The people in the (dirty) pictures – “Naked Ambition” on film
Portrait photographer Michael Grecco’s fascination with the adult film industry led to his publishing “Naked Ambition,” a coffee table book of pictures of this very X-rated subculture. While shooting the photos for the book during the 2008 AVN convention and awards (the Oscars of porn, held annually in Las Vegas) he found himself faced with a question – How to create a book about the sex industry that could actually be “tame” enough to become a coffee table book?
In the characters of the adult industry world, he found his answers. Lots of them. Fortunately, the whole process was being recorded for a documentary of the same name.
Other than the photographers quest to figure out what the book is about, and his desire to get two of the industry’s biggest names – Jenna Jameson and Larry Flynt – for the book, there’s not a lot of plot. Therefore, the ability of the film to remain compelling lies completely on the people attending the convention and taking part in the awards. Getting the scoop on what it took to put together this book is a great subject for a documentary. From folks like Ron Jeremy (famous even outside the porn world) to upstarts like Sunny Lane, to inventors/creators of everything from a realistic sex doll to glass-blown toys, the characters in “Naked Ambition” feel like characters from a scripted movie. Our two main characters are actresses competing for the “Best New Starlet” awards – Lane and “punk princess” Joanna Angel. Lane comes off as an incredibly ambitious girl next door who doesn’t mind the attention taking off her clothes gets her. It’s her story that’s the main plot of the film. Will she or won’t she win the award she so desperately wants? Angel, on the other hand, has a sense of humor and truly seems grounded in an industry she seems to have stumbled into.
There are new stars and older, established stars of the genre on display here. Many of them discuss how in porn’s beginning days (namely, the seventies), it was more secretive and something hidden away, whereas today it’s even blending with the mainstream media and doesn’t seem quite so shocking. Also shattering perceptions, the women in this film don’t seem at all broken or pressured to be there – they’re ambitious ladies doing what they want.
For his part, Grecco truly seems interested in the art of photographing these people. (AKA, he’s not skeevy.) When Lane doesn’t win the award she’s been so coveting, Grecco gets her to take a last photo for the book – with honest tears in her eyes. It’s a very human moment in a world that’s about a lot of flash and sparkle.
Beware, this film is definitely R-Rated. (There’s nudity and naughty things all over the place you probably don’t want your kids to see.) That said, it’s an enlightening look at a fascinating world – “a small slice of American pop culture,” as Grecco puts it. Whatever your thoughts on the porn industry, it’s a 12 billion dollar a year industry, and it’s not going anywhere.