The National Coalition Against Pornography despises his hard-edged films. Among some feminists he would be charged as Ted Bundy’s soulmate. Even in some circles within the adult film industry his work provokes anxiety. But Paul Little say’s he’s only throwing back the bed sheets and exposing men and women’s darkest sexual dreams.
[This story was researched and written in the fall of 1994 and was first published as a cover story for Low Magazine in the winter of 1995. It was the first feature news story published that explored how former mainstream news photographer Paul Little was reshaping the commercial pornography industry in the United States. In the years that followed, Little would face numerous busts that culminated in his conviction on federal obscenity charges the Department of Justice prosecuted in Georgia and he was sentenced to four years in federal prison. He was released in 2011.]
Mark Cromer saddles up for a ride to the edge with LA’s hardcore cowboy
The scene flickers across the video monitor like a Technicolor postcard from Hedonism II.
A taut-bodied, silicone-breasted woman floats aimlessly on a raft in the shallow end of a crystal blue pool. A man appears in the water behind her. He pours baby oil across her sunbathed back and buttocks and rubs it in with deep, groping strokes. She moans and rolls her eyes. In one smooth movement, he spins her around, grips her skull in his hands and tilts her head back.
“You’ve been a bad girl, you know that?”
“Oh yes, I know, soooo badddd….”
One expects him to plant a deep, wet kiss on her. But the scene takes a different turn. Cradling her head, he suddenly spits into her open mouth. A few moments later, he’s lightly slapping her face.
“Oh yeah, I like that,” she responds.
As the scene progresses, he begins to direct her with a litany of hard-edged profanity that’s strung together in a creatively grammatical avalanche. As she fellates him, he calls her a “throat whore” and commands that she “choke on it.” She willingly complies, gurgling, gasping and rolling her eyes back into her head as she does.
The man finally turns to the camera and casually notes “It never fails to amaze me what these fucking cunts are willing to do.”
Welcome to the world of Max Hardcore.
The onscreen creation of former United Press International (UPI) news photographer Paul Little, the character Max Hardcore has swept across the Los Angeles porn scene during the past year like a fire storm fueled by August Santa Ana’s. Max has done for the adult film industry what Freddie Krueger in the Nightmare On Elm Street series did for Hollywood: terrified unprepared viewers, delighted fans of the genre and provoked enraged cries of protests from critics. Where Freddie was a gory symbol of Hollywood’s violent excesses, Max has emerged to give the grinding underbelly of porn a sweaty face to call its own.
Little has unleashed Max at a critical period in the porn industry’s legal existence. The ‘Dark Ages’ of the Reagan and Bush era now history, the industry has been producing some of it best big-budget productions since its late 1970s heyday. Adult filmmakers like Andrew Blake, John Leslie and Paul Thomas have combined lush cinematography, MTV-like effects and truly gorgeous women to give porn a respectability in certain circles that it hasn’t enjoyed in years.
But with respectability—or at least a broader acceptance—came a whole new set of rules, most of them self-imposed by the industry itself. No more simulated rape scenes. No more ‘fantasy’ scenes depicting adult-age incest. No more depicting legal age performers posing as inferred underage characters, which was once a hallmark of the industry. Distributors began shipping tapes with tags on them that stated that the material had been reviewed by independent therapists that found them to have “scientific value.”
But just when it seemed professional porn had swept a few of its past demons under the rug, Little unleashed Max in a series of videos that gave the proverbial finger to the rule makers. Little didn’t push the envelope, he tore it up.
While other adult filmmakers steered clear of even hinting that the legal age performer was supposed to be portraying someone under 18, Little launched Cherry Poppers, a video line whose trademark is young women depicted in pigtails, Catholic schoolgirl uniforms and flats. During intercourse the dialog is peppered with “Ohhh, mister, that hurts.”
In the Age of AIDS, Little’s signature sex act is frantic-paced, unprotected anal sex—complete with the climax into what a doctor would tell you is a ‘high risk’ area. He’s released more than 30 videos alone that feature titles like The Anal Adventures of Max Hardcore, Anal Vision and Ass Master. And more are on the way.
Little’s filmmaking comes as a howling rejoinder to Candida Royalle’s ‘couples’ films which feature a much softer focus, with women usually calling the sexual shots. When Little is behind the reins, and Max in front of the camera, the verbal degradation and domination of the female performers is total and complete. Pejoratives like ‘cunt,’ ‘whore’ and a thousand other variations fly so often that it becomes surreal. Max commands and they comply. He spanks them, lightly slaps them and pulls their hair, all while asking/demanding “You love it, don’t you?”
In case anyone missed the point, Little made sure fans and foes alike knew where he was coming from when, during the opening scene in one of his films, he crawls out of a downtown sewer hole.
If you think that Little’s tapes are hard-to-find-blips on porn’s vast radar screen, guess again. Despite the glut of product that has saturated the adult video market since the late 1980s, Little’s tapes have found a happy home on the shelves of video stores not only across the Southland, but much of the nation. He says sales in Europe are booming.
And he’s just getting started.
Paul Little reclines behind a large desk inside his office, which is tucked away inside a three-story mansion he leases amid the estates that dot the hills of Altadena. He’s dressed casually in an Oxford shirt, tennis shorts and a baseball cap. The drone of New Age music wafts from the stereo behind him. On one side of his desk is a bookcase that’s filled with video titles that he’s directed, produced and starred in. On the other is a sliding glass door that leads to a balcony, one which affords a sweeping view of the Los Angeles skyline. He is 38-years-old and, by his own account, has led the good life since coming to LA.
He listens intently to the questions a writer tosses at him, mulling them over carefully before he answers in a mild but articulate voice.
Born in Wisconsin, Little was one of six children. He describes his childhood as somewhat uneventful. Recalling his parents as fairly progressive, he said sex was neither celebrated nor stigmatized in his family’s home. He remembers the time his dad caught him with a Playboy. Taking it away from him, his father remarked only that he was too young to be looking at a girlie magazine.
In his teens he had several steady girlfriends and didn’t ‘lose it’ until he was 16 or 17-years-old. Like most deflowerings, Little said his was a heated moment of clumsy maneuvers. He reckons it was better for him than her, and it wasn’t that great for him.
Graduation Day offered bleak prospects to many of Little’s friends in Wisconsin, primarily the dull grind of a factory job. The kind of work Little said he had no appetite for whatsoever. Still, he said he didn’t have the faintest idea that he would end up in the gritty world of porn. Far from a dream, it wasn’t even an idea. “I had no idea of what I wanted to do. I just wanted to keep my options open,” he said. “I damn sure didn’t want to end up like a lot of people I grew up with, working in factory or worse, not working. On the welfare rolls. I knew I wouldn’t be happy working on a punch press for the rest of my life.”
Little eventually found himself in Florida, where he said he decided to pick up a camera in an effort to meet more women. To his surprise, it worked. “It really did turn out that way. I got a lot of nice, plum jobs. I worked in South Florida, did a lot of beach stuff. Nude photography.”
In between the palm trees and cheesecake, Little filled out his resume by freelancing for the UPI wire service. “The work was ok in Key West. I was a UPI stringer down there for awhile, picking up any damn job that came along. But that really didn’t pay shit. I was just making a living. Then I saw Buttman.”
No, he didn’t mean Batman.
The onscreen character of porn director John Stagliano, Buttman was a series of videos that featured gorgeous, college-age women partying on camera with Stagliano in such exotic locales as Rio. For Little, the concept hit an inspirational nerve. Rather than film the same tired porn stars on the same harshly lit soundstage in Van Nuys, why not take the cameras to some sandy paradise and find a bunch of new girls who would like to party, screw and make a bundle of cash all at the same time? It made perfect sense.
“I liked what Stagliano was doing,” Little said. “I just figured I could do it better.”
Little dropped what he was doing in Florida and headed to Southern California and the San Fernando Valley, the capital of the American porn industry. He admits now that he had no idea what he was doing, or how he was going to accomplish what it was he thought he wanted to do. So he winged it, making it up as he went along. And it worked.
At first shooting amateur videos for other companies, Little eventually formed Filmwest, his own production company. By late 1991, the persona of Max Hardcore was preparing for its video debut. “I wanted to come up with a name you just couldn’t forget. That was the first step,” Little recalls. He settled on Max Hardcore as a concoction between some X-rated European videotapes and the now defunct computer-generated TV personality Max Headroom. “It was a simple, easy to remember name. And slowly the persona of Max Hardcore evolved, or devolved I guess, depending on your opinion.”
The character first appeared in a film called Adventures In Shopping. Part of his success, Little figures, stems from the fact that he dispensed with any real effort at trying to build a serious plot on the shoestring budgets that he was shooting on. Rather than try to build a 90-minute plot line for an audience that isn’t renting such tapes for classic character development, Little instead shot vignettes. And in them, Max is often prowling around various Los Angeles landmarks like the city’s zoo or its observatory, where he meets a steady stream of women.
Little believes that his character Max has emerged as a persona that Joe Average can relate to. “I am a surrogate for the guys at home,” he said. And he strives to maintain the appearance in his videos that he’s just an everyday schmuck who is getting lucky with a video camera in his hands.
“Now, I don’t know what it is about a movie camera, because I never did have much luck with women before I got one,” his narration runs during the opening scene of one Max Hardcore tape. “But now days I can walk up to a good looking girl, stick the camera in her face, mumble a couple of casual remarks, and it is like they are hypnotized. Maybe it’s vanity? Perhaps a lust for fame? Who the hell knows? It works for me.”
But creating the fantasy of casually bumping into a pretty girl who immediately wants to go home with him for sex is only part of what Little figures taps into the male American nerve center. It’s the kind of sex that his character Max indulges with the women once they get back to house that sets Little apart from almost every other adult filmmaker today.
As he chomps on a slice of toast coated with jam and sips a cup of coffee, Little politely explains that his formula was to make porn flicks that were truly ‘dirty’ again. Absolutely nasty, even forbidden fare. Had Little been in Eden, he probably would have beat Eve to the apple.
“The reason anal sex (in porn) is so popular these days is because it is forbidden, and whatever is forbidden is popular,” Little reasons. “And the fact remains that most wives and girlfriends don’t enjoy or don’t let their husbands or boyfriends have anal sex with them. Well, if you can’t get it at home, we create the fantasy that it is easy to get. And of course that really clicked.”
Little insists the verbal domination and degradation of female performers featured in his tapes was a natural path to follow. “I look at Max as Joe Average American, but he is kind of a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde kind of character,” Little said. “I think there is a certain amount of natural animosity between men and women. Men have power in terms of better jobs and so forth, but women are in complete command of the sexual arena…so I think a lot of guys want to see a [male character] who is really dominant, really forceful in working with the girls, in screwing them. Putting them in positions where they are very supplicant to the guy’s sexual demands.”
Little said most of the female performers know what they are in for when they step on his sets. “They have a vague idea of what to expect,” he said. “Some of the girls I’ll take the time to show a video so they know what they are getting into. Others we take cold and they are so blown away by the process that they do a better job had we prepped them.”
It’s debatable whether Little’s philosophy on what men like to see in sexual situations is entirely accurate. It may be a turn-on for a few, but it may just be a curiosity for many others. Little himself has used the analogy of a car crash to describe America’s interest in porn. “No one wants to admit it, but they all slow down to look.” What’s not debatable is that, whether through honest curiosity or pure fascination, his tapes are reaching large numbers of men all over the country.
And that’s what has Paul Maurer worried. As the Vice President of the Cincinnati-based National Coalition Against Pornography, the nation’s largest and most influential anti-porn group, Maurer believes that Little is wreaking havoc on a vulnerable society. “What he’s tapping into is not people who have [sexual] frustrations, he’s tapping into people who have problems,” Maurer said. “He’s tapping into pathology. He’s peddling to people who want to hurt women.”
Echoing complaints that activists have leveled against Hollywood for producing films that are so violent and explicitly gory they numb society, Maurer said the type of sex featured in Little’s films socialize men to accept and enjoy sexual aggression against women.
“He exploits that socialization and at the same time, he helps create it,” Maurer said. “He is helping to create men who think it is ok to punch women, to spit on them.”
Wally Anne Wharton probably doesn’t fantasize about getting beaten and spat on in bed, but she readily admits that she loves Little’s films and his character Max Hardcore. As a female columnist for Hustler’s Erotic Video Guide, Wharton has given Little’s material strong reviews.
“What really zaps me about his films is he really knows how to talk dirty, which is a dying art in porn,” Wharton said. “It’s much easier to just grunt and groan.”
Happy to toss a little lighter fluid on Andrea Dworkin’s fire, Little said that women enjoy the dominant posture and verbal abuse that Max dishes out because they understand the context in which it occurs.
“A lot of girls really like a little bit of rough physical treatment and the name calling,” he said. “They are so staid in their normal lives and so nervous about screwing a guy quickly, and of getting AIDS, that when they meet someone they are comfortable with they just like letting go completely. As strange as it may sound, a lot of girls really like it under certain circumstances, i.e. when they are really turned on.”
But Maurer scoffs at the suggestion that Little is doing anything beyond degrading women for the cold, hard profit of cash.
“[Little] is a symptom of an industry that has become free to do whatever it wants,” Maurer said. “There has always been a premium on degradation of women in hardcore pornography. The industry has become harder, rougher and meaner. Like it used to be before the government got serious about prosecutions. The Story of O! is back.”
While Wharton maintains that Little’s films represent merely “his own sexual agenda,” she believes that he is carving out a big niche in the market because he isn’t afraid to at least suggest the forbidden. Wharton said she thinks that depictions of women in school uniforms and pigtails being seduced is a turn-on for most people, not just a few kinky old men. Her argument is steeped in such mainstream Hollywood films as The Graduate and Butterfly. Little only takes it a step further, she argues. “It pushes the whole seduction button. We’re all drawn to the fantasy of experience teaching inexperience,” she said. “The whole rush of deflowering a virgin.”
But what Wharton considers a harmless fantasy, Maurer blasts as “pseudo-child pornography,” a watered-down substitute that hints at the molestation which occurs in real child pornography. “One has to wonder why a guy would like to see himself in pictures with his hand up the skirt of a woman that could pass as a school-age girl,” Maurer said.
Such antics have made even some in the adult film industry wonder where he is heading. “He makes people nervous because he teeters on the edge, then he crosses it,” Wharton said. “He crosses the edge of political correctness by verbally abusing the women, but I look at it as really a case of ‘sticks and stones.’”
Little readily admits he loves to feature young women who are new to the porn business in his videos, but he stresses the operative word is ‘women.’ Every female—and male—on his sets is of legal age, a requirement he stringently enforces by making them produce at least two forms of state or federally issued identification. And Little steadfastly maintains that his films do not hint at anything even remotely close to molesting children, but rather cater to the fantasy of girls in their ‘late teens’ who appear relatively young when paired with a guy in his late 30s. “One thing we do in the beginning of Cherry Poppers is we ask the girl, in the course of dialog, how old she is. And of course they are always 18. They may look younger, but that is a very subjective thing…there are plenty of girls in high school that are 18.”
Ultimately, Little said that those who are offended by the sexual rampages of Max Hardcore have an easy, simple solution available to them: don’t watch.
“No one is being forced to watch it. You have to go out and either buy it or rent it,” he said. “There are a lot of things that I find offensive, like the white power racist movement, but I respect their right to say what they want to say. I just don’t listen anymore. I choose to tune them out.”
There are, in fact, several lines that Little said he would not cross. He said he would never shoot a scene that depicts incest or one that would simulate rape. As for the unprotected anal sex, Little said it is not as dangerous on the set as it looks. “Everyone on the set, including myself, is tested regularly for HIV. You can’t work without proof of a recent negative result,” he said. Estimating that he has had sex on camera with several hundred women, Little said he has never contracted a venereal disease or gotten a performer pregnant.
It’s a Sunday afternoon and Paul Little is hard at work.
With a three-man film crew assembled tightly around him, Little has again metamorphosed into Max Hardcore and he is entangled with some new female performer who’s laying across a table in his mansion’s vast living room. This woman looks a little older than some of the others featured in his movies, but she’s still made up in schoolgirl fashion.
Little directs the crew even as he has intercourse with the woman, instructing them to move closer or to focus on a certain angle. He also instructs the woman on her dialog and the two break character frequently in a constant stop-start-stop pace that seems the be grating on Little. The crew has been here all day and the shoot drags on. Little spanks her and the sharp smacks echo off the walls. A plain-looking blonde woman sits at a small table inside the kitchen that overlooks the living room. She files her nails and reads a magazine, completely detached from the filming that’s happening just a few feet away. She’s the make-up artist and is apparently so used to it that even the grunts, moans and growls of ‘suck it, baby!’ no longer distract her.
Nearby, another performer is crashed out on a black leather couch, a football game unfolding on the big-screen television in front of her. She sleeps through the touchdowns and the orgasms. Little’s 120-pound German Shepherd ‘2K’ lumbers in and out of the room, he too seems oblivious to the sexual commotion.
“This doesn’t interest me personally at all, really,” the make-up artist confides as the shoot finally winds down. “I mean, I am here because I like Paul, he’s good guy to work for, but it’s just a job.”
A short while later, Little unwinds with a smoke on his balcony, taking in a gorgeous November sunset that has turned the horizon candy-colored orange. The shoot seems to have drained him, but he remains polite as he poses for a photographer’s camera in a shoot that will become the cover story for a magazine that circulates on universities across Southern California. He snuffs out a cigarette, openly worrying that posing with one will set a “bad example” for the college students that will read this article. It’s a strange gesture, almost funny, but he is remarkably sincere about it.
As the camera clicks away, Little reflects back on the past couple of years. Los Angeles and porn have been good to him. He says that he hasn’t made that much money, but asserts he’s not making films for the bread anyway. “Money’s not the point,” he said. “The point is fun.” And there’s been plenty of that.
Yet what the future holds for him is uncertain. It’s just days after a massive shift in the nation’s prevailing political winds and the head gusts blowing from the heartland whisper of potential trials. Maurer believes successful obscenity prosecutions are real possibilities outside of California and New York. Wharton said the laws may or may not change, but added that it doesn’t really matter because the industry is so artistically barren that censorship probably wouldn’t do that much damage.
“Porn is like rock n’ roll after Woodstock,” Wharton said. “It has become business and the art has suffered for it.” Yet she said that Little’s firebrand style of filming is “gaining momentum.” The real question is what will he do with it and where will it take the man behind Max Hardcore?
Little ponders such questions, but not long enough to make you think he hasn’t really thought about the Next Step. As he peers across the stretch of suburbia toward downtown, Little appears perhaps as Hannibal did as he came across the Alps to surprise the Romans.
“If you think the girls are kinky in this business, you haven’t seen anything until you get to the other side of the hill,” he said, pointing toward Hollywood. “Those girls will do anything to get screen time.” The thought of it brings a smile to his face.
It was elephants that took Hannibal across the Alps and almost delivered him Rome. Little’s animal will be hi-tech. “I am going to continue to grow and make bigger and better movies,” he said, anticipating a jump into cable television.
“There are about 100 channels available now and in a couple of years there is going to be 200 channels. There will be a tremendous need for programming. And I am going to be perfectly positioned to supply that programming.”