Saturday, July 26, 2014

Robin Bougie: Graphic Thrills interview!

It took me awhile to come around to the universe of Robin Bougie. I first met him at Cinemuerte 2004, where we had both watched poor BJ Summers of Videomatica - where Bougie also works - lose a truly disgusting sausage eating contest, MC'd by Edwin Neal (the hitchhiker in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Neal cracked revolting jokes about things like scraping boogers off the underside of a table with your tongue, or huffing your grandma's pee-stained panties, or similar grossnesses... I can't remember exactly what he said, but if the smell of vast quantities of (what seemed to be) uncooked meat being stuffed into three open mouths wasn't enough to make you gag, his jokes sure helped. (This was at the Cinematheque, too!). No one barfed that I remember, but I certainly felt queasy, and I wasn't the one plunging fistfuls of squishy pork into my face. In the end, BJ lost out to some Asian dude...

Anyhow, after a screening at said fest of Tobe Hooper's then-current film The Toolbox Murders, Bougie and BJ and I ended up sharing a booth at the Templeton, bullshitting about cinema, and I remember Cinema Sewer coming up, and being mildly uncomfortable about the topic. I knew of his magazine, knew it was considered cool, but it was too taboo for me, too sleazy. At that point, to the extent that I consumed porn, I was pretty surreptitious about it, and even in the privacy of my own apartment, tried to be fairly politically correct, seeking female-friendly (or at least sex-positive) images to wank to. Though I would sometimes bring the topic up in company, and had admiration for pro-porn feminists like Annie Sprinkle, I didn't spend a lot of time really trying to defend its consumption, let alone treat it as an art form or object of study. I mean, I was watching a lot of Ingmar Bergman in those days, you understand. The first few times I flipped through Cinema Sewer, I felt at least a little put off by Bougie's apparently totally shameless chronicling of his porn habits. I could tell he had great love for his subject matter - and for sleazy exploitation, as well as porn; but I simply was not ready for his magazine.

I'm glad to have come around. I don't collect every issue, but I now have all four volumes of the softbound FAB Press books, count Robin as at least a bit of a friend, and was very, very excited to get my hands on his hardcover book of porno posters, Graphic Thrills (also published by FAB). And though I still am a bit afraid of most of the films he writes about, a few that I have seen - like Zebedy Colt's deeply transgressive The Devil Inside Her, with Annie Sprinkle herself in an early role - have been utterly fascinating. And Graphic Thrills is a beautiful object and as fun and fine a coffee table book as one could wish for - a fine addition to my FAB collection.

So here's an email interview with Robin Bougie!

AM: Most people seem to consider their porn use something best left private, secret, un-discussed. Was there a specific turning point for you where you decided you were going to simply be out and public talking about porn? Was it liberating (akin, say, to "coming out of the closet")? Did it come easily, or did you have to overcome various challenges en route?

RB: It didn't come easily. It's a slow process, and other people can make it even slower with the way they treat you. I remember how humiliating it felt to have it get repeated all over junior high that I masturbated. I told it to another kid in strict confidence, and he then proceeded to blab it all over the school. By the end of the week, I was the laughing stock of so many kids, and I felt like a freak. A kid committed suicide over the same thing just last week down in the states, so thank god I didn't get that upset about it. It was worse for this kid the other day though, because of social media, which just amps everything up to 10 because of how fast the info is spread. But talk is talk, you know? And when you're a kid you don't know how to deal with that yet. You think you're the only one on earth jerking your dick. Of course, 99% of those hypocritical little fucks were jerking and jilling off back in grade 9 even while they were making me feel like a pariah, but that's the cruelty of children for you. They don't care about tossing someone else under the bus as long as it isn't them. They hopefully learn not to be self-centered assholes later on.

AM: I'm pretty sure I've read interviews with you where people ask you what you're jerking off to lately. Do you find questions like that at all strange to answer? Do you still have some boundaries when it comes to talking about sex and porn?

RB: I'm totally fine with that. I really don't see any reason to have shame about that stuff, nor am I too concerned with privacy. I guess it would be weird talking about what I jerk off to in front of my family over dinner or something, I guess. But even that is something I'm starting to get used to since so many of them have friended me on Facebook and are presumably reading those posts where I openly talk about that kind of thing. The only thing I'm really cagey about is when it involves someone else. My wife Rebecca isn't as comfortable airing out her dirty laundry as I am, and that's totally fine. I have to be discreet sometimes.

AM: You've told me about your history with FAB Press, but would you go on record about it? I've loved every FAB book I've gotten my hands on (so far, Eyeball, Nightmare USA, No Borders No Limits, the books about Miike and Tsukamoto, the Cinema Sewer anthologies, and Graphic Thrills). If there's a cooler publisher doing books about film right now, I don't know of them. Is it a happy relationship? Are further collaborations planned?

RB: Yeah, I'm very happy with FAB. We're working on Graphic Thrills book 2 right now, and Cinema Sewer book 5 is in the works. I met Harvey Fenton in Montreal at Fantasia Fest. Due to its track record of quality, his company was my first choice to do a book collection of my Cinema Sewer movie zine, and I knew he was going to be there at the film fest selling his books in the lobby for a week. So I booked a plane ticket, and got my ass out there, and since I knew some people, I managed to get a spot selling my stuff at the same table as he was. We stuck up a friendship, and watched a lot of movies at the fest, sold a lot of books and magazines, and it really was a perfect match. It took me a year and yet another trip to Montreal to the festival the next year to convince him, but it all worked out great!

AM: How much input did FAB have in Graphic Thrills? Do they grant you pretty much free reign?

RB: A lot of input, but I also had pretty much free reign. That's one of the things that is fantastic about a good editor. They're there to offer up great ideas, and cover your ass when you have mistakes, but they also are smart enough to get the hell out of the way and let you do what you're good at. It's like any relationship, I guess, in that there needs to be compromise on some things, but as long as you play that game at key times, the rest of it is smooth sailing. Harvey at FAB did a lot of key things in Graphic Thrills, such as come up with the layout concept. That was huge, because bad layout has ruined so many otherwise good poster books. I think we work good together.
AM: I'm curious about the source of the Sharon Mitchell anecdote about her occasionally sneaking "into a porn theatre that was playing one of her movies" and sucking "the cock of a startled patron." Is that something you got from her? (It feels like the sort of thing that might appear in a porno mag as a sort of stroke-fantasy for the readership, so it seems a bit dubious to me!). I notice that the writeup for The Violation of Claudia features quotes from old porn mags, so I'm wondering if you never got the chance to talk to her...? (Incidentally, while she seems from what I've read to be an interesting person, I always thought she was one of the least sexy pornstars out there, so it's interesting to me that you kinda love her!).

RB: No, I've never had a chance to interview Sharon, sadly. I totally agree with you about that story sounding like porn magazine fantasy stuff, and I'm usually pretty weary of that since I do get a fair amount of quotes from old adult magazines because that is where 90% of the interviews with vintage adult movie stars ran back in the day, and sometimes the writers at these mags were known to make shit up. But in this case I felt confident to repeat that, because I'd seen her mention it in at least two magazine interviews. And then there is that I know what I know about her activity back in those days of the late 1970s and early 1980s -- the amount of drugs she did and kind of kinky sex she got into -- I believe it.

I'll agree with you that on paper Sharon Mitchell had a sort of mannish quality (for lack of better term) and a big Jewish nose that can be off-putting in terms of what is "sexy" in terms of traditional standards of beauty, but I think truly sexy people transcend that kind of stuff. I'm talking about people who are very comfortable and fucking OWN their sexuality. I think "standards of beauty" are meaningless to them. So I would say if you want to know why so many people find someone sort of average looking like Mitch so goddamn hot, you need to watch more of her movies. Then again, it's also worth noting that everyone has different tastes, and I celebrate that too. Porn is like music in that respect. We all like what we like! The cool thing about porn from Sharon Mitchell's era of the 1970s and early 1980s, is that there were a lot of variances to draw from. It wasn't just a bunch of lookalike Barbies with no pubes and the same perm. There were different body types, and different looking men and women starring in the movies.
AM: This is going to be a bit critical-seeming, but as cool as the images are in Graphic Thrills, there really isn't much writing about the posters, or information about them. That strikes me as curious, since in some cases (High Priestess of Sexual Witchcraft) they seem to be more interesting than the films, and in others - A Coming of Angels, say - the art is actually curious enough that I wonder who did it, and what else they might have done. The painting for that poster seems to be signed, but if you mention the artist anywhere, I can't spot it! Are porn poster artists shy about talking about their work, or was there some other reason for this approach...?

RB: Yeah, I mention the artist of the A Coming of Angels, "August", on page 15 of Graphic Thrills, in the part where I'm talking about the challenges of identifying artists of these posters, even when they've signed the work. It was a big hurdle, because I'm the very first one to try to tell the poster artist's story with this book. No one else has ever tried to attempt it, and because of that there isn't much info out there at the moment. I've dug up what I can, but it really is the last part of the story of vintage adult movies that hasn't been told yet -- even for non-porn movies, come to think of it. Hell, it's the only major credit that the Internet Movie Database doesn't even bother to have a placeholder for. Even if someone randomly finds out who did a poster, where can they archive the information for easy access for the rest of us if they poster artists are ghettoized from the IMDB? And that's the challenge I continue with in Graphic Thrills 2, but I have uncovered a lot more interesting info as I've gone. It's like detective work, and it can be slow-going. Graphic Thrills 2 is going be amazing, Allan.

Keep in mind who these men and women were who made these images. The last era of painted posters. The end of the line, and no younger generation of artists coming along to learn their skills? Fuck man, they felt like dinosaurs. It went to photo posters after that, and you can't find most of these artists anymore to ask them shit because many of them are dead, or don't want to be found, especially not by some pervert making a book about porn movies. Listen, many of the illustrators were family men, and middle aged or older by the time the late 1970s and early 1980s rolled around. They'd made a meagre living through the 50s and 60s on advertising art, pulp novels, poster art, mens adventure magazine covers, children's books, and other similar jobs. The mortgage had to be paid, and food had to be put on the table, so they often found themselves having to take whatever work was available and handed off to them, including commissions that they found morally repugnant – like posters for exploitation or sexploitation pictures, and porno flicks. They want to be remembered for the children's books they did at the beginning of their career, and the landscapes they're painting now that they're retired. Not the poster for “Pussycat Ranch” and “Ultra Flesh”.

AM: Maybe I should already know this, but have you done any porn poster art? Have you been asked? (Do people still even produce movie posters for porno films or is it all box art now?).

RB: Yeah, I've done the DVD covers for Bare Behind Bars and S&M Hunter for Arrow in the UK. There is something of a resurgence for illustrated posters and DVD cover work, but it's not mainstream yet. Have a look at the work of guys like The Dude Designs, and guys like that. They're doing amazing work.

AM: Curious that you kind of begin and end on darker, more distressing aspects of porn. The first poster we see is for Deep Throat, which supposedly has this coerced performance from an abused star. The last one, for the Findlay pseudo-doc about Shauna Grant's death, is of course tainted by how she died (suicide by shotgun). Why bookend the book with these? ...And I'm curious - at a distance, as a viewer and writer, do you find that stuff, the weird and sometimes distressing epiphenomena around the films, makes the films more interesting or less? Like, you seem to have a moral objection or two to the sleaziness of the Shauna Grant film, describe it as being pretty tacky and tasteless and false - and then you recommend it!

RB: Yeah, I feel the same way about a movie like Not a Love Story too! It's a anti-porn documentary made to cast a disparaging light on anyone who would make or want to look at content involving naked women having sex, and yet it's a totally entertaining documentary for exactly that reason. Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer, right? I don't have to share someone's politics to find their movie entertaining. In fact, if I think what they've said is false or tasteless or false, all the more reason to indulge. I love a good laugh! Nothing better than a good trainwreck!

There was no conscious choice to end or begin on dark or distressing elements of porn, but that's fine if that's how it ended up. Those are interesting stories. You might read through this book from cover to cover one single time when you first pick it up, but every time after that, you'll begin and end in the middle. You'll pick it up and read here and there. All my books are like that, such as the four Cinema Sewer books I've done. Everything is in bite-sized morsels, perfect for reading when you're taking a crap. It's shotgun style. Blam. Interesting tidbits, interesting quotes, a little bit of my personality in there, and then some plot synopsis, and then get out. Blam. Next page.

AM: Speaking of Shauna Grant, it's my impression that there's an unhealthy amount of interest out there about porn stars who kill themselves, like it proves something about porn. Like, when cops kill themselves, say, people don't go "AHA! Being a policeman is bad!" No real question here but I wonder if it's something you've thought about or written on, where you think it comes from, and if you think there's any truth to the idea that porn is somehow a "high-suicide" profession?

RB: I'm a big fan of all of these moralizing made-for-TV movies about the evils of porn, and how they'll ruin your life. I saw a great one the other day from 1987 called Shattered Innocence! They're meant to scare housewives, or make “moral” people feel superior. I totally agree with you and what you're saying here, though, in that so little of it has anything to do with the truth, but even that dishonesty doesn't upset me unless I really dissect it and think about it. I guess I'm enjoying them ironically to some degree, but I love how filthy and sleazy a movie like, say, 1980's Hardcore makes porn. I enjoy the hand-wringing, and the distraught father horrified about what his little girl has become. I embrace that filth and that neon-soaked grime. It's very sexy to me. It's very attractive, and a signal of freedom. It has the opposite effect on me than it was supposed to. For me to get upset about it is like getting upset about the amount of debauchery in Weimar Germany in 1922. I'm too far removed from it for it to be real. It's a carnival and a fantasyland of sin.

But yeah, I agree with you. There are actually very few instances of porn stars killing themselves. It's probably a lower suicide rate than most professions, to be honest. Same with dying of AIDS. They get tested every other week – who else does that? Not most of the people having a lot of casual sex out there, you can bet on that.

AM: I confess that I show porn nowhere near the amount of respect that you do, for the most part. Most of my use of it is very utilitarian. If I'm actually watching a video, my finger is always very close to the speed search button; I get in, find something hot, jerk off, and get out, wasting as little time as possible on the plot or the dialogue. I seldom even bother watching whole movies, if I'm jerking off, and I certainly don't stick around after I come to find out how they end. As a porno scholar, do you impose any obligations on yourself that make you watch porn differently from that? No fast forwarding? Watching films to completion?

RB: Well, that's exactly why I'm not writing about the history of modern porn. There isn't much else to write about or to enjoy aside for exactly what you're talking about. I do the same thing with modern day shit. Wank and done. There isn't much else to see, is there? Porn shot-on-video and shot-on-digital since 1990 is incredibly one-dimensional, for the most part. It simply exists to get you off, with a few exceptions like the porn movie spoof comedies, and a few talented directors looking to do something different, such as Eon McKai and such. But I can count those exceptions on one hand, really. “Utilitarian” is a good word for it. The older stuff is enjoyable on many different levels – the music, the fashion, the acting, the plot, the way the movie looks because it's shot on film and lit in artistic ways. Often I don't even have a boner because I'm too engrossed with what everything else that is going on. When have you ever said that about modern pornography? With the 1970s movies you're missing way too much if you fast forward, so that's not an issue for me. Yeah, on some of the *really* badly made vintage XXX I'm fast forwarding through the sex to get to the plot points so I can properly review it for my magazine or the books I'm doing, but it doesn't happen as often as people might assume.

AM: You have a few films involving Zebedy Colt - either as director or actor - in Graphic Thrills and he's kind of an exception to the above, for me. I've only seen one of his films to completion - The Devil Inside Her - but I was fascinated, and I've read your writing about his others and I want to see them all. Speaking of Zebedy Colt, where did you score your Sex Wish poster? How much did it cost? Is there much of a collector's market for porno posters? Do you collect them yourself? What's the most you've paid for a porno poster?

RB: Found my Sex Wish poster at Hollywood Cowboys, which was a vintage poster shop that used to be on Broadway between main and Cambie here in Vancouver. Guy named Kevin used to run it. It cost me $20. He had a box of them, and couldn't get rid of them. No interest. Meanwhile, he had posters for mainstream movies from the same time for hundreds, and could move them no problem. That's the thing about these posters, they get very little respect from collectors, which is fine with me. I can buy them all up without much competition. If Graphic Thrills continues doing well, I'm pretty sure all that will change though very soon, though. In fact, I'm already seeing the prices going up in the last year. A lot of genre movie nerds are going to feel very very stupid for not taking an interest in collecting these one-sheets back when they could be scored for less than the cost of shipping them, especially once they're going for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
AM: Since you're a list maker, if you were going to make a list of your favourite films in Graphic Thrills, which would they be?

RB: Of the movies whose posters appear in Graphic Thrills, these would be my 10 personal favourite movies. There are other movies that are more important historically, but for pure entertainment, these all must-sees. I could have done a list of 20, actually. Because this list doesn't even have Intimate Illusions, Corruption, or Easy Alice, which shouldn't be missed either. But yeah, there are so many good movies in this book!

Midnight Heat (1983)
Sex Wish (1976)
Nothing To Hide (1981)
Femmes De Sade (1976)
Ecstasy Girls (1980)
Pretty Peaches (1978)
Cafe Flesh (1983)
Consenting Adults (1982)
Violation of Claudia (1977)
The Devil In Miss Jones (1973)

AM: Anything else...?

RB: People should check out my podcast:

And also my online store, where all my various zines, books, comics, and DVDs are available:

And also friend me on Facebook!

Thanks to Robin Bougie!

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