Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Erotica Meets Great Storytelling - And You'll Never Guess Where!

It has always been interesting to me to watch the ways in which various art forms change at the same time and in the same ways, in accordance with social mood of the moment. In the past year, I have had some fascinating discussions with other writers around the differences between graphic erotica and pornography. Without placing any moral judgement on either - that would only serve to put ideas into boxes and squelch honest discussion - I have come to the personal conclusion that there is an enormous difference. Considering the difference is inspiring to me because it suggests to me that various art forms are changing in an exciting direction. I see this metamorphosis in photography, film, fine art and literature.

Today I am particularly moved by something that most would not, at face value, consider a work of art - but I do: a "porn" film by CockyBoys director Jake Jaxson. Actually, it is the second installment in a series of three short films dubbed collectively The Haunting, and I would aggressively argue that they are not in fact pornography by definition, but graphic erotica. The difference? - many would suggest, along with myself, that erotica preserves a story, the humanity of the players, and respects such elements as innovation and consideration of aesthetic techniques. Pornography seeks to simply depict graphic sexual activity for the sole purpose of titillation (and again, at times this is a perfectly legitimate goal).  What Jake Jaxson has done with The Haunting - beginning with an extremely innovative first installment in an industry that is too often set in its ways, and even more strongly in the second of the series (subtitled Into the Woods) - is to combine graphic sex with some beautifully-made footage (check the lighting in the bedroom night-time scenes!), acting with some serious standards, costuming and props that make the viewer rewind for a better look, and a bang-up good yarn of a ghost story.

Aside from the unusually high quality of these productions and the raw, unapologetic creativity displayed in them, I believe that Mr. Jaxson is to be commended for the fearlessness alone with which he is raising the bar for an entire industry. CockyBoys is slowly and definitely building a reputation for continually inching into some uncharted territory in their videos: a little romance here, a featured real life couple there, models filming themselves, light bondage laced more with romance and seduction, than with the usual dominant/submissive smut. The challenge was already being hinted at months ago; now, CockyBoys is tossing down the gauntlet. You want to watch gay porn? There are many websites and video manufacturers that can give you that; some are more tasteful than others, some feature prettier men, some feature kinkier activity - but in the end there is precious little variation amongst them. You want a great story, where the sex scenes integral to the plot are detailed and graphic - adding to the strength of the story? Watch The Haunting.

What is so exciting for me as a writer is that these films mirror so closely the questions and considerations that have so often crossed my mind in terms of literature. As is true in pornographic film (and for the purposes of this article, I will confine my observations to gay porn; hetero porn strikes me as a different animal and frankly I can barely stomach much of it - so offensive is it in its very tone and intent - but that is an article for another day...), literature can by the same definitions be divided into pornographic, and erotica. Where erotica preserves the traditional elements of strong plotting and characterization required of quality mainstream literature, pornographic literature features graphic sex laced loosely together by some sort of story, its main purpose being titillation rather than the engagement of the reader in a deeper intellectual or emotional sense. The erotic novel is gaining ground in the world of mainstream literature (in the past, such novelists as James Joyce and Henry Miller explored the genre but were often severely censored and chastised in their own time).

As I wrote Gentlemen's Game - and as I near the ending of my second full novel - I thought often of these issues. My books contain graphic sex scenes as an integral part of the story. In Gentlemen's Game, the emotional journey of the protagonist Greyson Foster is made clearer and more understandable to the reader by the detailed descriptions of what he experiences as he discovers his own sexuality in ways that he never foresaw. Because some of the story could be morally objectionable to many readers, it was important for me as a writer to show why my likeable protagonist was making the choices that he was; in order to do this I needed to take the reader inside his mind, inside his experiences, his views on his world, his bed.

I am excited that we are entering an era when storytellers - whether through a book or on film - are telling the story behind the bedroom door. Sexuality is a fact at the core of human experience. Perhaps for too long we have avoided looking at it in the cold light of day - afraid of admitting to ourselves that we are often slaves to it. If filmmakers and novelists are now dragging the observer kicking and screaming into a realm where sexuality is presented as an unapologetic core part of human experience, not something near-inconsequential on its periphery, I say more power to them.  As we inch toward a day when we all stop apologizing, graphic sexuality in art is becoming more beautiful: this is the point I want to make with The Haunting. Here is an established porn franchise presenting sexuality as a core part of the players' experience within a larger plot, and doing it in an aesthetically innovative and pleasing manner. There is many a mainstream feature film that does graphic sex less honestly and tastefully, and pays far less attention to plot structure than has Jaxson.

But it's about more than presentation: it's about honesty.  And here is where it begins to be inspiring as artists in both mediums - films and literature - begin to move toward a more honest depiction of sex. In some books it is enough that the reader is aware that a sex scene has taken place - a few well-placed phrases are offered to drive the point home, set the tone of the relationship, and suggest (suggest) anything important or unusual that took place during sex between characters. If it works for the story, no more is needed. However, what if we want to tell a story where the plot hinges upon the fact that sex itself changed the course of action of, and drove the motivations of a character? What if when we have the courage to describe this sexual experience, we offer the reader deeper understanding of a character?  Ideally, an erotic novel can do this: offer the reader deeper insight through the graphic description of sexual experience meaningful to the character's journey and to the unfolding of the plot. In this situation, graphic sex not only defines but can improve the quality of the book as literature, and can enrich reader experience.

Through The Haunting, Jake Jaxson has tread into this same uncharted territory: he has put the plot first, and presented graphic sex as integral to the plot. For example, the first installment features a protagonist who experiences in the course of a dream, intimate contact with not only his lover but a third person in the room - a specter that has stalked him as the two visit a cemetery and then a rented country home. Upon waking, our boy is not certain whether he has had a dream or whether it was somehow real . . .and then the fun really begins. (Hint - the last seconds of the film are terrifying and haunted me for days - well done, Jake Jaxson!) In this film, the graphic nature of the sex-laden dream is much the point: we as voyeurs experience what the protagonist does, and within the context of the story we then have to wonder what could be real. In the second film, Jaxson continues with steadfastedly connecting plot to sex scene - first offering a particularly aesthetically beautiful scene where the action jumps back and forth between our protagonist (now an investigator exploring the house to determine the nature of the mysterious disappearance of the former guests, the couple in the first film) and his fantasy of picking up a young man he saw walking beside the road earlier during his drive to the house. Through this sequence, we learn something about the thoughts and nature of our protagonist, and also get a healthy dose of foreshadowing - the young man on the side of the road is too intriguing for the reader not to guess he has more in store for the plot. A later scene between the protagonist and a ghost is eerily reminiscent of the first installment in that a guest in the house experiences a complete seduction in graphic detail, only to wake and wonder what was real. This scene is also aesthetically lovely - here is none of the stark lighting and cold close-ups of the usual porn video (and do we really want to see every public hair and zit?). Rather, the lighting - and the scene takes place at night in a bedroom lit only by very low lamps and the light of the moon - is understated and golden, complimenting the skin of the players and the ambiance of the scene; it is illuminating enough to see the extent of the sexual activity without seeming distracting in terms of the plot. The low light also preserves the dreaming-state part of the story. Throughout both films, camerawork is slick, reserved, and never intrusive upon the story.

Adding to the overall viewer's experience of The Haunting as something beyond a typical porn flick is the standard of production. Here, the filmmaker has employed atmospheric classical music, the careful lighting already mentioned (both inside and outside), a setting that is tasteful and beautiful and belies the anxiety that the foreshadowing creates (it is always creepy when everything looks lovely and calm, but the viewer knows it's a lie), some acting that is well beyond passable, props and set that allure and charm. It is a total experience: from the least elements of the props collection - an antique pocketknife and pocket watch, furniture and artwork, fireplace and antique textiles - to the enormous impact of a deftly-crafted plot.

Which reminds me - as a writer and reviewer, I need to say that the story is well done indeed. It is difficult to plot a successful story in the course of 30-odd minutes of film; it is rather like the tight, precise writing required of a short story as opposed to a novel. There is little time, and thus little room, to meander: in order to be successful the plot must be tight. In both installments, as one who crafts stories and analyzes story structure, I have been impressed by the story itself. The impact of the last moments of each story is dependent upon the successful introduction of earlier elements in the plot, and in these two installments - which Jaxson has written - he has handled himself well as a storyteller.

The price of a trial membership at is well worth seeing these two films for literary and film-making merit as well as for some beautiful men doing what they do best. Buy two months so that you can see the third and final installment of the series (unless we fans can talk Jaxson into more!), to be released in coming weeks. See a trailer of The Haunting HERE.

NOTE: For those interested in further discussion of this subject matter, I have already begun to talk Jake Jaxson and a few of his boys into a series of interviews this spring with Fireside With Lichen Craig - which launches at The GLBT Bookshelf in January.  (Now Jake knows what I was talking about!)  I'll bet he has some thoughts about the changing nature of porn and its future, and I have some ideas about how that relates to literature...

Visit CockyBoys at , where you'll find the trailer to The Haunting 2: Into the Woods.
See Jake Jaxson and CockyBoys on Twitter at @cockyboys .

Purchase Gentlemen's Game on this website, or at .


  1. Great review. I absolutely agree with everything you said which is why I love cockyboys. It's not just porn it's art and beautifully done art at that. Jake is brilliant!


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