Aroused is an odd documentary. It’s essentially an advertisement for director Deborah Anderson’s art book (which she makes sure to plug in the film), and although at times the entire film seems disingenuous, it’s hard to deny the emotional impact of its cast.
Aroused rounds up 16 famous names (ranging from veterans like Lisa Ann to relative newcomers like Allie Haze) in the adult film industry and intends to shed light on the women themselves, rather than their personas. It’s surely a lofty goal as the personas of these women are manufactured in order to avoid this very thing.
Does Aroused dig into these women and discover their feminine power as it aspires to? The answer is a very strong maybe.
Director: Deborah Anderson
Release Date: May 2, 2013 (VOD) May 3, 2013 (limited)
As mentioned earlier, Aroused is a documentary by Deborah Anderson that involves 16 women in the adult film industry and one casting agent. It’s a series of interviews broken up into two halves. The first half of the film are interviews with several of the women as Deborah asks them questions while they’re getting ready for their photo shoot. The second half opens it up to the entire cast as it takes a more relaxed approach to the interviews (quite literally) and the women just talk about whatever subject happens to pop up.
I’m someone who doesn’t know too much about the adult film industry or its stars, but when you approach the film as one that’s shedding light on a career that normally doesn’t get a different set of eyes, the content of the interviews work extremely well. These are all women who choose to sell their body (unfortunately, only some of the stars go into why they started) and through the film you do get the feeling that they want folks to look at them differently. You’re mileage will vary depending on how close you are to the adult film industry. If you’re an adult film connoisseur, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t at least give Aroused a watch.
Unfortunately while some of the interviews approach the depth with its stars that Aroused advertises, most of them are only skin deep. Many of the women’s stories are heartbreaking (especially Brooklyn Lee, who gets the closest to having true emotional clarity in the film) and the film would benefit from exploring them further. Although that’s a consequence of the film’s huge cast. With its 16 women, the film spreads itself too thin causing the sidelining of most of its stars (who admittedly only get 2-3 minutes of screen time) and sends a weird message in a film that wants to promote female empowerment (and in case you didn’t realize that’s what Aroused is going for, Anderson explicitly states this in the beginning of the film and transitions are marked with famous feminist quotes). Maybe if the film worked with a more manageable number, the cropped sections of interviews wouldn’t feel so misused. And that’s not even mentioning how interesting the casting agent’s segments were (the film could have used more of the business perspective).
One of the more distracting elements of Aroused has to be its cinematography. Although the transition from black and white to color is handled very well (to represent the change in formality as the women get more relaxed), the second half of the film is mainly close ups of the stars’ naked bodies and faces. Aroused attempts to marry the images of nudity and power, and to emphasize the control the women have over their sexuality, but this ultimately fails as the context of the interviews reach an intimacy undermined by the visuals. While the relaxed format works extremely well, it’s hard to connect with a woman on screen if there’s a unrelenting close up of her naked breast.
Even with all of its odd choices (backing soundtrack tends to overpower the women’s voices, Anderson hilariously plugs her previous work in the middle of the film, some of the women don’t get enough screen time), I still like Aroused for what it is. The women’s stories make or break a film like this. Even if those stories could potentially go farther, it’s still worth hearing what these women have to say.
Aroused is a window into an industry that tends to only show certain sides of itself. The window may need some cleaning, but if you put in the effort, you can still make out the beautiful interior.