Movie Review By Casey McCabe
Given that America can't seem to get enough brutal reality, and our guilty little addictions to those crash and burn celebrity profile shows all over cable TV these days, the new documentary "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes" appears to enjoy perfect timing. This is the father lode of the genre.
As facts go, there's only one that really matters in Cass Paley's film. John C. Holmes had a 13 inch penis. Not particularly handsome, talented or bright, John C. Holmes appears to have been put on earth to be a porn star. And as one producer observes early on, he was to the adult film industry what Elvis Presley was to the music industry. The King.
This is an emperor who proudly wears no clothes. But John C. Holmes does get into plenty of trouble when caught with his pants on. It's the story of a country boy from a broken home, who lies about his age to get into the Army, marries young and moves to Southern California in the '70s where a confluence of ambition, desperation and timing allow him to emerge as a subcultural superstar. It's not clear whether Holmes ever did have a lot of blood rushing to his brain, but the sex, fame and drugs of the '70s and '80s made him increasingly paranoid, arrogant, delusional and out-of-control, culminating in a series of brutal drug-related murders that Holmes at the very least witnessed, and a career the dwindled down to a few low-paying porno gigs where Holmes failed to inform his costars that he had contracted the AIDS that would shortly take his life. Till the end, John C. Holmes lived the kind of life and times that only a bad porno movie would try to pass off as enviable.
If this all sounds familiar, and you swear you knew nothing previously about John C. Holmes and his movie alter ego Johnny Wadd, it might be because the film "Boogie Nights" covered a similar life and times using the fictional character Dirk Diggler. And sure enough, P.T. Anderson, who wrote and directed "Boogie Nights" is interviewed in Wadd, freely admitting that he wouldn't be where he is today without John C. Holmes. But while I've recently contended that documentaries are producing better narratives than fiction, I confess that "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes" actually made me appreciate Boogie Nights that much more. Several of Paley's interview subjects remember John C. Holmes as a gentle and generous man, yet the bulk of evidence, including interviews with Holmes himself, presents a man who is in way too far into the invented persona. Which was created for a highly insular industry. Which happens to trade in cheap fantasy.
The truth is, Anderson's fiction may have nailed the story better than the documentary. "Wadd: the Life and Times of John C. Holmes" gives us the insider's view of a larger than life legend. “Boogie Nights” used the outsiders view to suggest it was a small life after all. Somehow the latter is both more believable and sympathetic.
With only brief glimpses of the famed appendage, and plenty of carefully neutered porn footage, "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes" definitely rates as entertainment. But still comes up curiously short.
© 2001 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 04/11/01
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