Picaresque, funny, cautionary and hugely enjoyable, “Wadd” focuses on the cultural impact of gawky country boy turned genre folk hero John C. Holmes and his natural endowment. (Holmes was the model for Mark Wahlberg’s dead-on Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights” and living proof that all men aren’t created equal.) Minor and judicious pruning (such as scenes of the industry’s most famous organ, seen every so often in repose) would yield an item playable to tolerant, prepped auds nearly everywhere, with big ancillary action assured.
Docu vet Cass Paley captures perfectly the joyously uninhibited yet increasingly sad mix of loopy family values and sleazy economic interests at the heart of the American porno boom, which began in the late 1960s and petered out with the advent of AIDS in the early ’80s.
The stage is set for Holmes’ career via a thumbnail history of porn in America. Relying more on penetrating insight than actual penetration (of which there is none), the pic then mixes clips from some four dozen vintage porn titles among the recollections, musings and tall tales of nearly as many peers, historians and hangers-on to trace “not bright but street-smart” Holmes’ rise from humble Ohio beginnings.
The docu chronicles the first marriage he kept secret for nearly two decades, his stardom under the name Johnny Wadd, drug-fueled self-destruction with an underage mistress, the grisly Wonderland Avenue multiple murder in which he was implicated and his death at 42 from AIDS complications.
A determined and cheerful liar, Holmes was a pussycat to some and a monster to others, and the docu is best at using contrary clips to bring alive that corner of show business where posturing and a 13-inch penis (“a great marketing tool,” someone says) count more than talent, honesty and likability. The funniest sequence assembles close-ups of actresses working with him as gauge of their reaction to “the pot of gold at the end of his zipper.”
Kudos to Paley, who began the project after wondering about the veracity of “Boogie Nights” and has delivered a film that balances compassion with humor. Tech credits are pro for the milieu, with Christopher Rowland’s snappy editing of the shot-on-vid pic complemented by cheerfully cheesy original funk and disco themes of composers Brad Raylius Daniel and Tad Dery.
Distilled from a 5 1/2-hour first cut (and, per helmer, shorn of 10 minutes since Toronto screenings on its way to film transfer), “Wadd” won the docu feature prize at the South by Southwest fest.