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Review: ‘Aroused’ A Desperate Attempt To Be Revealing About An Already-Revealing Industry

Review: 'Aroused' A Desperate Attempt To Be Revealing About An Already-Revealing Industry

There’s a probing, but flattering
documentary yet to be made about the secret lives of porn stars. Unfortunately, “Aroused,”
the directorial debut of photographer Deborah Anderson, is not it. This mostly
black-and-white documentary boasts what pretends to be an uncensored look at
the inner lives of porn stars, ostensibly a side project along to Anderson’s
evocative primary skill. She brands them “some of the most successful women in
the business of sex,” but the sixteen performers selected for showcase seem to
be secondary to Anderson’s elaborate set-up.

What follows is mostly a
free-form discussion with what is quickly becoming the narrow world of “mainstream”
heterosexual pornography. The focus is on “contract girls,” those who have been
selected to be the face of a certain company. Predictably, most are white,
though the greatest insights into their childhood come from French-speaking
Asian performer Katsuni, but her early revelation of a mostly-normal upbringing
sets the tone for the banality of the modern sex worker. Anderson’s emphasis is
that there’s no consistency between the origins of a porn performer (another
performer, Francesca Le, is fairly candid about her broken home and drug issues),
but this domestic banality is a point that only seems repetitive, as if a bit
of pop psychology is meant to get us closer to these women.

Another performer, lone black
participant Misty Stone, seems properly defensive at first. She eventually
opens up warmly, but aggressively, putting Anderson on notice. Stone, like the
other performers in this doc, are conscious of being exploited, of just being
cheesecake for another fetishized look into the industry. Given the quick
cuts between each interview, one could argue Anderson is doing just that. Most
of the chats are captured while the stars are in the makeup chair, glamorously
being pampered for a photo shoot that finds them all writhing semi-or-fully
naked in bed. Make no mistake about it, “Aroused” is hitting theaters, but it’s
clearly meant to titillate the VOD market, capturing these women in gorgeous
black and white photography that nonetheless creates a visual conflict: once
they’re all in these white sheets, over-lit by the hot lights, their naked
bodies make them indistinguishable from each other.

In a sense, “Aroused” works as a
beautiful infomercial for the porn industry, mostly serving as a counterpoint
to all those troubled “20/20”-type hysterical anti-porn news specials that look
at the billion dollar smut industry as the collapse of Western civilization.
But an accurate portrayal of the adult industry, it is not. These women have
already reached certain peaks in the industry. So, if anything, we’re seeing
those who have withstood the difficulties and ugly realities faced by others;
it’s like doing a baseball documentary and only chatting with the top-tier
All-Stars. On one level, as “contract girls,” because the porn industry is so
lucrative, these actresses have images to project and/or protect, through
social media and candid “gonzo” films where the performers portray their personalities. “Aroused” doesn’t give us a peek behind the veil, it merely shows us the same level of information that we could
gather from the Tumblr or Twitter of the film’s participants. Porn has moved into the
modern age by allowing an availability of these actresses, making them more
attainable then they were in the pre-internet days.

Anderson’s approach instead
re-fetishizes them, in a way that renders them anonymous. By doing this, “Aroused”
presents a limited view of an industry where a multitude of fetishes and
interests are represented, where transsexual films outsell lesbian productions
by a two-to-one ratio. By imagining that she’s pulling back the curtain,
Anderson is instead making porn even more inscrutable, even more difficult to
understand. But this doesn’t seem to be a main concern, as these actresses roll
lie in bed for a voyeuristic camera that can’t get enough of their physical
features. It’s like burying candy in vegetables, but the vegetables are meant
to be eaten while wearing a raincoat. [D+]

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