Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Exhausted (1981)
Studio Line: Excite DVD

While this film is a not bona fide documentary, detailing the life of John Holmes (before his notorious murder trial), it is still a very erotic and very arousing sex film. It is an attempt to dig into the career of John Holmes, one of the best-known male stars of hard-core pornography, most noted for his big gun.

This excellent production was billed as the "true life story of the unchallenged King of Porn himself." If you watch it, it's difficult to argue... It's packed with the most luscious, explosive women in adult entertainment from the early '80's. The movie in its day was the most publicized adult film to hit the screen since Deep Throat.

Director: Julia St. Vincent
Cast: John C. Holmes, Seka, Annette Haven, Jesie St. James, Chris Cassidy, Georgina Spelvin, Linda Wong
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Monaural; subtitles none; not closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 6 chapters; X-rated; 75 min.; $32.95; 6/5/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary with Director Julia St. Vincent, Veteran Director Bob Chinn, and Grande Dame of Dish Gloria Leonard; Additional Interview Footage; Biographies; Julia’s Diary.
Purchase: Available Only Through Internet at

Picture/Sound/Extras: D+/C-/B-

Although I don’t normally review DVDs with adult subject matter, in this case, an exception made sense. Actually, I have covered some titles that were “unrated” but would have been “NC-17” had they gotten MPAA ratings; for example, Road Trip and American Pie include material that apparently would have prevented them from gaining “R” ratings.

However, neither of those films even remotely approaches the realm of porn, which is definitely not the case with Exhausted. Make no mistake about it; the documentary about sex king John Holmes is a graphic flick that includes many explicit sex scenes. As such, it won’t appeal to everyone.

So why did I review it? Because this was a porn film with a famous connection. Significant portions of Boogie Nights were inspired by Exhausted. Actually, “inspired by” is a nice phrase, for anyone who watches Boogie Nights will see scenes that were almost perfectly lifted from Exhausted. That fact doesn’t negate the strength of BN, for although the duplications were very close, they comprised a small portion of the film. Really the only aspects of BN that copied Exhausted occurred during the documentary Amber (Julianne Moore) makes in the middle of the movie. During those shots, you’ll see how closely BN director Paul Thomas Anderson adhered to his model.

Without its link to Boogie Nights, I suspect there’d be much less interest in Exhausted. However, many DVD fans are interested in the older flick, especially because of an alteration that affected the 2000 2-DVD re-release of BN. That package was supposed to include excerpts of Exhausted, and some early review copies actually went out with the snippets on them. However, New Line ultimately could not secure the rights to provide these segments, which meant that the only way to find a disc-bound version of Exhausted was to get the 1998 laserdisc release of BN.

Until now, that is, since the entire uncut edition of Exhausted can currently be purchased on DVD. Since I never saw the edited version of the film, I can’t say precisely how the two differ, although I’ve heard that the shortened one lost about 45 minutes worth of material. To be honest, that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Exhausted offers three main components. There are interview clips with Holmes himself as well as “man on the street” comments that gauge various reactions to Holmes. Lastly, the film includes many examples of Holmes’ work, as represented through snippets culled from his many porn flicks.

Apparently the edited Exhausted lost all of the latter elements; from what I understand, you never even get to see Holmes’ famous diggler. That omission seems odd; while I don’t really want to look at that thing, considering its reputation, the program should at least offer a glimpse of it. Otherwise, however, I would think that the absence of the sex scenes would be a positive. They add nothing to the program and they ensure that some folks who would like to watch the documentary will avoid it.

On the other hand, I certainly don’t endorse the idea that the original movie should be edited for DVD release. I suppose I would have liked to see both the “X”-rated and “R”-rated cuts on the DVD. Since the latter was only about 30 minutes long, it certainly could have fit on the disc, and it would have been a nice alternative for those of us who really don’t like to watch bad porn.

And make no mistake; the sex scenes offered during Exhausted are quite bad. Actually, I may not be the best person to judge; I’ve only viewed three or four “X”-rated flicks, and those were all back in college. The genre never appealed to me, so I remain fairly unknowledgeable about the good and the bad aspects of the movies. Nonetheless, the scenes included in Exhausted certainly didn’t prompt me to run out and start a porn collection.

In any case, I expect that modern porn would be rather different than what was found in these clips. Of course, unless there’s been some sort of biological alteration about which I didn’t hear, the mechanics and the acts remain the same, but the appearances of the participants certainly have changed. I don’t know much about the looks of male porn stars, and Exhausted doesn’t let us know much about them back in the Seventies either; Holmes is the only one we see. Physically, he was in good shape, and he wasn’t an ugly man, but it’s clear he earned his fame based on his genital size; there’s nothing else about him that stands out in a positive way, and how he thought that silly haircut looked good remains a mystery.

As for the females, I’d be surprised if any of them could get work in today’s silicone-obsessed marketplace. Boogie Nights briefly reflected that movement in the industry. Toward the end of the flick, we see some mid-Eighties porn shoots, and the actresses look significantly more artificial than the natural bodies we experience during most of the movie. During Exhausted, we see many body types on the women Holmes meets; some are better than others, but almost all appear blissfully real. Maybe that’s not what porn fans want; perhaps they prefer totally artificial and phony fantasy girls with triple-G cups. However, it was interesting to see the more “warts and all” figures presented in the older movies.

Either way, I don’t want to watch them get rammed by guys like Holmes, so I remain disinterested in the sex scenes found during Exhausted. On their own, I don’t know how much more compelling the interview sequences are. If I try to view Exhausted from an objective standpoint, I think I’d feel it wasn’t much of a movie. The “man in the street” bits are mildly entertaining, especially in the way they reflect the more open sexuality of the period; I doubt similar interviews conducted today would get quite the same reactions.

Actually, these segments provided the film’s only - inadvertently - poignant moment. When one woman was asked if she’s want to sleep with a guy like Holmes, she indicated that she’d be reluctant to do so, primarily because “you don’t know what you might pick up”. That kind of statement was more innocent back in those days, when you mainly had to worry about the clap and other more innocuous problems. However, much greater dangers eventually arrived, and fears that might have been attached to Holmes were valid; he died of AIDS-related problems in 1988.

As far as the comments from Holmes go, they generally seemed to be rather dull. He didn’t appear to be one of the world’s great minds, and his shallow, superficial nature comes through during his statements, most of which appear to be fabrications. However, I must say that he didn’t seem to be a total jerk. Sure, he was quite self-obsessed and self-aggrandizing, but he wasn’t as overbearing and obnoxious as I expected.

Those expectations really were a big issue, however, as I find it very hard to consider Exhausted without the comparisons to Boogie Nights. As such, although I tried to consider Exhausted from the point of view of someone who never saw BN, ultimately that was virtually impossible; the latter so strongly emanated from the former that I couldn’t consider Exhausted on its own.

In the end, I think that that Exhausted will be of interest mainly to Boogie Nights fans. Yes, it was fun to compare the original to the film it inspired, especially since Anderson stole some segments so blatantly. I had thought that the tenor and format of the two would be similar, but I didn’t realize that BN’s footage occasionally appeared identical to the shots from Exhausted. Although that fact should have made me have less respect for BN, it didn’t affect my opinion of the film. The duplicated segments are such a minor part of BN that they actually become more entertaining once you’ve seen the original.

By the way, let’s hear it for understatement! On the back cover of the Exhausted DVD, we learn that “some have said (Exhausted) was the inspiration for the film Boogie Nights”. “Some have said” - like there’s any question? Actually, I suppose one can’t really claim that Exhausted inspired BN as a whole, but obviously it was a prime influence for many parts of the film.

As a documentary, Exhausted is a mess. It’s poorly filmed and choppily edited, and its subject was a narcissistic windbag who was obsessed with his dick. Granted, so were others, which is why this film exists. In any case, Exhausted may be flawed, but it approaches “must-see” status for Boogie Nights fans. It’s incredibly entertaining to see the source material for the film, and that helps overcome the documentary’s inherent problems.

The DVD:

Exhausted appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Based on the film’s age and low budget, I didn’t anticipate a crystal-clear picture, and I got what I expected. Like the content itself, the image of Exhausted was a mess that veered from fairly watchable to downright ugly.

Sharpness generally stayed adequate, though I don’t think any parts of the film were truly crisp and detailed. Most of the movie maintained a modestly soft appearance, and it could become rather fuzzy and indistinct at times. Nonetheless, focus was usually acceptably, and no problems with moiré effects or jagged edges occurred.

Colors looked bland but reasonably serviceable. At no point did I discern any bright or vivid tones, and the hues largely appeared drab and faded. Still, they weren’t terrible, as the colors usually came across as fairly accurate despite their lack of vibrancy. Black levels tended to be muddy and flat, and shadow detail looked excessively thick and opaque for the most part. Low-light situations were quite dark and dense, and it could be difficult to see what was happening.

All of these problems paled next to the DVD’s major concern, however: print flaws. Exhausted was chock full of defects. Speckles, grit and grain showed up throughout the movie, and a mix of scratches, tears, blotches, running vertical lines and other debris also marred the presentation. Frankly, I have a feeling that these concerns resulted more from the source material rather than from the transfer. Exhausted is a 20-year-old very-low-budget porn documentary, so it’s unrealistic to expect it to provide a stellar visual experience. Nonetheless, the flaws remain, so I felt I should mention them.

The monaural soundtrack of Exhausted didn’t fare much better. Effects were a very minor factor during this mix; some ambient material appeared throughout the film, but for the most part, music and speech dominated the proceedings. Those elements generally could be split into two parts of the film. Dialogue occurred during some of the porn shots, but it became a major factor only in the interview snippets. Conversely, music played a strong part only when we saw the porn montages.

Quality was erratic but acceptable when I considered the project’s age and roots. Music was muted and flat as a rule, but the cheesy synthesizer score still seemed to be reasonably accurate for the most part. At times the tunes even showed modest range and depth, though they usually remained bland and somewhat stiff.

Dialogue varied as well, but most speech seemed to be acceptably accurate and natural. A little edginess interfered at times, but as a whole, the lines sounded easily discernible and I experienced few problems related to intelligibility.

The only truly major concern I had with this soundtrack related to background noise. That was where the film’s low-budget origins really came through clearly, as I heard quite a lot of hiss, popping and crackling throughout the movie. Some of this actually resulted from ambient environmental noise; much of the film was shot in real locations such as the street, and the drawbacks that resulted from the lack of control seemed clear. Nonetheless, these issues didn’t account for all of the problems, and this remained a noisy production. In any case, the audio may have displayed a lot of concerns, but it stayed acceptably listenable when age and cost were factored into the equation.

Exhausted succeeded best when it came to the DVD’s supplements. First up is a running audio commentary from Exhausted director Julia St. Vincent, frequent Holmes director Bob Chinn, and “The Grande Dame of Dish”, Gloria Leonard. I’m not really sure what that latter appellation means, but I gather that Leonard is a Seventies porn veteran herself who knew Holmes reasonably well. All three were recorded together for this semi-screen-specific piece.

Although she leaves toward the end of the track, Leonard acts as the ringleader for this piece. Her presence dominates the commentary and gives it a nice openness and personality that helps make it an enjoyable listen. Although I think the piece could have been a little grittier, I still thought the three participants provided a solid overview of a number of issues. They covered some of Holmes’ problems - mainly his drug use - as well as the realities of the adult film industry in the Seventies and other topics related to the era. They even gave their thoughts about Boogie Nights. Ultimately, I thought this was a chatty and compelling track that offered a lot of solid information in a fun and entertaining package.

Additional video material appears in the Interview Footage section. This provides an unused interview session with between Holmes and St. Vincent that took place in 1980. The piece lasts for 21 minutes and 55 seconds. Ultimately, this segment seemed like more of the same. Holmes presented the usual smug and silly attitude, and his answers didn’t show anything new or different. However, it’s still good to find it in this package, as more information is always a good thing. Note that there’s a definite lip-synch problem during much of the footage, though; Holmes’ mouth movements often don’t match the audio.

Julia’s Diary offers glimpses of Julia St. Vincent’s date book from 1980. It consists mainly of various jottings that relate to her feelings at the time. It’s a sad little thing that doesn’t provide many concrete facts but it shows the negative effects she felt from her relationship with Holmes.

“Who Is Julia?” adds a short discussion of the director’s life and career, and additional listings appear in the “Cast Bios” section. There we find a very nice entry for John Holmes plus brief and superficial mentions of actresses Seka, Annette Haven, Jesse St. James and Georgina Spelvin.

Ultimately, these supplements add a nice layer of additional perspective to the film. As a documentary, Exhausted is a rather silly piece that doesn’t present a terribly clear picture of its subject. Nonetheless, it’s usually an entertaining program that works especially well for fans of Boogie Nights. The DVD offers rather weak picture and sound, but those were hard to fault given the film’s age and low-budget origins, and the complement of extras was useful. In the end, Exhausted will appeal to a fairly small audience, but those folks should be pleased with this package; it’s not a great presentation of the movie, but it’s probably as good as it’ll ever get.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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