Matt Zane is trying desperately to leave his porno past behind. You can hear the exasperation in his voice.
"It's been hellish trying to get interviews and such to promote this thing," Zane, 27, says on the phone from his home in L.A. He's referring to his spoken-word CD, the latest of his adventurous turnarounds.
Zane's not the first adult film "star" to meet resistance while trying to break into mainstream entertainment. A porn career stays with you like a bad tattoo, especially when you work on projects with titles such as "Co-ed Cocksuckers" and "Cum Covered 4." Whether it's a Hollywood power-brokers' conspiracy or a lack of talent that keeps former adult-film actors from getting farther than B-movie walk-ons or leads in alternative rock videos, it's a fact that once you've fucked on film, your non-porn career goes nowhere fast. Ask Traci Lords. Ask Amber Lynn.
Yet Zane's case is unique: He's not an actor, but a former director -- indeed, the Best Director winner at the 1999 World Adult Movie Awards -- who is trying to spread his wings through three very different projects. His first attempt was as lead singer of hard-rock outfit Society 1 (www.society1.net), which debuted with the 1999 CD "Slacker Jesus" on his own Inzane Records (www.mattzane.com). His colorful past and ties to the music industry -- vis-´-vis "Backstage Sluts," a three-volume, hardcore-sex home video series that featured cameos of real rockers -- sparked all sorts of media coverage for the album. (Zane boasts of his 270 appearances on VH-1 and MTV combined.)
"I brought rock & roll into porno and I started to incorporate more mainstream aspects of entertainment in pornography," says Zane, who has helmed music videos for The Nobodys, Pimpadel-ic and, of course, Society 1. "People just followed suit. I kinda revolutionized the industry, and not a lot of people are gonna give me credit for it. I still see people -- I'm gonna say it nicely -- borrowing what I started four or five years ago."
Next up, the budding multimedia mogul unleashed "Contrasting Views of People Living Within an Artistic Lifestyle," a 38-minute film documentary that captures the thoughts, dreams and nightmares of an ex-junkie, an aspiring serial killer, a stoner and a high-flying priest. Captured on a vintage video camera in an interview format, the film is a worthy, if unspectacular, watch. While the video and sound quality leave much to be desired -- subtitles assist at times -- the A/V aesthetic works with the gritty material. It's "Real World" meets "The Blair Witch Project," only with a lot more smoking and cursing.
"Certain people's lives ... are so abstract that they can only be explained in terms of being a piece of living art," says Zane. "The theme that runs throughout the video is the decline of morals. ... Could these people be the blueprints for the youth of America? Could these extreme cases who have artistic lifestyles be the new norm?"
Originally, Zane took aim at the film-festival circuit, winning a positive review in Filmmaker magazine. Then, almost predictably, he hit a wall. The Chicago Underground Film Festival accepted the film, then dropped it; unable to secure a distributor, Zane struck a deal with www.evilnow.com to carry the home-video version.
Maybe he'll have better luck breaking through with his latest offering, the one that's working his nerves today: the creepy spoken-word CD, "Words as Carriers," due in stores Feb. 16. The sprawling, 38-track effort feature's Zane's words but is almost an homage to the moody, dark-sided style of poetry of Doors singer Jim Morrison, complete with a droning, ethereal soundtrack and spooky verbiage.
Influenced himself by Morrison, Zane envisioned such an introspective project perhaps 10 years ago. But given his limited life experience at that point, he feared he didn't have enough to say. Now he does. With track titles such as "Bleeding Virgin," "Abuse," "Mask of the Devil" and "Beast of Decadence," "Carriers" is not a good gift for anyone on a suicide watch. But the CD is a fine fit for Goths, metalheads and other disenfranchised youth, all of whom will find a home in Zane's dark and dreary world.
Finding that audience is key. "I really wanted ... to promote it as if it were a rock record," he says. He especially covets mid- to late-teens who "want to kinda get into that type of art form because it had the same type of packaging that a rock record would. ... It takes a certain level of packaging these days to get anything across to the public."
He already knows that sex sells. And having worked both sides of the industry, Zane has a unique perspective on mainstream entertainment usurping porn's titillation factor. Would Britney have a career if her belly wasn't so flat and her chest so inflated?
"There's always sexual overtones in music," he replies, "but up until a year ago there were actual pornographic overtones in music, and not so subtle at times. ... I think `that trend` had its climax."
Although his films included sexually explicit content, Zane's "Backstage Sluts" series nonetheless blurred the lines enough to secure clothing sponsors (irony, please) and appearances by major rock acts such as Korn, Sugar Ray, Lemmy from Motorhead and Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. But controlled distribution limited the films' reach; moreover, fans under 18 couldn't buy them because they were X-rated. Overcoming those barriers, Zane released two edited and unrated versions (no nudity), titled "Backstage Pass 1" and "Backstage Pass 2," and sold them through music retailers like Tower Records. He wound up selling more than 30,000 copies of each (which, according to Zane, is far more than the naughty versions).
Still, he's hesitant to make a clean break. "I really shouldn't even be talking about it, because if any of the distributors ever read this article, I'm going to get blacklisted and nobody's gonna buy my videos," he says. That video library is his lifeline; Zane continues to own his adult- film business (www.zanevideo.com) and almost all of his nearly 500 films. For financial reasons, he simply can't let go.
Although he doesn't direct porn anymore -- at least he hasn't for a year -- Zane leaves open the option of getting back into the game, in case the CD and indie-film forays don't pan out.
"I don't make enough money to support myself," he says, revealing just how little there is to be made in porn. Which, come to think of it, is not all that different from working in music or films.
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