Shared Darkness

A Communal Life in Film, Examined

Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy

We swell the rolls here at Shared Darkness as
time and inclination permits. Ergo, this review of Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, originally published upon its
limited theatrical release in November of 2001. What? You didn’t see it then? Well then it’s new to you, sucker! To wit:

Any way you slice it, 1,600+ movies is a lot of screen time.
So no matter how averse you are to pornography, chances are you’ve laid eyes on
one Mr. Ron Jeremy (below), the clown prince of smut, a 23-year industry veteran
nicknamed “The Hedgehog” for his chubbiness and preponderance of body hair.
Stop playing it off.

Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s big-screen opus of porn as one big
dysfunctional family, the millennial/final frontier syndrome, or perhaps just a
general newfound reality-fed voyeurism
, but there have been a spate of movies
over the past several years (almost all of which have been documentaries) to
tackle the adult film business and/or group sex. Yet few offer the truthful
duality of Scott Gill’s Porn Star: The
Legend of Ron Jeremy
, which examines the daydreams and hard nights of the
world’s most improbable sex symbol
. Unlike several other recent documentaries
from the women’s perspectives, Gill’s film — blissfully excised of cattiness
and paranoia
— doesn’t shy away from the indeniably intriguing good time
theatrics of the porn industry. But it still manages to fleetingly capture in
its creases and folds Jeremy’s ennui and unspoken dissatisfaction with his dual
status in life.

At the center of this all, of course, is Jeremy’s unending
quest for professional legitimacy
. We hear about it all, from his bit parts in Killing Zoe and Detroit Rock City to being edited out of John Frankenheimer’s Ronin. Affably self-touting, and
possessing a three-ring binder literally filled with thousands of scrawled
phone numbers of scattered-to-the-winds “contacts,” Jeremy’s obsession with the
craft of acting (at times he comes off as an earnest cousin of Jon Lovitz’s
“Master Thespian” character)
and its application for him in mainstream movies
says everything that Jeremy himself won’t quite say.

Born Ronnie Hyatt in March 1953, Jeremy stumbled into the
adult film biz rather late (he graduated from Queens College with a Masters in
Special Ed, and even spent two years teaching disadvantaged children before
succumbing to the acting bug and chasing down off- off-Broadway parts in the
late 1970s), courtesy of a “Boy Next Door” photo mailed into Playgirl by his then-beau. Is there
anything in his upbringing that would seem to augur this sort of career path,
you might ask. No, not really. His popularity within adult film seems to stem
from sense of humor, but that humor is probably largely a defense mechanism
the result of the death of Ron’s mother from Parkinson’s when he was in third
grade. But his upbringing was mostly normal, and he continues to have a good
relationship with both his father and sister.

Gill mixes style and footage admirably, following Ron from a
college party where he’s inducted as an honorary fraternity member to the set
of adult flick Ally McFeel
, and includes
interviews with everyone from industry staples Al Goldstein and William Margold
to friends like actor Al Lewis (yep, Grandpa Munster) and director Adam Rifkin.
There are problems, though. Gill commits the cardinal sin of documentary
filmmaking, copping out on asking the tough (and most obvious) questions of
Jeremy’s family — it’s obvious that the adult industry, and Ron Jeremy’s place
in it, is his main interest, the rest of his life reduced to little more than
curio status. Yet you can’t really find it in your heart to hold these
transgressions against the film for long, perhaps evidence of Jeremy’s secret
sway, perhaps just an indication that this is a compelling story of a man who
is at once a hero and a pariah. (Maelstrom, unrated, 81 mins.)