Celebrating the New Face of Porn in San Francisco

On July 17 I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for a new explicit movie that takes the conventions of porn and carries them forward into the 21st century, showing us what explicit adult cinema could be. (I say “carries forward,” but I could easily also say it carries these conventions back — to a time when adult movies were shown in film houses and directors believed that pornography was about to become the latest cinematic niche, as accepted and valued as any other.) The movie is “An Open Invitation: A Real Swingers Party in San Francisco,” and it’s a significant achievement in several ways:


  • It’s beautifully shot, with a real aesthetic that lends extra elegance to already-sexy characters;
  • It stars some of current porn’s  strongest actors (yes, I used that word on purpose);
  • It’s intelligently scripted and doesn’t just tell a story, it tells it well;
  • It’s character-driven, showing us relationships, communication, and change;
  • And it features a 127-person orgy of real-life swingers and erotic explorers to top off the great job done by the featured performers, held in the beautiful venue that tops off co-producer Kink.com’s Armory BDSM-and-sex wonderland.

Really, dear people, what’s not to like?

Now, if that description gives you the impression that this is an erotic movie made for women, you’d certainly be at least half right. Those elements are all on the female-friendly movie wish list as it’s been expounded by academics and cultural critics from Susie Bright onward. Women like to know who’s having sex with whom, and why; they like to see good-looking men, not just women (and they don’t like the good-looking women to seem too fakey, either in breast size or how they experience their orgasms or lack of same); they like some decent acting and scripting; and they really like sets that aren’t ugly, so they don’t have to worry about all the butt zits the performers are risking as they fuck on that same plaid sofa in the San Fernando Valley that has been fucked on so many times before.

(In case you feel that I’ve just generalized inappropriately, you’re right — I have. Plenty of women like raunch, don’t care about dialog, don’t want to know if the people on screen like each other in real life, and stare fixedly at Ron Jeremy‘s dick when given the opportunity. And I should also note that plenty of men prefer the kind of porn I described in the paragraph above.)

At the launch party, held at Club Kiss in San Francisco, I moderated a panel –and this was really a first– in a room full of people cuddled together on a huge bed. (Really more like 6 regular beds made into one ginormous one.) “Standing room only” does not do this room justice! Many of the couples were there to warm up with the panel and video screening before Club Kiss’s swing party. In fact, a number of them had probably been movie extras and were there to see themselves on the big screen. The panelists were “Open Invitation” star India Summer; director Ilana Rothman; writer Andrew Sullivan; and Club Kiss hosts Sarah and Chris Kiss. (Dossie Easton, author of The Ethical Slut and, as Andrew Sullivan calls her, “the Magellan of open relationships,” was supposed to round off the group — but she was unable to attend, and was much missed.)

Unlike the Gantz brother’s movie “Sex with Strangers” (tagline: “And you thought monogamy was hard¦”), “An Open Invitation” doesn’t try to delve into the drama of people who don’t have the skill-set to swing. It explores the adventures of a couple who are issued an open invitation to party intimately with a couple they meet at random, take their cute new friends up on it, and have a wonderful, freeing, sexy experience. Scriptwriter Sullivan said the only (faint) complaint he’d heard about the film is that it lacks the “crying scene on the sofa” — as real swingers and erotic partiers know, sometimes one person drags the other, a little unwillingly, to the party, or boundaries are not clearly defined before they arrive, and tears and drama ensue. But that’s not the story “Open” intends to tell; it’s not a how-to, though it models partner communication better than most porn (and, for that matter, most romantic comedies).

“An Open Invitation” is selling like hotcakes, and rightly so — it’s a fabulous example of what an adult movie can be when the right team is at the helm. It’s also, I think, a great example of “made-in-San Francisco” porn; like the movies Good Releasing has been making for the last year-plus, it really shouts San Francisco Values: sex-positivity, good sexual communication, comfort with sexual variation, erotic exploration as a positive contributor to happiness. I know people can be and do all these things elsewhere, but it strikes me that this movie would not have been made the same way anywhere else. Nor would its opening have been fêted with a cute pile of swingers on a huge bed, eager to see their lives well-reflected for once, in a community space, Polly Pandemonium and Barron Scott Levkoff’s Mission Control, that has elevated the frisky party to an art form.

The “Open” team is looking to make more movies, so we have much more quality sexual cinema, I hope, to anticipate. In the meantime, tune in. You have nothing to lose but your old notions of what a sex movie can be.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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