LOS ANGELES — Anyone who's anyone in the adult film/video industry knows that if a documentary about that industry is named, simply, "Nina ..." that the title has to refer to Nina Hartley, who's been making adult movies for more than 25 years.
Nina ... is the work of R.C. Hörsch, the New York-based multimedia artist whose erotic (and sometimes disturbing) paintings and photos have been exhibited at various art shows (including at Erotica LA, the Museum of Sex and the XArt Gallery) over the past several years, and who's devoted ten years to writing, shooting and editing this homage not only to Nina herself, but, as the DVD cover explains, to "creative, accomplished, intelligent women; feminism; free expression; sex; and pornography."
Of course, spending that amount of time on one subject has its pitfalls, and the primary one with Nina ... is that it's a bit dated. For instance, in the interviews, Nina talks about being "a member of a long standing two woman-one man triad," but those who know the actress know that that marriage was over a good five years ago. She also talks about her life on the road as a feature dancer, but she retired from that about three years ago, devoting her time now mainly to movie-making, acting and speaking at colleges and other venues. (One of her more recent talks took place on April 19 at the annual convention of the California branch of the National Organization of Women [NOW], a transcript of which will soon be posted on AVN.com.)
Similarly, Nina's career has outlasted those of all of the performers interviewed for the documentary: Juli Ashton; Ruby, who Nina herself brought into the industry; Shayla LaVeaux and husband Anthony; Anna Malle, who died in a car accident in 2006, and husband Hank Armstrong; Richard Pacheco, who retired from porn in 1988; and Candida Royalle, who switched from acting to directing in '84.
The movie also features three ACLU attorneys: Nadine Strossen, the organization's president, and the author of "Defending Pornography;" Marjorie Heins, director of the ACLU's Arts Censorship Project and author of the first-rate history of indecency and censorship "Not in Front of the Children;" and Ann Beeson, one of ACLU's foremost litigators, who argued the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) and Communications Decency Act (CDA) cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. All three women are members of Feminists for Free Expression, the anti-censorship speakers' bureau.
Notes Strossen: "[T]here is no evidence whatsoever of any kind of causal connection even when you have exposed men to massive amounts of violent pornography. Some of the countries where pornography is completely unrestricted have the lowest rates of violence and the highest rates of gender equality as far as women are concerned. Conversely, some countries where pornography is completely banned — it's a capital offense to possess it — have some of the highest rates of crimes against women."
Also on hand is photographer Barbara Nitke — ex-wife of the late Herb Nitke, who produced the original Devil in Miss Jones — apparently speaking prior to her legal challenge of the CDA's prohibition on Internet obscenity, and who might be described as the "downer" of the group, noting that she likes taking photos of porn performers who "look old before their time," and claims that porn producers' "job is to get you to work for them as many hours as they can for as little money as they can."
Finally, there's Dr. William Staten, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who provides much of the scientific perspective on porn and society.
But the focus, after all, is on Nina: Nina in the dressing room of a strip club and taking questions from attendees; as leader of a panel discussion with sex-positive activists Dr. Carol Queen, Dr. Robert Lawrence and dominatrix Midori; meeting fans at the Adult Entertainment Expo; prepping performers for Nina Hartley's Guide to Sex Toys; visiting Good Vibrations; speaking at her alma mater, San Francisco State University, and answering questions from the audience; and giving Ruby a massage. Even Nina's mom makes an appearance, reflecting on her daughter's career.
All in all, Nina ... is an uneven but engaging look at society's reactions both to sex and to its performers ... and in an interesting turn of events, Hörsch encourages viewers to copy and disseminate the work, as long as it's kept intact. And the XArt Foundation has announced that it will give 1,000 copies to Free Speech Coalition for its fundraising.
More information can be found at nina.eroto.com.