Stacy Valentine never felt like she was good at anything until the day her husband bullied her into entering a modeling contest for Gallery, a "men's magazine." She won the contest and a photo shoot with the publication, and in doing so found her career. She shed the husband, donned a stage name, and became a porn star. "I'm good at sex," she says matter-of-factly to the camera.
Valentine is the subject of The Girl Next Door, a documentary that could easily succumb to the temptation to titillate the audience for 80 minutes. Fortunately, filmmaker Christine Fugate has more to offer us, and the overabundant nudity becomes merely commonplace, making way for the much more interesting peek into Stacy's personal life. The Girl Next Door is not only a cynical look at a frowned-upon but highly profitable industry, it is also a sad portrait of a lonely woman who has, nonetheless, found her calling in the adult video business.
The Girl Next Door picks up in the middle of Valentine's career. She has already made a number of movies and has a recognizable name among porn fans, who crowd around her at industry conventions, surreptitiously trying to cop a feel. The surgically enhanced Stacy endures all this with only an occasional look of chagrin. No doubt she's thinking of the one to two thousand dollars she earns per sex scene (one of the highest salaries in the business, one producer tells us).
Through a series of interviews with Stacy's friends, parents, and colleagues, the details of her past float to the top: the abusive husband who yelled at her until she posed for the camera, the empowering feeling of the Hustler photo shoot in Mexico, her excitement at performing her first "DP." Then we become privy to the secrets of a porn star: the difficulty in maintaining an emotional relationship ("When I'm horny, I go to work"), the repeated bouts of plastic surgery, the competition between starlets.
There are many moments in this documentary which are difficult to watch. We accompany Stacy on two trips to the plastic surgeon. Horror fans, if the fakery of Hollywood gore has become too bland for your tastes, we heartily recommend watching footage of an actual liposuction. That and the removal of breast implants, followed by their immediate replacement with a smaller size (Valentine found her E+ implants too cumbersome, and so opted for a set of mere double-Ds), should satisfy your gross-out needs. The proponents of rhinoplasty also neglect to mention that collagen lip treatments leave the patient looking like the victim of a severe mouth beating.
Perhaps the most difficult scenes to endure are those between Valentine and her boyfriend, Julian, who also works in front of the video camera for the same company. Julian seems like a nice guy, and he seems to love Stacy, but we're never given the opportunity to find out for sure. This isn't the filmmakers' fault -- it's Stacy's. Something -- past experience? the nature of her work? -- has made it impossible for her to put faith in anyone but her family. Unable to trust anyone else in her life ("Trust no one" is tatooed in Japanese behind her ear), Stacy has become a bit too independent, and Julian can't long withstand her insecurities. Granted, her choice of lovers is suspect -- would you trust someone who slept with several other people each day? The last straw comes when the two are asked to do a scene together with another man, and Julian finds that he has insecurities of his own. Soon Stacy is alone again, with her cat and her "Hot D'Or," (the French adult movie award) as her only companions.
Fugate and her crew are graciously inconspicuous throughout the film; we hear Fugate's voice only a few times. Times, places, and other such information are communicated through captions and people on screen rather than narration, which gives us a better sense of presence in each scene. Fugate's careful placement of her own camera during the scenes of Valentine's actual work -- usually right behind the sound guy or other flunky on the set -- keep her from infringing on the "intellectual property" of the studio in question. Some of the most amusing moments in the film come from watching the production crew stand by impassively during the seemingly passionate performances.
The Girl Next Door is currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit (we saw it at the 1999 Florida Film Festival), but will make its way to a more widespread theatrical release later in the year, and eventually, we hope, to video. Given the supposed obsessive behavior of porn mavens, we wouldn't be surprised to see it sold alongside some of Valentine's professional work. Heck, it could be the best-selling documentary of all time. Those of you who don't frequent the back rooms of the local video store may want to ask a clerk to bring it out to you -- it's an enlightening experience.