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Not Feeling ‘Pleasure’? ‘Kamikaze Hearts’ and ‘Jonathan Agassi’ Show Queer Porn Stars on Their Own Terms

As a welcome alternative to "Pleasure," two documentaries honor sex workers as subjects in their own stories, with intimately visceral results.

Kino Lorber

Though “Pleasure” has been (some say wrongfully) hailed as an authentic portrayal of the porn industry, discerning viewers have other options for films made with the full consent of the participating talent. As Ninja Thyberg’s fictional look at a young girl’s ruthless rise to fame in LA’s porn industry was released by Neon last week, two considerably more legitimate documentaries took a bow, playing theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

“Kamikaze Hearts” (1986, recently restored by Kino Lorber) and “Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life” (2018, Heymann Brothers Films) may be 30 years apart, but these brutally honest portrayals of two charismatic queer porn stars are indelibly linked by blood, sweat, and other fluids.

Through candid portrayals of two mega-stars of their days, both films offer a rough and raw look at the joys and defeats of a life in the adult industry. While they could hardly be deemed positive depictions of sex work and porn, at least they are true to their subjects. That’s more than can be said about most films about sex work.

Directed by guerilla filmmaker Juliet Bashore, the shocking, hypnotic “Kamikaze Hearts” follows prolific adult film mega-star Sharon “Mitch” Mitchell during an opera-themed porn shoot in 1980s San Francisco. The film opens with Mitch in the backseat of a convertible, the wind in her shortly coiffed hair, as she muses about the meta-fictional film, calling it a “surrealistic look at myself and my girlfriend, and the way we look at the X-rated film business.”

Originally slated as a straight documentary about San Francisco’s “Golden Age” of porn, the film became a punk experiment after the mainstream porn director rescinded his consent. As such, there is little narrative to the dizzying chaos that surrounds Mitch, which includes shooting a “Carmen” porn parody while juggling a nasty heroin habit and being directed by her mulleted girlfriend Tigr. Though Mitch introduces their relationship as its primary subject, the film is much more fascinating as a character study of the captivating diva, who never met a camera she didn’t love.

"Kamikaze Hearts"

“Kamikaze Hearts”

Kino Lorber

Whether its the drugs or the ego talking, Mitch’s musings on the thin veil between performance and real life are downright poetic, and eerily foreboding of today’s fame-hungry social media landscape. She drapes her naked body around a film set like some kind of divine deity, always with an awareness of the role she is being asked to play.

When asked if the film is more truth or fiction, she says: “I don’t know, because I don’t know if I’m more truth or more fiction.” But is there anything more true than a performance artist flaying herself raw for the camera? That experiment is ongoing.

Reaching across the decades of smut comes Mitch’s erotic offspring, a beefy Israeli with a boyish glint in his eye named Jonathan Agassi. In his devastating character study of this gilded lost boy, filmmaker Tomer Heymann (“Mr. Gaga”) stays achingly close to his subject, capturing episodes that often feel too hot to the touch — and not in a good way.

As it did for Mitch, it seems sex work has taken its toll on Jonathan, who spirals him into a tragic sea of steroids, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Bearing the rather rather ironic title “Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life,” the film explores the ways in which Jonathan’s upbringing shaped his desire to perform.

"Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life"

“Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life”

Heymann Films

A self-proclaimed sex freak with an ambitious streak, Jonathan became one of the biggest names in gay porn after starring in the wildly successful “Men of Israel” (2009). The film was such a hit that it caught mainstream media attention, including in the Los Angeles Times and Tablet, a rarity for adult fare. The years following were Jonathan’s most fruitful, as he booked job after job with the New York-based Lucas Entertainment. As Jonathan’s drug and tattoo habits intensified, his star began to wane, and he shifted from porn to escorting and performing in live sex shows.

Jonathan splits his time between Berlin and Tel Aviv, where he often visits his loving and supportive mother. Though the film ultimately concludes with Jonathan leaving porn, his relationship with his mother is the most radical piece of the film. She cheers him on before every show, coos over each revealing outfit, and even helps him weigh the pros and cons of escorting.

Given how many sex workers have been shunned from their families for their work, this single relationship is a powerfully positive boon for an often maligned group. Although Jonathan’s sour relationship with his father is framed as the reason he lost his way, there is no doubt that the film meets Jonathan on his own terms.

Finally, a film that sees sex workers as humans — unadorned, unbiased, and unafraid.

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