Randy Spears (‘Johnny’) is a man with a problem. Despite all the trappings of success – an apparently successful business and a beautiful wife (Ava Vincent) – here is a man struggling with addiction, a man whose life is in danger of spiralling out of control.
Although he often seems to be more reviled than revered, it would be difficult to deny that Paul Thomas has made a number of landmark adult features. Of course, he is essentially a commercial director – and the pseudonymous quickies outnumber the truly committed works – but Thomas is justifiably renowned for making intelligent, accessible erotic movies. Heart of Darkness, which was shot on film and would receive a number of AVN awards, was clearly conceived of as a prestigious movie in the lineage of Bobby Sox and Bad Wives. I’m not convinced it actually measures up to some of his earlier masterpieces – or, indeed, some of those that would follow – but it remains a prime example of 21st century narrative porn.
The integration of narrative and sexual sequences is one of the primary problems facing the serious-minded adult film-maker. On the one hand, you have a genre defined by its depictions of sexual activity – a genre obsessed with visibility. On the other, it takes time to resolve a narrative and develop characters. One of the most common solutions to this tension – and this is the approach taken by Heart of Darkness – is for the narrative itself to be sexually motivated. Here, the lead is not struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism but rather with sex addiction, an addiction that will ultimately lead to his arrest and the estrangement of his wife.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the movie is the performance of Randy Spears, probably the best actor working in adult movies at the time. Although this is notionally a Sunrise Adams vehicle, Spears dominates as the desperate and duplicitous Johnny. The supporting cast are competent enough without creating a lasting impression: Dru Berrymore plays a dominatrix who recognises the symptoms of addiction and oscillates between warning and taunting Spears; Ava Vincent, as usual, is excellent as the unwitting wife but her’s remains very much a supporting role. The other key player, of course, is Thomas. This isn’t as elaborate as, say, the aforementioned Bobby Sox but Thomas is an undeniably skillful film-maker. The juxtaposition of a masturbating Spears and the projected image of a facial cum-shot – in porn’s vocabulary, the ultimate resolution to a sexual encounter – is indicative of a master craftsman. That said, this isn’t his finest achievement. For instance, the final image – Spears being driven away from the prostitutes he frequented in the back of police car – is somewhat undermined by the specifics of his arrest. It transpires that one of the prostitutes was actually an undercover police officer – an officer happy to fuck and suck members of the public in the line of duty. Although this may sound petty – after all, we are talking about an adult movie – it is a problem in an otherwise realistic narrative.