest growing kind of porn is amateur porn, which is porn made by home-video-makers and passed around through various non-professional networks. The charm of this work is its “realness” and indeed, the quality most frequently valorized in porn is realism.
The filmmakers profiled were Candida Royalle and John Stagliano. Stagliano has been in the news lately. Just two weeks ago a federal pornography case against him was dismissed by a judge who cited the government’s shoddy prosecution. But in 1993, Stagliano with his “Buttman” character was at the forefront of a style that we now recognize as being that of reality television. From the interview:
Filmmaker: You invented the Buttman character?
Stagliano: Yeah. A salesman for a video company described this scene to me that looks like it’s for an amateur movie, but then the camera becomes an entity in the movie. At around the same time, I was thinking about doing a buns fetish movie – I wanted to emphasize cheeks and butts, which is what turns me on, and which people would rarely use their best camera angles on. And I also wanted to incorporate this technique I’d seen in European porno still picture lay-outs where the girls look right into the camera, seductively, and I put these elements together. The camera was also important. In 1987 I had done a movie with a camcorder, and cutting the camera loose lets me go in and very quickly get the best shots in the scene. I don’t care about shooting a scene “by the numbers.” The mobility of the camcorder allowed me to do what was really the first Buttman character where I’m talking to the actresses from behind the camera, but it took me two years to figure out just how effective the format could be. In porn, the best stuff happens when you get spontaneous and real things happening, and that’s why I’m successful. I show spontaneous real sex and people want to see real sex. They don’t want to see these stupid, staged things where people can’t act.
Filmmaker: And camerawork is important to you?
Stagliano: Yes, but not exclusively. Camerawork on a porno set is very difficult. You’re shooting a lot of stuff in a hurry. It’s like shooting a live performance that you know has to be edited. So I shoot a lot, and then put a lot of time and effort into the editing. Just because something’s in an amateur format doesn’t mean you can’t make it good, and if you try ten times harder than the other guy, it’s going to be ten times better. Porn has its own problems, too. For example, shooting actors is difficult. The guy’s only going to be hard for so long – it can be up and down – and finding a guy that can stay hard in front of the camera is a big problem. So you really have to be a good editor to be a good cameraman in this business.
There’s also this exchange from the end of the interview which demonstrates the durable allure of the indie film dream.
Stagliano: My goal was always to make a low-budget feature, under $1 million, that could get a theatrical release in America.
Filmmaker: What kind of film would this be? Would it be related to your adult film work?
Stagliano: It would have sexual ideas in it. It would have dance. It would have autobiographical elements that relate to my experiences in adult film. Spike Lee’s first movie, She’s Gotta Have It, was interesting to me. What John Sayles has done is interesting. I don’t view those movies as being any different from what I want to do, and shots from my movies are just as good. . . At the end of his wife’s documentary on Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola talks about how filmmaking is art, not related to budget at all, and how some girl in Ohio, with a little camera, is going to make the next great thing. I like that idea. Coppola’s been there. He knows. It’s the ideas behind things, and it’s the same thing in porno. Some people just see the surface. They think a sex scene is just a commodity, but to stimulate the mind with a little tweak, an artistic edge, that can make a low-budget movie art.