Fri, Jan 13, 2006 - Page 17 News List

Porno 'Oscars' pick top flicks

The US adult film industry racked up US$4.3 billion in sales and rentals last year

By Matt Richtel  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

The actress known as Tyla Wynn took to the stage late last Saturday night to accept an X-rated-film award, the porno-graphy version of an Oscar. The category was excellence in a multiperson sex scene.

Although thousands of people have watched Wynn perform intimate acts, she admitted to extreme nervousness when accepting her trophy, an opaque rectangle with the image of a man and woman intertwined.

"Speaking in front of people is hard," Wynn said, cradling her award, called the AVN.

The 23rd AVN awards presentation here was a campy mix of Hollywood cliche and X-rated clips watched with 3,000 of the stars' closest friends and industry insiders. The acceptance speeches tended to be brief, befitting a film industry with little emphasis on dialogue.

The program highlighted that pornography is, at least in a sense, at a crossroads. The sex-film industry shows signs of gaining some mainstream acceptance -- spurred in part by its leading diva and business success, Jenna Jameson -- and it is reporting record sales. According to AVN Publications, which organizes the awards, it generated US$4.3 billion in sales and rentals last year. That amounted to about half the size of Hollywood's box-office receipts of nearly US$9 billion last year.

At the same time, prospects for the industry have been tempered by fears that the US Justice Department is poised to add to a handful of obscenity prosecutions recently brought against makers of hardcore films.

Saturday night, though, was an unapologetic, hearty celebration, with a flashbulb-drenched red carpet entrance and awards presented in 104 categories, including best performances in a wide range of explicit acts and sexual positions. The more conventional were for best director, supporting actor and actress, screenplay and the most anticipated award of the evening: best feature.

That went to Pirates, a relatively high-budget story of a group of ragtag sailors who go searching for a crew of evil pirates who have a plan for world domination. Also, many of the characters in the movie have sex with one another.

Evan Stone, the stage name of the man who won the award for best actor as the good ship's captain, said a crucial component of the movie's success was its authenticity. A consultant instructed the cast on proper ship etiquette, he said, like never letting the captain steer the vessel, a job that belongs to the first mate.

"Take the sex out of this movie and it's Walt Disney," said Stone, who declined to give his real name, citing privacy concerns.

The precise criteria for winning an AVN are not, well, explicit. About 60 reviewers judge some 6,000 films submitted throughout the year. Paul Fishbein, the president of AVN Publications, said you know a good acting and sex scene when you see one.

Still, certain things rule out a nomination. One is "if you can still hear the director's voice," Fishbein said. Another no-no is "if it's clear the cameraman is not paying attention."

The industry seems to have a sense of humor about itself, but there is an awareness that many Americans disapprove of their trade. Savanna Samson, who won an award for best actress, said in her acceptance speech that "most of my family is pretty ashamed of what I do."

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