Naked Fame

Help, I've fallen and I can't get up
Released:
2004

Director: Christopher Long

Starring: Colton Ford, Blake Harper, Kyle Neven, Chi Chi LaRue

The Setup:

Ex-porn star Colton Ford tries to parlay his fame into a singing career.

Discussion:

I’ll admit that I was interested in seeing this movie primarily to laugh at its subjects. What one perceives as the delusion of porn stars trying to become singers is a tempting topic for derision, and I guess I’m just mean-spirited enough to be interested in that. So it was a surprise to find its leads somewhat to very charming, and to consider the realities of what life is like for the porn star and the stigmas it can append to someone who may try to forge a more normal life.

The movie begins with Colton Ford, whose real name is Glenn, saying that a corporate job “is not something I want to be doing for the rest of my life.” Now, let’s have a show of hands with everyone who WANTS to be in a corporate job. No one does, but it’s often the best compromise, and Glenn got off to a bad start with me with this statement, implying that he’s above the rabble who supposedly WANT to have corporate jobs for the rest of their lives. The movie doesn’t go into how both its stars got into porn in the first place [something I would be very interested to know], but it makes you think: if any of us had a chance to not have to work in a boring corporate job, to have a ton of sex with hot guys, and perhaps most importantly, to have the constant [though eventually constricting and offensive] reassurance of being an admired sexual icon in the public’s eye, how many of us would say no? Especially when you’re 20 [or younger] and you still seriously think “oh, I can just go to school or get a job later?” Who wouldn’t take an exciting, glamorous job over becoming a junior marketing intern or whatever? The impression this movie leaves one with is not that its stars are narcissists or bimbos, but took the easy, glamorous job without realizing the repercussions it might have down the line.

So Glenn, who achieved porn notoriety in just 11 films for Colt, and his boyfriend Peter, aka Blake Harper [who did many more films but seems not to have gained the fame Ford did] engage this guy Kyle Neven to manage Glenn’s transition from porn star to singer. Kyle is supposedly also an ex-porn star and also supposedly co-wrote a hit for Amber [based on the way Kyle comes off in the film, I don’t fully believe either of these claims… not to mention that at least five guys at this interactive agency I used to work at were “porn stars,” i.e. at this point, basically everyone is a “porn star”]. We join them as they set about writing and producing a song that will leverage Glenn’s porn persona toward establishing him as a musical star. Kyle says that they’re going to write a single and go to New York and sell it and then “we’re going to be famous and gorgeous and we’re all going to buy facelifts for ourselves.” Which kind of says a lot right there, no? We’re going to be famous and gorgeous and the REWARD for this is to surgically and permanently alter ourselves? In an ever less-rewarding attempt to continue to hold on to that fame and admiration?

There is a lot of discussion about the many challenges Glenn faces, and one of these is that black females dominate the world of dance music. Now, should I go on a long tangent here, or should we wait til the end? Let’s do it here, and you can just skip ahead if you’re bored…. Women have a long history of standing in for gay men in music, and expressing the thoughts and desires of gay men in a way that is entirely acceptable, because they’re women. So when Grace Jones sings “I Need a Man” or “All on a Summer Night, in which she falls in love at first sight with a guy in a Fire Island-like setting, or “In Private,” written by Pet Shop Boys for Dusty Springfield [in which she laments that a man she’s having an affair with won’t acknowledge her in public], it’s clear that the thoughts and fears of gay men are being put into women’s mouths, where they can emerge without a hint of controversy. There is also the possibility that the song can go on to mainstream success, because a woman singing about loving a man is perfectly acceptable. Gay men have a long tradition, enforced by necessity, of having to identify with women’s perspectives in movies and music. Furthermore, I would say one reason gay men identify so strongly with black female vocalists is that they both love men and are a minority, so their songs reflect the issues relating to the love of men, but also the perspective of someone who faces the additional challenges of loving that man in an environment that holds the singer as a second-class citizen. Add to this that many of these black singers are pretty fucking fabulous, and you have a combination that is like identification poppers for gay men: Here is a fabulous and glamorous person who has to maintain reserves of hidden internal strength in order to love the man she does [or continue her search for love] in the face of a world that is against her.

Now, why can’t a man succeed in this context? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest it has something to do with internalized homophobia. I think there’s something about hearing a man sing of his love for a man that puts the homosexuality right in gay men’s faces, and I think that is uncomfortable to men who are trying to just dance, forget their troubles, and have a good time. Furthermore, I think gays adopt straights’ distain for gays when they hear these songs, by imagining how a straight person might make fun of a gay man singing a love song to a man, then defending against this perceived slight by distancing themselves from the source of mockery, in this case, the song. This doesn’t come out directly, however, it just comes out in a feeling that the song is “cheesy” or “lame.” And it doesn’t help that many songs by gay male singers rely so heavily on overt sexuality that they offer themselves as easy targets of ridicule.

Such is the case here. Glenn’s song trades heavily on his porn persona, with lyrics that invite the listener to imagine that he’s going to fuck them: “Get down on your knees, unzip my jeans, crawl across the floor. Climb up in my sling, bite down, don’t scream [later revised: don’t you dare scream], ‘cause I ain’t keeping score.” Personally, I think this is a mistake. I know it’s almost irresistible to trade and expand on the amount of fame one has already achieved, but if you’re presenting yourself in this “porn star that sings” persona, all people will see you as is a porn star who sings, rather than a singer. And by now there have been enough porn stars that sing that everyone knows not to take them seriously. Anyway, all of this is not helped by his stage persona, which trades heavily on his body and sexuality. We’ll get back to this.

Kyle is trouble as the manager. He’s very bossy and bitchy, and says things to Glenn, before going into a meeting with NY producers, such as “If there’s an opportunity for you to flirt, you’re gonna do it. Actually, you look young today. Don’t smile,” to which Glenn quietly responds “okay” [we find out later that this pissed him off]. Kyle just presents a very bossy and subtly insulting demeanor, and after a while one just gets the sense that he has no idea what he’s talking about. This, as a friend of mine says, “is what happens when you give a queen a clipboard.” So Glenn wears a shirt that says “69” to his meetings, where one of the producers suggests that he “change some of the lyrics so it’s not as frightening.” Their meetings are fruitless, and they return to L.A. with no deal.

In L.A., they live in the “Live & Raw Hotel,” where their every move is transmitted via webcam to anyone who pays to tune in. There’s even cameras on the urinal, and they are broadcast as they sleep. Peter, who comes off as the more sensitive of the duo [Glenn remains very distant and guarded throughout], observes that “there’s only so many times you can jerk off,” and laments that the house has no windows. They seem to accept living there as one of the sad realities of this life they’ve found themselves in, and this is where my sympathies for them started to kick in, as they both seemed to be putting on a brave face at something they both found constraining and demeaning. One gets a hint at their true feelings when Peter says “Look around, there’s no windows,” and later, when he is asked if he will miss being at the hotel, and he quietly shakes his head and says with finality: “No.”

We meet Glenn’s parents, who are both fully aware of their son’s profession and are fully supportive. Glenn’s father even mentions his fantasy that he would like to be a [straight] porn star himself. Later, by phone, when Glenn is complaining about the “motherfuckers” that are messing with his success, his father says “you guys should just let them suck your dicks or something.” At first this was nice to see, you know, supportive parents, but after awhile I began to wonder if Glenn’s parents were doing him somewhat of a disservice by being so wholly supportive of everything he does, as I’m not convinced that he’s fully prepared for the reality that some things he attempts may not work out, and everyone may not be completely blown away by him and consider everything he does absolutely super.

In here we also meet ex-porn star, ex-heroin addict, current safe sex educator Susan Mitchell, who gives a short monologue around 45 minutes in that is absolutely not to be missed. She starts with a long discription of the psychology of the porn star, then casually tosses off “let alone the heroin addiction,” and finally starts in on how difficult it is to maintain a relationship as a porn star, when you’re kissing your husband goodbye and telling him that you’re going to be having sex with three men and a girl all day. It becomes a little comic as her voice and passion slowly rises, saying “having a relationship as a porn star is really hard. It’s almost impossible. I mean it’s REALLY, REALLY HARD!”

Tensions are rising with Kyle, and Glenn is getting more insulted and finally clueing in that Kyle has his head firmly ensconced in his ass, but Peter won my total affection and admiration for standing up to Kyle with his passionate defense of his right to support his lover. Kyle is snotting off about something Peter supposedly said that he didn’t, and appears to consider his presence around Glenn a nuisance. Peter gets furious and says “Don’t you dare tell me what meetings I can and can’t go to! I will BE THERE to to support him every step of the way!” You know, the gay world [and this film in particular] can be filled with such snide insults, jealousy and betrayal, it was a real refresher to see someone really standing up very strongly in support of his lover. Go, Peter! I REALLY started to like Peter after this. Anyway, soon after, Glenn spilts with Kyle.

Speaking of snide insults, this film documents a unique form of gay cuntery in the wrap-an-insult-in-a-supposed-compliment method, best exemplified by Kyle [post-breakup] saying “Well, Glenn is very intelligent. He’s not as intelligent as me, but he’s a lot more vicious than I am.” Chi-Chi LaRue also has many along these lines with his “I totally support him, but I think he’s going to have a hard time,” and later, when they move out of the hotel [meaning loss of income to him] “I totally support everything they do. I’m not disappointed, I’m not mad [in a tone that implies that he’s both disappointed and mad]. And if there’s anything I can do to help…” Chi-Chi later evinces a particularly gruesome manner of expression, when he says that “if you don’t have a strong head” in Hollywood “you can just be be cut in half at the waist,” and later, that there are days when he wakes up and thinks “if I have to make another porn film I’d rather claw my own face off and throw it at everybody.”

So Glenn does a number of live performances at gay bars, which are somewhat painful to watch, mainly from my own experience in the audience of such shows, I guess, but you can see the audience watching Glenn perform as though he’s just an amusing curiousity. Glenn definitely attempts to play off his porn persona in his performances, appearing shirtless and making a sexual pantomime with his two backup dancers. Later he is appearing at Britney Spears’ [now-closed] club Nyla in New York, and we see him practicing dance moves with an instructor, who is telling him to grab his crotch and grind a lot. Sadly, approximately 14 people show up to his performance, and there is no real performance space, so he has to sing on this catwalk about 20 feet above the audience. Glenn is very sympathetic as we see him attempt to put on a brave face at the realities of the space, and commit himself to delivering his best performance in spite of everything. Halfway through the song he breaks out into this ill-advised dance routine that is, well, a little painful. One person who makes sure to show up is, of course, Kyle, apparently there to make Glenn uncomfortable and to snicker about him later. I think he says something to the effect of “he had some pretty good moves, although I’ve always thought with the way he is that he should never attempt to dance.” The movie cuts away from showing his full performances, which I would have liked to have seen, although there is one complete performance as a bonus on the DVD. We also never hear his song in full, so it’s really difficult to judge how much or little he can actually sing. By the way, in here, some more accomplished club singer mentions that as an artist “you’ve got to find your itch.”

Toward the end, both of them move out of the hotel, their only source of income, and Peter takes a job as a nurse to make money and support Glenn’s continued efforts. I was also impressed with Peter, in light of how clingy some gay men can be with their money, that he accepts this job to support himself and Glenn, and we never see him bitch about it. They find an apartment “with windows!” and “no cameras!” and both seem very relieved. Later, when Peter is asked if he’ll ever miss having sex on camera, he delivers another moving slow head shake and quietly but finally says “No.” Oh by the way, at one point Peter reveals that the porn star only gets a one-time fee for his services, and sees no money from sales of videos or pictures, which the company can continue to use as long as it sees fit. My jaw hit the floor when he revealed that he most he ever made during his best year in porn was $30,000! I guess everyone just assumes that if you are famous that you are also rich, and that’s another of those details that drew my sympathy for people who get into this profession thinking it won’t be that big a deal to get out, and that it won’t follow them for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, that’s where it pretty much ends. Glenn is still trying to launch a singing career, and Peter is working a day job. I would have liked to know where they are now or how things are going, but…. Ultimately I’m glad that neither of them are doing porn anymore, whether Glenn’s career succeeds or not.

As I said, I came into this movie expecting to laugh at Glenn, but ultimately came to be sympathetic with the difficulties he faces, and came to have more of an understanding of who he is, if I didn’t like him as a person as much as I liked Peter. I watched the first half of this movie in the morning while exercising, and as I was leaving for work, thought “I could sit and watch this movie all day.” It was a very pleasant surprise, especially as I went in expecting a bimbo-fest and came out with a lot to think about! As well as a feeling that I met people I liked and found out about a world I find interesting. So there ya go, I am totally behind Naked Fame.

Should you watch it?

Yes, if you’re interested in what it might be like for a porn star trying to break out of that career.

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