A Thriller

Wolfe Video,

David Kittredge

Matthew Montgomery,
Pete Scherer,
Jared Grey,
Walter Delmar,
Dylan Vox
Steve Callahan
Nick Salamone,
Wyatt Fenner,
Larry Weissman,
David Pevsner,
Sean Abley

Unrated, 113 minutes

Snuff Film Trilogy
by Michael D. Klemm
A shorter version also appeared on, July, 2010
Posted online, July, 2010

I love a good mystery. Pornography: A Thriller, the debut film from writer/director David Kittredge, is a surprisingly intelligent, albeit confusing, mystery and ghost story revolving around the disappearance of a gay porn star. It is sexy, it is sometimes scary, and the rug gets continually pulled out from under the viewer's feet. By the end of this strange roller coaster ride, it will no longer be clear what is real and what is not. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night..

Mark Anton (Jared Grey) was popular because he looked like the boy next door and everyone wants to do the boy next door. Mark dropped out of the porn business but his attempts to go legit are backfiring. Cold water is thrown on his aspirations to become a photographer when his art class professor calls his work "boring." Despite having a boyfriend, who knows nothing about his background in porn, Mark hustles on the side to make ends meet. An old producer contacts the retired porn star with an offer. All he has to do is make a private video for a mysterious client and he can walk away with forty grand. He agrees and is never heard from again.

Flash forward fourteen years later. There is something odd about the new loft apartment that Michael Castigan (played by gay indie favorite Matthew Montgomery) and his partner have just moved into. Michael is researching a book on "genre filmmaking" - his euphemism for 1970s gay porn. He finds evidence that camcorders once hung all over the apartment and then discovers a video cassette hidden in the wall. The tape breaks but not before Michael glimpses a screaming man in a white room, strapped to a gurney, and a masked figure threatening him.

A buddy who runs a video store, and helps him locate vintage porn, tells Michael about an urban legend concerning Mark Anton. Supposedly a snuff video exists wherein the missing porn star is tied to a gurney and killed. Michael gives him the broken tape and asks if he can fix it. When the video store owner - and the tape - vanishes, Michael begins to dig deeper into the mystery even as he realizes that his own life might be in danger. Supernatural elements begin to intrude and reality breaks down.

This scenario reaches a crescendo and a third story immediately begins. An adult film star named Matt Stevens (Pete Scherer) wakes from a nightmare. Dazed, he sits down at his computer and writes, in one sitting, a screenplay called The Mark Anton Story that mirrors the film's first half hour. Matt wants to make it into a movie and talks his producer (Steve Callahan) into letting him star and direct. Imagine his surprise when he discovers that Anton is a real person and the subject of urban myth. And then weird things begin to happen on and off the movie set.

A featured review blurb on the film's website calls Pornography "the Citizen Kane of gay porn ghost stories." This is, of course, going a bit too far but Pornography is a well made popcorn film that did well on the festival circuit and should find a large audience on DVD. Does this film make rational sense? Not by a long shot but, oddly, it hardly matters. Ghost stories have a logic all their own and normally require the suspension of belief. Shakespeare said it best when Hamlet declares that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Fans of David Lynch, especially his enigmatic Mulholland Drive, will find much to admire. Like Lynch's film, everything we see is in question and it is also possible that the entire central episode might be a dream.

Beneath the thriller veneer, the film has a few serious things to say about porn and why we watch it. It explores the shifting nature of desire and straddles the often-blurred line between reality and fantasy. Several characters admit to having seen an obviously faked snuff film and this may explain the alleged killer's insistence, while he conducts his video interviews with both of the porn stars, that they be "real" with him. Pornography also dares to examine what may be the cinema's last taboo when we view the shocking tableau of masked patrons at an underground snuff movie. This scene recalls the masked orgy in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and is beyond creepy.

Pornography has more than its share of WTF moments. Characters, actors, events and symbols recur in each of the three episodes (the same actor - Walter Delmar - plays both Michael and Matt's boyfriends, and most of the cast pulls double duty by playing different characters in the second and third acts). Key lines of dialogue reappear again and again, especially the enigmatic question: "Is this what you really want to see?" An important symbol seems to be the crossword puzzle that the doomed porn star enjoys. The film itself is an intriguing puzzle but I'm not sure if this puzzle can be solved. If you give up trying to connect the dots in the three vignettes, each can be enjoyed as a good stand-alone story in its own right (but picking out the recurring elements is part of the fun). Each episode is filmed in a distinctive style. The cast is terrific, Montgomery and Scherer are especially likable and you want them to solve their respective mysteries.

Works of fiction that lend themselves to a variety of interpretations keep their audiences coming back for more. This is going off on a (probably self indulgent) tangent but I think some of the most interesting ghost stories are the ones that might have other explanations. Henry James' 1898 novella, The Turn Of The Screw, is a good example. Modern scholarship suggests that it is not a ghost story at all. Instead, it is really the psychological study of a sexually repressed Victorian governess who only thinks she sees ghosts coming after the souls of the two children in her charge. As evidence, these revisionist critics cite several points, the biggest ones being that 1): no one sees the ghosts but her and 2): she fantasizes about her employer, she enjoys reading gothic romances, and the description of Peter Quint's ghost matches a popular villain from the era's pulp fiction. Pornography doesn't necessarily lend itself towards a similar critical reassessment but the filmmaker drops enough oblique clues and hints to make for an enjoyable hunt. He certainly doesn't dumb down the mystery for his audience.

At the very least, Pornography is a feast for the senses. Director Kittredge cut his teeth as editor and sound mixer on a fun queer horror film called Socket - which also starred Matthew Montgomery - and his affection for the genre is obvious. (Socket's director, Sean Abley, produces and also plays the DP on Matt's film.) He is good at establishing an air of menace and inducing shivers. He also has a great sense of humor. The pace is brisk and the film is never boring. Because the story involves gay porn, expect much eye candy and explicit (though not XXX rated) sex.

As I completed this review, I received a second screener with the bonus features. The disc contains many fine extras, including deleted scenes and a short "making of" documentary. The director, producer and cast commentary is entertaining but, to be quite honest, the film's non-linear structure confuses me even more after listening to some of the director's hints. I did get a kick out of learning that Montgomery met his partner, fellow actor Steve Callahan, on the set. They share one scene together in a lavatory wherein Montgomery walks away when Callahan cruises him. Montgomery calls it his least convincing performance in the movie.

This isn't Hitchcock, but it is an ambitious, and enjoyable, psychological mind game.


Matthew Montgomery also appears in
Long Term Relationship
Back Soon

Flight Of The Cardinal

Steve Callahan also appears in:
East Side Story
Make The Yuletide Gay
Abrupt Decision

David Pevsner also appears in:
Adam & Steve
The Fluffer
A Portrait of James Dean: Joshua Tree, 1951
Old Dogs & New Tricks