On the Fringe of the AVN

This is the way porn stars should be, I think, bad-ass and free, connected to their bodies but not overly reverent about it.’

Liz Armstrong

Most pornography is anhedonic, pleasurable until we're numb and sickened, and that's why we like it. Max Power is hoping to change that with his small production company, A Positive Films. His erotic documentary-style movies cater to those who "thirst for a new breed of porn stars and adult cinema," he says in the PR, "or an alternative to the Baywatch-porn that currently dominates the industry." Saturday night he hosts Alt Makers Ball at Empire Ballroom, an event he calls his "hello to the world." One of his erotic shorts, F.I.W.F.—a sensual, for-real romantic candle-lit dinner party in which lioness Satine Phoenix is splayed on the table, truly reveling in all the attention, won second place at last year's Good Vibrations Amateur Erotic Film Festival. Other than that, you can't find much of his work yet.

At the bar I spy a dark angel in a silver-sequined trapeze dress, scuffed black cowboy boots, black jelly bracelets, tiny sparkly nose ring and glitter on her eyelids. Her obviously brand-new tattoo of a pirate girl is all pink, scabby and verging on infection, and she doesn't bother bandaging it. I realize I recognize her from my hometown, where I knew her as a surly troublemaker. At the party she's heralded as Loretta Loren, underground porn star. You could've knocked me over with a feather.

She plops into a booth reserved for bottle service, props her legs up on the little glass table and flicks her ash wherever she wants. "I'm not a real porn star," she says. "I'm just a dirty scummy person. I don't want to get my nails done. I don't want to have to wash my vag." She lifts up her bottle of Coors. "Cheers to stinky pussy!" We clink glasses and talk about the time we first met, at a house party in Chicago last summer, when she was flirting with my special someone and I threatened to beat her up. She picks up her bottle again and shouts, "Cheers to kicking ass!"

This is the way porn stars should be, I think, bad-ass and free, connected to their bodies but not overly reverent about it. Sadly, most of the women I encountered over the weekend seemed to fetishize themselves as a series of parts: breasts topped off with meringue-swirl nipples, a slick spot between their legs. The Sands was a labyrinth of booth after booth and tent after tent of too-tan women with their skirts lazily, sloppily sagging off their hips, carelessly displaying an ass crack—because who cares, the clothes are gonna come off soon anyway.

At the convention, a muscular gel-head walked around with a penis-shaped dildo on a springy stick; when he pushed down on a handle, it'd bounce up with equal force like some sort of carnival prize. Machines pumped hot pink cocks sideways on pistons. Banners boasted anatomical features like they were accessories—"Big Black Greeze Butts," for example, as if we're not a holistic system inhabited by spirit, if not soul. At Alt Makers Ball, the women hoot and holler, tie up one another for fun, high-five, share drinks, hold conversations, make out with passion.

San Francisco emcee, crooner and smoothly spastic electronics mastermind Gold Chains hits the floor; I slow-dance with an older gent in a gnarly grill and floor-length faux-beaver coat and matching Cossack hat. Some little dude in a skullcap tries to freak me; Loretta shoves him and he goes flying across the room, stopping when his back slams against the DJ booth.

He slumps to the ground. Loretta helps him up, and when the bouncers try to get him out of there she protects him, saying he just needs to take a break.

She leads him to a seat, and then she and I dance together like we're being electrocuted. I'm so happy I pee my tights a little.

Though the scene is certainly much, much different from what I've experienced the previous couple of days, I still haven't seen a Max Power movie. At the party, he agrees to leave a DVD for me at the rental house he and his posse have been inhabiting in the northeastern part of town.

The next day, I turn off Sahara, make a left at the discarded shopping cart, follow the street around the bend and spot a white ranch home with stone columns and a garden of stubby, shaggy, prehistoric-looking palms. Peering through the curlicue iron gates safeguarding the wall of sliding-glass doors, I see two mismatched white couches, both with dust ruffles, a Shaker-style dining-room set, a pool table and glass shelves. An Indian-style rug mural featuring a majestic elephant is painted on the covered driveway; to the left, chopped wood in shrink-wrapped bundles; to the right, two plastic garbage cans. I find the movie in a crinkled paper grocery bag behind the trash.

Jumpy Castles in the Sky, the first short on the DVD, features a 19-year-old named Lexi Belle, who gambols around town in heavy red suede wedges and '80s rapper-style shades. Her platinum, apricot and chestnut hair makes her look like a pretty pony, and her embroidered, checkered western shirt makes her look like a cowgirl. She sucks down some icy coffee concoction from a straw in a plastic cup, that cheeky little magenta-eyeshadowed gamine. She peruses rows and rows of drugstore toys.

"The world is insane," she declares, "and I need to conquer it on my own."

Shortly thereafter, we see her enter an inflatable room filled with plastic balls, where her playmate, Lexi Bardot, is waiting for her in a rubber corset, ruffly miniskirt and fishnet thigh-highs. Generic DJ Shadow-esque music kicks in; the two frolic and wrestle until Tommy Pistol shows up with his gun.

It's shot in high contrast, globules of margarine light warming up skin. The actors all have tattoos and/or piercings, and none of them appears to be surgically altered. There's a bit of toe-sucking. But it's mostly a familiar scene: guy gets serviced, chicks get throttled, show's over after the facial. At least Power took the time to introduce us to our heroine beforehand so we know she's a person before we view her like an object.

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