Axel Braun’s Compulsions

On a rainy San Francisco Monday night, at midnight, I found myself on my way downtown to Union Square to have a drink with Axel Braun, an AVN award-winning director, hot on the heels of his success at this year’s AVN Awards show. Braun was a total stranger, and I knew I was taking a semi-safe risk — more at risk was my enthusiasm to deal with any more crass, rude and inarticulate people from the porn industry. Mind you, there are a handful of brilliant and exciting people working in porn, but they are few and far between.

I knew three things about Braun: he is Italian, the son of a legendary golden age Italian pornographer. He is the director of adult features that win awards. His fingers are insured for two million dollars by Lloyd’s of London for his ability to “make any woman female ejaculate.”

As much as I enjoy masturbating to porn, I have to admit that for me, the adult industry became a morbidly fascinating car crash in slow motion long ago. So the fact that I felt like I was in a Sam Fuller film meeting a pornographer downtown at midnight on a rainy San Francisco night mingled perfectly with the fact that the stranger had a mysterious European past, wealth and success in an antiestablishment business, and a fat insurance policy on his body parts.

I rode a glass elevator up into one of the highest-class hotels in The City, and inside the suite I met Braun — who, as I realized within minutes, was one of the most articulate and composed men I’d met in a long time. We sat at a table, drank wine and smoked cigarettes in a very European fashion for hours, conversation running the gamut from my work in the machine arts to Braun’s life as the son of a pornographer. We also talked about our favorite car chase scenes and non-explicit sex scenes in various films and our favorite film directors. The former Armani model and psychology graduate had not only lived to the fullest; he wanted more of what was on offer.

What intrigued me most about Braun was his perspective on making porn. A man making his way to the top of the mainstream porn heap with one increasingly successful film after another, he managed to become even more interesting when he started talking about his porn filmmaking process. For example, his 35mm film, Compulsion is a film that, by porn standards, cost a mint and took an unprecedented six months to make. Braun said, “I had to do everything for that film. I wrote the screenplay. I had to make sure the casting was just right, you know, it’s so hard to find porn stars that can really act, and I even shot the film myself. I had cameramen hired, but I couldn’t communicate what I wanted to see to them, my vision for how the film needed to look. So I did it myself.”

Intrigued that I was a real live female porn consumer, he asked me what I thought was erotic in film — he wanted to know what I looked for when I wanted to get off. He also asked me what had been the last scene I’d watched in a mainstream movie that I’d found truly erotic, a real turn-on. I had to admit that I hadn’t seen a scene like that in a long time — and usually when I watch porn for personal use, I fast-forward to what I want to see, get off, and I’m done.

Braun told me, “The dialogue in between sex scenes is so bad. The films where they tell me ‘I watched the whole thing, I didn’t fast-forward because I wanted to see the movie’ — that’s the films I want to make. And you know, I don’t watch porn and masturbate to it. I grew up with my father making porn, and it isn’t what I want to get off to. Everyone is doing it for the money, and you can tell, I can tell the women are doing a job. It doesn’t turn me on, and who can get off when they know that? I shot this scene once with Tina Tyler and she was in reverse cowgirl, and I had the camera on the cock, you know, close-up, pounding cock. And I could see she was about to come. And I just got in there, right up to her face, and kept the camera on her face as she had this big orgasm — and I got in trouble. You have to have the pounding cock, the gaping asshole in every video. [waves his hands dismissively] I was supposed to stay on the cock, but she was coming!”

I couldn’t help but ask Braun, that since he isn’t a porn consumer, but is a porn auteur, how he makes the connection with porn and masturbation. “Well… I don’t,” he smiled. “I’m not shooting a scene because I’m getting turned on; that would be for myself and not for the viewer. Every once in a while a scene turns me on, but it’s a surprise. When I was editing a recent film only one of the scenes turned me on, and it was one I was very far away from while shooting, there were lots of shadows, and it had a connection. You know, there was a kiss in the film that was over three minutes long and they had me cut it down to a little over a minute — but I added in another thirty seconds. The quality of the film is the most important thing to me.”

We talked into the early hours of the morning, veering off into discussions about favorite 1960s and ’70s horror movie directors (I have many), and where Braun’s creative forces will pull him next. “I can do the all-sex films for money, but making movies is what interests me, and I only want to do things that are creative and interesting to me. I have a screenplay that I wrote with my father that I want to make into a movie; I hope to get the money to make that. It was looked at as a mainstream film but nothing happened. People ask me, ‘Why don’t you just go and make mainstream films,’ and yeah, like it’s that easy. Besides, in Hollywood there are so many things you can’t do.” I tell Braun that at least in adult he has more freedom with his films, and he gives me a look like, ‘Yeah, right.’ “No, not really.” I ask him what kind of film he would make if there were no rules, at all. He smiles, “The next film.”

And his fingers? They look like regular fingers to me.

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