Porn News

Sasha Grey: “Do I want to be 35, having sex on camera? No”

From Steven Soderbergh made his name as a director with his first film, sex, lies and videotape. He has gone on to win an Oscar for Traffic, but 20 years after his debut, he has returned to familiar territory with a film that could just as easily have been called sex, lies and the internet.

The Girlfriend Experience, a kind of art-house Secret Diary of a Call Girl, is about a week in the life of a $2,000-an-hour New York “escort”. It was made last October in the aftermath of the downfall of Elliot Spitzer, then governor of New York, who was forced to resign after being caught up in a high-class prostitution ring. An unfinished version of the film screened at the Sundance festival earlier this year; it premieres at the Tribeca festival, in New York, on Tuesday. “It’s a subject I’ve been totally interested in since the beginning of my career,” Soderbergh says. “This is a milieu I’ve never explored before.”

Between the two films bookending Soderbergh’s work, the world has changed, along with the format. sex, lies and videotape, in which James Spader’s character has to revive his libido by interviewing women about their sex lives while filming them, was about the distance between love, intimacy and sex, and the lies that are told because of it.

Two decades on, sex has been widely commodified. Prostitutes openly advertise their services and fees on slickly designed websites, and hardcore pornography is never more than a couple of clicks of a mouse away. In this world, the “girlfriend experience” is the pretence of intimacy some escorts offer and their customers pay extra for, including kissing and what may even pass for friendship. As one reviewer noted: “Soderbergh borrows one of Jean-Luc Godard’s favorite themes — prostitution as a metaphor for capitalism — and adapts it to an America in which the line between selling out and selling yourself has never been thinner.”

The film was shot — for only $1.7m — in 16 days, in a surprisingly sumptuous style, full of reflections and surfaces. It opens with the escort, Chelsea, on a “date” with a man who appears to be her boyfriend, but turns out to be one of her clients. We see her meeting a financial adviser and a sleazy internet reviewer of prostitutes, as well as her boyfriend, a trainer in a gym. While Soderbergh was shooting, the Wall Street he was depicting was having its last hurrah, a world where rich young brokers fly to Las Vegas in a private plane to spend time with high-class prostitutes while they fret about the stock-market crash.

Yet Soderbergh is nothing if not contrary. His first film dangled a teaser title before the audience, but showed little actual sex; The Girlfriend Experience features none, just one brief nude shot of its star, Sasha Grey, who plays Chelsea. Which is particularly intriguing — and deliberately so — because Grey, who was 20 when the film was shot, is one of the most notorious porn stars in the world. (All the other “actors” are nonprofessionals.) Soderbergh says he chose her because, like her character, she makes a good living selling sex and the fantasies surrounding sex. Since she started working in “adult entertainment” when she was just 18, Grey has made more than 150 porn films.

“Even though the film’s not very explicit,” Soderbergh says, “there’s a comfort level she obviously has from making all of those films that I think is difficult to fake. There’s a kind of attitude.” It’s an attitude of unnervingly unknowable blankness that works perfectly for her character.

Soderbergh clearly enjoys toying with the tension of our expectations, but there is an even more interesting subtextual tension in the choice of a top porn actress to star in an art-house movie directed by an Oscar-winner. It begs important questions. Pornography may now be pervasive, but how acceptable is it in mainstream culture today, how acceptable should it be, and how do we really feel about those who perform in it?

For Grey, those are not academic questions. She’s made it clear she hopes for a career beyond porn, something that has eluded most other actresses who have tried, including Marilyn Chambers, the star of the influential 1972 porn movie Behind the Green Door, who died recently at 56, penniless. “I’ve got to diversify myself,” Grey says. “Do I want to be 35, having sex on camera? No. I want to be sitting on a porch at my beach house with my own successful company.”

The question of mainstream acceptability is even more tricky, in Grey’s case, because of what she represents in pornography. The publicity material for The Girlfriend Experience portrays her as “an American actor, writer, photographer, porn star, transgressive artist and experimental musician. She declares a strong interest in the films of the French new wave and, before deciding on her present stage name, toyed with the name of Jean-Luc Godard’s ex-wife, Anna Karina”. This is no common or garden porn star. And if you take yourself to Grey’s MySpace page, what awaits in the list of what she likes is a compendium of the avant-garde and intellectually challenging: directors such as Antonioni, Bertolucci and Lars von Trier; writers such as Burroughs, Yeats, Baudrillard and Nietzsche; artists such as Donald Judd. Her occupation is described as “existentialist, porn star and artist”.

Maybe she’s serious, but this attempt at putting a high gloss on what she does for a living may not convince everybody. For Grey will find it hard to distract people from her tastes in pornography. Her appeal comes from the unholy collision between her youth and apparent physical innocence — she is petite, pale and small-breasted — and the extraordinarily extreme, violent and degrading acts to which she is subjected. Apart from what are now standard pornography tropes of rough sex and violent gangbangs, Grey is routinely abused and degraded in almost every conceivable and inconceivable way — to her apparent satisfaction. The only acts she will not undertake, she says, are those involving children or animals.

She insists that the control she feels she has over the performance of these acts, and over those who watch and pay for them, gives her pleasure. “Only a handful of adult stars continue to push the boundaries of what women are supposed to like, or be like, in bed,” she says. “This entices me to be one of these young women, not to mention my lust for sexual creativity. I hunger for all modes of sexual perversity.”

Whether she believes such sentiments, Grey’s porn persona has been tailored to satisfy the needs of today’s jaded consumers of pornography, dulled by what she describes as “vanilla sex”. “I am determined and ready to be a commodity that fulfils everyone’s fantasies,” she says.

As many as 1,000 young women arrive each year in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of LA, where most of the country’s pornography is produced. Grey, who left school at 16, arrived there three years ago from a working-class background in northern California and rapidly became notorious in the industry. She is the most famous porn star since Jenna Jameson, who wrote the bestselling autobiography How to Make Love Like a Porn Star. Jameson has become a role model for younger performers, especially after selling her company, ClubJenna, to Playboy for $16.7m.

Apart from working with Soderbergh, Grey has parlayed her notoriety into excursions into music and fashion — she has done vocals alongside Moby for the reggae maestro Lee “Scratch” Perry and modelled for the American Apparel clothing line. While she hopes these ventures will give her a career beyond porn, others are disturbed that they will legitimise her porn work. Tyra Banks, the former supermodel who now has a successful talk show, was extremely critical of Grey when she appeared on her programme, calling her “cold, distant and hard”, and a dangerous role model.

Grey insists she is “a sexually healthy young woman . . . I take pride in the liberation of female sexuality. As a sex symbol with an intellectual stance, I am and will continue to be vilified, and I am okay with that . . . In fact, I am content; it gives me the opportunity to shed light on the darker areas of sex and validate the insecurities of sexually repressed women. The days of victimised, disturbed porn stars and civilian women are fading away. I am the new breed.”

It is hard to know what to make of that. While Grey may enjoy being sexually abused and degraded, there is clearly a real danger that the men who watch her films will come to believe that their lovers might also enjoy such extreme abuse. Traci Lords, who began doing porn when she was just 15, and may be the only porn actress to have successfully moved into the mainstream, starring in films such as Cry-Baby, directed by John Waters, is now disturbed by the degree to which pornography has become legitimised, to some extent by her own work. “I hate to think I am a poster child for a business I loathe,” she says.

The Girlfriend Experience is, at least in part, a commentary on the appearance of power that prostitutes — and, implicitly, porn actresses — need to convince themselves they have. Soderbergh says it is “about someone who feels as though she is in absolute control of the way her life works and, over the course of a week, comes to realise that’s not true”. Is that a conclusion to which Grey will come one day, however rich her work as “a commodity that fulfils everyone’s fantasies” makes her?


Related Posts

Emily Willis Speaks About Mainstream Feature Debut ‘Divinity’

LOS ANGELES — The much anticipated new science fiction thriller “Divinity,” co-starring Emily Willis in her mainstream feature debut, will finally premiere in theaters next month. The film, written and directed by Eddie Alcazar and executive produced by acclaimed filmmaker Steven…

Abella Danger Joins FeetFinder

FeetFinder, a leading platform in the feet picture marketplace, has announced that AVN Award-winning performer Abella Danger has joined their community.

Michael Vegas-Shot ‘The Nanny’ to Screen at Glendale Film Fest

Mainstream thriller "The Nanny," for which adult performer director Michael Vegas served as cinematographer and lighting technician, screens this Saturday at the Glendale International Film Festival.

North Carolina Group Backing Age Verification Bill Admits Law Is Actually ‘Anti-Pornography’

RALEIGH, N.C. — A religious conservative group that is currently lobbying for the North Carolina age verification legislation that was snuck into an unrelated bill last week by a Republican state senator has admitted the copycat amendment is in fact…

New Report Warns Against ‘Rising Tide’ of Conservative Censorship

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report published last week by the Chamber of Progress, a U.S. trade group representing many of the leading technology companies, issued an urgent warning against the “rising red tide” of digital censorship promoted by conservatives. Titled…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.