Gender In Porn Stardom

If one measures film stardom by the popularity of an actor's films, then the biggest female star in French cinema is not Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani or Brigitte Bardot. It is in fact the Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel who, 'thanks to her success in the erotic Emmanuelle series, turns out to be the highest ranking female star at the French box office.'1 But, as Ginette Vincendeau points out (shortly before dropping Kristel from her own account), star encyclopaedias like Les Acteurs français and the Dictionnaire du cinéma 'leave Kristel out completely.'2 Most versions of French film stardom tend to ignore the porn film, and therefore neglect the importance of Kristel and other stars of the genre. And yet throughout the 1970s, pornography, both soft-core and hard-core, was a significant feature of French cinema. In 1974, the year that porn broke into the mainstream in France, the two most successful films at the box office were the soft-core fantasies Emmanuelle and Contes immoraux. Even after government measures launched in late 1975 to combat, or at least control, the industry (including the new, highly-taxed X rating) pornography remained a force in French film production and consumption. By 1978 almost half of all French films were rated X, and the following year these hard-core movies accounted for 6 per cent of cinema spectators.3 The status enjoyed by pornographic cinema at this time (before its demise with the development of the straight-to-video market) had implications for representations of gender in stardom.

In France, male stars have always generated higher box-office receipts and commanded bigger fees than their female counterparts. This is partly due to the fact that male rather than female stars tend to work consistently within comedy, the most popular genre.4 But this trend was bucked in the mid-seventies, when the female stardom celebrated by porn was briefly a bigger box-office draw than the male stardom celebrated by comedy. Hence, Sylvia Kristel in Emmanuelle was watched by nine million spectators in France, more than the pre-eminent male star of the period, Louis de

1* G. Vincendeau, Stars and Stardom in French Cinema, London and New York, Continuum, 2000, p.28.

3- See R. Prédal, Le Cinéma français depuis 1945, Paris: Nathan, 1991, pp.344-5.

4" See Vincendeau, op. cit., p.28. As Vincendeau explains, one exception to this would be the comedy actress Josiane Balasko, star and director of the comic hit Gazon Maudit (1995).

Funès, in any of his seventies comedies.5 Not only is Kristel the most popular female star in French cinema, she is also the most popular porn star in France, male or female. This is because heterosexual porn stardom is, in gender terms, an inversion of mainstream stardom. Porn cinema is an 'industry of feminine display' where '"Actresses have the power" '.6 The women are the stars :

Porn, at least porn produced for a heterosexual audience, is one of the few contemporary occupations where the pay gap operates in women's favor; the average actress makes 50 to 100 per cent more money than her male counterpart. But then, she is the object of desire; he merely her appendage, the object of the object.7

However, it should be noted that porn is the cheapest and most exploitative sector of the film industry. Low budgets meant that most French porn stars of the seventies were far from highly paid: 'les films porno se tournent en 8 ou 15 jours maximum avec en moyenne 100,000 francs et même souvent moins; Claudine Beccarie, vedette d'Exhibition, a été payée moins de 1000 francs la journée'? Kristel herself was paid 'peanuts' for her role in Emmanuelle, although the subsequent success of the franchise meant that in 1994 she was presented with 'an offer I couldn't refuse' to take part in Emmanuelle Forever? The expansion of French porn cinema in the nineties has not seen any change in this situation. Current star Coralie reveals that although actresses are the 'most important thing in X-rated films' they are woefully paid:

La plupart des Jîlles commencent à 1500 F par jour de tournage, ce qui n'est même pas le tarif syndical d'un petit role dans un film traditionnel. [...] On a l'impression de s'être fait doublement baiser. Je déconseillerais à une fille de faire du X si l'argent est sa seule motivation,10

Even if star status increases earning power and gives the star a certain authority to specify what she will and won't do on screen, it can also dissolve the distance between actor and spectator/fan. This also applies to mainstream film stars, but with porn actresses, sex is the

5' See Prédal, op. cit., p.404. Emmanuelle (1974) with 8.9 million spectators, is well ahead of Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973) with 7.4 million, and Le Gendarme et les extra-terrestres (1979) with 6.2 million. Admittedly, de Funès was an ageing star by the seventies, but several hit films from his heyday {Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez, Les Grandes Vacances) and similarly from that of Gérard Depardieu (La Chèvre, Jean de Florette) have been outperformed at the box office by Emmanuelle.

6* S. Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the Modern Man, London, Vintage, 2000, pp.534-5. Faludi is quoting a male would-be porn actor in the second phrase here.

8* 'porn films were shot in one or two weeks maximum, for on average 100 000 francs, and often less; Claudine Beccarie, star of Exhibition, was paid less than a thousand francs per day', Prédal, op. cit., p.345.

9- Kristel cited in T. Hibbert, 'Sylvia Kristel: 70s Icon', Empire 58 (April 1994), p.50.

lO 'Most girls start on 1500 francs per day, which is less than the union rate for a minor role in a mainstream film. You feel as if you've been screwed twice over. I would discourage any girl from getting involved in porn for the money.', F. Dordor, 'X Fille', Les Inrockuptibies, Numéro special été: Génération X, 29 July 1998, p.32.

defining quality of their stardom and hence of the assumptions (about nymphomania and prostitution) that their predominantly male fans make. When a fan recognises Coralie, 'En un instant, toute la fausse intimité que ses performances à l'écran ont supposé établir avec le spectateur lui revient en pleine figuré.11

Maie stars are generated by gay porn and, on rare occasions, within heterosexual porn too. Rocco Siffredi, star of dozens of hard-core porn videos made in the United States during the nineties, has recendy become a key porn star in France.12 Siffredi is, however, the exception, as a male porn star of at least equal celebrity to his female peers. In the seventies, Sylvia Kristel had no male competitors at a time when she personified the arrival of porn in mainstream French cinema. She can nonetheless be compared with the 'underground' star Joe Dallesandro, her co-star from La Marge (1976), in order to explore gender distinctions in the construction of heterosexual porn stardom.

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