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.

MY FEARS FOR ALL FELICITIES
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.

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12 responses

  1. Stephen Walker exploited ‘Felicity’ and stood by whilst Max Hardcore systematically subjected ‘Felicity’ to sadistic rape and male sexual violence. Walker continues to profit from his porn film which he claims is a documentary, but we are not fooled.

    Walker knew exactly what he was doing when he targetted ‘Felicity’ and took her to the US in order to present Hardcore with yet another female victim for Hardcore to subject to sadistic male sexual violence.

    Remember every time this porn film is shown it is filmed male sexual violence against women and remember too that hypocrite Stephen Walker is profiting because Walker continues to claim his porn film is ‘a documentary!’

  2. Also remember ‘Felicity’ knows this film continues to circulate and she cannot do anything to prevent males from masturbating/gloating as they watch yet another young woman being subjected to sadistic male sexual violence.

    There are innumerable women like Felicity who know films of themselves being subjected to sadistic male sexual violence are being purchased by males who can never ever be satisfied with watching films of innumerable women and girls being subjected to male sexual violence.

    These women never know when a strange male is going to come up to them and say ‘I saw your film last night wherein you were ‘given a going over by x male and yes you are a slut!’ These women have no legal redress whatsoever because they have supposedly ‘chosen’ to have themselves filmed whilst being subjected to male sexual violence. So don’t waste our time Walker because you are one of the many men who continue to profit by making pornographic films because male demand is insatiable.

  3. I know there was a big blow-up within radical feminist circles a while back over the screening of this documentary, but it is still a useful piece of evidence that shows how women in the porn industry are manipulated and worn down by their manager/pimps and the directors into doing things they did not give anything approaching meaningful consent to.

    Also, let’s not get confused about who is who in this film, Walker was a documentary maker, he followed Felicity, it was her manager/pimp who took her to see Max Hardcore. We can accuse Walker of being unethical by not stepping in earlier to get her out of there, but he did not set her up, and pretending he did serves no useful purpose.

  4. thenewpornculture

    I’m wondering if ‘Felicity’ has made any comment on this documentary?

  5. I remember reading this about 6 mo ago. I feel that the account slips from detailed to outrightly gratuitous every few sentences or so. It sounds like a dude who doesn’t really mind “normal porn” wrote it.

    Good to have Max Psychocore in line for the chopping block.

  6. I totally agree that there are problems with this documentary with regards to how much say Felicity has over its screening (probably none).

    And yes, the article is written by a dude and it’s unpleasant, but it’s still a useful piece of evidence.

    Most depictions of the sex industry are nothing more than glamorous extended adverts (I’m thinking of the pseudo-documentaries with names like sexetera or whatever that appear on digital channels aimed at a young male audience).

    I’ve seen Hardcore more than once, it is very powerful, and it’s impossible to deny how abusive the industry is (in large part probably because it has the authority of a male film maker who can’t be accused of a bias). It will reach a wider audience (yes, mostly looking for titillation) and it will carry more weight with a mainstream audience than, say, Andrea Dworkin’s writing on pornography – I’m not saying this is a good thing, I’m just being realistic about the way the world works.

  7. When this “man” dies, I will spit on his grave!!!

  8. Chocolattruffaut

    One of the interesting things about this is the language Walker uses that reveal in the end he really doesn’t full grasp how harmful the porn industry and this encounter is. He wrote that “Within seconds of their meeting, he pushed her over his desk, unzipped his flies, and began having sex with her” instead of writing “he raped her.” Walker also focuses on his personal feelings about the porn set, and only briefly mentions how jarred Felicity was. He frames the whole thing as just one scared ingenue he was able to white knight out of there (with a quick hand ringing about the “others,” ie the other vulnerable young women entering porn), instead of how this violence represents in microcosm the whole of rape culture.

  9. You’re absolutely right, it’s so easy to manipulate language to minimise the violence going on.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about, and hope to write properly about it at some point soon, what consent actually means under patriarchy, and, using Felicity’s experience as an example, ‘consent’ is simply being manipulated into a set of circumstances where you can’t say no.

  10. […] My fears for all Felicities [EDIT: link updated] […]

  11. […] like Hard Core, or the ‘Dark Side of Porn’ series that Channel 4 broadcast around 2005 did a much […]

  12. […] entirely convinced by his arguments, that suggest that they have concerns (about sex trafficking, about the abuses women suffer on porn sets) that go beyond his own individualised experience; apparently, questioning Habib in any way is […]

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