Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Top Ten Feminist Porn Films

Written by Anne G. Sabo
 Active Image Women today represent at least one out of every three online buyers of porn, meaning millions of women watch porn on a regular basis. Of course, the mainstream porn industry has picked up on this trend, releasing their so-called “women friendly” lines of porn that do nothing more than gloss up the picture and soften the plot.

Women today represent at least one out of every three online buyers of porn, meaning millions of women watch porn on a regular basis. Of course, the mainstream porn industry has picked up on this trend, releasing their so-called “women friendly” lines of porn that do nothing more than gloss up the picture and soften the plot.

In my work on feminist porn, I look for the authentic porn made by women who show a sincere commitment to radically changing porn, featuring female and male sexuality with respect and realism. Where porn becomes a vehicle for women to explore sex and define it on their terms. My favorite feminist porn films stand out for their progressive content and cinematic quality with images and soundtracks that speak to and move me. These are my top ten choices:

1. TV Idol (1985)

FemPorn3.pngTV Idol (on Femme, 1985) by New York-based iconic erotic filmmaker Candida Royalle (b. 1950) is my first choice. Featuring a woman’s masturbation fantasy, the film portrays her sexual encounter with a man she’s been watching on TV. Its style inspired by the music video format, TV Idol illustrates how effective music can be in communicating a crescendoing of pleasure when the soundtrack matches what we see. And through their exchange of a desiring gaze, while the camera for its part refuses to objectify either one, TV Idol also presents us with a new understanding of “objectification” as a fundamentally non-discriminating, mutually affirming, and adoring act. The woman and man hold one another through their gaze, and with the intertwining of their arms and legs. In fact, TV Idol shows that sex can be conceived in a democratic way that is neither male dominated as traditionally conveyed, nor female dictated in a reverse take, but egalitarian. It is not he who “takes” her, or her him in reverse. Instead the two encounter each other on the same level as an integrated interlacement of bodies in continuous roll-around flow.

2. Pink Prison (1999)

From Scandinavia’s largest motion picture company Zentropa comes a select line of women-oriented high budget porn, including Pink Prison (1999) by Lisbeth Lynghøft (b. 1962). Reflecting core Scandinavian values of gender equality and women’s rights, Pink Prison is about the self-confident journalist Mila who breaks into a men’s prison to secure an interview with its media-shy warden Sam. Opposing the phallic female-objectifying gaze of mainstream porn and also its homophobia, the film features Mila watching men masturbating and also men having sex together as she searches through the prison for Sam. Lynghøft captures both the power and sensuality of male bodies and sexuality in these scenes. The film also features Mila taking part in the sex, playing both the part of the one in charge and the one at the mercy in a rotation of power between the sexes.

3. The Good Girl  (2004)

goodgirl.jpgSwedish-born Barcelona-based Erika Lust (b. 1977) is at the forefront of today’s modern movement of stylish progressive porn. Her focus is on realistic scenarios presented in short films of high quality, shot in the style of music videos with hip editing and catchy soundtracks. As she herself puts it, her porn speaks to a generation that grew up with MTV and Sex and the City. Lust’s first film, The Good Girl (2004), features a trendy city girl, Alexandra, who shows us that even among a supposedly sexually liberated generation of sex toy-equipped urbanites, there remain women who struggle with insecurities and the good girl/bad girl complex that denies women ownership of their sexuality. The Good Girl is about how Alexandra conquers her issues, so she can celebrate and enjoy her body and sexuality on her own terms.

4. Matinée (2009)

US-born Amsterdam-based Jennifer Lyon Bell (b. 1969) is also making a name for herself, in her case by producing cinematic quality porn films, which are of notable texture and atmosphere. Her first explicit film, Matinée (2009) is about Mariah and Daniel, two theater actors who perform the parts of lovers. Though lovers offstage too, they have been critiqued for lacking chemistry. In Matinée improvisation takes on new meaning as the two engage in sex on stage in a significant reunion scene. The sex is filmed in near real time accompanied solely by the sensual sounds of sex. As bookends the film features an effective original music score, but more noticeable during the sex scene is the resounding stillness of the theater through which the real sounds of each touch truly add to the atmosphere of the film—as if the viewer can feel the tingle of this kind of sexuality.

5. J’fais du porno et j’aime ça (I make porn and I love it)  (2009)

FemPorn1.pngMurielle Scherre (b. 1977) is the woman behind the ultra hip Belgium-based lingerie company La Fille d’O whose customers include Lady Gaga among other famous music artists. In 2009, Scherre released her first porn film J’fais du porno et j’aime ça (I make porn and I love it), a collection of twelve stunning vignettes. Reflecting Scherre’s side gigs as a DJ and her trendy sense of sexy design, Scherre takes the erotic music video format yet a step further with a stylistically striking sound-and-picture composition and artistic editing. A rock-pop song that matches the action in both lyrics and melody accompanies each vignette. There is no dialogue, except on two short documentary films. Featuring a plurality of moods and sexual experiences, the style varies from delicate to grunge and captures “the hunger, the curiosity, the eagerness, to surrender, to give into your needs, the satisfaction” of pure sex as it seeks to reclaim “what is given to all of us but what seems to be lost to the commercially driven.”

6. The Band (2009)     

Melbourne-based Anna Brownfield (b. 1971) also uses music to lift the visual shot, but her indie sex and rock film The Band (2009) stands out especially with its feature film qualities. In 2009, The Band was the opening film at Berlin Porn Festival; it was also shown at Cannes Film Festival. The Band gives associations to Michael Winterbottom’s 9 songs (2004) and John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus (2006); art house films with hardcore sex. Driven by raw catchy punk-rock music and hardcore sex, the film follows the rock group Gutter Filth on tour through clubs and rundown bars. The acting is strong, with performers who fit their parts. And the pictures are exceptional in the depth, layers, and textures that they convey, communicating excitement, heat, and passion, as well as affection and tenderness. In content the film pushes boundaries too, portraying a range of sexual relations and experiences that include fetishes and gender bending encounters that are well integrated into the story.

7. X-femmes (2008) and  X-femmes 2 (2009)

Samedi.jpgParis has become an important center for progressive sex films made by intellectual women with high artistic ambitions. They are fronted by Sophie Bramly (b. 1959), the producer of X-femmes (2008) and X-femmes 2 (2009): collections of très chic explicit shorts by famous female artists and filmmakers. Among them is the American director Zoé R. Cassevetes (b. 1970), best known for her independent movie Broken English (2007) about a female New Yorker’s search for love in Paris. A woman’s suggestion to switch sexual roles with her partner is the premise of Cassevetes’s charged X-femmes film, Samedi soir (Saturday night, 2009). Like all the X-femmes films, it features high cinematic production value with a seductive soundtrack that complements the story well.

8. Dirty Diaries (2009)

DirtyDiaries.pngFrom Sweden comes Dirty Diaries (2009). Produced by Mia Engberg (b. 1970), it features a collection of twelve short films made by female artists and filmmakers according to a manifesto that defines their feminist ideals and opposes commercialism. Dismissing beauty ideals and the good girl/bad girl dichotomy, these films assert a woman’s right to be as beautiful as she is, and horny when she feels like it. All the films on Dirty Diaries differ distinctly from one another in content and style, from the opening film’s focus on the layers that separate us (Skin by Elin Magnusson, b. 1982) to others that explore our physical and emotional openings and the limits of our fantasies. The films live up to the project’s goal of offering creative suggestions for how we can redirect our gaze from the male gaze and free our minds from the commercial images that bombard us on a daily basis.

9. Supply Nurse (2004)

In Great Britain, Anna Span (b. 1972) has gained a reputation for her steamy hardcore porn, featuring confident women with a healthy sexual appetite. Span’s porn stands out with its reliance on humor, both to capture chemistry between the characters, but also in a hilarious Benny Hill sort of way. Sexual hang-ups and shame about sex is only referred to as something comical, by for instance the patient Mark in Supply Nurse on A&O Department (2004) when he stutters “But I’m a Christian!” to the nurse’s suggestion he masturbates to get his hard-on down, an erection she (purposefully) caused by “mistreating” him with viagra. Women and men in Span’s porn pretty much have an uncomplicated relationship to sex. Even Mark gleefully surrenders to some sex with the nurse—who turns out not to be a nurse but a lusty lady in borrowed uniform—under the pretext of handling his erection.

10. Feeling it! Not faking it . . .  (2008) 

Feelingit.jpgAlso from Great Britain comes the “art core” of German-born Petra Joy (b. 1964). With a focus on female pleasure, Joy’s films stand out with their inspired commitment to a fluid feel of intimacy and sensuality. Royalle recently made available in the US Joy’s Feeling it! Not faking it . . . (2008), a collection of short vignettes; creative meditations on the sensuous pleasures of an assortment of sexual encounters that integrate arty shots of body paint and food play, lush feather displays, burlesque silhouettes, and more, enveloped by soft red hues and floating camera movements. A jazzy cabaret music accompanies the vignettes that are all without dialogue.

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