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[whitespace] Blonde Ambition: Porn star Stacey Valentine poses for the camera in 'The Girl Next Door.'

Skinning the Trade

Documentary 'Girl Next Door' looks at one woman's life in porn business

By Richard von Busack

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW. That's the alchemists' description of how the real world and the unseen world counteract. It seems that the world of pornography and the legitimate film business are like mirror images of each other; the underground film world copying all the bad qualities of the studio picture.

Stacey Valentine, the Tulsa-born porn star profiled in the documentary The Girl Next Door, is one such typical starlet--only the actual scenes of her at work show the difference. Her isolation and her effort to give herself a hard edge to survive are exactly the same sort of self-inflicted ordeals the budding actress endures.

Both porn and mainstream actresses often have low-class fans, barely damming up their drool when they meet their idols. The technicians on her films are bored to the point of open rebellion, and the directors are crass--or pretend to be crass, which is worse.

Watching the excerpts from Valentine's films, it's frustrating to see her misused. She has a wide, goofy smile that you don't see in her films. She might be a good porn comedienne. But the porn industry is convinced that every porn woman has to be a snarling tigress with plastic claws, just as certainly as every sex-scene finale has to be the same--the facial ejaculation, the custard pie in the face, as Martin Amis put it.

"Why do we do it?" asks a director. "Because we've always done it." It's how we've always done it. It's what the public wants. It is what it is--the same shoddy, depressing excuses you hear from the directors of mainstream, PG-rated crap.

The Adult Video News Award ceremony Valentine attends in Las Vegas, while less ostentatious than the Oscars, is every bit as gross, pitting the actresses against one another. There are unimaginative scripts and directors on the one hand; on the other, the overworked, underrespected actresses are suffering from that furious competition that tears out the heart of any artist--even artists in the minor field of shamming sexual pleasure for a living. Why is porn so crappy? Well, why are mainstream movies so crappy? Answer one question, and you answer the other. As above, so below.

Christine Fugate's documentary displays a more intimate side of Valentine than she's ever displayed in her porn films. The Girl Next Door shows the wearing down of the woman, who literally has bits of her cut away during stomach-turning sequences of breast-implants removal, liposuction and collagen injection into her lips. (Fugate's use of ironic music during these operations is extremely insensitive. She compounds this misstep with girly, sentimental music during the childhood films of Valentine.)

Valentine's bravery in laying out her life is matched with Fugate's tenacity in capturing what it means for one woman to be in the sex industry. Of course, The Girl Next Door is graphic, but it's never erotic; the subject is commerce, not sex.

By the way, The Girl Next Door's co-producer, Adam Berns, hails from San Jose. He grew up in Willow Glen and attended Bellarmine and Stanford University. Producing for film and television is, he admits, a sideline from his Internet business. He's the executive vice president of Hiwire, which makes streaming advertisements for the Internet. "Fifty people, and it's growing like crazy," he adds. "But I love the film business. I'm never going to have a large number of films going, just one that I can care passionately about."

His film is opening in 40 theaters this week and next. Berns is going to be in attendance at the premiere of The Girl Next Door at the Towne Theater. The funny thing is that the Towne was, not so long ago, an actual porn theater. A movie house that once exhibited the skin of the industry is now about to show its guts.

The Girl Next Door (unrated; 97 min.), a documentary by Christine Fugate, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the April 20-26, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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