But in many ways, the video revolution of the 1980s was a positive development. "The Porn Capital of America" has long since shifted south to Los Angeles, but video did open doors to anyone just about anywhere who wanted to make their own sort of erotica that would be an alternative to the male-gaze-centric hetero fare that had dominated porn for far too long. Gay porn boomed and sex-positive female stars such as Annie Sprinkle, Nina Hartley and Candida Royale launched careers not only in front of the camera but behind it as well.
Video was just the first step in the widening proliferation of porn outside the movie theater; with the Internet, that proliferation exploded. It's become such an obvious and, in the case of spam, all but unavoidable fact of life that not only has it been generally accepted as such but there's also been something of a revival of "porn chic," 21st century-style. Doonesbury characters are surfing porn, porn stars are endorsing products and production companies like Vivid are written up in high profile national papers and magazines. The ultimate measure, though, is probably economic. "Estimates of annual revenue for adult entertainment - porn film sales and rentals, Web site subscriptions and fees, and so on - range from $8 billion to $10 billion," USA Today recently reported. Just over $4 billion of that loot comes from film sales and rentals, according to the trade industry bible, Adult Video News.
Those aren't the sorts of figures Hollywood cares to ignore. Boogie Nights itself represents a shift in attitudes as to what's appropriate for mainstream audiences to see; it's not all that less explicit than the films its characters are shooting. But it's the French once again who seem hell-bent on pushing those boundaries even further. The wave of non-porn yet vividly explicit films coming out of France in the last several years - Catherine Breillat's Romance, Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi's Baise-Moi, and Patrice Chereau's Intimacy - has hardly gone without comment in film journals. In the French journal Trafic, critic Jean-Marie Samocki argues that explicitness has become a matter of national identity: "France," as Philippa Hawker sums up the argument in an Australian paper, "faced by what it perceives as the globalising and homogenising power of American culture, sees a way to define itself otherwise. There are some places it can go, cinematically, that Hollywood cannot."
Perhaps not the studios, and perhaps not directly. But if Hollywood icons like Meg Ryan, and for that matter, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut are stripping down on screen to get it on, it may be only a matter of time. How did Kidman's character end that film? "I do love you, and you know there is something very important we need to do as soon as possible."
"What's that?" asks Tom.
The days of whistling lessons are long over.
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