For a film that purports to go beyond the surface and uncover the "true essence" of adult film stars, "Aroused" spends a lot of time admiring the surface. Photographer Deborah Anderson, whose art books of erotica include "Paperthin" and the star-studded "Room 23," used the occasion of a photo shoot with 16 leading ladies of porn to conduct interviews about their lives and work. Completist fans of such performers as Alexis Texas, Katsuni and Misty Stone are the only likely viewers liable to find the documentary satisfying.
The project, shot in dreamy black-and-white, offers promising moments in its early sequences, as the women, getting coiffed and made up, talk about their childhood, parents and first sexual experiences. There are a few discerning comments amid the post-feminist and not always convincing declarations of self-awareness and inner strength. Even so, and despite the use of on-screen quotes by famously independent-minded women, including Erica Jong and Eleanor Roosevelt, the documentary quickly devolves into a montage of glamorous nudes cooing into the camera, which coos right back at them.
Anderson — who figures prominently in end-credits footage of an adult-film convention — doesn't help matters with her increasingly banal voice-over observations about sex as commodity. Her conversation with an agent sheds some light on the business of porn, and provides more insight than most of her conversations with the performers. The impulse to profile "the world's most sexualized women" is a worthy one. But little sense of individuality emerges in "Aroused."
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 9 minutes
Playing: At the Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood