Published Nov 01, 2001Returning from the Platinum Oasis (if you haven't been following, regard it merely as a metaphor), I fall into a deep sleep at noon on Sunday and wake up at about midnight. Porkchop, the cute kitty with a case of ringworm with whom I've been sharing the apartment, has been tearing up the joint, and after a particularly wild tour of the room, has landed squarely on my head. This causes me, by automatic reflex, to sit bolt upright, grab the remote, and turn on the television, which is already set to my favourite channel, Fox News. It's still Chandra Levy all day every day on Fox, which you think I would be sick to death of by now but which somehow soothes and pacifies me. It's like an endless episode of a banal soap opera that you know will always be there no matter what other calamities may occur in the world. Little do I know that in a couple of months this garish little melodrama will be obliterated by the biggest story of the last several centuries, reducing poor Chandra to a tiny little footnote that you could write on the head of a pin. It's a good thing too, because Larry King was definitely starting to run out of material.
I'm still wiped out from my bloody snuff room installation, which was a truly soul-sucking experience, in a good way. The energy of the red room brought out a lot of repressed emotions in people, which had to be handled very delicately, empathetically, like the way in which Jeffrey Dahmer gently handled his corpse boyfriends, I imagine. Even the gruesome spectacle of Gary Condit cannot keep me awake, and I fall back into another fitful sleep.
I'm awakened Monday morning by a phone call from the editor of Unzipped, a gay adult publication, with whom I'd discussed the possibility of publishing the bloody crime scene porn pictures I'd taken at Platinum Oasis. He warns me that I should be expecting an irate call from the porn manager who furnished me with my model, Jeremy Tucker, who is apparently a bigger deal in those circles than I thought. The editor seems to be implying that I've somehow used his name to snare this big shot porn star for my nefarious purposes, that I must have told the manager that I had been commissioned to essay the shoot specifically by Unzipped for use in its Halloween issue. Well, we did discuss that possibility, didn't we? He hems and haws at my suggestion, and let's me know in uncertain terms that he has already washed his hands of the whole bloody affair. After all, according to my deep throat connections in the business I do have a rather bad reputation in the porn industry, which, when you think about it, is quite an accomplishment.
I decide to face the situation head-on, and call up the porn manager in question, who represents some of the biggest names in the business, such as whatsisface Chad Lowe or something. He starts out talking to me in an almost civilised manner for a second or two, but soon enough tears into me like I'm a grand slam breakfast at Denny's and he hasn't been on solid food for a week. Apparently I tricked him into giving me his prize stud for my horrible, tawdry little artistic photo shoot ("can't you think of a better idea?" he had asked me plaintively when I first explained my concept to him) by deliberately giving him the false impression that it had been commissioned by a fine, upstanding porno magazine. I try to tell him that he must have assumed that it had been commissioned, that I had merely discussed the possibility of publishing it in Unzipped, but he isn't having any of it. "Who the fuck do you think you're dealing with?" he screams into the phone. "Do you have any idea what kind of a reputation I have in this business?" Oh, I think I may have. "If you try to publish these photos anywhere else, I'll haul your ass into court so fast," etc., etc., you get the picture. I hold the phone at the end of a stiff arm a good yard away from my ear, but he still comes in loud and clear, blathering on about litigation and what a bad reputation I have in the industry and what kind of footwear my mother might choose if she were involved in the military. He tries to make the case that he only has his young ward's best interests at heart, that he can't have the likes of me corrupting his fuck-the-boy-next-door image, but it's a little hard to swallow considering the fact that I already noticed he nickle and dimed the kid out of ten bucks when he took his commission.
After several minutes of abuse I decide I've had enough and tell him that there's not much he can do considering I paid the model the specified amount and he signed a release, and quietly replace the receiver in the cradle of the phone. Now I remember why I call myself the reluctant pornographer.
The phone rings again and I fear it's the Louis B. Mayer of the porn set calling back to give me another earful, but happily it's my dear friend Kembra Phahler, underground superstar extraordinaire, who has a proposition for me. She wonders if I might consider photographing her and her minions performing her infamous "Wall of Vagina" routine, to document it for posterity, as it were, as she soon plans to retire the act. I'm still pretty creatively spent from the weekend, and I'm flying back to Toronto on Wednesday so I'd have to pull it together by tomorrow, but I can't pass up the opportunity to work with Kembra. As the vaudevillian once said, "She offered her honour, I honoured her offer, and all night long it was on her and off her." Speaking figuratively, of course.
The next day I'm picked up around noon by a new camera assistant whom I've virtually picked out of the yellow pages, and after renting the lighting equipment we head over to the Highland Gardens Hotel on Franklin in Hollywood, formerly the Landmark Motor Hotel, the very spot where Janis Joplin OD'd at the age of 27 some 31 years ago. Considering its wild history, I figure it must be a rock'n'roll flop house where I can conduct a photo shoot with four girls with shaved pussies wearing nothing but body paint laying face down one on top of the other to form a wall of vagina while a fifth pours a watery oatmeal-like substance in the top vagina until it trickles down from one vagina to the other without anyone taking any notice. Kembra has assured me that she's already cleared it with the management, who love her, that we can shoot it in the courtyard flower garden and it won't be a problem at all.
I love Kembra. When my Muslim boyfriend, who is very spiritual, met her, he told me that she's a goddess from another dimension, and I couldn't agree with him more. When I arrive at the hotel at the appointed time, I realise that there seems to be a lot of little kids splashing around in the courtyard swimming pool, and the guests all look frighteningly normal. I enter Kembra's room to find her and three other half-naked women dutifully applying their body make-up, each one a different colour, while Kembra teases up their big black fright wigs. She informs me that they're running a little behind schedule, and one of the vaginas hasn't even shown up yet. A couple of Kembra's old New York avant-garde film buddies are there helping out, as is Rick Owen (or Stupid Good Rick, as he is sometimes known), the famous fashion designer, who is having Kembra model one of his creations in the latest Vogue. My assistant and I start to set up the lights in the flower garden, which is situated about ten feet from a row of ground floor rooms with double sliding glass doors, each opening onto a small patio. We've already begun to attract attention, with small children gathering to see what we're up to.
Several patrons of the hotel start to complain to us that we're blocking the path to the pool with our equipment, and finally the manager, a stern European woman, comes striding over. At that moment, two of the girls in full body paint with tiny white towels wrapped around them come down to sit in for a Polaroid. "Those girls aren't naked under those towels, are they?" she asks me suspiciously. Apparently Kembra has neglected to mention there may be nudity involved in the shoot. "No," I assure her, "They're wearing full body paint." "But they're not naked under there, are they?" she persists. "No," I repeat. "They're wearing full body paint." A third time she asks, "But they're not naked, are they?" A third time I assure her, "No, they're wearing full body paint." Having outdistanced her, she gives up, but warns me that she's leaving now and she better not get any phone calls complaining about what we're doing. Somehow she's failed to notice that we've already knocked the flowers off half the plants in the garden, and that the girls are buck naked under those towels.
Almost two hours after the appointed time, Kembra and the girls and their vaginas are ready for their close-ups. By this time the sun is going down, and my assistant has only brought one battery pack so our power is running out. He is also getting very nervous when the girls take off their towels and sit on the platform we've built, particularly when he notices a couple of teenage boys sitting in lawn chairs outside their room watching the action with big smiles on their faces. He whispers in my ear that he's not about to get slapped with a child endangerment rap, and threatens to pull the plug. I'm playing it cool, and ask Kembra to see if the boys will take a hike. Kembra, in shocking blue body paint, big black fright wig, and a little white terry cloth towel, ambles over to the boys and says sweetly, "You boys are 18, aren't you?" They nod their heads vigorously. This is way better than the Playboy channel. Finally their big sister comes out and promises they won't tell their parents. Long story short, the girls mount each other, the wall of vagina is shot just before the sun drops below the roof of the hotel, and although it's rushed, we end up successfully documenting this woman-made wonder.
It's been a tense, exhausting day, and although I didn't have time to shoot as much material as I wanted, the results are pretty spectacular, if I do say so. But with Kembra, how could they not be?
Illustration by www.EGRART.com