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WADD: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes

WADD: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes


is an extremely entertaining documentary that handles its 110 minutes without the slightest hint of boredom. The film, by Cass Paley, has been making its way around film festivals for several months now, and most recently played the Florida Film Festival. The production is well conceived probably due to an interesting motivation behind it. Similar to the 1997 film,  Boogie Nights, the story being related is an intriguing one that constantly begs the question “What will happen next?”


John C. Holmes was a small town boy that went on to become the first major male pornographic star in the United States of America. As his career advanced he became a constant substance abuser, a pathological liar, and a household name all at the same time. Seeing his first marriage end in divorce, Holmes married again and carried on numerous affairs. He also became increasingly involved with crime. By his death in the late 1980’s, Holmes was living more of a soap opera than an ordinary life. In WADD, the people closest to John, notably absent his family, recall their experiences with the sex star. Director Cass Paley regrets the absence of Holmes’ family, but explains “I didn’t find any of John’s family that would talk to us. His mother didn’t want to discuss it, his brother hung up on us.” This has an adverse impact on the film, but the presence of Holmes’ wives and closer friends almost entirely make up for his biological family’s absence.


After seeing Boogie Nights, a film largely based on John C. Holmes, Cass Paley decided to make this film. “[Boogie Nights] was interesting film, I enjoyed it; but knew that a lot of what was there was fantasized.” Mr. Paley explained. Going on, he said that he met the pornography star once and “…having heard a lot of stories about John, I wanted to know if these were really true.” So when Bill Amerson, John’s manager finally agreed, the film was set to be made. “And all of the sudden one day I got a phone call and it was Bill and his voice at the other of the phone goes ‘it’s time’ and that’s all that he said.” Mr. Paley enthusiastically recollects.


Several of the scenes in WADD are easily recognizable from Boogie Nights. One such scene pits Holmes and his director Bob Chinn being interviewed together. After Holmes explains at length that he enjoys working with Chinn because he is allowed to block his own sex scenes, the director flat out denies the entire practice. This brings a certain comedic light to the film that is a pleasant surprise, yet makes a point about Holmes’ less than honest nature as well.


WADD does include several clips from Holmes’ movies. However, this is a far cry from pornography and would be considered family material if compared to Hollywood films like 8MM. “You can show it until you are blue in the face, but I don’t think the audience needs to see it.” Says Mr. Paley explaining the absence of hardcore nudity in his film.


One of the more interesting filmmaking techniques was showing a contrast in people’s opinion of Holmes by putting contradictory remarks after each other. Take for instance when several people attest to how easy it was to work with him, the film immediately cuts to another person’s complaints about working with the star. This is entertaining and interesting initially, but the concept loses its charm after a while and becomes somewhat of a repetitive downside.


At the South by South West Film Festival, WADD won top honors for a documentary feature. Reportedly the film has been received quite well elsewhere. This trend should continue, as WADD is a well assembled and intriguing examination of not just the man who practically founded cinematic adult entertainment, but the industry he started as well.