Bright Lights Film Journal

Why Won’t You Love Me? Richard Glatzer’s The Fluffer

Sean, meet Johnny Rebel’s cock. Johnny Rebel’s cock, meet Sean.

Fluffing, like that other impolite f-word felching, was once an obscure term, the exclusive province of pornhounds and industry insiders. But with a slew of recent successful sex star documentaries (Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, Wadd, Porn Star), it’s become part of the hip lexicon, so much so that we now have an entire movie called The Fluffer that’s devoted to the seductive, if apparently not always rewarding, occupation of deep-throating male porn stars to help them perform before the camera.

This Fluffer, directed by Richard Glatzer of Grief fame, along with porn vet Wash West, is a low-budget queer coming-of-age drama, a less pretentious, more homo Boogie Nights. Strong acting and an engaging verite style make The Fluffer a surprisingly successful take on the eternal elusiveness of the romantic/sexual ideal.

The film states its theme baldly in a quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: “Both boys and girls looked to him to make love, and yet that handsome figure of proud Narcissus had little feeling for either boys or girls.” The Narcissus in question is Johnny Rebel, aka Mikey (Scott Gurney), a hung and hunky hetero boy who seems to have feelings for girls and pretends, as a porn star, to have feelings for boys, but in reality cares for little but himself and gratifying his immediate needs. As a popular gay-for-pay porn icon, Johnny has all the accoutrements of the lifestyle: a lap dancer girlfriend, Julie (Roxanne Day) ; stray fucks with (female) pickups in Porsches; a coke ‘n crystal habit that makes him habitually late and occasionally violent; and most tellingly, a nearly infantile sense of self-absorption that contrasts nicely with his very adult chiseled body, smoldering good looks, and ten-inch cock (seen in a few fleeting frames; schlongspotters will want to have a lorgnette handy, or wait for the video).

Into Johnny’s life, or rather crotch, comes naïve young film freak Sean McGinnis (Michael Cunio), who first discovers the capricious butch through a misfiled video. Thinking he’s rented Citizen Kane, Sean finds instead one of Rebel’s meisterwerks, Citizen Cum. This experience immediately redirects all of Sean’s energy from attempting to get legit Hollywood work to applying to “The Men of Janus” studio as a cameraman to get close to his idol. There he meets a familiar cast of characters: aging queen office manager and drug supplier Chad Cox (Robert Walden) ; fat, crotchety production supervisor Sam (Richard Riehle), who bitches at Sean’s “arty” camerawork; and various fly-by-night “talent” who fuck and flee to their next venue. Sean is soon corralled into love-slavedom as Johnny’s preferred suckboy. Johnny drifts casually on and off the set and in and out of Sean’s orbit, while Sean worships his idol both on and off his knees.

The film couples Sean’s spiraling and clearly ill-fated obsession with a kind of free-floating homosexual self-hate that gives the film some decidedly un-p.c. moments. His inability to accept himself as gay (his claim of bisexuality seems an obvious cover) makes it easy for him to grovel before Johnny. When he meets an old queen in a bar, they reminisce about the days before queers were accepted, when all queens were cocksuckers and all straight men trade, and raise a grim toast “to the closet.” When Sean gets involved with a normal queerboy who’s handsome, thoughtful, and sexy, an ideal catch compared to the arrogant, self-consumed Johnny, he flees, unable to disengage from his lowly but treasured status as Johnny’s personal suckslave.

An insider view of the porn racket, The Fluffer relishes the details of these two-bit productions that seem to happen more by serendipity than plan. There are amusing discussions of the crucial “money shot,” casual lessons on what to emphasize during shooting, and tips on how to deal with no-shows (hire Cole Tucker). The film is perhaps too hard on its subject at times; Rebel’s films are usually set in a barnyard (“You’re gonna take my city cock, country boy, my city cock!”) or poolside and recall the primitive scenarios of Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild more than modern porn. Throughout there are satirical jibes that leaven the melodrama. When Sean’s not shooting or sucking, he’s dutifully organizing the Janus archive, with such titles as The Iceman Cummeth, Chicken Hawks’ Feeding Frenzy, and Tranny Get Your Gun.

There’s a pleasant unpredictability to what should be, and must have looked on paper, a standard-issue soap opera about a one-way affair, partly because of the script’s frequent shifts from humor to hopelessness to engaging experimental touches. In a recurring sequence shot in atmospheric black-and-white, Sean relives a traumatic experience as a young teenager after an (unseen) encounter with a burly middle-aged neighbor. At a porn party (complete with real-life porn royalty like Chi Chi LaRue and Ron Jeremy), Sean and Johnny take crystal and Sean speed-talks about Vertigo, a sequence the filmmakers shoots to amusing effect in fast motion. In a dream sequence that perfectly captures the lure of the self-loving fetish-icon, Sean watches from behind a two-way mirror as Johnny lovingly shaves his face and then kisses the mirror.

Most important in anchoring this drama, which could have easily devolved into pathos, is the acting. The minor players acquit themselves well – Adina Porter is especially incisive in her brief appearances as Sean’s worldly wise coworker and confidante. And Roxanne Day registers strongly as Johnny’s long-suffering girlfriend. But it’s Michael Cunio as the fucked-up obsessive, Scott Gurney as the beautiful monster, and the shifting perspectives on their “relationship” that make The Fluffer feel more real and affecting than it has any right to be.