Night Trips (1989)

*. Porn movies aren’t about people having sex. They’re about watching people having sex.
*. That may seem kind of obvious, but I think it’s something that’s so essential to the mode that it’s easily forgotten. The “real” sexual act isn’t the fucking on screen, but the masturbation (mostly) that it is meant to inspire. I mentioned this in my notes on Mr. Adam Bitt at Convent (1925), which is one of the earliest porn movies ever made, and it’s been true ever since.
*. So as Night Trips begins and we see the silhouette of Tori Welles caressing a video screen showing preview clips from the fantasies Night Trips is about to explore, and her first words challenge us with “What the fuck are you lookin’ at?”, we know we’re in the game. Porn has long been the leader of a direct assault on the fourth wall. Even today we may think of the fetish made out of “eye contact” in the POV genre.
*. To show how this works, let’s start with the basic set-up here. Tori Welles is having trouble getting a good night’s sleep because of all the sexual dreams she’s having. So she’s hooked up to the “mindscan imager,” which will allow a pair of researchers (Randy West and Porsche “the top sexual psychologist in the nation” Lynn) to view her dreams on a TV set while Tori is under hypnosis.
*. The first dream, or night trip, has Tori, who is in the dream as a spectator, watching a couple having sex. As she watches she starts to rub herself on a brass rail. Spears and Lynn watch this on the TV, while also watching Tori masturbate in the clinic. As things go on, Lynn will enter the dream and begin to masturbate herself while watching Welles masturbate, while Welles is dreaming of masturbating. You see how this works. It’s an erotic mise en abyme.
*. That may sound high-falutin’ for a porn movie, but Andrew Blake is a high-faulting’ porn director. Night Trips marked his hardcore feature debut, and won not only AVN’s film of the year (which is not a big deal, in my book), but also a non-porn award: the Silver Medal at Houston’s WorldFest in the non-theatrical release category.
*. Blake was the first adult director to win a film award at a mainstream international film festival. How did he manage to receive such acceptance? In brief, by making sex look classy. Acknowledging Helmut Newton as inspiration (a couple of the scenes here are even shot in a tinted black-and-white), his stated style is “erotic fashion.” Violet Blue describes the look as “decadent, lush, opulent, unfailingly arousing, moneyed and sophisticated.”
*. That reference to money is the essential point. The people in an Andrew Blake film enjoy all the good things in life: living in big houses, collecting fine art, driving beautiful cars, and wearing the best clothes. This is the luxury porn of today’s real estate programs. The sex is almost incidental, and indeed will often be more concerned with carefully staged foreplay than the usual hydraulics.
*. The models are little more than another species of luxury item. There is almost no dialogue, making the score by Burke all the more important (and it’s very good). People often remain faceless or hide behind sunglasses. Seen through a cool blue filter, Victoria Paris and Ray Victory seem like animate mannequins, perfect physical forms making out by a perfect pool. Aside from a trademark blast from Peter North there is none of the industry’s usual emphasis on money shots, a climax that Blake has never cared much for. I suspect he finds them messy.
*. Is it just me, or is the revelation that the faceless stunt dick in the final scene is actually Randy Spears strike anyone else as creepy? I mean, he’s her psychiatrist! He owes Tori a duty of care and instead he’s taking advantage of her nymphomania. It all seems very unprofessional, though I guess Harry Reems’s unorthodox treatment for Linda Lovelace’s misplaced clitoris in Deep Throat set a precedent.
*. In an interview twenty years after the release of Night Trips Blake had this to say: “My style has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, from a conventional narrative approach to a more free-flowing, abstract style. By abstract I mean combining images in certain patterns that reflect and become a metaphor of the brain achieving orgasm. The random thoughts that go through the mind when masturbating.”
*. This stream-of-aroused-consciousness approach may not have been fully developed yet in Night Trips, but it was already Blake’s signature. It is most clearly expressed in his camera movement, which is random, brief and discontinuous. What it mimics is the surreptitious gaze over parts of exposed flesh, as opposed to the wide, glistening stare of more conventional adult films. In his later movies this style marker would be even more pronounced, but you can already see the direction Blake was heading in here.
*. Al Goldstein rated this as one of the best adult films ever made, saying that real sex never looked as good. You might think that this would be a prerequisite of any porn film, but it has not always been the case. While I wouldn’t say Blake gave porn mainstream credibility (something I don’t think it can or should aspire to achieve) he gave it something more. He gave it a sense of style and refinement. He made it beautiful. If he made it less human too, that was collateral damage.

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