Register Tuesday | December 18 | 2018

The New Porn

Michael Lucas’s Gaydaptation of Les liaisons dangereuses keeps your hand off the fast-forward button

Porn has come a long way since my adolescence. Back then, I snuck around the house with seven-hour-long compilations of really bad straight XXX videos. They did the trick, of course, because when you're fifteen such things as subtlety, passion and continuity are irrelevant-I just wanted to see penises. Now that I'm older and no longer get hard if wind simply blows up my pant leg, I have a much greater appreciation for good sexual narrative. I'm a big fan of user-written smut stories on nifty.org, and I like porn with plot. I don't want War & Penis, as hilarious as that would be, but I do need set-ups and characters and seductions. So I like where porn-gay porn, at least-is going nowadays: Expensive productions that include such things as budgets, sets, props, and scripts.

At the moment, the high-sheen porn-du-jour is Michael Lucas's Dangerous Liaisons, a pornification of Choderlos de Laclos' Les liaisons dangereuses. The marketing push for this DVD is beyond anything I've ever seen for adult video-posters all over town, postcards in every gay bar, ads on every gay-themed website. It's the sort of stuff you'd expect of an independent feature film or a Broadway musical, but I suppose if you can sell enough DVDs at $49.95, the promotional economics make sense-and it certainly doesn't hurt if the ads and packaging are covered with striking images of dark, hairy men who could easily pass for Colin Farrell and Vin Diesel's brothers.

I was sucked in: I went out and bought a copy. Considering the advertising, I was a little surprised by how difficult it was to locate the DVD-I had to go to four stores on Sixth Avenue in New York before I found it, and none of them were welcoming places. They were generally small, barely air-conditioned and run by staring people who spoke little to no English:

"Do you have the director's cut of Dangerous Liaisons?"
"What?"
"Director's cut?"
"What?"
"Dangerous Liaisons?"
"What? You got!"
"I know, but I want the director's cut."
"What?"

Sigh.

I paid for my movie and the man placed it in a brown paper bag, taped it closed and wrapped the package in a black plastic bag. Shamelessly (as you might know from my article in the current issue of Maisonneuve magazine), I opened the box on the subway. I later found out why I had to get the regular version, and why I couldn't find the director's cut anywhere: the longer version is only available online because it's too raunchy to sell in stores. It contains some fisting, an hour-long water sports scene, and there are also a few hours of interviews-Michael Lucas, it turns out, fancies himself a talk-show host. Luckily for me, the regular DVD has a preview of his chats with Lady Bunny and Michael Musto (who is so not impressed with Lucas).

Lucas also fancies himself an auteur. The movie opens with the two words of the title passing each other slowly while a synthesizer dramatically moans before the letters in the words crack. This is followed by the visual juxtaposition of a man in a car talking on his phone with a series of slow, lingering shots of a New York apartment full of framed portraits of Michael Lucas. The first time we see of Lucas in the flesh, he's sauntering to the door to meet the man in the car, a towel barely covering his ass.

Michael Lucas is one of the most narcissistic men around. His surname is emblazoned on every one of his products and his face appears all over the advertising and packaging for Michael Lucas's Dangerous Liaisons. Though he plays a comparatively small role in the film, his picture is ten times larger than anyone else's on the back of the DVD case. According to his hilariously arrogant official bio, he was born in Moscow and earned a law degree before moving to Germany and France to become an actor and supermodel. It's not hard to believe he was a model-he constantly makes dire, pretentious faces that Derrick Zoolander would name "Blue Flame" or "Hot Ice"-but how he went from modeling to starting the porn empire that bears his name is not clear. Why he made the transition, on the other hand, one can easily surmise: so he could screw as many guys as possible. Not only does he direct and produce his films but he stars in most of them, too. One of his film series' is called "Auditions," which is basically movies of Lucas having sex with guys who want to get cast in other movies. He also has a blog which, like most blogs, can make him look both good and very, very bad.

In Michael Lucas's Dangerous Liaisons, Lucas plays Marcus Von Halpern, a gay male version of Isabelle de Merteuil (portrayed by Glenn Close in the 1988 Stephen Frears adaptation). Set in contemporary New York, the porn edition transforms the devious marquise character into a devious fashion designer. Lucas presides over his manipulations with an arched eyebrow and a slight accent; all of Close's sneer with none of the nuance (duh-it's porn). In the film, Von Halpern attempts to destroy his ex-lover and business rival (Kent Larson) by getting a photographer (Gus Mattox) to seduce his ex's new boyfriend (Wilfred Knight). Or something like that-it's really all just a ruse to have the various characters screw each other. Despite this, however, Lucas's character refuses the photographer at the end, in a hugely silly scene at the New York gay institution Food Bar. While this would have been the perfect place to deviate from de Laclos' plot (especially because it's impossible to imagine anyone refusing Gus Mattox) Lucas either had too much respect for the text or Mattox refused to bottom.

As annoying as Michael Lucas is onscreen and in-blog, his direction is admittedly brilliant-for porn. Some, if not all, of the credit should go to his cameraman and editor, Tony DiMarco, who illuminates the rooms with seemingly natural light; holds his wide, artfully composed shots for several minutes; does not dwell on anatomical close-ups and splices together scenes for narrative coherence rather than as a means to a money shot. Lucas obviously has a hand in getting his actors (or "models," as the porn industry calls them) to feel remarkably at ease with each other, and at ease with the cameras. Lucas casts actors who love sex, and he gets them to flip: usually in gay porn, an actor is only a top or a bottom, a giver or a receiver of anal sex. But in Lucas's films, many of the guys do both-it makes the scenes much more exciting and unpredictable. It also makes the objects of our fantasies more realistic, which is hot.

The first sex scene, between Knight and Larson, is the hottest twenty minutes I've ever seen on film or video. They play lovers, and it's actually believable-a rarity in porn. I was little distracted by Larson's Spider-Man tattoos (which Marvel Comics hopefully won't object to) and giggled at Knight's line readings (which sounded like a cross between Zsa Zsa Gabor and Arnold Schwarzenegger), but when they started covering each other with spit and muscle and groans, well ... I had to watch the scene several times. That's the whole point of porn.

Ted Gideonse has written about the arts (and other stuff) for Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Salon and the Advocate. He lives in Brooklyn and keeps a blog, the Gideonse Bible. Bring Me the Axe appears every other Friday.