Pornstar (Philippines, 2021)

There was a surprising turn in Scott Sanders’ blaxploitation parody Black Dynamite (2009) when the characters in the film suddenly turn to a discussion about Greek Mythology. It was a pleasant surprise, done with a hint of irony, of course. Now take that scene, stretch it to 80 minutes, reduce the irony, and what you get is Darryl Yap’s Paglaki Ko, Gusto kong Maging Pornstar. Subject matter aside, the main difference between Pornstar and Black Dynamite is Yap’s inclusion of seasoned practitioners in erotica which makes the film more instructive, and even educational rather than merely theoretically fancy.

Pornstar falls within the silliness that is present in recent Filipino comedies. We have four veteran actors known for their roles in erotic or titillating movies from different decades acting as caricatures of themselves: actor-turned-politician Alma Moreno from the 1970s, Rosanna Roces of the 1990s, and Ara Mina and Maui Taylor of 2000s. Ara gathers them in a ranch owned by her fictional father to task them with teaching a new breed of erotic stars. Their aim is to compete with the international porn market with production of hyperrealistic “amateur” pornography. Attempts to teach young performers Agatha (Ana Jalandoni) and Sofia (Rose Van Ginkel) lead to comically disastrous ends. However, they seem to find success with the innocent housekeeper from the ranch, Twinkle (AJ Raval).

The first half of the film plays very slow but this is where it’s more useful in its educational ends. Pornstar provides introductory information on topics from history of pornography in general to how it specifically appeared in the context of the Philippines. Most interesting is the film’s discussion of history. The four actresses what they consider to be the alignment of “porn” with the history itself of Philippine cinema. This may be fleeting but strikes this reviewer as a radical proposition for an alternative history of Cinema, especially when most writings on the history of Cinema always consciously dismiss cinematic pornography. Pornstar provides more courageous intervention to popular culture than seen in other recent films tackling the same subject, such as Antoinette Jadaone’s Fan Girl (2020) or Raya Martin’s Death of Nintendo (2020).

There are also entry-level discussions on psychoanalytic concepts from Freud to Mulvey in relation to the production of sexual images. Attempts for a seemingly “formal” and theoretical discussion of these find itself in-conflict with the familiar crassness that the works of Yap are infamous for from his video works with Vincent Asis in Vincentiments. This provides an odd form of accessibility to the concepts being discussed which, outside of the film, can only be read via more specialist or more “literary” discussions, and are therefore at times uninteresting to the general public.

Technically, the film is sloppy which at times may put off a more “trained” eye. We can only fault Yap’s inexperience in this. The film’s set up is difficult to balance: four familiar faces, all with their own significance within Philippine film culture, are being placed in a single frame. How can someone as young as Yap handle that? There are times that Pornstar succeeds, and times that it doesn’t. What salvages Pornstar’s lack of film-form is the pleasant spontaneity of the four leads.

But considering the direction the film is taking, this “sloppiness” has a background which can be seen in practices of educational and instructional films that, at times, are sponsored by institutions. Such films have information transfer as their aim, so entertainment and production values are almost secondary. This technical “sloppiness” is often a symptom of hasty production as these productions usually have strict deadlines. More recent examples that have expressed the same form are the more recent works of film historian Nick Deocampo and the Dalena Sisters’ Women of Malolos (2014).

Pornstar takes a late didactic turn in as part of its commentary on fan reception, patriarchy and contemporary social media culture. This is expressed in a language that is familiar to contemporary Filipino cinema audiences by bordering dialogue with popular poetry. What makes this commentary more convincing is, again, the four actresses who likely have significant industry experience to back up the points made on-screen.

In a way, Pornstar serves as a synthesis between commercial set up and the form of institutional-educational filmmaking. It’s obviously a work which exhibits the symptoms and the flaws of a minor mainstream production. On top of this, it to interrogate the history and mechanics of pornographic images in an almost self-reflexive manner. But it would be naïve to think that the film can actually serve institutional ends. It’s not a film that you can actually find in lecture halls. Instead, Pornstar provides the kind of education that you accidentally stumble upon reading Hunter S. Thompson in Playboy or Lourd de Veyra in FHM, with a consciousness of more contemporary concerns. And that kind of experience alone is what makes Pornstar worthy of consideration.

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