A star is porn, sorry born, in Jake Jaxson’s Leave it to Levi which had its world premiere at Mexico’s prestigious Guadalajara International Film Festival in March and subsequently screened at the Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival and last week’s Porn Film Festival Berlin.
The documentary begins by making use of CockyBoys star Levi Karter’s extensive archive of self-taped camera phone and laptop recordings which the performer made available to Jaxson. Made after he turned 18, when he was still going by Luke, the footage chronicles the young man’s journey from smalltown Ohio kid, to dropping out of college and making his way to New York City and into the world of professional porn, as the award-winning Levi Karter. This extended opening montage takes in some intimate sexually explicit moments, Karter sleeping (while we witness a nocturnal erection rise and fall), some messy nights out on the town and a relationship breakup over the phone. Karter admits that he often recorded himself so he could see what the drugs and alcohol made him forget. From what we see in the first part of the film it appears that there might well be enough material to create a compelling feature purely using Karter’s own archive, but as Leave it to Levi turns into a more traditionally structured documentary it becomes more interesting.
What follows is an unexpectedly nuanced and moving exploration of familial acceptance and the representation of masculinity in today’s gay adult movies.
Having become increasingly estranged from his mother Anne, Levi is reunited with her at the CockyBoys house in upstate New York, which appears more like the X-Mansion (or should that be X-Rated Mansion) for Gifted Youngsters from the X-Men movies than it does the Playboy Mansion. The film is at it’s most riveting and moving as it examines Anne coming to terms with her son being a porn star. It makes for some deeply touching moments and something that is likely to resonate with any LGBTQ+ person who’s come out to a loved one, whether they’ve been accepted or not. There’s a beautiful momet where Anne tells her son that he’s not a vessel for her to live vicariously through or to control, but the master of his own destinty. A simple message, but one so many of us long to hear from our parents.
Jaxson, who runs CockyBoys with his husband and the studio’s cinematographer R.J. Sebastian, appears to provide a supportive and stable surrogate family for his performers. The film goes on to detail how Levi’s repaired relationship with his mother has changed the way the studio deals with their performers, insisting that they’re open about their work to a family member. It’s also led to a reunion between Jaxson and his own mother.
Having first come out as gay, then as a porn star, we see Levi come out for a third time to his mother, revealing his fierce drag queen persona, Sassy Frass Meaner. This leads to an interesting examination of representation of hyper-masculinity within gay porn, what’s seen as acceptable and desirable by its consumers, with the femininity associated with drag strongly contrasting with what’s generally expected of a gay porn star. Although there’s a long history of drag and gay porn coexisting, in today’s world of mainstraeam drag and RuPaul’s Drag Race winning Emmys, is the world ready for a gay porn performer to don sequins, heels and a wig? We also meet fellow CockyBoy Liam Riley who like Levi is both a drag performer (as Bambi Wadley) and porn star.
There are some genuinely hilarious moments as we see Levi welcome Liam as he arrives at the CockyBoy house from the West Coast. We see two in a Blair Witch style shaky camera sequence where they are both screaming and running around a dark basement after spotting a coakroach, that turned out to be a cricket. There needs to be a spinoff comedy film featuring these two let loose.
Produced by CockyBoys itself the film was never going to be an exposé of the darker side of the porn industry. It does however definitely bring into sharp focus how life changing the decision to making a career out of porn can be, such as potentially alienating a family member. Instead what the film does offer is a frequently entertaining, surprisingly thought-provoking intimate portrait of one of today’s most popular, charismatic porn performers and a celebration of the freedom to choose our own path in life, hopefully taking our loved ones with us for the ride.
By James Kleinmann