A companion piece to fine art photographer and director Deborah Anderson's book project of the same name, Aroused is an uncommonly intelligent nonfiction exploration of the inner lives of 16 women in the adult film industry. This type of hybrid endeavor is hardly a novel concept — see also Michael Grecco's scatterbrained Naked Ambition and David Palmer's slightly more successful America Stripped: Naked Las Vegas, which cast a wider net by looking at "regular" (i.e., mostly non-adult industry) folks posing for a nude coffee table book — but Anderson's effort has an easy, unforced quality to go along with its acuity, keeping prurience at arms' length and allowing the humanity and vulnerability of its subjects to come through.

Anderson's interviewees span different levels of professional experience, ranging in age from their early 20s to their early 40s — including Alexis Texas, Allie Haze (above), Katsuni, Lexi Belle, April O'Neil, Ash Hollywood, Belladonna, Brooklyn Lee, Misty Stone, Francesca Le and more. Almost all have something to contribute as they discuss how and why they got into pornography to begin with, but perhaps most interesting is Kayden Kross, who intriguingly posits that a lot of girls find their way into the adult industry not because they're damaged per se, but owing to "not having a father or others around to disappoint" in their lives — and that a lack of those front-line barriers helps make the seemingly tough or daunting decision much easier.

Anderson sprinkles her film with the sort of requisite interstitial title cards of attributed quotations one might expect from a self-consciously serious work ("In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it's a fact" - Marlene Dietrich, and "The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting" - Gloria Leonard), but, crucially, Aroused has the brains to back up any puffed-up sense of importance that might seep through its seams. Anderson is obviously a sympathetic and solid interviewer, but equally important and insightful to her chats with the assembled porn stars is her well-integrated conversation with Fran Amidor, an industry talent agent who offers up smart observations unencumbered by judgment.

Aroused digs into the psychology of its subjects, but, rather curiously, apart from a standalone anecdote from Teagan Presley, doesn't really address the body modification (be it breast augmentation, other plastic surgery and collagen injections, or something as simple as tattoos) rampant among women in the adult industry. "Would-have-been" weather girl Jesse Jane talks about not getting into the sex trade until she was 22, and even waiting to lose her virginity until she was married (of course, that was at age 17...), while other interviewees speak candidly about assuming a different persona on camera, life on set in general, the difficulties of making relationships work with significant others (or "civilians," as Stone dubs them), and more.

The film has great production value, too. Anderson has an active camera — the latter half of the movie unfolds in a series of extreme close-ups and suggestive tracking shots — but also has clearly thought through a visual framework that abets a certain emotional narrative arc. Early on, as the women get ready for their photo shoots in make-up chairs, Aroused is lensed in black-and-white, and tracks more or less along the lines of biographical or general interest questions. At the mid-way point, as the movie shifts to its boudoir setting where she coaches them through her photo shoot, Anderson makes a switch mostly to color — embracing a style that reflects some of the more intensely personal musings. In addition to its theatrical engagements, Aroused is also available on iTunes and across several VOD platforms. For more information on the movie, click here to visit its website. (Ketchup Entertainment, unrated, 69 minutes)


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