Through an Ass Darkly
In the porn documentary The Making of Arabesque, Raging Stallion director Chris Ward explores a crucial visual difference between the films of Hollywood and those of the gay porn industry. “In Hollywood,” Ward explains, “you can have shadows because they’re cool — they make the movies. In porn you gotta see it. If you can’t see it, it ain’t there, is it?” Or so conventional wisdom goes. Luckily, a few very talented directors — including Ward himself — are trying it differently.
In Lucas Entertainment’s new New York-tinged Encounters series, director Tony Dimarco films an incredibly hot scene with shadows cast by a cheap reading lamp. “Dorm Room Education” may seem a rote enough title, but the awkward, tense encounter between freckled Blu Kennedy and borough-wise Danny Bitho — sometimes shown only in shadowy sillouette — is sexy because of what it leaves off-screen as much as for what it puts on it.
And in Dark Alley Media’s No Exit, director Matthias Von Fistenberg takes the promise of darkness even further, at times obscuring penetration and cock shots in the service of heightening the erotic tension. DAM’s first two films, Mutiny and Unleashed are both filmed in low light, and resist other dominant porn conventions (like the ever tiresome kiss-suck-rim-fuck progression).
In the initial scene of No Exit, Owen Hawk takes control of a bound-and-gagged Mario Cruz and has had his stiff dick in both Cruz’s mouth and ass before we ever get a shot of his partner’s rock-hard pole. Similarly, through most of the scene in Encounters, the camera gives only short glimpses of Blu Kennedy’s cock, shorter even than the one-second suck Bitho gives him.
Von Fistenberg and Dimarco are more in line with roller coaster designers than traditional porn directors. That rickety, clack filled climb to the top, the pause before the drop, raises blood pressure as surely as do the g-forced accelerations that follow. And follow they always do. We forgive the (off-screen) frenzied jerking of Cruz and the initial (hidden) penetration of Kennedy because we trust we’ll be given the full-on fucking later on. When the veil is finally lifted — revealing Kennedy’s stuffed hole or Cruz’s rigid meat — you could shoot across the room.
Despite his “show-me-the-money” dictum, Raging Stallion’s Ward often keeps shots off-screen as well. Not only are his sets dark and smoky, his camera lingers on “lesser” muscles like calves and backs as much as it does the traditional pecs and glutes. And in what is perhaps the most iconic scene from Arabesque, the so-called “Turkish Bath,” barrel-chested Turk Hussein and scalp-tatt’d Frenchman Francois Sagat fuck bathed in blue light, against a dark sky. Not only is it visually stunning, the contrast of shadows and skin keeps us more attuned to the action than if we were solely given a fly-on-the-thigh view.
In backrooms and steamrooms men have long enjoyed the erotic value of the dark, which not only provides anonymity, it allows fantasy to flourish. It’s odd that the visual reprentation of fantasy — pornography — so rarely allows us to make our own.