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NewCityNet Full Exposure

By Shelly Ridenour

NOVEMBER 15, 1999: 

Pornstar by Ian Gittler (Simon & Schuster) $35, 176 pages

About halfway into "Pornstar," Ian Gittler's photo book/biographical chronicle of brand names, starlets and hangers-on in L.A.'s porn industry, and about three years into his research, the author writes, "Rather than pursuing this book -- rather than facing the fact that a happy, tidy book about this sad subculture would be impossible -- I retreated into my life in New York for a whole year, only occasionally making visits to [strip club] Show World to say hi to porn stars I knew, or more likely, to get a small dose of titillation, a fix. Those encounters were depressing, too."

Needless to say, this is not (despite the blonder-than-blonde fantasy cover shot of the late, fallen porn angel Savannah and the book jacket notes from novelist Bret Easton Ellis) a glossy celebration of girls on film -- nor is it in any way an objective portrait. Gittler editorializes both openly and behind a thin veil of disgust on the lives of these creatures. Even as he is star-struck, even as he comes on to them and has sex with them, he is sneering at their lives, never failing to detail their nouveau riche suburban decorating choices; the "wall to wall mess" of their dressing rooms -- "literally a foot deep with dildos, fan-club flyers, broken-framed baby pictures, lacy underwear, boxes of thigh-high boots and stiletto-heeled boots"; the kitchen cabinets stocked with Froot Loops, artificially flavored puddings and Fruit Roll-Ups -- "the cupboard every 9-year-old dreams of." There are few surprises, really: The lives of porn stars are largely portrayed as sad and pathetic, dark and grimy, sure to end at the hand of drugs, abusive relationships, disease or the vagaries of middle-aged unattractiveness. About actor Ron Jeremy, he writes, "Even though he's just showered, and presumably washed, his humid, dilapidated apartment is dank. The place, and Ron's manicured but still hairy, fat body, make me feel icky all over."

Some of the images he describes, and shoots, are truly disturbing; hardcore movie sets, with indelicate wax play, oversized prongs and what Gittler calls "Dance of the Tragic Life of a Porn Star": "The hard-core ones have a need to go all the way... It's a powerful dynamic, arguably dangerous for all participants, and the process is not devoid of qualities normally associated with 'art.'"

The reasoning behind Gittler's book is questionable, at best: "A friend suggested I do a book about rock stars... But I couldn't get it up for that, couldn't think of an angle that interested me. My rock heroes had already been photographed. The pre-Nirvana music business had developed as homogenized a corporate identity as fast food... In a way porn stars were an anachronism. The life I imagined them living was one more related to my sense of what 'rock 'n' roll' meant than anything I could see in the pages of Rolling Stone..."

Viewed separate from the text, the photos have a certain potential of titillation, of raw sexuality, even of glorious rock 'n' roll attitude. Coupled with lines like, "A woman who is taught as a little girl to barter with her sexuality, taught the value of that -- by a sexually abusive parent, relative, neighbor... -- gets pretty good at being a turn-on, despite how fucked up that sounds. The abuse is what cut them out for this job in the first place," they're nothing but scenes from a nightmare.

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