THE FALL OF COMMUNISM AS SEEN IN GAY PORNOGRAPHY
video, color, 19 minutes, 1998
Every image in The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography comes from gay erotic videos produced in Eastern Europe since the introduction of capitalism. The video provides a glimpse of young men responding to the pressures of an unfamiliar world, one in which money, power and sex are now connected.
New York Underground Film Festival; Chicago Underground Film Festival; Cinematexas, Austin; Sex Worker Film Festivals: San Francisco, Portland and Tucson; National Film Theatre, London; Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne; Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, England; Kaaitheater, Brussels, Belgium; OVNI 2000, Barcelona; Rice Media Center, Houston; DV8 Identities, Vienna; Shame, Stockholm; Antwerp Film Museum; Tate Modern, London; Pink Screens, Brussels, Belgium; The California Files, CCA Wattis Institute, San Francisco; Transitional Objects, Art in General, New York; Pornfilmfestival, Berlin; Home Works IV, Beirut, Lebanon; Musée du Louvre, Paris, France; REDCAT, Los Angeles; “The show continues upstairs,” Supportico-Lopez, Berlin; Chisenhale Gallery, London; The Collectors, Nordic Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale; Anthology Film Archives, New York
Fred Camper, “Chicago Underground Film Festival: Nasty Girls and Dirty Boys,” Chicago Reader, August 18, 2000, section 2, p. 17.
The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography, a 20-minute tape by William E. Jones, is a fascinating critique of eastern Europe in the ’90’s that combines deeply disturbing imagery with genuine insight. Jones compiles excerpts from gay porn but shows no genitalia and focuses instead on faces smiling or frowning for the camera. The tape ends with a long series of screen tests in which a British pornographer quizzes prospective actors (“What do you think about when you masturbate?”) and gratuitously fondles them; they’re completely exposed while only his hands are visible, a clear articulation of the power relationship. Jones’s argument reaches past the commodification of sex: smiles and even thoughts are pinned down for the camera like butterflies, youths robbed of their privacy and their souls for “the money.”
Samantha Dowling, “Banned and Unseen,” Westside Observer
(Perth, Australia) February 4, 2000, pp. 1-3.
A gay-themed film which was to have been screened at this year’s Revelation Independent Film Festival cannot be shown in Western Australia according to instructions from the Commonwealth Office of Film and Literature Classification. The film, The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography, was banned without being viewed by the OFLC.
The banning of the movie marks the second year in a row that the festival has been forced to withdraw a film as a result of an OFLC ruling.
RIFF made national headlines last year when the documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist was banned. That decision was eventually overturned by the WA Minister Responsible for Censorship, Cheryl Edwardes.
This year, however, RIFF is having to wait a very long time to get a response to their appeal.
RIFF festival director, Richard Sowada, told WSO this week that no reason had been given for the OFLC decision other than that the film could not be screened due to legislation peculiar to Western Australia.
“We submit a synopsis — which in this case was the programme itself — to the OFLC, which decides on whether or not the films can be screened,” Mr. Sowada said.
“In this instance, we got a letter back advising us they were letting through all the other films in RIFF without classification, but under the WA Censorship Act of 1996 we could not show The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography.”
Mr. Sowada said he had no idea why the film could not be screened.
“The OFLC just bans it. They don’t tell you which part of the Act it contravenes or anything like that, so really we’re left guessing as to what has motivated such actions,” he said.
“My only way of appealing the decision is by asking the OFLC to classify The Fall. I did that three weeks ago, and I’m still waiting to hear anything back.”
Gay and Lesbian Equality was also curious as to why this particular film was picked from over 40 in the festival programme.
“No doubt the title had something to do with it. If the OFLC hasn’t seen the film yet, what are they basing their decision on?” asked GALE spokesperson Louise Pratt.
“It’s quite amazing that films like Wadd: The Life and Times of John Holmes, the porn star, aren’t even questioned. From this we can assume, then, that the sexual prowess of such individuals as John Holmes is something to be admired, where the downfall of communism as seen from a different angle is taboo.”
Mr. Sowada described the 20-minute-long banned movie as “a harmless yet haunting film,” which shows no nudity and no genitalia.
“We see sequences of sex, which we know is taking place, but the viewer never sees the act itself,” he said.
“This film highlights the more insidious aspects of sex and the porn industry — that is, what drives someone to work in male prostitution and the sadness behind the eyes of those who end up trapped in such a scenario.”
Sowada is incensed by the blanket decision made by the OFLC since no one within that organization has seen it.
“I don’t mind if judgement calls are based on an informed decision, but that has not been the case here,” he said.
The Censorship Office of Western Australia, which falls under the control of Mrs. Edwardes, said it did not know about the ban and would not comment on which part of the Act The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography may have transgressed.
The Chief Commonwealth Censor was unavailable for comment.
Around the time my first two films were released on video, I noticed the tape Men of the Balkans in my neighborhood video store. It made the intriguing claim of being the first gay porno shot in Bulgaria. The work of Jean-Noël René Clair, a major auteur of contemporary gay porn, Men of the Balkans was part of a flood of porno from former socialist countries that began appearing in U. S. video stores in the early 1990s. I wanted to make a work about this phenomenon, but I could not travel to Eastern Europe. Fortunately the material came to me; there was plenty of it to be found on the shelves of American video stores. I decided to make an “armchair” documentary, a compilation piece composed entirely of scenes from porno tapes, by reediting the material and adding only my commentary.
The company that handled my films at that time also distributed gay porno. Their business plan involved two companies: one that distributed art films and documentaries at a modest profit, and another that would make a huge profit in porno. Their main titles were produced in the former Soviet Union by a Swedish man with a limited budget and a taste for young ruffians. This man was once a university instructor, and as he put it, he had “gotten tired of teaching middle class kids some reason.” He sought out a certain kind of guy – poor, masculine, and above all, a bit desperate – that reminded him of the kind of boy who tormented him during his upbringing in rural Sweden. In his correspondence with the distributor, he mentioned wanting to consume these young men and to be consumed by them, enacting some sort of symbolic revenge while taking his pleasure. He invoked the name of Jean Genet, somewhat unfairly, I think, since if Genet was interested in revenge, his targets were more likely to be figures in positions of authority rather than later versions of his reform school comrades.
The videos that came from the Swede’s erotic quests, called Young Russian Innocents, had a devoted following, and the distributor regularly received breathless phone messages from men who wanted to know when more videos in the series would become available.
As I watched Young Russian Innocents, as well as dozens of other post-communist pornos, and I realized that the atmosphere of coercion in these videos accounted for much of their erotic appeal. The fantasy of making another person do whatever one wishes is fairly common, and many get to realize such fantasies, if only in a limited way, in the sex tourism of the third world. With the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, it became possible to enact these fantasies on a whole new group of people: young men who were white, educated, relatively well fed, and suddenly with no prospects whatsoever.
The scenes of Young Russian Innocents were “auditions” for subsequent productions, very few of which were actually shot. The young men were given the impression that they could become stars if they performed well. The $50 that the director offered as payment for an audition gave him license to ask the boys all about their personal lives (not so unreasonable, since he had to determine how willing they were to perform certain acts) and to poke and prod them in various ways. The director himself never undressed or engaged in straightforward sex acts with the boys, as this would have involved showing his body and perhaps revealing his identity. During all the action, he wore a long sleeve dress shirt and wristwatch, and this gave the scenes the aspect of a medical examination. Many of the young men seemed frightened, albeit relieved that they were the playthings of a middle aged amateur pornographer and not the victims of kidnapping. The subjects often looked at the camera, but it was not at all clear what their gazes meant. Some may have needed direction or reassurance. Others were resisting the situation, spoiling the shot by looking into the camera, implicating the spectator who would eventually see them, and thereby calling the whole process into question. What these young men were hoping to gain by appearing in these videos is unclear. Money is the most obvious motive, and the only one mentioned explicitly in the videos, but some of the subjects must have had other things in mind. Unfortunately, their thoughts and opinions will most likely remain unknown.
The company that released these tapes in the U. S. eventually went out of business. Hundreds of copies of Young Russian Innocents were sold, most to sub-distributors who ultimately never paid for the product. My distributor learned the hard way that a number of people in the porn industry have gotten rich from not paying their bills. The income from art films and documentaries sold to people who did pay their bills was not sufficient to keep the firm solvent, and in a year’s time, I found myself looking for another distributor.
The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography has reached a limited audience and has received some attention, not all of it positive. A film festival in Australia programmed the video in 1999, but the screening had to be cancelled. The Commonwealth Censor withheld an official exhibition certificate after looking not at the video itself, but at the synopsis, which contained the full title of the piece. Apparently, any work with the word “pornography” in the title was sufficiently suspect to be censored. The publicity around the case brought the video to the attention of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, which eventually acquired my work for its permanent collection. Around the same time, I was contacted by a British organization that nominated the video for an Erotic Oscar. I was a bit surprised by the nomination, though not by the fact that another video won the award, since eroticism was not my main goal in making the work. The Museum of Modern Art in New York scheduled the video for one of its Cineprobe screenings, but the date coincided with a strike of museum employees. I refused to cross the picket line, so the screening was postponed indefinitely. Somehow, programmers have found out about the piece, and The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography continues to be shown around the world, including the 53rd Venice Biennale. (See article in Finnish below.)
Kaisa Heinänen, “Neljä suomalaistaiteilijaa mukaan Venetsian biennaaliin,” Helsingin Sanomat, March 18, 2009.
Venetsian biennaalin Pohjoismaiseen paviljonkiin ja Tanskan paviljonkiin tulee esille kansainvälinen Keräilijät-ryhmänäyttely, joka rinnastaa kahden kuvitteellisen taidekeräilijän ja niiden kokoelmat. Suomesta biennaaliin osallistuu neljä taiteilijaa.
Keräilijät-näyttelyn kuratoi norjalais-tanskalainen taiteilijapari Michael Elmgreen (s.1961) ja Ingar Dragset (s. 1969).
Näyttelyssä on mukana 24 taiteilijaa, muotoilijaa ja taiteilijaryhmää. Suomesta näyttelyyn osallistuvat Laura Horelli, Tom of Finland ja Jani Leinonen.
Muut taiteilijat ovat Thora Dolven Balke, Massimo Bartolini, Hernan Bas, Guillaume Bijl, Maurizio Cattelan, Elmgreen & Dragset, Pepe Espaliú, Simon Fujiwara, Han & Him, Martin Jacobson, William E. Jones, Terence Koh, Klara Lidén, Jonathan Monk, Nico Muhly, Norway Says, Henrik Olesen, Nina Saunders, Vibeke Slyngstad, Sturtevant ja Wolfgang Tillmans.
Suomella on tänä vuonna myös jälleen käytössä Venetsian biennaaliin vuonna 1956 valmistunut Aalto-paviljonki. Paviljonkiin tulee esille Jussi Kiven (s. 1958) Palo- ja pelastusmuseo. Sen perustana on taiteilijan pitkäaikaisen harrastuksen myötä syntynyt kokoelma palokunta-aiheista aineistoa.
Aalto-paviljongin näyttely on Näyttelyvaihtokeskus Framen ja Kiasman ensimmäinen kansainvälinen yhteistuotanto.
53. Venetsian biennaali järjestetään 7. 6.–22. 11.2009.
THE FALL OF COMMUNISM... CREDITS
directed, written, narrated, and edited by William E. Jones
music by Jean-Pierre Bédoyan
sound mix by Craig Smith
video, black and white, 4 minutes, 1999
Fluff is at once a tribute to abstract video art and an affectionate send-up of the promotional language of 1970s gay porno flicks. As in the opening sequence of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, a gravelly, almost satanic, voice-over modulates simple black and white patterns. The narrator speaks more and more quickly until the piece becomes a frenzy of overwrought prose and bracing disco music.
After The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography, I devoted most of my time to taking photographs, some of which can be seen on this website and on shiftlessbody.com. At the beginning of 2002, I began the series Is It Really So Strange?, which later became a movie, then a book.
Between 1999 and 2001, I produced a single video shown in public, a frivolous piece called Fluff, which is also my only work in animation. One venue has shown Fluff twice: the now-dormant Cinematexas. Perhaps 50 people in the world have seen it projected. For some mysterious reason, the arbiters at imdb.com took notice of these screenings. The title Fluff appears in my director’s filmography, while other, more substantial works (e. g. Massillon) have been left off the list. Regardless of their failings as archivists, members of the imdb staff have a certain flair for prose. In the “overview” section is a sentence reading “This plot synopsis is empty.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. I had once thought I might delete Fluff from my official bio, but inquiries from the curious have led me to the conclusion that if it appears on imdb, it must exist. Now Fluff can now be seen on this website, by clicking here.
directed and edited by William E. Jones
sound mix by Craig Smith