When I was in film school, a provocative new documentary was taking Sundance by storm. Entitled “Sex: The Annabel Chong Story”, the film followed porn star Annabel Chong (neé, Grace Quek) around the time she was trying to break the world’s record for “biggest gang-bang”. (Her goal, for the record, was 300, but after things started getting (ahem) painful, she finished at 251 — still a world’s record.)
I had previously been loaned the DVD of “World’s Biggest Gang Bang”. I found it to be an interesting trainwreck, though not at all sexy. Annabel appeared to be pretty vacuous, and did not appear to be enjoying herself, though she insisted that she was. The guys they found to participate appeared to be borderline homeless weirdos off the street.) However, both Annabel (and her successor Jasmin St. Clair, who got to 300) had appeared on the Howard Stern Show, and there appeared to be a little more under the surface than I thought. So when this documentary came out on DVD, I checked it out.
Apparently director Gough Lewis (who has not directed anything else before or since) visited my film school and showed the film to a class of 1st years. It doesn’t show anything hardcore, but it was still enough to send most of the female students fleeing the room. But while it had earned the admiration of many at Sundance, most of my classmates were unimpressed with it. Upon my initial viewing my curiosity made the film more interesting, but revisiting it these years later, I can understand immediately why they weren’t so enamored.
Lewis is actually a terrible documentarian. It turns out he was Annabel’s boyfriend at the time, so most of the footage we see comes from the immediate access one gets from just hanging out with the girl you’re dating. Though not shown, they break up before the story ends, and so suddenly, for the ending, we get a few shots of her going “back to work” and that’s it — it’s a complete deus ex machina, completely unearned and forced. There are a few poignant scenes (such as when her mother finds out she’s doing porn), but most of the drama is clearly manufactured in the editing room.
Sex: The Annabel Chong Story is worthwhile viewing only if you have an intellectual curiosity to fill. If you’ve ever wondered why an intelligent woman would willingly treat herself like a piece of meat, and wanted a little bit of insight into the psychology of porn, it’s marginally worthwhile. But if you’ve read a few interviews and listen to Howard Stern, there’s simply nothing here. And if you’re curious about Annabel, she was killed off by the real Grace Quek, who got bored with the porn life and is now a software engineer.
Life is strange.