|Ricky Roman and Arnaud Chagall. Courtesy Cockyboys.|
This review contains a few spoilers; please do not let those dissuade you from viewing the episode! If you haven't seen Episode 3, please view it before reading.
"Gay porn awards shows don't give out awards for videography, editing, scores, and scripts, but if they did, this is where all the nominations would come from." - The Sword, review of The Haunting
The final installment of Jake Jaxson's innovative, courageous, and beautifully-made three part gay porn film for Cockyboys, The Haunting, was released today to much anticipation - not only from loyal fans and curious porn aficionados, but from many professionals in the porn industry. Jaxson in the past year has established Cockyboys firmly as the studio to watch: not only are the short videos increasingly decorated with the characteristics that set them off from others in the gay porn world as something different, forward-thinking and classy, but his series Project Gogo Boy and The Haunting, are such a stretch from the standard and norm, that they have made many a jaw drop. Beyond the merits of the individual episode or the individual series, Jaxson has indisputably and forever changed the industry - something for which he can be hugely proud. If he keeps this up, he will force gay porn, and eventually hetero porn, to increasingly consider questions of production quality - and the combination of coherent, intelligent plot with erotica.
I believe that I am the only non-porn blog to review The Haunting. (See my review of Parts 1 and 2.) Consequently, my review is a bit different: others look at the porn, the camerawork, perhaps the overall production. I look at the production, and the plot and narrative quality. I have brought such reviews to this blog because I believe that we have begun our way down an important path - with Jake Jaxson at the helm - at the end of which we will see quality literary narrative merge with explicit sex scenes. And why not? It has happened in literature - we have seen story and explicit sex scene merge in the past decade as never before in the world of books.
For me, The Haunting Part 3: A Kiss Before Goodnight, was the most challenging of the three installments of this film. Jaxson had previously established with Part 1 a storyline involving flashes into the past, and a strong tie-in with a narrative involving the present. Scenes involving past flashbacks were infused with an old-fashioned feel - accomplished by strains of classical music, soft-focus camera-work, vintage clothing, and antique artifacts - that served both to draw the viewer into the story and add to the creepiness of the storyline. In the ending seconds of both Part 1 and Part 2, there was a startling surprise of a moment that quickened the viewer's heartbeat (and believe me, I'm not exaggerating that!) and set up questions about the next installment. It was genius: fans were engaged through the weeks in between releases.
The viewer's expectation, then, going into Part 3, was a tidy resolution of plot, more creepiness, and the continuation of the mood set in Parts 1 and 2, and of course some quality explicit sex. This third expectation was granted. It's the first two I wish to address, again from the point of view as one whose life is literature.
(Warning: Spoiler!) Narrative tension exists when a conflict is established and draws the viewer/reader along to the end. That may be the "end" of an episode or the end of a series. Timing is everything, and in the world of literature as in the world of film, it is something that takes practice. In Parts 1 and 2, Jaxson's plot design was near-flawless: even as the reader was watching the scenes unfold, he or she was wondering what, whom, why - it never stopped. Right up until the last startling, mesmerizing moment. Here in Part 3, however, the mystery that drove Parts 1 and 2 is revealed and explained in literally the first few minutes, ending narrative tension. Now Jaxson might argue - and I think rightly - that he was trying to then shift the tension to another conflict - that of an artist who finds his well of creative inspiration empty. I have to admit, I didn't get this clearly: I was a little surprised to find it in Jaxson's introductory note to the episode: I had been so anxious to view the episode that I hadn't read it until I was 2/3 of the way through viewing the film. I thought "Really?" I don't know if a little more in the way of showing the private life of the artist, revealing what others gossiped about him, or dialog, would have helped; as a writer I could think of several ways to accomplish it. The point is, this conflict - which could have and should have replaced the first and driven the entire episode from there - was not clearly established. It is a shame, because it reduced this episode to more porn film than a plot-driven erotica piece, as were the first two.
|Roman, Chagall. Courtesy Cockyboys.|
This brings us to the second element necessary in successful plot, besides conflict: there must be change. Usually, this change must happen to the lead character or characters: he or she must experience a revelation, make a decision, take an unexpected turn. If it had been clear that Klaus Heist was struggling with his inspiration, and if it had been clear that the vision led to his successful resolution of that problem, the plot would have worked. As it was, we are given a decidedly unpleasant lead character, with dubious conflict (certainly none that we care about), and a merely interesting moment that should have led to resolution.
It is very difficult for a writer - or a filmmaker - to clearly see a difference between what he understands about his own plot, and what the reader/viewer will be able to glean. How many hints to you give? When are you being too obtuse? And what is the point at which you pound the audience over the head and insult intelligence? The work of an artist is to learn what these boundaries are, and that comes with experience.
There were other things that were very interesting indeed about this film. Particularly intriguing was the dichotomy between the two sex scenes. Both were very drawn-out but never less than hot, and Jaxson used them to make a point about sex and pornography. In the first, unlikeable lead character Heist seduces - through intimidation as much as heat - the young real estate agent (Max Ryder - in a really nice performance) selling him the house. This scene occurs very early in the film. Heist is a practiced lover, but not a very passionate - or COMpassionate one. He is one of those you see in porn films, where if he were in your bedroom, after five minutes of the near-continuous degrading, demeaning, and decidedly mean-spirited dirty banter, you would be tempted to slap him and scream "Just shut up for chrissakes!". It's enough to make you lose a hard-on. (Well, you know what I mean.) It was so excessive that I wasn't sure whether I wanted to giggle or scream at the screen; that combined with the coldness established by the lead character, made me want to fast forward through the scene. But I sat tight and trusted Jaxson's instinct, and I was right to do so: at the end of the scene, Heist throws a towel at the young agent and spits out a chilly, "Now clean up and get out", leaving the young man hurt and confounded. (Ryder is excellent here - the emotion on his face is subtle but convincing - you feel used for him.)
In the second scene, which occurs at the end of the film and takes place within Heist's vision of the past, and between lovers Raif and Joe (played quite competently and movingly both in this episode and previous, by Arnaud Chagall and Ricky Roman, respectively - lesser actors in these roles would have altered the effectiveness of the films greatly), the romance is palpable, the mood quite different. Here, the occasional dirty talk is done lovingly, in stark contrast to the previous sex scene. This enormous contrast provides considerable food for thought, both about the porn world and about sexual human nature.
|Self-portrait, Jake Jaxson, 2012.|
The same high-quality production values that were present in the first two episodes of The Haunting are evident in this one: soft, gold-tinged lighting, alteration of focus to change mood, very competent acting from amateur performers, beautiful setting and music. In earlier episodes the beauty of the decor and the soothing nature of classical music made a stark contrast with the tension of the ghost story. Here, without much ghost story, these elements were simply a pretty setting.
I want to emphasize that which I said in my earlier article on The Haunting: watching this will amaze you. Early in the hours after the release of Part 3, Zachary Sire wrote in a review for the gay porn blog The Sword that "...Cockyboys' Haunting finale should make other gay porn studios very, very scared . . . no other studio is taking adult film to places . . . that it's never been before." Sire is right. Jaxson has dared to tread on untested ground: explicit, story-driven erotica and good quality filmmaking can be successfully combined, and he has proven it.
“Gay porn awards shows don’t give out awards for videography, editing, scores, and scripts, but if they did, this is where all the nominations would come from.” - See more at: http://thesword.com/cockyboys-haunting-finale-should-make-every-other-gay-porn-studio-very-very-scared.html#sthash.LZ0Cv3Yo.dpuf
Watching this film is fascinating, thought-provoking, and hot. Considering the overall package - episodes 1-3 of The Haunting - Jaxson has established himself not only as an innovator in his industry, but as a storyteller and innovative filmmaker. As is true with any artist of unusual creative vision, or any filmmaker of talent, he can only get better and better, his vision can only stretch further and to new, even more unexpected limits. I can't wait to see what he does next: it's guaranteed to be no less than inspiring.
Cockyboys.com in coming months for details.
no other studio is taking adult film to places like…well…places that it’s never been before. - See more at: http://thesword.com/#sthash.NPSIP9By.dpuf"
CockyBoys’ Haunting Finale Should Make Other Gay Porn Studios Very, Very Scared - See more at: http://thesword.com/#sthash.NPSIP9By.dpuf
See the official trailer for The Haunting. The trailer for Part 3 alone is here.
The price of a trial membership at CockyBoys.com is well worth seeing these films for literary and film-making merit as well as for some beautiful men doing what they do best.
Visit Cockyboys and Jake Jaxson on Twitter at @cockyboys .
See Jake Jaxson's website at http://www.jakejaxson.com .