Wednesday, July 2, 2014

New Book review by Willow

"Hands" by Kenji
As we roll toward the 6th anniversary of the release of "John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches" in August, we are happy to share a new book review by a fellow reader and writer, Willow. Willow recently reviewed the biography after it was offered to her in exchange for a fair and honest look at the book. As a blogger residing in Oregon, with a wry sense of humour and a unique take on many facets of life, Willow's blog is an interesting place to stop a while and peruse; it is diverse, entertaining, and contains a variety of topics -- from reviews on books and movies, to sharing recipes, to discussing thoughts on spiritual and metaphysical matters, to ideas about parenting. Willow manages to effectively enlighten and offer her opinion without taking herself too seriously.

I'd like to thank Willow once again for taking the time to pen the following analysis of "John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches."

Please enjoy Willow's blog and her review of our book:

John Holmes; A Life Measured in Inches (2008) by Jennifer Sugar and Jill C. Nelson is a compilation of quotes on various topics about the life and times of famed porn actor John C. Holmes. The quotes are from people who knew him and/or worked with him in the industry. This book was offered to me by author Jill C. Nelson after reading my review of Road Through Wonderland on my blog.

In contrast to Porn King and Road Through Wonderland, this book (nearly 600 pages in length), is a more comprehensive glimpse into the person, life and times of
John Holmes. Rather than being the result of one person's view, it is a collection of stories and quotes from upwards of 46 people who reflect on this fringe icon.

As I've stated before in similar reviews, I will attempt to give this review without making judgement on the man or the industry. He had friends and family who loved him, and was a multifaceted human. He was nearly entirely different to those who experienced him during his extreme bout with addiction vs the periods of time when he was clean and sober. I would say that in reading this book, it was pretty easy to come up with a composite of who he was. Much of who he was, as experienced by those who knew and worked with him, has common threads. So it is fairly simple to come away with an overall picture.

John Holmes was a star in pornography. Due not only to his documented phallic size and sexual control but for his prolific collection of works. He is said to have starred in over 2250 films and loops during the 1970's and 1980's. He was implicated in the famed 1981
Wonderland Murders, and later died of AIDS. All of this is outlined in the book.

Originally, I read Road Through Wonderland due to the local connection of Dawn Schiller and Sharon Holmes living in our town. After reviewing that book, I was approached by Laurie Holmes to read and review Porn King and by Jill C. Nelson to read and review "...Inches", and
Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985 (which I will review at a later date...perhaps a much later is nearly 1,000 pages in length).

It's not so much that I'm a student of the early porn industry and it's stars so much as the opportunity presented itself, and I apparently have enough curiosity to have agreed to read and review these works. The only book of those mentioned that I personally purchased was Road Through... The others were provided to me free of charge to review (with the understanding that I would give an honest review). I have mixed feelings about pornography, and I have to admit that I got a little tired of the book after a while. I also have to say that it is comprehensive and thorough. If you have an interest in the early porn industry or of some of the people who blazed the trails, then this is a good book for that purpose. Keep in mind this is a book that does not read like a novel. It is literally a series of quotes organized by topic.

My first impressions of the book (besides...OMG it's so long!...which is ironically, a quote you will find throughout the book...SNORK!), was that it must have been a darn lot of work to compile and organize all those quotes into topics. It is a well-documented, nearly scholarly work. I found myself thinking that all of these books would make for good text books in some sort of sociological course on pornography. To me, it gives a much more well-rounded picture of John Holmes (and the industry) because a person is so much more than their own view, or the view of one or two people who adore them or hate them. There are impressive research efforts on display and Sugar and Nelson are to be commended for it.

Of notable interest to me was the progression of the industry and how "new and recent" it really is. When these stars first began to film, they were regularly raided and arrested for indecency. Porn was illegal to make, sell, view and possess. It's one of those things that in my lifetime, has always been available (made much more widely available by the world wide web).

I was also rather struck by how relatively "new and recent" AIDS is. There was so little known about it when Holmes was in his "prime" that it boggles the mind. The risks that those in the industry have taken and continue to take is staggering. That Holmes continued to work a bit longer after testing positive, knowing he was ill will test one's compassion. But, as stated by co-worker and friend "...his rational thinking had been compromised by years of drug abuse...drug addiction is a serious problem that can involve a good, decent person in activities in which he or she would not normally participate." (p. 379) At that time, it was being called "Gay Cancer" and was not considered something that could be transmitted to females.

When I first began reading this book, I asked co-author Jill C. Nelson:

"Why should we care, and why is John Holmes worthy of the books written about him? What makes him noteworthy (besides penis size)?"

This is Jill's response to me:

"The John Holmes story is important for several reasons: John is the first male superstar of adult films. He is still considered the "largest" male of his generation. What separated John from few other men with his size is that his penis functioned. John could cum on cue and was known for his tender lovemaking style which is co-stars appreciated. His worst films outsold the best selling films of his female contemporary stars. He was and will always be the "King." This might not be relevant to the rest of the world, but to the era of the golden age, this stuff is primary.

More importantly however, through the years, John Holmes has morphed into a pop culture figure. A large part of his notoriety and infamy has been solidified not only because of his legacy in the adult film world, but because of his involvement in the Wonderland murders. His murder trial was the first trial in U.S. history in which video tape evidence was used in court. John served the longest period in jail in California history for contempt. He is also the first iconic adult performer to have died of AIDS.

John's story is the epitome of drugs, sex, rock and roll, and HIV -- excess. His is also a story of a gentle young man from rural Ohio who got caught up in the sexual revolution that exceeded far beyond his wildest dreams. Toward the end of the first first wave of his success, he became like a rat trapped on a treadmill with no clue how to get off. In a strange and maybe twisted way, John lived and eventually died a martyr for the industry that he helped to build. His story is a cautionary tale, not only about the ravages of drug addiction, but addiction to everything else in between --including sex.

It's also a unique story of redemption, and how he was able to rebuild his life and career after his acquittal for four counts of first degree murder. John Holmes wore many hats aside from his public and porn personas. He was a son, a brother, a husband twice, a friend, a boyfriend, a beloved step-father and a godfather to three children.

In addition to those points, two feature mainstream films have been inspired by his life story, Boogie Nights and Wonderland. Several documentaries and articles have been produced and written about Holmes through the years starting in 1981 with Exhausted. There is no other porn star living or dead in the history of the business who has generated or spawned this kind of legacy."