A fellow expatriate and co-performer of Davis is Nici Sterling, 26-year- old star of more than 200 films. Convent-educated Sterling, who grew up in Buckinghamshire, runs her own web site and a 5,000 strong fan club. "I'm terribly spoilt," she says in her Home Counties accent (described by Hustler's Erotic Video Guide as "classy, the kind you hear on Upstairs, Downstairs"). She too, by all accounts, is a well-adjusted, hard-working porn star with a happy marriage. She lives in a luxury house amid two- and-a-half acres of leafy LA suburb with her proud husband Chris, a former commodities broker. (He occasionally acts himself under the nom de porn Wylde Oscar.) The couple have already planned for the future by expanding into directing and producing films when she retires.
Life chez Davis and Sterling is a far cry from the dark picture of paranoia and self-destruction portrayed in Boogie Nights, which opened in the UK last week. The film, written and directed by 27-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson, charts the rise of generously-endowed Dirk Diggler from teenage innocent to hard-core superstar and his subsequent fall into drugs, violence and prostitution. It has garnered $25 million at the US box office and extravagant praise from the critics. The response from the porn industry, by contrast, has been indignation bordering on contempt.
This is partly due to some elementary technical errors in the film. (One commonly-cited complaint is that in Dirk Diggler's debut sex scene, the porn director, played by Burt Reynolds, allows Diggler to climax while still inside his female co-star. Failing to get a close up of the ejaculation or "pop shot" would be unimaginable on a real hard-core set... ) But what has really upset the porn industry is the film's assertion that their community is a self-destructive world of soulless criminals and hapless victims. "It's not at all typical," protests porn historian Luke Ford, author of the forthcoming A History of X. "It's not just inaccurate, it's unfair." William Margold, the founder of Protecting Adult Welfare (PAW), a Samaritan-style helpline for porn professionals, says it's his duty to destroy the film: "Dirk Diggler? It's inane. It's making a mockery of our industry by calling him that. Why not Peter Heater, for heaven's sake? If I'd known my beloved industry was this dysfunctional, I'd have joined the priesthood."
According to the industry, 90 per cent of which operates out of the suburbs of LA's San Fernando Valley, getting down and dirty has never been so respectable. Unlike in the UK, hard-core pornography production is completely legal in California, thanks to a 1989 State Court ruling which classified X-performers as actors not prostitutes. The finished films can still be banned as obscene, but the yardstick is the variable notion of "community standards" and they are widely available in all major cities. But being legal isn't the same thing as being approved or understood, and much of the industry craves a little of both. Last week the 15th annual Adult Video News Awards - porn's Oscars - were held in Las Vegas. "It's a black- tie event held at Caesar's Palace," explained an AVN spokesperson. "It's our way of giving ourselves the recognition we deserve. No one can say we don't work damn hard for our corn."
I was able to see just how hard for myself when I got a job undercover as an extra for a day on a porn film, thanks to a connection at FOXE (Fans of X-Rated Entertainment). The location was an hour's drive across the Valley, five miles down a country lane, but I knew it was the right place when I saw a field of parked Corvettes, the porn star's vehicle of choice.
I signed a release form and went to wait with the other extras - a motley collection of social outcasts straight from central casting. Four hours later I was still waiting, only now chickens were pecking around my feet. Being an extra is about as marginal as it gets. Extras have nothing to do but wait. And just like on a normal movie set, the extras and the talent are like oil and water - they don't mix.
I could appreciate this though. Porn actors need to keep themselves in a state of relaxed excitement, for want of a better phrase. In between trekking up to the stable to film their scenes, the actors hovered around the big white make-up trailer keeping their morale up. They gossiped, smoked, shared chewing gum, checked their beepers, and did each other the professional courtesy of flirting.
The stars of this movie included Asia Carrera, Holly Body, Billy Boy and Marc Davis. "Beats Peckham on a wet afternoon doesn't it?" he laughed as I shuffled into place wearing my costume, an Arabian cowl, for our first scene. This was the arrival of a jeep delivering six women dressed as escaped convicts. We extras cheered as directed - one take, no more - and then got reshuffled for an auction scene in which we had to bid for the women. The obese bearded director gave us our motivation: "It's like when you're a kid and you dream how you want the world to be. And then later you know the world isn't always like the way we want it to be, but tonight... guess what, kids... it is!"
The atmosphere was cheerful, like a gang show, until everyone got assembled for the finale - an orgy scene with all 12 stars. Preparations were thorough. A bequiffed Italian in alligator boots, inquired, with brow-
d here. Here? And then I screw her on here? On this bale here?"
As legally obliged, the performers showed each other their monthly updated AIDS tests certificates, and then stripped off. By now it was midnight, so they huddled together to keep warm, the women "fluffing" the men, before the director arranged them into the opening tableau - a chain of boy-girl- boy-girl sex, which soon escalated under the director's barked commands. "OK Michael come over here, I want you to f--- this girl here. And you Marc, you f--- this girl here." He pushed his cameramen into the melee: "Right in there... there! What are you filming him for?" After 30 minutes any attempts at choreography were proving a little optimistic. "It's just trying to keep up with them at this point," sighed the director. "They're greyhounds out of a gate now."
What you don't see on the edited tape is dehydrated actors suddenly popping up from a mass of writhing bodies shouting "Water!" or "Lube!" Bottles of Evian and towels are ferried to the performers, who then rejoin the fray with all the ceremony of prop-forwards jumping back into a maul. After more than an hour of Herculean exertions, the men were told to "bring it on home." One of the male stars actually said, "It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it." Unlike Dirk Diggler, these guys delivered their "pop shots" for the camera, then promptly joined the queue at the other end of the stable to pick up their cheques. Payment ranged from $300 to $1000 per person for the stars. For me and my fellow extras it was $50 each. "That's the difference between us and the talent," said one extra. "We get screwed after we get paid."
In line with me was Marc Davis, still towelling off before heading home to the wife. His only lament is the decline in artistic standards of the business. "My favourite director is John Leslie," he says. "I wish he'd return to his big budget stuff. He takes more pride in his stuff. He has rehearsals. No one ever did that with me before."
Behind us a few actors were still going strong, even though the cameras had run out of tape. "Holy moly, look at that," said the cameraman, packing up his stuff. "All I want to do is go home to bed and sleep."