By Sophie DuChien
Who is the most famous of all the male porn stars? How dubious a distinction is this? If you’re over forty, it’s probably the late John C. -- "It stands for cash."-- Holmes, the skinny guy with the ‘fro-like halo of hair and the massive appendage who appeard from nowhere in the 1970s.
Holmes was the prototype for the Dirk Diggler character in the hit film Boogie Nights. And evidently he was just about as dumb as Diggler and a whole lot less lovable.
Holmes died -- from AIDS -- in the ‘80s, and probably was not much missed among the people he cheated, robbed, lied to, beat and betrayed. But now, lest we forget, there is a Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. It is a long look into the life of a man who personified virtually everything wrong with the adult film industry, yet who is lionized in spite of his major personality flaws by those who would emulate him, bask in his glow and exploit him. Such was the fame of decade-dead, bonehead-class hero-stud John C. Holmes.
The portrait painted of him by producer/director Cass Paley is not flattering. In his good years, Holmes was absolutely amoral. He would walk up to a baggage carousel at Los Angeles airport and steal the first set of bags that grabbed his fancy. He did it because he could, because he thought it funny, and because he was a bad-boy legend in his own mind. In his truly bad years Holmes was a lot nastier -- specifically a serious coke abuser who beat his girlfriend into prostituting herself to pay for his habit. He also played a key role in the vicious murders of four "friends" in a drug caper gone bad.
This was not a good guy.
Holmes started out a not-so-bright Ohio dude with not much going for him but his discharge from the army and his 13-inch penis. He surfaced in L.A. at just the right time, flaunting the one thing that made him stand out, to become a big name in the emerging porn-film industry. Initially his success came in the Johnny Wadd series, which is so neatly parodied in Boogie Nights -- poorly written, poorly acted, poorly filmed, blue-collar, private-eye fantasies.
Today these films look ridiculous, memorable only for the bad dialog and freak-show cock Holmes brandished. But in their day they wowed a generation of testosterone-laden lads who identified with his puny body and big dick.
Certainly this film bio is exhaustive, quoting a wide and deep range of characters from Holmes’ sordid life: his first and second wives, his teen-aged mistress, fellow male and female porn stars, his manager, his first director, Los Angeles Times film critic Ken Turan, Italian porn star Cicciolina, Al Goldstein -- even the LAPD cops he snitched to. The story is constructed of intercut monologs from the talking-heads. Scenes from Holmes’ life are suggested largely from snippets of his films. To paper over the seams, there are a few new shots of locations, such as a street corner where something significant happened.
Even a skilled magician can sustain interest in such a structure for only so long, and for me, 110 minutes is way too much chat from too many people about a guy with a lot of problems. I think the story could be more effectively told at about two-thirds its current length.
Nonetheless, Wadd does indeed paint a picture of not only Holmes but the times, places and people that turned a mope into a sociopathic star. As Cass depicts it, Holmes was little more than a projection of the porn industry: cynical, money-grubbing, amoral and exploitative.
Maybe my discomfort is fueled by a feeling that John C. Holmes, as a person, isn’t worth all the time it takes to tell his pathetic story. He could be charming, apparently, but under that charm was Mr. Wrong. He was a creep.
For me, at least, Wadd certainly demythologized John C. Holmes, a name that for me was lost in a hazy memory of long ago. I now know more than I ever wanted, including the underscoring that size definitely isn’t everything.
Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, directed by Cass Paley (VCA Pictures, 110 minutes. Currently Wadd is on view at film fests. For details phone 805-492-2555.)