Gay men must drag the abjectness of their bodies around for so long it’s easy to imagine porn as the ultimate stage for their fresh-off-the-closet desirability. Much like the nouveau riche, their nouveau wanted bods are then capable of the most egregious excesses. Pornography: A Thriller might have been interested in that sort of narrative were it not so adamant about sealing its gaysploitation borders off to anything that is actually alive. This is the kind of film where characters are more like functions, the elements in the frame feel self-consciously planted, and what should have been a professional actor tells his lover that “there has to be a good porn movie with passion made after 1977” while they cook dinner and no one laughs.
The film is shaped as a mise en abyme in which generations of gay men connected to the porn industry (as either stars or scholars of it) find themselves haunted by a supernatural, faceless killer who wants a piece of their soul, but mostly their bodies. These men, who are at least able to pass on something other than just viruses, walk in and out of reality and fantasy, embodying this lethal porn curse, until we aren’t quite sure which one is which. If that’s enough triteness to make you want to jam a pencil in your eye, you should block your ears when one of the characters utters: “There is no past, there is no future. There is only right now.”
Pornography is more in love with the notion that a thriller could come to life in a porn setting than with what is actually interesting and relevant about its subject matter: queer bodies that can, finally (post-closet, post-Reagan, post-AIDS) be the object of a wanting gaze. Apart from the same-sex action, of which there’s very little and which is never sexy, there is no actual queering of the genre. All the players remain the same, except everyone has a penis.
At a time when the notion of the sex tape can bring about all sorts of post-postmodern anxieties and opportunities, and every celebrity or mortal spouse is just one image away from downfall, the film could at least have left room for something other than its by-the-book mechanics. Delving into the business of recorded queer intimacy and bypassing social commentary altogether (except that, surprise, everyone loves a money shot), the film reads like a desperate attempt for thriller legitimacy that over-borrows every cliché associated with the genre.
The retrieving of threatening evidence—in the shape of an artisanally developed photograph—from a foreboding manila envelope is, of course, always a delicious device. But the symbolism in Pornography is heavy-handed to the point of campiness. From the silver ring with an enigmatic insignia that shows up six or seven times to the reoccurrence of newspaper puzzles to illustrate, well, puzzling situations. The only thing missing is a character staring at the mirror to consider his split existence. But don’t worry, a character does say, “When I look in the mirror sometimes I feel like the face I see isn’t really my face.” With a straight face, and to his therapist. Or is it his real estate agent?