‘How to Read a Dirty Movie’ at the Nuart : Movies: Critic Susie Bright’s commentary with film clips is designed to combat ‘sexual illiteracy.’

Susie Bright, like many feminists, has a strong point of view about pornographic films, but it’s not what you think. She is in favor of them. In a big way. And she loves to talk about them, which she will do tonight and Thursday at the Nuart, in a presentation titled “How to Read a Dirty Movie.”

The program is a combination of hard-core film clips and commentary designed to help curb what Bright sees as the “sexual illiteracy” or “erotophobia” plaguing the moral left as well as the right. It’s educational, all right--you’ll see oddities in her clips they’d never show you in anatomy class--but her “literacy” lesson is not for Barbara Bush, or the faint of heart, or really for anyone at all besides the terminally curious or already-converted sexual libertarians.

As “erotic movie critic” for Penthouse Forum magazine (as well as editor of On Our Backs, a lesbian sex journal), Bright often finds herself, as she proudly explains, “the lone woman in the Pussycat Theatre.” She is unlikely to lure too many more converts there from the feminist mainstream with this dissertation. Her lecturing has a vaguely political veneer, but basically, she considers pornography to be successful art if it’s successfully arousing.

For all the rigmarole, it seemingly comes back to this: You either enjoy watching people do the wild thing for the wild thing’s sake or you don’t.

Bright clearly does, and her banter--sometimes funny and perceptive, sometimes unintentionally disturbing--runs the gamut from professorial to unabashedly voyeuristic. One minute our narrator is offering erudite commentary on how societal gender differences are reflected (or subverted) in porn, an honestly interesting subject; the next she is fannishly wowing over actress Georgina Spelvin’s ability to simultaneously service a horde of demons in “The Devil in Miss Jones, Part 3.”


Bright is hardly your typical apologist for the porn industry; she barely mentions production values or the quality of the stories. Sex scenes are what she is most interested in, whether from 35mm films or zero-budget underground videos. (“There’ve been so many times I’ve seen an R-rated movie and wanted them to go one step further,” she says.)

Her big gripe as a “sexually radical feminist” isn’t that porn degrades women, but that it doesn’t portray nearly as many women’s orgasms on screen as men’s. But in spite of this sexism, Bright still cheerfully accentuates the positive, surveying a wide scope of modern sexploitation--sadomasochism and all--and showing “outstanding” clips from her private collection that have “a spark of originality, creativity or rebelliousness.”

But these “positive” examples she puts up on screen may be what is most damaging to her case with an audience: Many of the clips involve what most viewers of any sexual persuasion would consider unconscionable cruelty. These range from the usual spankings and such to severe verbal abuse, to an unbearably protracted sex-and-murder scene (with Jamie Gillis doing the strangling). Don’t expect any moralizing from Bright; she likes porn films that raise “ambiguous feelings.”

“Ed Meese and Jesse Helms are the only ones who get to talk about pornography on a public scale,” Bright says. Her screenside chats are her way of balancing the ledger. And though she is too ingenuous to be really pushy in her radicalism, you’re still made to feel that if you have a hang-up about, say, the intermingling of sex and violence, you’re more a Meese than a man. Even viewers well to the left of her Republican nemeses may still come away feeling they learned how to read Susie Bright better than they learned how to look between the frames of her dirty movies.

The program begins both nights at 8. Information: (213) 473-6701.