Pros: Some interesting material; quite a bit of access was granted to the director
Cons: Much of the material seems dated and stale today
Documentaries about the adult industry seem to be classified mainly by their attitude toward the business. Some, like Gough Lewis's Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, seem to take a negative stance, showing the hazards, both physical and psychological, of working in the industry, while others, such as Scott J. Gill's Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy seem to take a more positive approach, going so far to glorify performers in the business. Albert D'Onofrio's Hard Trip comes across almost as a pro-porn film, filled with adult stars frankly discussing and talking up their job while portraying few of the negative aspects commonly associated with the porn business.
Rated X: A Journey Through Porn is first time film maker Dag Yngvesson's entry in the cycle, more or less a personal journey and investigation of the adult industry. Yngvesson's film comes across as slightly different from the average documentary about the adult industry in that the film takes an almost Michael Moore approach to the material, devoting equal screen time to Yngvesson's own adventures along the course of making his documentary as it does to providing the standard documentary scenes and interviews.
Yngvesson starts the film by explaining his own experience watching pornography. After deciding to make a documentary about the adult business, Yngvesson contacts one of the people he remembered from watching adult films: the one and only Bill Margold, a former porn actor who is now one of the industry's foremost historians and advocates. Margold winds up hooking Yngvesson up with various people actually working in the industry and starting him on the path to document various aspects of the adult industry.
During the course of Rated X, the viewer is introduced to various, sometimes recognizable, characters. We meet Jim South, who heads one of the most important modeling agencies from which the adult industry draws its talent. South explains the criteria he looks for, his approach to attracting new talent, and we see him in action auditioning potential models. As more or less the antithesis to South's professional demeanor and matter-of-fact approach, we are introduced to one Regan Senter. Senter runs a smaller modeling agency in which his standard procedure involves videotaping his models and eventually having sex with them on camera. Senter comes across as a complete sleaze-bag, admitting to the camera that he got into this line of work primarily to get laid.
Eventually Yngvesson comes in contact with adult film director Geoff Coldwater, a porn director with aspirations to bridge into mainstream film making. Coldwater is in the process of making an adult film and eventually recruits Yngvesson to act as the camera man on the production. Initially reluctant, Yngvesson finally agrees with the hopes that he will gain a true understanding of the way the business operates.
Through much of the film, we hear a personalized narration by Yngvesson describing his interactions with the people he comes across. Female adult director Toni English (discussing the male-centric nature of the business), African-American performer Sean Michaels (discussing how minorities are treated in the industry) and actress Jeanna Fine (talking about how the industry has affected her life as a wife and mother) among others are all featured in the film. Rated X does discuss various issues in the adult industry, from those above to how one goes about getting in the business to how the industry has been affected by AIDS.
Rated X is filmed quite well using cinema verite technique, with the camera frequenting locations that average viewer wouldn't normally see. Yngvesson seems to have been granted pretty exclusive access to some areas, with the locations seen in the film representing every aspect of the adult industry, from the gateways into the business to the sets and shoots themselves to the distribution houses. The film is crisply edited and while not especially flashy, Rated X is never boring. Yngvesson's approach to the material seems to be handled in a matter-of-fact way which is refreshing when compared to the outrageous and sensational manner in which most similarly themed documentaries are handled.
Yngvesson's camera captures the action here with an unflinching eye. Whereas many documentaries about the porn industry tend to shy away from featuring explicit sexual content, Yngvesson just films anything he comes across, including the documentation of several adult film shoots, without pointing the camera elsewhere. Thus, this film may be one of the more explicit documentaries about the porn business out there, with full nudity and a couple instances of penetrative sex.
On the downside, Rated X seems to want to cover a large amount of territory, but never really focuses on one thing or another. True, the film does discuss several key issues in the business, with the material about how working in porn affects one's normal life perhaps receiving the most screen time. Yet it never seems to analyze any of the subjects it mentions; most of these issues are merely brought up and briefly summarized then skipped over. There's no real depth to any of the arguments or points made in the film.
To a large extent, this may be due to the nature of the film. The film's subtitle really should be "A Personal Journey Through Porn" since the film deals largely with director Yngvesson's encounters and experiences within the industry. The film acts almost as a microscopic view of the adult business, which provides some interesting material, but ultimately seems to focus almost too much on the film maker himself instead of his supposed topic of discussion.
Without a doubt the biggest problem with Dag Yngvesson's documentary is that it now seems dated. Rated X appears to have been filmed sometime in the mid 1990s; the adult feature Yngvesson worked on was released in 1995. Yet Rated X wasn't finished until 1999 and wasn't released on DVD until 2004. By the time this film saw the light of day, much of the material that it contains either seems dated or, at the very least, doesn't seem quite as fresh as it would have in the mid 1990s. Since that time, the porn industry has been the focus of numerous exposes and documentary films. Rated X just doesn't seem quite as interesting and poignant since it doesn't push the envelope, containing ideas and discussions that have now become almost cliche. While this film may be intriguing to those with no knowledge of the adult business, those even somewhat familiar with the industry won't find much new material in this film.
Rated X was released on DVD by Asterix Home Entertainment with a couple of special features. First, we get brief interview segments with Jenna Jameson (arguably the most popular female performer ever who is seen shortly after making her adult film debut), Ron Jeremy (prolific porn stud who has appeared in some 2000 features) and Nina Hartley (a legendary performer who is said to have taught Ron Jeremy how to orally pleasure a woman). These interviews, while interesting considering the time frame in which they were conducted, are somewhat bland and uninformative. Additionally, the DVD contains a time-lapse sex scene, in which two hours of activity on a porn set is reduced to two minutes of screen time. This is kind of neat to see what kind of activity goes on behind the scenes of a porno shoot.
As I mentioned, this film contains a decent amount of full nudity and some explicit sex. The language and subject matter alone would probably be objectionable to some audiences.
Rated X is a film that would have limited value for audiences looking for a documentary about the adult industry. While the film is well produced and includes some interesting material, much of the discussion in the film now seems dated. Additionally, the issues discussed in the film are not really expanded on; they merely get brief segments of screen time and are pushed aside. It seems like director Dag Yngvesson wasn't really sure how to handle making this film; he seems to be caught between producing a legit documentary and making a personalized account of his experiences in the adult business. Ultimately, Rated X succeeds more as the latter, but I would only give it a moderate recommendation. The film is quite level-headed but ultimately contains nothing new.