PHWOOOAR! CONTAINS SERIOUS SPOILERS
Hardcore pornography is a huge business: an estimated ten to fourteen billion dollars a year spent on adult material in the US alone - $89 per second on the internet alone (and that was five years ago). Whatever the moral rights and wrongs of porn, whatever the social benefits and problems, and indeed whatever its artistic or cultural merits, for good or ill it isn't going away any time soon. Democratic rights and all that. In this country the BBFC invariably pass more videos at R18 than at 18 (I suspect the figures for PG, 12 and 15 are higher due to episodes of TV shows classified individually). My personal feeling is that what I've seen is enough to not make me want to watch any more - it's actually rather boring. I can't get that angry or excited about it; all I can do is not buy them, which isn't that difficult.
The poster tagline for Paul Schrader's 1979 Hardcore (aka The Hardcore Life) sums up the film's hook brilliantly: "Oh my God, that's my daughter". Furniture manufacturer and devout Calvinist Van Dorn (George C Scott, great) sends his teenage daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) off to a Christian youth event, but she disappears without explanation; when a sleazy private detective (Peter Boyle) uncovers a porno loop featuring Kristen, Van Dorn heads off to find her and bring her back home....
David F Friedman's mantra was famously "Sell the sizzle, not the steak" and therein lies the difference between the naughty tease of softcore and the ugly meat of hardcore. The world of porn and sex in Hardcore is entirely empty of glamour and beauty: it's a soulless, dead-eyed cesspit of abuse, drugs, brutality and misery that transforms the naive and innocent into cynical zombies. There's no thrill of erotica here, or indeed basic humanity: the girls robotically parrot the same lines from brothel to brothel. Van Dorn is an outsider and can't get any answers as a mere customer: it's only when he penetrates the industry (hilariously posing as a porn producer with a stick-on moustache) that he finds the first clues to his child's fate, and even then he has to smack degenerate sleazeballs around in a decidedly non-religious manner.
It's a depressing world of foul and hideous people, and it's certainly a grim film but it's all the better for it. The two most affecting moments are the early scene where a horrified Scott watches his daughter's porn loop alone in a cinema (a scene recently spoofed on Youtube as "George C Scott watches the Jack And Jill trailer", amongst other edits), and the near-ending where Kristen tells her father she's happy and she doesn't want to come home. Ideally that should have been the conclusion and the slightly happier fadeout feels slightly tacked on. And you could argue about the presence of a snuff movie since we're still not sure these things exist. But mostly the film feels authentic and true and as a human drama I liked it a lot. And you'll never look at your DVD of Dirty College Threesomes #47 in the same way again.