Sunday, May 01, 2011

Tribeca ’11: The What Capital? (short)

As a New Yorker, I am honor-bound to launch a protest when another city is crowned “Smut Capital of America.” Hello, Times Square? Still, filmmaker Michael Stabile makes a strong case for San Francisco in his documentary short Smut Capital of America, which screens again today at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival as part of the Off the Grid short programming block.

Evidently, Stabile has covered “the business” as a journalist, but has crossed over to the “mainstream” with a documentary about “the business,” a progression that makes perfect sense in Hollywood. Regardless, he provides a quick and lucid account of the rise and rise of adult filmmakers in the 49’er city, largely focusing on Alex de Renzy and his First Amendment court challenges.

Capital argues the enterprising pornographer’s greatest contribution was making smut boring with his ostensive documentary, Pornography in Denmark, about the newly legalized state of pornography in Denmark. While there were plenty of naughty bits, the veneer of sociological inquiry made it socially redeeming in the eyes of the court, which therefore ruled it was not obscene. For all practical purposes, this opened the flood gates for San Francisco’s cottage industry.

Stabile has plenty of (clothed) on-camera interviews with de Renzy’s surviving associates as well commentators, such as underground film cult hero John Waters, who has carved out quite a niche as a talking head in documentaries celebrating marginalized cinema, like Céline Danhier’s Blank City. However, Capital presents something of a mixed message, with Waters assuring us these films are merely fantasy with no lasting real world effects, while another on-camera expert argues they are “educational,” even suggesting viewers will try to emulate what they see on-screen, which seems to contradict the official industry line (simply stated: that what they show has no influence on people’s behavior).

Regardless, Capital is a breezy doc that takes its subject somewhat seriously, while still presenting it in the spirit audiences will expect. Considering the generous use of vintage clips, it is definitely not for kids either. The result is amusing in its way and informative for many of us squares (“educational” would be a stretch). Those knowing full well what to expect can check out Capital today (5/1) as part of the Off the Grid documentary shorts block at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.