Dir: Stephen Walker
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Note: It was impossible to get stills from Hardcore itself for this article. Sorry for the poor quality of the still used, it is literally the ONLY safe for work still I could find of Felicity.
Note: Hardcore is a disturbing film, full of extreme content, there is no way to talk about it without getting somewhat graphic. If discussion of disturbing or sexual content is likely to upset or offend you, I’d suggest reading another post (and coming back next week for a kinder, gentler WHYS)
What’s It All About?
Hardcore is an hour long TV documentary about a 25 year old single mother from the English Midlands, we don’t learn her real name, but at work she is known as Felicity. She’s got a job that she doesn’t appear to love, but says that she does to provide for her beloved five year old daughter. So far, so normal, except that Felicity works as a pornstar, and she’s on her way to LA to meet her agent, Richard, who wants to get her working in the scenes that will make her (and by extension him) the best rates.
Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Hardcore was almost not broadcast at all. After it was shot, Felicity called director Stephen Walker to tell him that she had quit porn. He asked whether she wanted him pull this film, but she apparently insisted that it be broadcast. It was. Once. It has never been repeated, never been redistributed in any format and has not (unlike Walker’s other films for the broadcaster) been made available through Channel 4’s on demand service. Unless you saw it, as I did, on its first broadcast, it is all but impossible that you have seen it at all.
Why Should You See It?
Hardcore is a genuinely thought provoking film, for all the challenge of sitting through it.
Porn is everywhere, and almost all of us, being of the internet generation, will have at some point used it (come on, you know it’s true). Hardcore is perhaps the most intimate, to say nothing of the most distressing, insight into the industry and the people who participate in it that I’ve seen. Other documentaries (notably interesting titles include 9 to 5: Days in Porn, Wadd: The Life and Legend of John C Holmes and Pornstar: The Legend of Ron Jeremy) suggest that the seemingly fragile Felicity isn’t the most typical example of a porn actress, but when you see this film you will surely, whatever your previous feelings, question the morality of this industry.
From the moment Felicity arrives in LA, Richard is constantly asking her to stretch her sexual limits. She has previous experience in the UK, but apparently in scenes of a milder – or at least a more, shall we say, straightforward, kind. Richard first pressures Felicity into a magazine shoot in which she has to be photographed urinating, at this stage she seems outwardly relaxed, and giggles while doing the shoot. It is shortly thereafter that darkness really begins to intrude. Felicity begins to become upset with Richard’s constant flirting, and he begins to ask more extreme things of her, fixating especially on getting her to have anal sex (which she says she hates) on film.
The porn sets we see are drab, depressing, and utterly sexless places. Felicity seems to go through her required actions with a mechanical lack of engagement, it is difficult to say whether these scenes, or the ones in which she breaks down after talking to her daughter, are the more depressing. Walker may have set out to make a film, through this woman’s experiences, about an industry, but what he’s ended up with is a sad portrait of a woman who is desperate to give her child a good life.
We meet a lot of unsavoury characters in the early part of the film (not least Richard), but it is the second half of Hardcore that really digs into the seedy (well, seedier) underbelly of this industry. In the the film’s most difficult passage Richard takes Felicity to meet legendarily extreme porn producer Max Hardcore. Hardcore isn’t there when they arrive, and both Felicity and Walker make plain their discomfort at being in his house (the narration notes that it seems medically clean, and smells like a hospital). When the director arrives it becomes clear what the ‘meeting’ is. His opening gambit is to drop both his and Felicity’s trousers and begin having sex with her. This ‘introduction’ dispensed with, Felicity agrees to do a scene for Hardcore, but five minutes in she breaks off, running screaming after Hardcore chokes her during oral sex. It is after this that the most extraordinary, and the most chilling, section of the film takes place, as Max Hardcore tries to get Felicity to go back to work. At first he coaxes; ‘you’re a good person, right?’ ‘You’re important?’ Soon, though, he becomes abusive, shouting that Felicity has put forth no effort and that she’s worthless. It is a disgusting spectacle, and a compellingly horrific insight into the mind of a singularly disgusting man.
Documentary makers, at least in the classical idea of the form, are supposed to be hands off, but after witnessing this conversation, and Felicity agreeing to resume the scene, Walker stepped in. He, along with his crew, made the determination that she had been bullied to such a degree that what they were about to see was little more than a filmed rape. Within five minutes the crew pulled their subject out of Max Hardcore’s house. You can argue, I suppose, about whether, as a filmmaker, Walker should have done this, and how this act reflects on the credibility of the film as a whole, but on seeing the film there is no question that it was the only appropriate thing to do as a person.
Hardcore isn’t merely challenging or disturbing, unlike the few porn films I have seen (all of them from the so called golden age), this is a film that really does make its viewers feel dirty, both for watching what happens to Felicity (a sweet, pretty girl who seems both older than her years and much more naive than someone in her line of work should) and for participating in industry that does this to women (one director, who refuses to show his face, boasts about the way his films degrade women, in the same breath as acknowledging his work as shameful). I’m not discussing this film to change anyone’s position on porn, when it comes to the industry as a whole I’m not even certain what mine is, but Hardcore is a must for anyone who has grown up in this generation when the availability of free porn has exploded, or who has used or currently uses porn. It’s a film to challenge the easy dismissal of moral arguments against porn, and to challenge the surprisingly frequently expressed feminist line that porn is an expression of female power. It’s a film that plunges you into a world that is both endlessly familiar and completely alien. It’s a distressing film, and it’s a great film.
How Can You See It?
I was finally able to see it again after 10 years through THIS link. If you decide to watch it, please don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Next Week: A change of pace; Annie Hall, if Alvy and Annie were both 10, in Little Manhattan (Mark Levin, 2005)