After years of masturbation, mental and otherwise, some of Yale’s brightest, if not cleanest, minds have turned their gifts to creating a collegiate landmark to rival the Lipstick for grandiosity and lewdness — a pornographic film, made by and for students.
A few weeks before the end of last semester, notices appeared across campus inviting students to audition individually or in couples, for Yale’s first feature-length skin flick, The Staxxx. The notices bore no name or phone number, only an e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Confidentiality was guaranteed to all participants.
The aspiring filmmakers hail from Porn ‘N Chicken, an underground organization that, as its name suggests, hosts periodic gatherings featuring pornographic movies and copious amounts of fried chicken. Porn ‘N Chicken officers declined to reply by press time, at one point requesting that the reporter to speak to them be female, a freshman and a virgin. “And if she is trained in deep-tissue massage,” they noted, “well, then we would perhaps demand her hand in marriage.”
A female, who identified herself as an acquaintance of one of the filmmakers — and who said she was asked to participate in the film but declined — was willing to comment on her friend’s motivations: “He wanted to give something back to the porn community — he loves porn so much he wants to return the favor.”
The proposed film, she claimed, provoked a schism within Porn ‘N Chicken, because “half wanted to be respectable members of the community and the other wanted to make porn.” As a result, distribution of the finished film may be limited to those who helped create it.
Andi Young ’02, like many others, initially wondered whether the proposal was genuine when she fired off an e-mail requesting details. In response, she received an e-mail reply inviting her to an informational meeting at Naples during reading week.
She found herself the lone female in a group of males and realized that the recipient of her e-mail had thought she was male. Women, she was told, had been summoned to a similar meeting the night before. This, however, did nothing to dampen her opinion of the filmmakers.
“I was prepared to meet a lot of sleazy guys,” Young said in a telephone interview from her home in Colorado. “Instead there were these very organized, very nice people. Their professionalism really impressed me.”
The filmmakers, Young said, “made no assumptions that people who showed up wanted to be involved in sex scenes,” which they euphemistically referred to as “action sequences.” She also noted that having separate meetings for men and women showed a degree of sensitivity on their part.
The proposed film was to be shot in late January. Young told the organizers she wanted to participate but would be in Nepal the following semester. The decision was made to shoot her scenes during finals week, while she was still available.
If the filmmakers were somewhat reticent about talking dirty, Young herself certainly was not. A few weeks before the notices were posted, she had published an article in the feminist journal Aurora on indiscreet sexuality as a form of political expression. Open discussions of one’s sex life, Young argued in the article, can serve as a means to combat cultural repression of female sexuality.
“I’m a self-labeled sex activist,” Young said. “People should feel free to be open about everything.”
Young saw performing sex acts on screen, “as a sort of self challenge,” allowing her to triumph over “a personal history of fear and shame.”
“I’m really experimental,” she said. “I want to do different things and find out what they are like.”
Young and the woman who agreed to be her on-screen sexual partner were not without reservations. They insisted that the acts they performed — including penetration with a strap-on dildo and a fist — be clearly consensual, so as not to seem degrading to women. They also insisted that a given piece of information about the staging of the scene remain a secret between themselves and the filmmakers.
“The filmmakers were not interested in getting the most hard core bizarre stuff they could get, but in capturing the stuff college students actually do,” she said. “They were just lucky that they got me and [her on-screen partner]. We were the ones making decisions about what we were willing to do.”
The scene itself starred Young as a prospective member of a secret society, with her on-screen partner as the one to initiate her — in several senses. If performing sex acts with another woman on camera gave Young little pause, the inanity of her dialogue did.
“I’m actually very embarrassed by the cheesy lines and bad dialogue like ‘I’m willing to do anything to get into this society.'”
The cameras — one a black and white digital, the other VHS — rolled one night during reading week, Young said. She recalled that one of the filmmakers, all of whom are male, brought his girlfriend along to make the two performers feel more comfortable. “Having another woman there was very considerate,” she said.
Young said she was able to ignore the filmmakers for the most part during shooting and that despite periodic nervousness she “enjoyed it as a voyeuristic experience.”
“Next time I’ll be more prepared to make it a sexual experience. I could have enjoyed it a lot more if I had been more relaxed,” she said.
The filmmakers, according to Young, remained thoroughly professional during the filming. Yet evidence suggests the pornographers were again more timid than their star. One Yale undergraduate who asked to remain anonymous recalled that one of the filmmakers passed up meals that day, saying that hours of watching people have sex had killed his appetite.
It was then that the oh-so-sensitive aspiring filmmakers learned that pornstars, too, have their standards. Young said that one of the filmmakers became drunk at a party and divulged the one piece of information she and her on-screen partner had demanded he withhold. Incensed, the two demanded that the scene be pulled from the film.
Young still sees value in her experience. “As cool as it would have been for people to know me almost better than I know myself, it’s enough for me to be able to say ‘Wow, I did that on film.'”
The rest of us are left to wonder when this seminal work of cinema will finally reach completion. But then again, as Justice Potter Stevens once said, “We’ll know it when we see it.”
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