After codirecting Interior. Leather Bar, a sort of docu-fiction hybrid that realizes deleted scenes from William Friedkin’s controversial cop drama Cruising, James Franco continues his exploration of BDSM with Kink, a documentary he produced about Kink.com. The popular hardcore porn site’s Cinecittà-like production studio at the San Francisco Armory is home to multiple stories of soundstages, executive and financial spaces, pre-production offices, and dressing rooms, and it’s there that director Christina Voros introduces us to people from all departments: directors, casting agents, set designers, actors, and administrative personnel. In its brief runtime, Kink manages a comprehensive, both funny and occasionally fascinating, overview of this mini-society, a fully functioning community based on collaboration, creativity, and, despite the harsh exteriors, compassion.
Head honcho Peter Acworth appears at the start of the film, taking Voros on a walk through the company’s massive space, though his tour is temporarily disrupted by the sound of distant shrieks and moans. “They’re filming an orgy around corner,” he says, hilariously nonchalant. Voros’s subjects are quick to admit that their chosen profession is, to put it one way, unique, but they’re much more adamant in their claims that BDSM is misunderstood. Without sounding preachy and defensive, Kink.com’s filmmakers and actors discuss what drew them to the lifestyle, some of them claiming to have a spiritual—in addition to sexual—connection to watching and participating in acts of extreme physical violence, torture, and humiliation. Non-kinksters probably won’t bust out the whips and chains after watching the film, but they’re sure to gain a broader understanding of this unique world given the insightfulness and articulateness of those who inhabit it.
More than just a thorough examination of hardcore pornography, Kink is also a sort of chronicle of the filmmaking process. Kink.com’s house filmmakers approach their work with a seriousness one might not expect from a porn director: While shooting a gay torture scene, director Van Darkholme, a Vietnamese American who grew up fantasizing about whipping the muscular football players he saw on TV, is fixated on his monitor, his brow furrowed and shoulders stiffened in intense concentration. In that moment, he appears just as committed to the quality of his material as a more “professional” filmmaker is to his or her craft, and the line of what constitutes legitimate work is virtually obliterated.
Indeed, the concept of work, or, more specifically, labor, is central to the film. Surrounding Van Darkholme and his fellow directors is an entire organizational system, the breadth of which is illustrated in Voros’s fly-on-the-wall style. In true vérité mode, the director sits in on pre-production meetings, rehearsals, interdepartmental dealings, set construction, and an array of other innocuous situations that go into producing decidedly un-innocuous material, providing a glimpse into the detailed inner-workings of the company while also revealing just how good seemingly every Kink.com employee is at their job. The proficiency with which they work—their ability to communicate harmoniously with one another, the inventive and passionate way they approach their craft, the way each individual carries out his or her specifically designated role—quickly becomes the most enticing thing in a movie filled with taboo sex.
It’s enough to make you forget that you’re watching a hardcore BDSM porn production company at work; if anything, Kink.com is more akin to an ant colony. That is, until Voros turns the camera directly toward the action, but even then, nothing is as extreme as it appears on the surface. Even the kinkiest sex scene is the result of vanilla grunt work, which, in a way, renders the kinkiness kind of dull. This intriguing paradox contributes to the familiar but no less truthful idea that appearances are often deceiving; rarely is that more exhilaratingly evident than in Kink.