The first non-porn film from British-born director Wash West, The Fluffer also marks a change of tack for co-director Richard Glazier, who made the Aids elegy Grief. Clearly aimed at a broader audience than their previous work, the new film provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of gay porn movie-making within a rather conventional narrative about the inequalities inherent in most relationships and the need for emotional as well as sexual liberation. It begins with fresh-faced young Sean (Michael Cunio) arriving in Los Angeles with plans to break into the movies. When the aspiring filmmaker rents a copy of Citizen Kane from the local video store, he is surprised to discover that the porn epic Citizen Cum has been substituted for the Welles classic. Falling for the video’s male star Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney), Sean applies for a job at the Men of Janus production company (vandals frequently erase the ‘J’ from the sign outside the front door). When his arty camerawork fails to impress, Sean is pressed into service as a ‘fluffer’, the person who pleasures the male star in preparation for sex scenes.
The Fluffer is very amusing in its depiction of the porn movie-making business as a kind of low-rent parody of the straight film world. But West and Glazier have a more serious agenda, which has to do with tackling questions of idolatry and identity. Sean’s love object is not only straight but also a rebel who mistreats his pregnant girlfriend. According to West and Glazier, ‘fluffer’ love always remains unconsummated, and they cite as cinematic evidence such classics as Letter from an Unknown Woman, Midnight Cowboy and Rebel Without a Cause. The Fluffer hardly belongs in such august company, but the melodramatic storyline of its second halfowhich involves Sean and Johnny in murder, escape to Mexico, betrayal and a downbeat sense of liberationodoes make its point as it attempts to update the classic ‘love is blind’ scenario.U.S.A., 2001. Colour. Dolby stereo 95 mins.