Cast: Cindy Graves, Jessica Right, Brenda James, Elexis Monroe, Alexis Fawx, Sophia Leone, Lena Nicole, Shyla Jennings
Audio/Video: Video quality is great. Actors can be heard clearly, though it sounds like it was recorded on the microphone built into the camera. The lack of score is distracting; hearing every little breath and movement as a performer adjusts their body on the bed doesn’t facilitate a “sensual” atmosphere.
Length: 3 Hours, 21 Minutes
Release Date: 4/1/2016
The Rae Of Light: “Seduction” means different things to different people. In scenes 1 and 3, we get what a romanticized notion of what a woman discovering her sexuality might consider “seductive”: a slow and sensual first encounter, being guided on a journey of carnal exploration by an experienced and assertive lover. In Scenes 2 and 4, we get the pick up artist/men’s rights activist idea of seduction: negging, coercion, and disregard for the other’s boundaries.
Parts of this film were beautiful, even moving. This is the first film I’ve reviewed for XCritic that compelled me to touch myself. It inspires a bittersweet sensation of longing; I remember how enlivening and transformative sex with older women was when I was a young dyke, and as I grow out of my early 30’s and into who I hope is a confident sexpot who actually owns matching underwear, I hope to be able to be the positive maternal play partner that once gave me life. This film (at least two scenes from it) encapsulates how intergenerational sexual encounters can be life-changing and celebratory.
For a film with “Vol. 54” at the end of its title, it has some really profound moments of tenderness and affection between performers. The film oscillates between the soft and hard, the awkward and the intense, deftly, presenting very broad and very inclusive strokes of what lesbian intimacy (between two skinny cis women) would actually look like once removed from the pornographic gaze. It’s beautiful. It’s hideous. I really wanted to love all of it.
But I don’t recommend films that feature rape—not when rape isn’t the product. If you want to make a film where women get kidnapped and blackmailed or whatever, just make that movie. Call it “Blackmailed Bimbos” or “Who Kidnapped The Babysitter”. We can have a conversation about consent and rape culture and how it engages with a film that is being clear and explicit that it’s playing into those fantasies. But including sexual assault and coercion in a film that has phrases like “for fine folks with good hearts and curious minds” and “simply the most realistic sex in lesbian adult video” on its cover irresponsibly parrots patriarchal attitudes towards women’s bodies.
Scenes 1 and 3 are essential viewing, regardless of your sexual identity. Scenes 2 & 4 are otherwise great performances ruined by their plots.
Sex Scene 1 (Alexis Fawx & Sophia Leone): Alexis Fawx has invited her ex-student Sophia Leone and Lena Nicole, the leader of a local lesbian rights group, over for dinner to help her come out to her homophobic daughter Shyla Jennings. I like that the first scene in a film about authentic lesbian sex starts out with a woman who was once in a heterosexual-read relationship wanting to try relationships with women—”gold stars” are ultimately a privileged affect and all lesbians are beautiful and desirable, even and especially if they were married to a straight man in a previous life.
This scene is long and slow; it’s at least a half hour before both women are naked. There is a lot of soft stroking through clothes and kissing punctuated with breathy, happy banter. My favorite part is when Sophia is rubbing Alexis’ pussy under her skirt but over her panties, and you get these wonderful close-ups of Sophia soiling her “virginal” panties before Sophia fingers and eats her out. This is a scene clearly shot for queer and questioning women, and to that end it is spectacular. Sophia Leone, soft-spoken as she leads the scene in an elegant skin-tight dress, will cream a lot of panties, even for those who might not necessarily lean towards femme/femme. Yeah yeah yeah, I know: the generally accepted fantasy is the butch dyke daddy who sweeps you off your feet and then redoes the part in her hair with a switchblade comb. But two women wearing normo clothes, taking their time, exploring their bodies and having to trial and error it (at one point Alexis fingers Sophia with her hand in the wrong direction) is a fantasy rooted a little more in the lived experience of questioning women leaving behind heterosexual identity and relationships.
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There’s something also to be said about the validation and affirmation in having a confident younger woman with the svelte, youthful body you might have once possessed showing so much intention towards pleasuring you. If this film was released 7 years ago, while I was in college, I’d have not been surprised if my Women in Film professor brought this scene to class to discuss the ways women’s intimacy is performed and recorded for the female gaze. And I’d have gotten an A on that paper because my professor was very open about her sexuality and would have found me saying “I got aroused watching this” to be bold and radical in its vulnerability.
I don’t count the meandering length of the scene against it. That’s just what some people want and need. The ever-present static hiss (noticeable from the absence of a score) and the some of the awkward, unneeded camera switches might discourage repeat rewatches; maybe this is the sort of scene you only need to view once for it to change and prepare you for a wider world.
Sex Scene 2 (Lena Nicole & Shyla Jennings): Whilst her mother is in the other room, embarking on a life-changing discourse of cunning linguistics, Shyla Jennings pouts at the dinner table and does her best not to notice Lena Nicole fellating a banana. My notes say “Ah, lesbian with a banana. Always a laugh.” That’s pretty much the only benign note I have for this whole trainwreck.
After finding out Shyla doesn’t have a boyfriend (and ostensibly lying about being straight), Lena drags her into the kitchen and then proceeds to sexually harass and assault her until Shyla reciprocates her attentions. Basically, inverted corrective rape.
Are we really still doing “convert the homophobic straight girl” in 2016? The biggest film this year is about a black space soldier with a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and the biggest video game is about lesbians who shoot at stoners with robot hands and then go out for McDonald’s. Put down the fucking neti pot and meet us halfway here.
This isn’t an issue with a lack of writing resources—the plot of a later scene in this film includes an accurate depiction of “academic probation” and the ways that white people with connections get into choice schools with bad GPAs. It’s not an issue with “resting bitch face”—in the trailers included in this DVD, Shyla Jennings can be seen enjoying a queer scene scene from another movie. The noticeable discomfort of Shyla and the rapey plot, or rather the choice to include them, were choices on the part of the filmmakers; for all our struggles to be scene and respected as queer women, some of us hold onto this cynical, regressive attitude towards bodies that we are denied access to.
There are, for all this scene’s faults, some really great moments of soft, erotic kissing and caressing. Once they get into it, there is a very explicit affection and enjoyment between the two that kinda encapsulates what you want out of “real lesbian video”. It’s beautiful to watch in its own, but the greater context of the scene taints their efforts.
I watched this scene with two other people, one of whom, a queer woman and journalist, told me that Shyla’s performance in the scene didn’t seem like someone won over, but rather someone who was just playing along so it wouldn’t escalate. And that’s not your hyper-focused critic, that’s someone who might have been convinced to buy one of your films. In a growing awareness of rape culture, porn that features and is in turn marketed to (some) women needs to have a more discerning eye to the way it presents consent. The trailers included on this DVD feature films where women are kidnapped and/or made into lesbian sex slaves. And we were all very excited to watch these films; when you make the fantasy explicit, however problematic and violent, you allow your viewer to choose to meet you where you’re at. When you give your viewer a film of your cast all holding hands and smiling, and then have a bunch of bullshit non-consent in the film, you are setting up your viewer to feel disgust or even fear at your product.
Sex Scene 3 (Cindy Craves & Jessica Right): This is one of my favorite porn scenes ever. Every frame of mediocre porn I’ve watched up to this point would almost be worth if if all those poorly lit lesbian bondage and Czech tickling videos had, in some way, contributed to the manifestation of this reality.
It has Mom/Daughter, Older/Younger, D/s, and cucking. It’s the fibonacci sequence of my boner.
Cindy Craves, having heard her daughter’s best friend is interested in trying girls, drops in on the two of them hanging out in her daughter’s room and coaches her daughter to make out with and caress Jessica. She returns to the room wearing a strapon (and a very tasteful teal lingerie set), and orders her daughter to leave the room so she can properly introduce Jessica to lesbian sex. There is literally no part of this scene I have not jerked off to the fantasy of being.
Cindy is just sublime as a mature dyke domina. She has a maternal softness with which she guides Jessica from position to position. It represents, to me, the most benign definition of seduction: capture without coercion, guidance without force. Cindy’s experience and moves get multiple emphatic, loud orgasms from Jessica. There is strapping, there’s pussy eating, there’s fingering—it’s believable that it’s Jessica’s first time with a woman, but it still never feels awkward or forced or remedial in that way you need to have your partner instruct you step-by-step on how to do it right.
Really, what makes the scene is the chemistry between the two. I have to admit: I didn’t think I’d love this. I saw the bleach blonde with visible roots and thought “okay, some overt gay-for-pay to spruce things up”, but I was blown away by the intensity and affection and commitment of this scene. It put me in perhaps that greatest of porn critic conundrums: do I jerk off or do I take this time to interrogate my preconceptions of what “believably queer” can look like?
I have reason to believe that anyone, regardless of sexual identity, should watch this scene. Even if it doesn’t tickle your loins, you can learn a lot about how two women having sex can be performed and shot to appeal to more than one orientation of viewer. It also features aftercare at the end, and I’d much rather see porn scenes end with a cuddle and affirmations instead of a dude jerking off on a woman’s teeth.
We get it. You care a lot about preventing gum disease, in your own way.
Sex Scene 4 (Brenda James & Elexis Monroe): I won’t say this scene is unnecessary; as a performer who dates other performers, I understand (to a degree) how you have to hinge your career on the bookings you get, and as you get older or as markets change, those bookings can dry up over time. To say “they shouldn’t have bothered”, then, is a decree of economic violence against performers, and I’m not into it.
That said, jesus is this scene uncomfortable. Up to this point, we’ve had two good scenes and one somewhat unacceptable one, and thus sayeth Meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad. The inclusion of this scene just saddles the film with a counterweight of blah.
Elexis Monroe is vacationing at Brenda James’ house. Elexis is trying to get her sister into the college Brenda teaches at, and the two have a fairly accurate discussion about the admissions process at universities while Elexis puts on a polka dot bikini and shows off in the mirror while Brenda watches from a distance. Brenda spies on Elexis sunbathing, and later approaches Elexis with an offer to help get her sister into the school if Brenda can have Elexis for a night. Except it’s even more crass than I’ve described it—Brenda just gropes an uncomfortable Elexis and makes a bunch of leading statements about how an arrangement can be made until Elexis gets the clue. It’s uncomfortable to watch and it takes so fucking long to set up, after we’ve already had 2 ½ hours of the same.
The awkward power dynamic takes the scene a while to sort of get into a groove (wherein Elexis takes over), and by the time it does, I’d already lost interest. Why was the extortion necessary? Would it have somehow been more work to shoot a few shots of Brenda hungrily eyeing her houseguest and working up the nerve to proposition her, only to be seduced herself by her houseguest? Was “fucking someone for the vague promise of getting your sister in college” TOO REAL OF A STORY to pass up?
The moments where Elexis exerts power over Brenda (like holding her down while she eats her pussy) shows where this scene could and should have gone. It becomes clear that Elexis is enjoying herself, and the stiffness she displays when Brenda is propositioning her is likely just a performance issue and maybe not one of consent, BUT COME ON, IF YOU TOOK THE TIME TO EXPLAIN WHAT ACADEMIC PROBATION IS TO SOMEONE WITH A FUCKING HARD ON, TAKE THE TWO MINUTES TO RESHOOT THE MOST PIVOTAL PART OF YOUR SCENE SO IT DOESN’T LOOK RAPEY. I’d really like to see these performers again, either with different scene partners or in a different scenario. The fantasy presented in this scene just isn’t something I or my clit can co-sign.