At the beginning of the new documentary All Boys, a voice-over expresses a sentiment common in the gay and bisexual male community: "I have no problem with porn. It depends on how it’s made. Are the actors volunteers who enjoy what they’re doing?"
In the movie, we get a pretty clear answer to that question, at least when it comes to those movies filmed in Prague.
The area became a bustling gay adult movie center in the 1990s when a producer named George Duroy discovered that, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain, there were a lot of extremely attractive, economically disadvantaged young men who were willing to do almost anything for money. He founded Bel Ami
Since then, a huge, albeit informal industry has sprung up in the city (and, we’re told, in surrounding European countries). But seemingly unencumbered by regulation (or ethics), the industry has also victimized its participants to an alarming degree.
We all know these movies are a fantasy, but I was surprised just how much of a complete lie it really is.
The men, almost all of whom are straight and using Viagra or penile injections, are clearly taken advantage of: forced to sign draconian contracts and required to perform without condoms (the producer of the country’s first bareback film almost boasts about it on film — although all the other companies in the city quickly followed suit).
And no matter how popular or successful they are, the young men are quickly chewed up and spit out — no longer needed in an industry that constantly requires fresh faces, and always has another flock of desperate 18-20 year-olds anyway.
The alumni? Many, intoxicated by making relatively good money for such quick work, turn to drugs and prostitution, only to be washed up, tragic figures before they hit their mid-twenties (many also probably end up HIV-positive, although the movie doesn’t go into this).
All Boys is sometimes a little muddled (especially the opening), and it meanders somewhat. But it asks a provocative question: just how much of a blind eye is the gay male community willing to turn in order to get off?
At the same time, it captures on film moments of tragedy that are almost breathtaking in their realism.
One girlfriend is interviewed with her boyfriend, a former adult film actor who claims, "It was just work." But I defy even Meryl Streep to put on a performance as convincing as that of the girlfriend, who soon displays a complicated mixture of regret, anger, and embarrassment — and, in the end, also a little prurience when she admits she wouldn’t mind going to set the to watch.
Likewise, one of the actor’s mothers is interviewed. Her lack of moral judgment is stunning: she more than anyone is aware of the desperation and lack of opportunity that led her son to do what he does.
Perhaps the saddest story is that of a model who went by the name Aaron Hawke, a clearly disturbed young man who started doing adult movies in his teens, and also dated one of the industry’s most prominent producers, 51-year-old Dan Komar, for three years.
"I’m a big star in America," Hawke says early in the film, even as he laments that he only made $10,000 for all his work.
The film follows Hawk’s post-movie life for some time, and it’s difficult to imagine a sadder, more pathetic ending.
"Pygmalion is a myth," argues Komar, who pretty much embodies the term "creepy porn producer" and who takes no responsibility for anything. "You can take someone out of the street and teach them culture. But if they want to be an animal, you can’t change them into a human being."
Do all the performers end up in such dire straits? No, some apparently survive and move on. But at least in Prague, and at least among the people interviewed for this film, the idea that these are "volunteers" or that anyone is doing this for "fun" is quickly put to rest.
All Boys isn’t as good as the brilliant, must-see 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat, but it tells a similar story: adult cinema, which usually arrives to the fanfare of sexual liberation and rebellion, is often soon co-opted by amoral business interests, always willing to take advantage of the uneducated and the desperate in order to satisfy the insatiable and anonymous consumer.
Interestingly, Prague’s race-to-the-porn-bottom seems to have had a very fitting ending: the industry, which was so willing to victimize others, is itself victimized, by producers and performers who will work ever cheaper, and by consumers who now flagrantly pirate and share their films.
The movie is obviously the opposite of a turn-on: you’ll never look at Eastern European-produced adult films the same away again. But this is also a movie that every consumer of gay adult content should see.