| art & architecture | books & cds | dance
| destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
The Life and Times of John C. Holmes (1998)
The late John Holmes
was the only actor who could legitimately claim to be as famous in mainstream society as
in the world of porn. Holmes, who rose to prominence in the 1970s as the best-endowed man
ever to appear in sex films, died of AIDS in the mid-1980s, but he remains a legend of
sorts. Director Cass Paley, in attempting to unravel the (largely self-created) myth of
Holmes from the reality, has a fascinating subject. Unfortunately, the film mostly falls
Wadd is almost entirely free of visual style. Paley relies on
talking heads and clips from porn videos (nothing hardcore; the film's MacGuffin is never
shown in full turgidity). Everyone from porn historian William Margold, to female co-stars
like Gloria Leonard and Cicciolina, to the LAPD detectives to whom Holmes routinely
snitched on porn directors and producers, is interviewed. The stories often contradict one
another. Holmes' wife at the time of his death, Laurie, insists he was a loving husband;
others who knew the couple, including Holmes' goddaughter, claim Holmes hated Laurie, and
married her primarily to have a steady source of drug money.
One surprising aspect of the film is its access to Holmes' first wife,
to whom he remained wed for fifteen years without telling anyone in the industry. This was
at his wife's insistence; she hated what her husband did for a living and wanted no part
of it. She withstood quite a bit before finally being driven away; not only Holmes' porn
career, but even his "adoption" of a teenaged runaway, who he pimped (again, for
drug money). The young girl in question is interviewed, too, also with her face hidden.
Wadd contains plenty of lurid tales. Holmes' involvement in
the gruesome Wonderland Avenue drug-murder case is exhaustively discussed, as are his drug
intake and his insistence on continuing to work even though he knew he was sick with AIDS.
(Finding it impossible to get work in America, he flew to Italy and made a film with
Italian porn star Cicciolina; she states in Wadd that she knew he was sick, but
thought it was just a flu.) Regrettably, director Paley does little or nothing with this
material. A large problem was probably budgetary restraints;once all the videos have been
licensed, there's little money left for Errol Morris-style dramatic reenactments. This
could have been a classic American folk-tale. Instead, it's an episode of the "E!
True Hollywood Story" with nudity.
- Phil Freeman