Combustible Celluloid
Search for Posters
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Paul Thomas Anderson, Misty Dawn, Larry Flynt, Sharon Holmes, Ron Jeremy, Kitten Natividad
Written by: Martin Brimmer/Rodger Jacobs
Directed by: Cass Paley/Wesley Emerson/Alan Smithee
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/19/2013

Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pop Porn

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

He was a porn star and a junkie and a jailbird and he died of AIDS. He was the one man who brought porn into the mainstream. John Holmes' life would have made a fascinating movie, but I'm not sure if Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, which opens today at the Roxie, is it. Nevertheless, when you're dealing with a story this incredible, any film will succeed, no matter how mediocre its execution. Wadd occasionally uses clips from Holmes' porn films as filler (especially the famous Johnny Wadd series), to illustrate certain points. The film does show sex scenes, but refrains from hardcore penetration. Holmes' giant (reportedly 13 1/2") member is on view early in the film in photographs only, and only for brief glimpses. As when he was alive, that organ itself is still the premier reason to see Holmes, and people who come to this documentary just for that will be disappointed.

Director Cass Paley interviews most of the people involved with Holmes during his life; his manager (Bill Amerson), his first wife (Sharon Holmes), his mistress ("Dawn"), his porno film directors, etc. Unfortunately, the two key interviewees on whom the film spends a giant portion of energy, Holmes' wife and mistress, refuse to be identified, and their faces are blacked out. Though their information comes across clearly, this has a distancing effect on us, and we can't identify with these players. Holmes comes across in many different lights. Some interviewees claim he was gentle and friendly, others claim he was a jerk. Holmes once claimed that he slept with 14,000 women. Everyone denies this figure, but claim that the actual figure was somewhere around 1000. Even Holmes couldn't remember which stories were true. He actually believed that he flew off to England every year to have sex with a rich heiress, who each year added another jewel to a special ring Holmes wore. Holmes was arrested and served jail time for a drug-related murder. Police found Holmes' bloody handprint on a bed frame, as if he had been balancing himself with that hand, while beating someone to death with the other. The many reports on this event provide a shaky picture at best.

Paley presents all this conflicting information and doesn't bother to sort it out for us. He seems to prefer leaving Holmes as a kind of enigma. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is interviewed, expounding upon the John Holmes myth. (Anderson supposedly based his "Dirk Diggler" character from Boogie Nights on Holmes.) The film also runs a lengthy 110 minutes (reportedly sheared down from 125), and it's still pretty long. It's also shot on video and lacks a unifying narrative voice. Simply using a narrator to present facts and stories to us would have helped enormously. But with Holmes' friends and family in the foreground, everything becomes muddled and biased. Nevertheless, as I said, the story itself is fascinating. Holmes' life is the stuff right out of trashy Hollywood tell-all books. And though some of the facts are in dispute, this is one hell of a tale.

(Note: director Cass Paley is really Wesley Emerson, though the name 'Alan Smithee' now appears on the video version. Also, there is an edited tape rated 'R for strong sexual content, language, drug use and some violent images' as well as the NC-17 version.)

Hulu Castle Rock SVOD