If you don’t know who John Holmes is, he was a dude who had a 13″ long dick. That’s about it. He was one of the first porn superstars, then he was involved in some murders and died of AIDS. This is his story.
WADD is pretty much a standard documentary, lots of talking head interviews, still photos, archival footage. It uses the old format of starting with clips of comments you will hear later in the movie, and wrapping up with each interviewee saying a couple final words about Holmes. The IMDB says that the director did a couple other documentaries, one about the Civil War and one about WWII. This is basically the same thing, only the archival footage generally shows Mr. Holme’s gigantic dick going into various mouths, vaginas, etc. The documentary is put out by a porn company called VCA, and the vhs even comes in a big porn sized box, so they didn’t have to be shy about actually showing what the dude did in his movies.
This falls into the category of the documentaries that are not great pictures in themselves but that are definitely worth seeing just because the topic is so interesting. Obviously his life is a good story – I guess Val Kilmer is supposed to play him in a movie now, and Mark Wahlberg already did a loose adaptation with his character Dirk Diggler in BOOGIE NIGHTS. In that movie, Julianne Moore makes a documentary about Dirk Diggler’s career – this is based on EXHAUSTED which was made about John Holmes by somebody named Julia St. Vincent. Dirk also has his series of movies where he plays a cop, which is based on Holmes’ Johnny Wadd series, and even uses lines taken directly from those movies. Holmes, like Dirk, started out clean but grew a cocaine habit as big as his dick, and then had trouble getting the latter up. And that great scene in the drug dealer’s house with the robbery gone bad, that was based on a notorious incident where Holmes was implicated in 4 murders. (I think they made up the kid with the firecrackers, though.)
The real story is still interesting to hear, and continues with a thrilling “on the lam with abused underage lover” chapter which I guess they saved for RETURN OF THE BOOGIE NIGHTS. And then he gets AIDS.
It doesn’t really milk the tragedy angle all that much, though, the way the Val Kilmer movie probaly will. Part of what’s interesting is how nobody really seemed to know him all that well. Some people will say he’s the sweetest guy in the world and others say he was a total bastard. I definitely was left with the “total bastard” impression. Right near the beginning you find out that he got busted for “pimping and pandering” and instead of taking the rap he decided to become a snitch. So he’d go on these shoots, having already told the pigs, and then his friends would get busted.
Turns out EXHAUSTED was all bullshit – they use clips of it here and every one they show of him talking about himself is then contradicted by interviews with other people. His second wife (introduced, in a sad sort of way, as “the buttfuck queen of porno”) goes on and on about what a sweetheart he was and how he always treated her right. Then a friend says that John actually treated the woman like shit, for example he’d go for a swim in the pool leaving her tied to the bed with jism on her face. He’s not very sympathetic, in my opinion.
It gets even worse after that. When he found out he had HIV, he pretended it was cancer. That’s his business, there was less understanding of the disease at that time and I’m sure he was afraid of the ramifications it would have for his industry. (that should be in a porn title, by the way. “RAM-ifications.” They use ram alot but I don’t know if they’ve used ramifications. Did you know they got one called “COLLATERAL RAMMAGE?” Oh, sorry, let me get back to the review.) What’s not just his business, is that he then went and made more porn movies without telling people he was HIV positive. In the documentary they say they don’t know of anybody who died because of it, but it’s still scary – they got clips of him doing Candida Royale or somebody and he doesn’t even have a rubber. (I guess maybe Magnums were too small though.) Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be enjoying those ’80s John Holmes movies again.
His first wife (shown in shadow like they used to do on Donahue and Geraldo sometimes, but without a distorted voice) is a pretty interesting character. She’s described as “really straight.” He was her first love, but he completely betrayed her by becoming a porn star against her wishes. She says she’s never seen a porn movie in her life, and that she stopped having sex with him when he started doing the movies, because she felt he was like a hooker or something. From then on he was only a friend and not a lover. It’s hard to imagine what it must’ve been like for this poor gal, even just on the superficial level. I mean this was before porn, when people knew less about sex, and the first dick she ever saw was more than a foot long. Did she even know? Imagine being boyfriend #2.
For the most part the movie is well put together, but some of it’s kind of sloppy. Like the mainstream film critic Kenneth Turan is repeatedly interviewed, and they never explain why. You wonder, was he just really into porn? Did he know John Holmes? Why not Leonard Maltin? What’s the deal here? The answer is on the not-very-interesting commentary track by director Alan Smithee (his first commentary, I believe) – Turan interviewed Holmes for a book he wrote. But the movie just leaves you scratching your head. Maybe that’s better, because for 90 minutes I was convinced Kenneth Turan was a porno fiend.
Anyway, I would recommend this picture on the merits of its story. Call up your local Blockbuster or Clean Flicks and see if they can hook you up.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.