So here I am, on my lunch break, composing an e-mail to Max Hardcore. The bogeyman of porno–the man anti-porn zealots can point to when they’re making their accusations. The guy who just got out from a 30-month stint in a federal penitentiary for disseminating obscenity across state lines. The one who more or less invented the term “skull fuck.” Who gets his actresses to call him “Mister” in knee socks and pigtails, and then, in some cases, syphons his bodily waste into various orifices. That guy.
He and his case have both fascinated and repelled me for years and now that he’s out of jail and filming again, I’m hoping he’ll agree to a live Skype interview in front of an audience during the run of my art show. I want to show a few minutes’ worth of one his movies to the audience, then bring him up on a big screen and ask him some questions before letting the audience ask theirs. Because I think he and what he does and what’s happened to him, for better or worse, is important. But honestly, he freaks me out.
I ran into him last weekend in Vegas at the Adult Entertainment Expo, and did an on-the-spot five-minute interview with him on video. I’d been wondering what it would be like to meet him: everyone I know who knows him assures me he’s a nice guy. Some even call him sweet. He’s certainly well-spoken. When I wrote him a letter in prison, hinting at doing an interview with him about his work, he wrote back a five-page letter on lined notebook paper that he’d turned into stationery. “Max Hardcore,” it said at the top, “America’s Most Infamous Prisoner (TM)”–or something like that. He’d gone into detail about how shocked he’d been when a jury of “his peers” had found him guilty of violating their community standards for obscenity, citing First Amendment issues and the rights of the artist. I discontinued our correspondence after that, less interested in the technicalities by which he was incarcerated and more in why he made the films he made in the first place, but his arguments were valid.
Max may have done some things on camera that I can’t agree with, but so have Eli Roth, Stanley Kubrick, and Michael Bay. The difference is that Max deals with a part of our human nature that we don’t see as fundamentally ok–sexuality–and brings in aspects of one that we love–violence–and mixes them together in a really disturbing way. Is he an artist? I don’t really know about that. But did he deserve to go to jail for making those films? Surely not. Although I don’t like his tropes of violence, feigned rape, dressed-up-to-look-underage girls, etc., I don’t agree that he should have gone to La Tuna for allowing one of his distributors to mail his European (read: much hardcore-er) materials across state lines into a more conservative community (a problem which digital distribution may largely nullify in coming years). The charges for which he served two and a half years were rididuculous; what he really went to jail for was having sex some people didn’t approve of, and filming it. And that’s ridiculous. Nobody forced anybody to watch his movies–except, probably, in court. Nobody has ever filed charges against him for forcing any of his actresses to do anything they didn’t want to. Nobody testified against him in court. He swears up and down that if anyone had a problem on the set of his movies, they stopped filming. The guy didn’t need to do hard time, as far as I’m concerned.
But what I really think is fascinating and important about Max isn’t his martyr status or the freedom of speech issues he represents. It’s what goes on in his brain in the first place. Everyone I know who’s worked with him or known him personally seems to genuinely like him. He’s got a kind smile and an easy-going attitude. Every film he’s made had all the necessary paperwork filled out, the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. He uses only consenting adults on shoots that it’s hard to believe anyone could go into without understanding exactly what they’re in for. But what they’re in for is so far above and beyond the norm, so wildly over the top, so violent and–at least for me, but I realize that this doesn’t apply to many others–upsetting to think about, much less to actually watch, that I can’t help wondering. What goes on in his head? How is such a kind, gentle guy also Max Hardcore? How does the guy who everyone vouches for turn off his sweet demeanor and turn on the degrading language, the water-works that get siphoned into anal cavities, the willingness to skull-fuck someone until she vomits? How does this disconnect happen? Does he really hate women, or does he really love women who like this kind of sex? Is there really a disconnect here or just a love of extreme sex? How does this work?
This is what I want to find out. It’s deeply interesting. But it’s also scary. In Max Hardcore I see some of the things that porn gets blamed for and shunned over, the things that your mother fears when she tells you not to look at dirty movies. But I also see our neverending worship of the morbidly fascinating–the rubbernecking at the train crash. Whatever’s going on behind his blue eyes is, maybe reassuringly and maybe terrifyingly, universal. I don’t want to judge Max in front of an audience, because I don’t think I’m qualified to judge something that interests us all. I don’t want to hold him up as an example of “what’s wrong with the world” or any such silliness. I don’t want to say that what he does and did is right or wrong. I just want, like everyone else, to understand it.
So. How do I start this e-mail?