Interview: Sam Benjamin brings his history to SPACE Gallery

Sam Benjamin brings his history to SPACE Gallery
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  November 30, 2011

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Soon after Brown University graduate Sam Benjamin moved to southern California in 1999, he started a website called jewishcheerleaders.com — an online journal about his nascent career in the porn industry. "I always had that sensibility that I wanted to do some sort of work about porn rather than just creating the tape," the 35-year-old recalls today. But it wasn't until several years later that he started working on American Gangbang: A Love Story, the narrative non-fiction book published earlier this year by Gallery Books, which explores his three-year stint as a full-fledged porn producer (on both sides of the camera lens).

Now, springboarding off the success of and interest in that tome, Benjamin is touring the country with his multimedia lecture, "A Brief History of Porn," which traces the evolution of porn over the last several decades. He's speaking at SPACE Gallery at 7 pm on December 8 (admission is a $5 suggested donation; 18+ only). We caught up with him on the phone from Los Angeles to talk about basketball-sized boob jobs, the industry's "star system," and how to excise the poison from porn.

YOUR DESCRIPTIVE CATCH-PHRASE IS "IVY LEAGUER TURNED PORNOGRAPHER TURNED AUTHOR." CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW YOU WENT FROM BROWN UNIVERSITY TO PORN VALLEY? As a student at Brown, I caught the art bug real bad; I just wanted to be an artist in any way possible. I had this epiphany that I could get into shooting adult films. I'd seen a bunch of them, and they didn't seem that impressive. I thought, I can edit okay . . . I thought, I could do this, but better. This was in 2000, when I started. Ebay was just coming into its own as this international commercial phenomenon, and that's how I made my money in the first nine months [in California] — by making my own independent films, which were really low-budget, and selling VHS tapes through the mail. I didn't really make enough money to support myself 100 percent — I was still working at a juice bar part-time — so I decided to move down to Los Angeles and get with where the major league was. My original intent had been to change porn, to bring to it some kind of documentary perspective, or a little bit more thoughtful-slash-respectful perspective . . . but when I went down to LA, my main intention was staying alive and making enough money. So I got into the mainstream industry. Shot what they needed. It was interesting. It allowed me to go a little darker than I'm used to doing. In retrospect I'm glad I did it.

AND THE BOOK RUNS THE GAMUT FROM HUMOROUS TO HIDEOUS, IS THAT CORRECT? I wanted it to be, above all, honest. My experience was full of funny things. I laughed constantly when I was in porn. Some of that stuff is so absurd, from a visual perspective and from a human perspective. And yeah, it's dark, but that's the truth of it. The mainstream, LA, heterosexual porn industry — at least while I was in it — that shit was dark. I avoided writing about that stuff for a long time — that's why it took me so damn long to write the book.

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