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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Women on Top: The Work of Female Pornographers and "Sexperimental" Filmmakers

  • Author(s): Moorman, Jennifer Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): McHugh, Kathleen
  • et al.

Through a combination of production studies methodologies and textual analysis, this dissertation examines the gender politics of the American adult film industry and associated marginal and experimental film production cultures, with a focus on the contributions of women filmmakers. Chapters addressing sexually explicit experimental (or "sexperimental") film; the mainstream adult film industry; lesbian, feminist, and queer pornographies; and both queer and mainstream incarnations of alt-porn illuminate feminist possibilities as well as productive intersections between the art world, pornography, and the academy. Applying the original concepts of "critical arousal" and the "auto-pornographic" mode of production, I assess filmmakers' investments in various forms of authenticity and both formal and sexual experimentation.

Original research demonstrates a central paradox of women's pornographic production: the very thing that has made women performers the subject of victim discourses propounded by anti-porn feminists - their objectification in front of the camera - has also enabled them to achieve creative control from behind the camera. A variety of factors, including the individual's race, body type, age, body modifications (or lack thereof), and sexuality, can affect a performer's likelihood to achieve star power and thus also the ease of passage from in front of to behind the camera. The and the recent proliferation of feminist and queer porn, and of women filmmakers more broadly, has complicated any attempts to pin down "women filmmakers" as a coherent category; the increase in porn production by and for women has enabled an associated increase in diversity, in terms of both the identities of the filmmakers and the bodies and sexualities represented in their film texts. While acknowledging the ongoing blind spots and discrimination in the mainstream sector, against which independent producers and directors continue to struggle, this project shows that the distinctions between mainstream and alternative or feminist pornographies are more slippery and complex than many commentators would allow. By addressing these intersections, analyzing experimental film alongside pornography, and highlighting sexperimental film as a bridge between supposedly disparate modes of production, this project seeks to situate women filmmakers' contributions to traditionally patriarchal production cultures, and to break down the conventional, classed and gendered binaries that deem pornography mutually exclusive to art or erotica.

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