Daily Archives: January 5th, 2013

My fears for all Felicities

I noticed yesterday, when commenting on this thread, that the Evening Standard article My fears for all Felicities, doesn’t seem to be up there any more. Luckily, I save the stuff I reference, so can reproduce it here in full:

TRIGGER WARNING for descriptions of sexual violence.

By Stephen Walker 29.03.01

I was uneasy the moment I set eyes on Max Hardcore. A small man, perhaps 5ft 6in, he was wearing his trademark yellow cowboy hat. I’d already been told about the hat. I knew he wore it in most of the thousand-plus porn films in which he’d starred. And I knew something about those films. What I didn’t know was that the next few hours I’d spend with this man would present the biggest ethical challenge in my career as a documentary film-maker. It would also leave me with one of the most unforgettably unpleasant experiences I have ever had.

This is how it happened. I’d been asked to make a documentary about an English girl who was going to Los Angeles to be a porn star. Felicity, the girl in my film, had been invited by an agent called Richard to spend three weeks meeting producers and performing in films. Which is why I first met her at Los Angeles airport on a sultry November evening.

The thing about pornography is that everybody’s reaction is instantly suspect. What people say in public and what they think in private are often very different things. A lot of the documentaries on porn I’d seen looked like thinly disguised attempts to pull in big ratings while paying lip-service to the idea that the business was morally repugnant. Would mine be any different? After all, if I’m being honest, I was genuinely curious to know what it felt like to be on a porn set. Would I be excited? Shocked? Bored? And I wasn’t the only one. Most of my colleagues, not all of them male, were fascinated. Some were frankly envious, though they didn’t say so in public.

My first experience of a porn set was, to say the least, unsettling. Richard had brought Felicity to watch a gang-bang movie. Ten men were having sex with one girl in a wrestling ring. The overwhelming impression was the stench: of bodies, of sweat, of various other excretions. It was a revolting spectacle, about as erotic as a butcher’s shop. It was also, for obvious reasons, almost impossible to film. The best I could come up with was to concentrate on the litter of spent tissues on the floor. That, and the expression on Felicity’s face, as she saw, for the first time, just what it was she’d got herself into.

But this was only the beginning. After a week, I’d seen just about everything. I felt sick. What do you do when a producer shows you snapshots of his wife and kids before filming a simulated rape scene? How do you cope when a director tells you he is running for mayor in his home town and then boasts that his movies make Belsen look like a picnic? The fact is, you don’t. Trapped between your responsibilities as a professional film-maker and your sensibilities as a human being, you only hope that somewhere in your film there’s a truth that needs to be told.

Despite her growing disillusionment with the business, Felicity’s agent kept pushing her to do ever more extreme movies. More extreme meant more money, and Richard was out to make as much as possible. That’s how we came to find ourselves one afternoon at Max Hardcore’s house, high in the Hollywood hills.

The place was immediately disturbing. Perhaps it was the faint smell of antiseptic in the air, like a hospital. Or the three German Shepherds chained to the floor. Or maybe it was the wardrobe full of children’s clothes. I felt extremely anxious. So did Felicity. The only person who seemed to take this in his stride was Richard. But then he’d seen it all before.

When Max Hardcore finally arrived, he took Felicity into his office for what she, and I, thought would simply be an interview. But it wasn’t. Within seconds of their meeting, he pushed her over his desk, unzipped his flies, and began having sex with her. Felicity was obviously very scared. And yet I kept my camera running.

I still ask myself why. In retrospect, it’s easy to find convenient justifications for acting as I did. After all, I was making a documentary about porn. I was recording its sordid reality. And reality has a strange way of becoming unreal, as if already pre-recorded, when looked at through a viewfinder. Since Felicity hadn’t asked for help, should I have put the camera down and stopped things? I don’t know. What I do know is I’m still not sure, months later, if I got it right.

Afterwards, came the actual shoot. As Felicity went on set, I positioned myself nearby – close enough to hear, but not see, what might happen. As Max Hardcore’s camera began to roll, I switched mine off and waited.

Twenty minutes later, Felicity ran off the set in hysterics. Apparently, Hardcore had forced himself into her mouth so that she felt she was suffocating. She refused to go on with the shoot. He then tried every possible means to persuade her. (At one point, he demanded she personally pay for his crew.) At first, she resisted. Then she began to break down. Finally, she agreed to continue.

At that point, I knew I had to step in. Whatever consent may have existed earlier I felt no longer existed. As Felicity went into the bathroom to get ready, I went downstairs to Max.

I was very frightened. The house was remote, and it was very late. Those dogs, distressed by the commotion, were barking furiously. And Hardcore was extremely angry. But then so was I. Not only with him, but most of all with myself. I hadn’t stepped in earlier. Now I was determined to act. So I simply told Max he was not going to treat Felicity like that. I said all his efforts to manipulate her were there on film. Before he had a chance to act, we grabbed her and left the house. She sobbed all the way home in the car. She said she was terrified he was going to kill her.

Hours later, I got back to my hotel. I went to my room and double-locked the doors. I was sure Hardcore would come after me. After all, I had the video tapes and I wouldn’t be hard to find. I got into bed and rang my wife in London.

Somewhere in the middle of that call, I broke down. Perhaps, in part, it was the culmination of two weeks of living in a sort of claustrophobic hell, with no immediate escape. But mostly, it was the gnawing feeling that, in the presence of what I can only describe as a kind of evil, maybe I dithered too long. I suppose my only comfort is that, in the end, I was there to act at all. Who knows what would have happened if Felicity had been alone?

Which, of course, is exactly the case with the thousand other girls who’ve already performed with Max Hardcore. Or the thousand others who will. That’s something to remember, the next time one of my friends or colleagues asks me, in private, whether I had fun out there.

Hardcore, directed by Stephen Walker, will be broadcast on Channel 4 on 7 April at 10.30pm.