[THE S.F.W. DAILY GRINDHOUSE INTERVIEW] ADULT FILM DIRECTOR ERIKA LUST!

 

All images in this piece courtesy of Erika Lust Films.

 

Note: While this piece includes no sexually explicit images, it does include links to NSFW content and some explicit language.

Erika Lust makes porn. That sentence no doubt conjures specific images of stereotypical modern porn movies, but she’s working to combat that perception. Through her feature films and XConfessions series of shorts as well as her curation of Lust Cinema — a site where subscribers can watch hand-picked adult films that represent her “sex-positive feminist” philosophy of porn — she tirelessly carries the banner of adult cinema with artistic merit. And if her name sounds familiar to some readers who don’t pay much attention to adult film, it may be thanks to her 2014 talk at TEDx Vienna, “It’s Time for Porn to Change.” 

This year marks a landmark in her #changeporn campaign. Selections from XConfessions will be playing at a special program of the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival entitled “XConfessions: A Conversation with Erika Lust.” She will be discussing “the taboo nature of onscreen pleasure” with Chicago-based filmmaker Maria Finitzo and screening special director’s cuts of the best XConfessions shorts. This is the first time the festival has highlighted explicit erotic cinema, and there could hardly be a better representative of progressive adult film than Erika Lust.

Jason Coffman of Daily Grindhouse spoke to Erika Lust via email in advance of her Chicago International Film Festival screening.

CINÉMA X (PIGALLE) from XConfessions Volume 3.

 

 

Jason Coffman (JC): How did you come to be interested in filmmaking? Was this always something you were interested in, or did it specifically come from wanting to make the kind of adult films you saw weren’t being made?

Erika Lust (EL): I was always interested. I’ve been crazy about cinema since I was a little girl. The decision to start shooting explicit films was not a trajectory I could foresee at all! I had come across some porn in my teens and young adulthood and it just didn’t do it for me. You know, it was the same old scenario: going from 0 to 100 instantly, no buildup, bad lighting, I didn’t get it. I mean yes, of course I got aroused by the imagery, but the film nerd in me was appalled by everything else!

So I started thinking more seriously about adult films when I was at University, and I read the book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the “Frenzy of the Visible” by Linda Williams. Until then I hadn’t really understood why explicit films all had to look so cheap… then I started to view the genre as a discourse, and I thought “aha!” I can actually create my own adult films, and they don’t have to follow the same codes as the porn norm. So I set out to create the films I wanted to see myself, the sort of adult cinema I didn’t see available anywhere else.

MAD MEN PORN from XConfessions Volume 4.

 

 

 

JC: Are there any particular films and/or filmmakers — porn or otherwise — who you would consider influences on your approach to filmmaking? 

EL: L’AMANT, (THE LOVER) by Jean-Jacques Annaud is probably the film that impacted me the most to start making erotica. Some think it’s cheesy but I love it. I saw it when I was a teenager and was mesmerized — I must have been about the same age as (Jane March’s character) and the attention to the female perspective in the love story really resonated with me. That’s when I realised how often that aspect was missing.

PANSEXUALS from XConfessions Volume 4.

 

 

 

JC: There are some home video imprints like Distribpix,Synapse/Impulse, and Vinegar Syndrome that are working to preserve and re-release porn features from the 1970s and 1980s that are helping to bring people’s attention to these films as an important part of film history. Have you seen many films from that era? Do you think that preservation efforts like this, which have helped make some of these films readily available in mainstream online retailers like Amazon, have a positive impact on people like yourself making porn with artistic value now?

EL: Oh yeah, I love the Golden Era of Porn! I think so many of those films are great and creative, and they were made to be both artistic and arousing. I think they were an expression of the sexual revolution, a celebration of pleasure and as a reaction to the strict, suppressing morals previously surrounding sex and sexuality.

They looked great as well. I mean, have you seen the blowjob scene in BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR? The colours, the slow-mo, the psychedelic feel. It inspired me to shoot my own slo-mo blowjob short film as well… And in DEEP THROAT, a woman receiving some dedicated cunnilingus while she’s smoking a cigarette… So yes, those films still inspire and fascinate me and I’m delighted to see they are more readily available.

Porn aesthetics and quality declined rapidly in the ’80s when anyone with a video camera could be a pornographer. I definitely like to bring back a similar feel to that of the Golden Era, but of course with more women behind the camera.

I PEGGED MY BOYFRIEND from XConfessions Volume 1.

 

 

 

JC: There is an impressively varied roster of directors and production companies represented on your Lust Cinema site in addition to your own films. How do you curate the content that appears on that site?

EL: Simply put, I choose the films I like, embody similar values to my own and what I think that others would enjoy too. I like to keep it varied so there’s something for everyone, arthouse erotica along with more full-on hardcore, older titles, fetish films, romantic titles, lesser known gems. It’s an adult goodie bag and it’s great to offer a space where it’s all in one place. It shouldn’t be hard to find alternatives to the porn norm.

DEAR BROTHER IN LAW (LIEBER SCHWAGER) from XConfessions Volume 5.

 

 

 

JC: What are some films you would recommend for viewers looking for interesting modern porn?

EL: Of course XConfessions for starters! But there is so much interesting stuff out there, so many people doing amazing adult film and art. Films by San Francisco director couple Nympho Ninjas are based on realistic and adventurous sex, or you have the work of Four Chambers from the UK who create very experimental explicit films based on textures and the body. Then there are films like LA BASIER by Ovidie and SILVER SHOES by Jennifer Lyon Bell which are fun, explicit and explore interesting topics like bisexuality and the power of clothing in expressing desires.

There is some great modern erotica outside of film as well, I love a project called the Quite Delightful Project, they produce a thick, luxurious magazine called the Delightful Magazine. It’s made by women for women and is full of great pictures and exciting stories… but I think any man would be pretty intrigued by the project as well!

I WISH I WAS A LESBIAN from XConfessions Volume 3.

 

 

 

JC: What are some of your favorite books and writers that helped inspire you to approach porn from a feminist perspective?

EL: Like I mentioned before, Hard Core by Linda Williams was hugely influential to me. I identify as a sex-positive feminist and never really could relate to the arguments of anti-porn campaigners. They are entitled to their opinions of course — feminists don’t all have to think alike and I can absolutely see where they’re coming from — I think the answer is creating alternatives rather than censoring.

So Linda Williams’s book managed to approach porn without that moralising judgement, and when I could start to study it like that, I could also think about it more freely and understand the power I had, the power everyone has, to create something different.

In terms of writers, I love the work of Lena Dunham, especially in Girls. I find her story-telling incredibly intriguing and the creativity and innovation of the younger generation is fantastic. The younger generation is not to be underestimated artistically — they are well-informed, sharp and will bring great things to film culture. That really excites me.

Erika Lust on set with the Arri Alexa.

 

 

 

JC: Forgive me for a detour into some technical curiosity: I noticed in some of the photos of your setup during shoots you are using an Arri Alexa camera. What did you use to shoot when you started with THE GOOD GIRL in 2004? Do you have a favorite camera now or do you use different cameras for different XConfessions films? They’re shot in such a wide array of locations and conditions.

EL: Ah, a fellow camera nerd! No problem at all, being curious is good! For THE GOOD GIRL I used a Panasonic camera, but unfortunately I don’t recall the exact model. It was video though, I have experienced the trip from there to digital cinema, it’s amazing. And I love the Alexa so much! I can take it anywhere and know I can rely on it for great shots.

THE ART OF SPANKING from XConfessions Volume 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JC: This is the first time the Chicago International Film Festival has highlighted explicit erotic cinema in its programming, and your work is the perfect way to introduce such films to the festival. If — fingers crossed — they make this a regular part of their programming, who would you nominate to represent modern progressive adult cinema at next year’s festival?

EL: Thank you so much. Yes, it’s beyond exciting to get to come and talk about my films at such a prestigious event. It’s a good sign of more progressive attitudes to sex and pleasure — it’s important to talk about these things.

I would nominate a young innovative creator, probably Vex Ashley from A Four Chambered Heart or the guys from Nympho Ninjas. I love to see what the younger filmmakers come up with, they’re so innovative and well-informed. I love their work and vision.

Erika Lust with Geri Del Bello on the set of DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY from XConfessions Volume 2.

 

 

 

 

 

Huge thanks to Erika Lust for taking the time to talk to me, and to Astrid Madberg and Samantha Coombes at Lust Films for coordinating the interview. Erika Lust’s Chicago International Film Festival presentation “XConfessions: A Conversation with Erika Lust,” will take place on Wednesday, October 21st at 8:30 p.m. at the AMC River East 21. Tickets for this event are available through Ticketmaster here.

Jason Coffman

 

 

 

— JASON COFFMAN. 

 

 

Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Jason Coffman
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