Pornstar: The Legend of Ron Jeremy
dir. Scott J. Gill
Opens Fri Dec 7 at the Varsity.

At first glance, Ron Jeremy comes off as a bogeyman of consumption and lust. Watch him for a while, however, and an unnerving kindness emerges. You can't help but notice that he functions from adoration--not anger or misogyny--and his smiling desire to please is almost, um, charming. He's a tender, hairy rose, pretty on the inside, a coarse sensualist who just happens to have a truly enormous cock. And though, when he talks, he sounds like a used-car salesman from Long Island, his voice has a vulnerable lilt. With his unrelenting hormones and good intentions, he mirrors our desire to mix the caring and the raunchy. He's the Falstaff of celluloid sex.

He is also a relic, the court jester in the otherwise humorless kingdom of pornography. Porn, that bastard child of the sexual revolution and American vaudeville, has changed during Ron's tenure from being the story of our fantasies to the story of our aggressions. The silly music, insipid plot lines, and gosh-golly double-take acting that were the genre's defining characteristics have been handed down to an increasingly vulgar mainstream culture. What remain are the ugly innards, the wet skeleton with the guts still hanging off it.

Scott Gill's fascinating documentary on Mr. Jeremy, Pornstar, accomplishes two ends, giving us a guided tour of this brave new fleshworld, with its various royals, and telling the story of its only lovable inhabitant: Ron Jeremy, man out of time.

When I call Ron, who lives in Los Angeles, a girl with a tinny, curlicued voice answers the phone. "Hold on," she says, and I hear the grunts and groans of the Jester as he is roused from sleep. I imagine him resplendent in a velvet room, a room of giant pillows and crimson walls, where sausages and cheese and the finest wines are laid out on gold platters, where decadent beauties wake only to smoke from a giant hookah, and then pass blissfully back into sleep. Basically, I imagine an opium den in the San Fernando Valley.

"Hey! Howaya?" he says, cheery and ready to roll. Before I can get in a question, he launches into an extended, well-rehearsed session of "Did You Know?" As in, did you know that I have a master's in social education and was a schoolteacher before I was in adult film? Did you know that I've been in many mainstream films, and that Leno and O'Brien and SNL have paid comic tribute to me? Did you know that my mother was in the OSS, and that I come from a good Jewish family?

I did know all of this, because Pornstar goes to great lengths (as it were) to humanize this man who, but for his big 10-inch, would still be grading papers in a New York City classroom. I tell Ron that yes, I think that's great, that the movie really portrays him as warm and sweet and kind. But that's not enough for him. "I don't know why they didn't put in more information about me," he says. "There's so much more to me than my career in adult films!"

Of course, there isn't, and there probably never will be. And I doubt Ron will ever understand that. But that's not so bad. Director Gill has assembled an impressive coterie of porn royals to sing the praises of this holy oaf. There's Al Goldstein, founder of Screw magazine, the grand old wizard of hardcore porn publishing. There's Seymore Butts, the dashing young duke who has made his fortune in the field of proctological inquiry. There's Tabitha Stevens, the giggly blond romantic princess who wants men to look in her eyes when she's fucking them. "I mean, sure, Ron's hairy and overweight," she says, "but I'd rather have sex with him than some frat-type guy who's just like, you know, bang bang bang!"

Gill clearly loves his subject, and so his choice of interviewees is weighted in the Jester's favor. But there are also moments during Pornstar when people who don't find Ron so adorable get some screen time. Take porn star Herschel Savage, who might be best described as the Anti-Ron. Like Jeremy, he's nearing 50 and has been in porn since the '70s, but unlike Jeremy, he's tall and fit and handsome. He's also creepy, like the coach of the high-school football team, a leering, aging jock who corners 16-year-old girls in hallways. There's nothing lovable about him.

Still, Savage's tenure in the business of hardcore gives him what passes for the authority to roast Ron, and roast him hard. And so, while on the set of Ally McFeel, Herschel gets harsh. "Here's this guy," Savage says with a sneer, his bullish nostrils seeing red, "he's a multimillionaire, he can have anything, but he still carries around his clothes in a plastic bag. Christ!" The camera pans to Ron, stooped over and looking pained, like he ate too much matzo-ball soup. "Isn't that right, Ron?" he taunts.

Then there's the young actress on the set of McFeel who clearly doesn't want to have sex with Ron, and flat-out refuses to let him go down on her. "Are you happy to work with Ron?" asks Gill, and she smiles as if someone has tugged at both corners of her mouth. "Um, yeah, sure," she says, trailing off into a mumble. "I mean, you know, it'll help me, you know, get bigger roles...." In the brief shot of the two engaged in coital embrace, she looks like she's sitting on a big, pointy, annoying rock. And behind her, that rock grows more and more dejected.

The most revealing moment in Pornstar, however, the one that really won me over, is when Ron shows off his address book, an overflowing, falling-apart loose-leaf binder of crinkled sheets, each of which is literally covered in names of the people he has met during his time in the skin trade. Arrows connect names connect crossed-out initials connect disconnected numbers, and he has no problem navigating this demolition derby of networking. It reminded me of a Da Vinci codex, bearing witness to a messy, dedicated mind at work--an artistic testimony to Ron's only real desire: his unquenchable ambition to be a legitimate actor.

When I mention this to Ron, sure that it will make his day, he's thrown off his rhythm. "That was your favorite part?" he asks, with the dejection of a lover spurned. I make the Da Vinci comparison again, because where I live, being compared to Da Vinci is proof that you're onto something special. At the very least, I thought it might bode well for Ron's deliverance from the dirty glow of porn and into the fake sunshine of Hollywood. Or not.

Ten minutes after I get off the phone with Ron, he calls me back. "Hey, um, I was just wondering," he says, voice rich with anxiety. "Was, um, was I coherent?" I assure him that he was. "Because I don't want you to think I'm, like, this buffoon, this loser. You're a writer, you know, and I don't want to sound stupid or something. Because I'm not stupid," he promises. "I'm just tired."