The filmmakers behind The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships, Chyng Sun and Miguel Picker, have tackled a very complex issue in their documentary (new on DVD from Cinema Libre Studio). Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that has managed to permeate mainstream society. The internet revolutionized the business, making it easier to distribute increasingly graphic productions. Consumers have had unprecedented access to pornographic material via cyberspace. Sun and Picker attempt to examine the adverse results, both on the performers as well as the viewers.
While I applaud the filmmakers for their ambition, the film runs a scant 56 minutes. Ultimately it amounts to little more than a thought-provoking set of ideas, executed with all the stylistic flair of a student project. The Price of Pleasure adopts a straightforward journalistic tone. In a way, the piece feels like a drier version of a cable news network expose. These pieces of behind-the-scenes sensationalism seem to exist mainly to goose ratings. But the press notes for Sun and Picker’s film make it very clear that they intended their film to be something deeper. In fact, Chyng Sun’s “Director’s Statement” outlines a much clearer conception than the film itself.
In their co-written essay, “What the Film is Really About,” Sun and Picker admit that The Price of Pleasure provides no real solution to what they see as a problem. That problem is the degradation and domination of the females who chose to make this industry their profession. In their view, the roots of the problem are “patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy.” Again, the filmmakers have made their intentions clear in the written material that accompanied my review copy. I think I understood their perspective more clearly after reading their words than from watching their film.
In just under an hour, interviews are presented with producers of pornographic material. Connecting these mostly unrevelatory interviews are snippets from news broadcasts dealing with the industry. Clips from popular television shows such as Friends offer evidence that porn is no longer an underground topic. Footage taken from adult film trade shows emphasizes the objectification of the female performers. There is also brief footage, totaling no more than a couple of minutes, taken from hardcore porn videos. While some may find it off-putting or even gratuitous, I think the filmmakers were right to include the often disturbing imagery. An acceptable case is made that commercially produced porn is one of the seedier products to be consumed en masse by an insatiable audience.
Those who view commercially produced porn on a regular basis may not be surprised by what is shown onscreen. But for anyone who isn’t already familiar with the extremely explicit acts (examples seen in the documentary include forced deep throating as well as computer-generated underage pornography), the point is hammered home more effectively. Anyone currently repulsed by pornography will simply have his or her opinion reinforced by The Price of Pleasure. Will this film alter the view of anyone who sees no problem in consuming commercial pornography? I’m not sure that the filmmakers have presented a clear enough argument.
Not all pornography depicts acts of degradation against women. But not enough distinction is made between pornography featuring ordinary sex acts and the type that specializes in fetishistic extremism. Of course, “ordinary” can have a great many meanings for different people. I’m not sure if Sun and Picker are trying to make the case that the very act of depicting real sex acts on film counts as degradation. Noam Chomsky, featured in the DVD supplements, thinks so. Years ago, Chomsky cluelessly consented to an interview with Hustler magazine without knowing the nature of the publication. In the interview featured here, he flatly defines pornography as the degradation of females. The filmmakers have gone so far as to include Hugh Hefner in their patriarchy of porn. Isn’t there an obvious difference between Hefner’s Playboy and Larry Flynt’s Hustler? It’s hard to tell what Sun and Picker think.
The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships bites off considerably more than it can chew. It’s a bit too easy to present a watery thesis in the form a documentary, only to conclude there is “no neat solution.” The topic of pornography is certainly worthy of closer examination, but this film would be better off as an introduction to an on-going series of more focused pieces. For more information on the film, visit the filmmakers’ website (for adults 18 and over, as it contains images and language for a mature audience).