Author’s Note: Review originally published August 27, 2016
Starring – Brandon Ruckdashel, Jon Fleming, Sarah Lazar, Jose Ramos, Jay Reum, Tyler Austin
Directed by Brandon Ruckdashel
Thanks to my dad subscribing to the Playboy Channel when I was a teenager (which is just one of the many examples of the great parenting that was happening in my house when I was growing up) and then with the advent of the Internet, I have had the opportunity over the last almost 30 years (God, has it really been that long since I was a teenager?!) to watch what everyone else in the world is also watching, but never admits to it…
Yes, that would be porn.
So full disclosure, I’m a woman, lesbian in specific, and women are not generally thought of as consumers of pornography, mainly because it’s not really made for us anyway (straight or gay women) because usually porn is made with men in mind. Yes, even the lesbian sex scenes in porn (and yes, I admit, I’ve seen my share) are obviously made for men because half the time I have no idea what exactly they are even doing and the other half of the time my brain can’t help worrying about the women in the scene, so instead of enjoying it, I constantly ask myself way too many questions while trying to peruse through porn…
Are they are okay?
Are they well taken care of?
Are they sure they really want to be doing this?
And then when I have caught just one too many times with my concerning eye that the women are so not happy with what they are doing, I always end up turning it off and then guilt consumes me. Not the kind of guilt one would expect from having inherited the American curse that is Puritanism, you know so that sex in general and porn in specific is too much for my Puritan genes to handle and so then guilt consumes me (thanks Europe from 300 years ago for sending all of your religious zealots to America for that!). But instead the guilt that takes over my brain is better defined as being there because I can’t help but think I’m keeping a business alive that doesn’t have the best reputation for empowering people – yes, of course women, but even men, for that matter, pay a price as well.
I have never been able to turn on porn and turn off my brain so I can enjoy it guilt free. Well, of course a part of me enjoys it and that part would not be my brain or else I wouldn’t keep popping onto a porn site occasionally, but it never lasts long because I can’t help but worry about the actors/actresses and how did they get to this point in their careers, and they don’t look like they are having any fun at all, and I probably shouldn’t morally be watching something in which the people making it were possibly/probably under some kind of duress, harm, etc., etc., etc., or at the very least just plain ole look like they don’t want to be there. I’m too worried about the people in the porn to even enjoy it properly in the first place. It’s also the same reason why I can’t do strip clubs either. Just a little fact to stick in your back pocket in case you run into me one day, at least you will know that suggesting porn or a strip club is not the best of ideas for entertaining me.
So what all of this babbling about my guilt with porn is actually all about is that I wasn’t so wrong for carrying this guilt around because recently my instincts and just plain ole common sense proved right when I was given the opportunity to watch two very similar films in style and substance from two different sets of filmmakers that deal with prostitution and pornography.
The first film, ToY was from a woman’s prospective about prostitution and how it affects the women involved in that profession. Spoiler Alert – ToY proves that prostitution isn’t pretty and hookers do not have hearts of gold.
The second film, Grinder, is from the man’s point of view when it comes to porn and prostitution. And I’m ashamed to say that it never really dawned on me before watching Grinder how rare the male perspective about the consequences of selling yourself for sex is in film. It is a rare area in film where women’s stories are told more often than men’s, but it is still just as an important perspective, maybe even more so because I don’t think men are as aware of the detrimental aspects of porn as women are, whether they are behind the scenes or in the films themselves, and this is the story Grinder is exposing. The movie doesn’t pull any punches or minimize the effects porn and prostitution can have on the lives involved. Grinder is an emotionally powerful, almost draining film that gets to the heart and nitty gritty of such a life and breaks all the stereotypes while doing it. Grinder shows us that men in porn are not living the dream of getting paid to have sex or recruiting the men to do it. There are no bros high-fiving each other saying, “Dude, we’re in porn! How awesome is that?” These men are just like the women, they are doing this because they are just trying to survive and they are paying a high price for that survival.
Grinder is about a young gay man (Tyler Austin in an impressive film debut) who moves to New York City to become a model only to find out that he has unknowingly become caught up in a porn/prostitution ring. Grinder is also about the other side of that coin, the men who recruit the models and the men who take their pictures. The men in Grinder are either openly against living such a life or begrudgingly living it or pretending that they are living the dream when in fact they are as miserable about what they are doing as the men they recruit. There are no winners in this game.
This is obviously a very personal film for writer/director Brandon Ruckdashel, whose passion for the story is in every second of every frame. The camera is always lingering too long, instead of cutting when you are expecting a scene to cut, the camera just keeps rolling and we, the audience, are then forced to sit there in the misery and pain the characters are going through, making us all as uncomfortable as the characters living the story. These are bruised and battered people and Ruckdashel refuses to let us off easy. There is no piecemealing of reality here so we can get accustomed to it; we get the reality of the situation right smack between the eyes, so that by the time the movie was over, I was emotionally drained and was ready for a drink, except I don’t drink, so I had a Cherry Coke instead.
So first with ToY and now with Grinder, I’m quite excited about the future of independent LGBT filmmakers who are taking our stories and expanding them into whole new worlds that we have never been able to explore before, mostly because history, both Hollywood and societal, never allowed us…that is until now…or really we just told them to fuck off, we’re telling these stories anyway.
Grinder is currently submitting through the film festival circuit and is expected to have premiere screenings in both New York and Los Angeles this coming Spring with plans on distribution early next year. For more information, go to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Check it out if you can!
Update 9/19/2017 – I got to meet the wonderful and brilliant Brandon Ruckdashel when I attended a screening of Grinder just this past weekend at the qFLIX film festival in oh so lovely (and if you know the city, then you know I’m being sarcastic here) Worcester, Massachusetts. Brandon is the very first filmmaker of all the many wonderful men and women who have been contacting me the last couple of years for this website that I got to meet in person. What a great guy! He introduced me to a lot of the filmmakers there and now I am one busy gal with lots of movies to review. So thank you Brandon for helping me come out of my shell and getting me back into the world of the living. My wife thanks you too. 🙂