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Houston Chronicle - Ann Hodges

"... 'American Porn' is a candid, adults-only report on a multibillion-dollar business that's come out of dark alleys and seedy shops to settle in America's living rooms. Frontline gets down with the dirty in this enlightening survey of people who produce porn, big corporations (like General Motors and AT&T) that distribute it, and Justice Department lawyers who have fought it in the courts.

Frontline has no fear of placing blame. Bill Clinton's administration opened the door to a porn explosion on the Internet, it says. In her rebuttal interview clip, former Attorney General Janet Reno says dropping porn prosecutions was a matter of establishing 'priorities.' ...

'American Porn' is strong stuff, but Frontline walks that thin edge with restraint sufficient to validate its serious look at a problem as depressing as it is unlikely to go away."

The Sun (Baltimore, MD) - David Zurawik

"To see television journalism as it ought to be but seldom is, watch Frontline's 'American Porn' tonight on PBS. It's a bare-knuckled and balanced report on the politics, business and culture of pornography that speaks legions about who we are as a society. ...

The story-line is skillfully set up at the start of the report when a narrator says: 'Once it was called smut. The rules were clear: It was obscene if it offended the community standard of decency. The digital age and a political moment changed all that.'

The Internet and a multitude of cable channels have an almost unlimited capacity to bring X-rated material into our homes. The new technology coincided with Clinton's mandate to Janet Reno's Justice Department not to prosecute pornography cases. ...

If you think pornography is a simple First Amendment issue, wait until you meet Rob Black and Lizzie Borden (that's what she calls herself), a husband and wife team that makes porn videos in Los Angeles. ..."

Chicago Tribune - Steve Johnson

"... [T]he hour is a closely reported, revealing look at a business that blossomed with the rise of the VCR and then has gone well beyond that, thanks to the ubiquitous, free-flowing Internet and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of willing young participants.

It's a tale of changing social mores by turns fascinating and depressing.

Producer-director Michael Kirk and correspondent Peter Boyer take viewers onto the sets of both 'upscale' sex movies and one so violent the camera crew leaves. ...

It's a compelling story whose telling is made less powerful by the occasional note of disapproval that creeps into Boyer's voice.

When working with such strong material (and viewers be warned -- it is strong), it's best to let the facts make their own case."

Chicago Sun-Times - Phil Rosenthal

"... Two versions of the program were made available to PBS stations, enabling each to decide what will fly locally. But the one sent to reviewers was pretty raw. Even with censoring, you still have to wade through sex acts so out there that even Larry Flynt thinks they're bad for business. ...

While Boyer adequately documents this supposed 'golden age of porn,' he does little to explain why demand seems to be skyrocketing beyond implying that it's now cheaper to produce and easier to distribute the material.

And there will be those tuned in who probably won't hear a word he says but would be willing to pay for a version that's even less judiciously edited.

Can PBS resist temptation?"

New York Times - Caryn James

"You know you're dealing with a rough world when Larry Flynt is its elder statesman. In 'American Porn,' Mr. Flynt, the founder of Hustler magazine, says, 'You can now see on television material just as explicit as we were publishing in Hustler in 1974.' Ambitious but intellectually half-baked, 'American Porn' goes a long way toward demonstrating that amazing transformation of standards.

As its title suggests, the report reveals how widely pornography has crept into American life: it looks at pornography's capitalist moguls, its young women dreaming of money and a sleazy kind of fame, the political factions engaged in a tug of war. But in an hour the program can only glance at each of these elements, which it approaches with a mix of bravado and queasiness. ..."

Los Angeles Times - Lee Margulies

"... Boyer and producer-director Michael Kirk have presented their case in compelling and disturbing fashion, reporting not merely that it's a multibillion-dollar business but also that there are at least 200,000 commercial porn sites on the World Wide Web and that major companies such as AT&T, General Motors and Hilton Hotels Corp. have become 'corporate collaborators' in distributing sexually explicit videos. ...

Frontline does an excellent job explaining how this situation arose, citing the boom in technology, a lack of enforcement of obscenity laws by the Clinton administration and, not least, public demand for the product. ..."

Entertainment Weekly

"... While much of this examination of adult entertainment covers familiar ground (lots of people -- such as star and website CEO Danni Ashe -- make lots of money getting naked), the section on 'corporate collaborators' like GM and AT&T (who broadcast the material on their cable systems) demonstrated growing mainstream acceptance, even as the acts themselves become all the more extreme. It's behind the green door no more, folks."

The San Francisco Chronicle - John Carman

"... This Frontline was produced in the expectation that the Bush administration would launch and anti-pornography offensive last fall. The program was scheduled to air in October. Terrorism and war put everything on hold.

Frontline doesn't really delve into the thorny matter of plugging the Internet, or whether anyone should try. But it does show us a scene from 'Porno Boot Camp,' and introduce us to porn producer Adam Glasser (a.k.a. Seymour Butts) and his mom. She works with him and avers that she's met 'some very nice people' through her son's anal-sex business.

It's also likely to expand any viewer's vocabulary, though not in ways that will enhance anyone's parlor conversation. ...

Given the fact that the Frontline brass decided to show so much porn in order to help viewers understand it, the key question becomes whether the worthwhile information counterbalances the shock value.

It's just about a wash, I'd say."

The Boston Globe - Matthew Gilbert

"... The most interesting material in 'American Porn' revolves around the business and the politics of the business. The documentary is less eye-opening when it provides color about the world of porn and the people who keep it running, the real-life versions of the characters in the movie 'Boogie Nights.' They're intelligent, they're enterprising, and they have rationalized their careers in a variety of ways. Adam Glasser, who runs his production company with is 70-year old mother, Lyla, says he was seduced by the low-tech nature of filming porn movies. And Lyla has her own reasons for working with her son: 'To me, it's a business,' she says. 'I think that basically this industry has very nice people, even though people expect differently.'

We also meet producer Lizzie Borden as she works on a video in which two men rape a woman. She is amazingly open about her motivation: 'In a way, I'm exploiting people, taking all my inner demons and aggression out on them,' she says. 'But it's good for me. So I guess that's all that matters.' ..."

Arizona Republic - Bill Goodykoontz

"... If what 'American Porn,' ... predicts comes to pass, the years of 'blue skies, green lights and fat bank accounts,' as one pornographer puts it, soon may end.

Porn has ridden the wave of the Internet explosion and enjoyed years of lax prosecution during the Clinton administration. But George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft can be expected to take aim at pornography and its peddlers, potentially crippling an industry that's transformed itself from back alleys and raincoats into a multibillion-dollar powerhouse whose distribution enjoys the (usually silent) backing of some of America's biggest companies.

Of course, Sept. 11 may push back efforts to bring pornographers to trial. But given the president's call to turn away from a culture of 'if it feels good, do it,' some kind of crackdown appears inevitable... ."

Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL) - Tom Jicha

"... an eye-opening program that has more warnings than over-the-counter drug labels. The hourlong documentary might be the most sexually explicit program ever to air over broadcast TV -- all in the interest of journalistic exploration, of course. If you want some cheap thrills, the opportunity is there. But there really are valuable insights and information for emotional grownups. ..."

The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) - John Doyle

"... We're told that Hilton Hotels make more money from its in-room porn movies than it does from the sale of the minibar contents. And there's the pretty and pleasant Danni Ashe, who has made a fortune selling soft-core pictures of herself on the Net. An issue raised here is the fact that much of the law about porn is based on old idea. Now, with most porn consumed in the privacy of a person's home, is a 'community standard' relevant? This program is not about issues of child pornography and the darkest, evil side of porn. It's about old-fashioned American porn making lots of money because the outcry against it has diminished."

The Denver Post - Joanne Ostrow

"...'American Porn'...is more newsworthy than you might expect. ...

'American Porn' interweaves business, politics and sociology, specifically looking at how the old definition of obscenity, with its emphasis on 'community standards of decency,' is ill-suited to the new wired world. ...

Detached more than titillating, the documentary mostly resists passing judgement on the industry -- that is, until one porn film session turns violent and the observing Frontline crew leaves. ...

Viewers may giggle nervously as Paul Cambria, the porn industry's lawyer, reads a list of sex acts that he advises his clients to treat as taboo if they want to avoid running afoul of the Justice Department. But nervous giggles mask deeply perplexing questions: Is it true, as the film says, that pornography is bound for a reckoning? Is pornography protected adult expression or can it be deemed offensive to community standards? ..."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Joanne Weintraub

"Doing a serious documentary about pornography presents serious problems -- or as the optimists among us might say, exciting challenges.

How does one show the goods without inviting the audience to giggle at the goodies? What does a filmmaker do when he believe the pornographer he's filming is physically harming her subject? ...

The producers of Frontline handle such matters for the most part, with their usual intelligence and grace.

But a bigger problem confounds them. As writer and narrator Peter Boyer remarks several times in this hour, the modern pornography business is a multimedia enterprise of staggering scope.

Outlining its economic, political, legal and moral dimensions in 60 minutes is an impossible job, one that trips up even these formidable folks. ..."

Fort Worth Star-Telegram  David Bianculli

"This thoughtful documentary doesn't like an easy or sleazy approach to the subject. It's most interested in looking at how new technologies, and new federal administrations have had a direct impact on the rise and fall of the porn industry. The obvious fact is the ability to get porn material into homes directly and discreetly, via home-video rentals and sales and then the Internet, was a big boon. The more surprising one is that prosecution under Republican administrations had a real dampening effect on porn sales and production, while the less concerned Clinton administration provided a climate in which new technologies could be explored and exploited. What happens now? It's a good question, and one this program explores without pandering."

The Seattle Times  Kay McFadden

"...'American Porn' fails to ask the most crucial question pertaining to pornography, namely, why do more and more people want it?

Astoundingly, there's no inquiry in this direction: no interviews with customers, no examination of the social revolution that has shaken America for the past four decades.

Without these elements, 'American Porn' comes off condemnatory. It clucks disapprovingly at the involvement of companies like DirecTV and AT&T Broadband in facilitating pornography, as if demand occurred in a vacuum. ..."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  Rob Owen

"...[A]n oftentimes graphic, disturbing, adults-only hour that traces the evolution of pornography from the 'vanilla sex' of Larry Flynt's Hustler to violent videos of purported rape. ...

Produced and directed by Michael Kirk, the most disturbing portions of 'American Porn' show teen-age girls -- one in braces -- getting into the business for the money. In another case, a woman is beaten while making a rape video and the Frontline crew backs away.

'American Porn' capably and soberly explains the evolution of pornography over the past two decades from the viewpoint of those who produce it and distribute it (including General Motors and AT&T through satellite and cable subsidiaries). What it lacks is any explanation of why pornography -- particularly the extreme, ultra-hardcore variety -- appeals to the masses. That consumer case study will have to wait for a future program."

Daily Variety  Phil Gallo

"... The first half of 'American Porn' is pretty standard stuff: There are people making boatloads of money because young girls want to be in the industry, and there are plenty of people willing to pay to watch. Show does not examine anything personal or even hint at the motivations of anyone involved in porn. ...

Eventually, 'Porn' makes the tired case that major American corporations such as AT&T and General Motors are pornographers due to their investments in cable and satellite companies that offer pay services with sex programming.

'American Porn succeeds at showing the profiteers as regular people. They have standard offices and warehouses; they are men and women of various ages, and they approach all of it from a rather corporate standpoint. They might as well be talking about selling cheese. ..."

The Orlando Sentinel  Hal Boedeker

"... Despite the blockbuster subject, the diffused program isn't one of the series' stronger entries. When 'American Porn' makes a creepy visit to a film set, where an actress doesn't know what awaits her, the program turns into a different, voyeuristic show and loses its newsy focus.

The Frontline narrator editorializes, 'This was more than we bargained for. And while it appeared that what was happening was legally consensual, we left.'

The human costs of pornography could fill a separate film, but they're simply not as new or as interesting as the corporate, legal, and political issues. On top of that, the documentarians' shocked reactions come across as emotional grandstanding unworthy of the esteemed Frontline. ..."

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