Shine Louise Houston: What if Hitchcock, Jarmusch, and Metzger Made Porn Films?
Porn has changed a lot since the so-called "Golden Age" of the 1970s and '80s. For one thing, it's a much less public undertaking. Once upon a time, watching a dirty film involved sitting in a theater with an audience. It was almost the same process as going to see Bullit or The Graduate, except without the popcorn and with more trenchcoats. The VCR moved porn into the home, but you still had to look across the counter into the eyes of a teenage rental clerk as you paid for Lesbian Spank Inferno, Vol. 8.
Shine Louise Houston
Now we have the Internet, millions of miles of globe-spanning fiber optic cable solely devoted to bringing you hot and cold running smut, 24 hours a day. Thanks to technology, your choice of material is strictly between you and your browser history.
It's true that a lot of what comes out of the Internet is just the same old recycled crap; but it's also permanently queered the way we talk about sex and provided fertile ground for indie pornographers with their own visions. Shine Louise Houston's Pink and White Productions is one of the most acclaimed examples. Houston, who appears Wednesday as part of the Good Vibrations Indie Erotic Film Festival, entered the business intending to direct feature films. While she's done several, the most recent being a dyke boxing film called Champion, her most popular project has been The Crash Pad Series, an ongoing collection of free-form webisodes about a mysterious San Francisco apartment where random people show up to fuck. Pink and White embodies a style that's becoming more popular in porn: more gender fluidity, and bodies that look more like real people and less like Hollywood plastic surgery disasters. Queerness isn't a fetish or a freak show element for Houston or her contemporaries, but just a fact of life. Last year, Houston took things a step further when she launched Heavenly Spire, a site that explores masculine eroticism in biological as well as transgender men.
Houston shows excerpts from her own work and answers questions Wednesday at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. We spoke with Houston recently.
What do you aspire to create in a porn film?
It differs. The system that we've built around Crash Pad is like, it works, and it is what it is. Then there are the other projects that I want to do, which are kind of like if Radley Metzger, Jim Jarmusch, and Hitchcock had made a porn together. I think that's kind of the direction that we're headed in. A lot of them are shorts. We want to start off with with little featurettes and eventually move on to larger stuff. But really, we want to create something for online, that's like these little mini-featurettes but very high-end and have a definite feel in a way that'll satisfy some of my creative needs in bigger ways than say, the system of churning out Crash Pad.
How do you cast your movies?
I took myself out of the casting a long time ago. Part of it was it's too time-consuming, and the other part of it was like, I don't want my own biases in the mix. So most of the time, when I come on set, I have no idea who I'm working with, and my job is just to document what they do, and in post-production make it make sense and make it look good. The way I see it, there's only so many things you can do in sex. What makes it different is where you put the camera and how you make the cuts. Casting is only a small part. I think the more I focus on the technical side of things, the better the sex is, the better the sex looks on screen, and I think a lot of people really just focus on the act itself, which is fine, which is great. But for me, the way my brain works, when I direct, I'm directing the cameras, I'm not directing the people.
What have you learned about sexuality and gender through doing porn?
On the set of Crash Pad
In a weird sort of way, I think I've learned the most from working on HeavenlySpire [a website dedicated to masculine sexuality]. I mostly hang out with other masculine female-bodied people. So, one -- it's kind of embarrassing -- not knowing terribly much about male anatomy. And also, not really understanding the headspaces, where guys are coming from sexually. So for me, it's been really, really fascinating, the things that are similar and the things that are slightly different. Like the basic physical differences of how guys relate to their penises. Working with HeavenlySpire I've been seeing these really awesome parallels between male sexuality and butch sexuality, and you know, there are these things that are still amorphous and go across body types and across genders. It's kind of like the actualization of a lot of queer theory that I've read. I'm like, "My God, it's standing right in front of me." So I think those have been some of the best moments recently.
If you could decide where porn will be in another five years, what would you like to see happen?
More small independents come out and take control of their own content. It's kind of like the Wild West out there. I think there's still a big market for the Internet, and a lot of the software to be self-distributing is out there. I want to see more of the artists come in and independently own their shit and make money off of it, not get reamed by old systems of business.
Pink and White Delight: An Evening with Shine Louise Houston starts at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept 21, at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market St. (at Octavia). Admission is $10.