February 08, 2000 09:00am
Annie Sprinkle Swims Forward
by: Virginia Vitzthum
Self-mythologizer Annie Sprinkle fancies herself a mermaid these days. Her latest video, "Annie Sprinkle's Herstory of Porn," ends with an exhortation to "make your own porn movie," complete with a helpful demonstration. In the "how to make a porn video" within the video, Sprinkle plays an older mermaid who sexually initiates a "merteen" played by Sirena. After the two women have sex with each other and a Fabio look-alike diver, Sprinkle passes a lighted torch to the younger creature, then dies orgasmically in her lap.
"Herstory is my swan song in front of the camera," the porn star/performance artist/sex activist explains in a telephone interview. "I was saying goodbye to my old films. I'm 45 years old now, and I have to let go of that stage."
Based on a show that she has been touring for a few years, "Herstory" shows clips from Sprinkle's 25 years of on-camera sex, starting in 1974 with "Teenage Deviate," and ending with the underwater torch pass.
"Herstory" chronicles Sprinkle's remarkable self-directed career through 150 porn films, first as a starlet, then as writer-director-star. In the mid-'80s, she discovered tantric sex and made a movie about it. She later pioneered safe sex in porn films after her co-stars started dying. She then became a performance artist at the right mid-'80s moment. In one of her most famous acts, she opened herself up with a speculum and invited the audience onstage to peer at her cervix with a flashlight. Around this time, graduate students began writing about Sprinkle's "locating the discourse on her body" and her "dissension with hegemonic feminism."
Her sexuality shifted in 1991 to gain entry to the lesbian world when she made "The Sluts and Goddesses Workshop," she says. Lately, Sprinkle's been exploring the sexual side of yoga, conscious breathing, meditation and goddess/mermaid identification. She's run through as many personas as Madonna. But she's not trend-hopping; she's on a pilgrimage. "My evolution follows the chakras from the bottom up," she explains. "It moves from the sex chakra to the heart and then hopefully it becomes more spiritual."
Sprinkle mixes the woof of porn and the tweet of New Age into something far more charming and self-aware than either part. For example, in her mermaid movie, she explains in voice-over, "Sirena read about me in her women's studies class and wanted to apprentice with me. So I put her in my porn movie!" That line, delivered in her breathy Gracie Allen voice, neatly encapsulates Sprinkle's expansive views about sex. There's (1) "How great is it that my job is wearing fun costumes and having sex with academic groupies." (2) "I know that's funny." (3) "But I'm not exploiting her because sex is a precious gift from the goddess."
In both her show and "Herstory," present-day Sprinkle acts as tour guide or MC through her career, changing costumes to fit the era and commenting on the action à la Mystery Science Theater 3000. Sometimes she interacts with her filmed self, at one point rubbing her microphone across the giant shaved vagina she's masturbating on-screen.
The MC Sprinkle's relationship with her younger on-screen self is fascinatingly fluid. For the first segment, MC Sprinkle plays an enthusiastic ingenue in pigtails, a character like Terry Southern's Candy. "Isn't that a beautiful camera angle?" she trills, watching herself suck a 10-foot-high penis. "You can almost feel that big dick in your mouth." I'm puzzled by the sarcastic tone, which jars with her anything-goes reputation. Isn't Annie Sprinkle someone who appreciates a big dick in her mouth? What is she saying about her 20-year-old self?
She sighs and answers, "I look back on those early movies, and I think I was such a bimbo and such a part of the patriarchy and so superficial, only into the physical parts of sex. So yes, I was making fun of it, but there's also something I love about that person and that time when sex was just so physical and easy and fun."
Sprinkle admits that "feeling ugly and wanting to be touched" drove her to porn and prostitution in her teens, but she doesn't wring her hands over it. "Porn was exactly what I needed," she says, "and up 'til my mid-20s, I really liked being a prostitute." How did former Girl Scout Ellen Steinberg dodge the "sex negativity" dumped on middle-class girls in the '60s and '70s to become Annie Sprinkle? "I just went by my own experience," she says. "I'd do something that was so-called taboo and say that doesn't feel bad. It's like growing up with a religion you end up rejecting."