In what became known as the Year of Sex at Sundance—Two Mothers' Naomi Watts and Robin Wright land on MILF Island, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a porn addict, Amanda Seyfried plays an adult-film star, and Daniel Radcliffe has his first gay sex scene as Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings—one film had everyone hot and bothered.
The documentary kink, from director Christina Voros and executive producer James Franco, takes us behind the doors of San Francisco's Armory, the headquarters of the BDSM porn empire kink.com. It's a wild ride that had audiences at the Sundance midnight screening alternating between engrossed silence, gasps, and nervous laughter. (A litmus test: The guy laughing the loudest has the most boring sex life.) But more than anything, kink is a fascinating visit with the hard-core-porn impresarios who know how to work a motor-powered vibrator and make a strong feminist argument for their line of work. We sat down with Voros post-Park City to talk about getting kinky.
DETAILS: James Franco is the executive producer. We hear he had to persuade you to make this film. How'd he pull it off?
CHRISTINA VOROS: James shot a couple days in the Armory for a film called About Cherry. Then he called me and said, "This place is crazy! We have to do a movie on it." I didn't want to make a movie about a porn factory in San Francisco three weeks before Christmas—I want to make films about art! But he said, "Trust me, there's a great story there." He was absolutely right.
I spent the day talking with the kink.com directors and I came out totally fascinated. They were people I could relate to, who I could go have a beer with. One of them has a dual-major degree in gender studies and photography from NYU. I became fascinated with who does this as a career, how they end up there, what their life is like—and why we assume they're so different from the rest of us.
DETAILS: Is this your first feature-length film?
CHRISTINA VOROS: This is the first feature-length film that I've finished. We have another feature in post-production right now with Frida Giannini, the creative director of Gucci.
DETAILS: How do you feel about your first feature being kink?
CHRISTINA VOROS: It's crazy to be the girl at Sundance who made the porn doc, but it was a tremendous experience for me—intellectually and emotionally. It really forced me to grapple with a lot of preset positions I had on an industry that's so ubiquitous but not all that well examined.
DETAILS: The people in the film are surprisingly normal.
CHRISTINA VOROS: The Hollywood Reporter said something about that too. They called it a film "about lots of seemingly reasonable people who do terrible things to each other on camera for money."
DETAILS: You once mentioned in an interview that eventually your eyes just glaze over the porn being filmed. Did you ever see something that jolted you back in?
CHRISTINA VOROS: There's something that they do at kink called the "addressing of tears." Often, people will cry—you see a couple of examples of it in the film—for different reasons. I've had a woman liken it to the emotional release she has doing double-pigeon in yoga! Or sometimes . . . it just really hurts.
So there's a moment when somebody is crying, and you hear [one of kink's directors] say, "I see tears in your eyes. Do you want to continue?" Because sometimes the models go into a "sub-space," and they're not necessarily their best agents—they're so hyped up on endorphins and dopamine and the intense experience of it all. So the directors and the doms are always keeping an eye out for people being pushed beyond their limits. They never push someone for the sake of the scene.
DETAILS: But there were a lot of laughs in the audience, too.
CHRISTINA VOROS: When the film's editor and I went to the first screening, we realized, "Oh my God, it's really funny!" At first, I didn't realize that. Maybe it's nervous laughter.
DETAILS: There are some great one-liners like, "There's a way to step on a cock that doesn't hurt, hon." Any favorites?
CHRISTINA VOROS: My favorite line is still the one we chose for our trailer, which was said by the art director of kink at the time. On the set he said, "If pornography were high school, we'd be the goth table."
DETAILS: A lot of the film is shot on-set at the Armory—with women chained upside down, men being dunked in bathtubs, people being flogged. What was it like on the other side of the camera?
CHRISTINA VOROS: James had first said that what got him interested in the place was the dichotomy between the intensity of the content and the vibe on-set: You have this intense fantasy world that's very rough—with doms and subs in these violent scenarios—but the energy on the set is surprisingly playful and friendly and very positive. I didn't really know what he meant until I got there. I realized how much more complicated their universe is than what I'd imagined from watching Boogie Nights. And there's a lot of hypocrisy about it. We consume [porn] in massive quantities and still look down on the people who create it, but whether you consume porn or you condemn it, we need a deeper understanding of what it actually is. And in our post-50 Shades of Grey world, you have a lot people out there who are expressing interest in that particular kind of titillation.
DETAILS: You've naturally been asked about 50 Shades of Grey a lot. Have you read it?
CHRISTINA VOROS: No, and I don't think I've met any pornographers who've actually read it. James hasn't read it. I think that at this point, 50 Shades of Grey is sort of a joke, but I'm thankful it exists, because it set the stage for a film like this to reach a much wider audience—though it's a little creepy that my mom now knows what a safe word is.
DETAILS: That begs the question: kink features a lot of, uh, whips and chains . . . and erect penises . . . and industrial-size mechanical vibrators. What did your mother say?
CHRISTINA VOROS: I always share my work with my parents, so I called them. But when my mom said to go over to show it to them, I said, "No, I can't watch it with you. And I really don't want you guys to watch it together." My parents met in the seventh grade; they're a traditional duo. But after they saw the film, my mom said, "I wanted to have all these people over for dinner. They're all people that I'd be happy for you to call your friends."
—Nojan Aminosharei, entertainment editor at Details
• • •