Yes, porn is personal; infinitely subjective. Yet there are still masters of the craft. Music is personal, but there are still masters. Ditto literature. Tragically, as a society, we seem to believe that the same logic does not apply to porn, when it very clearly does. Porn is not just people fucking; only despicable philistines think so. Dialogue matters, music matters, sets matter, and color matters. Surely you’ve had the displeasure of a porno getting ruined by a single throwaway corny line? All of us have had the experience of laying back, tuning in, and asking, “Why the fuck are they fucking on the ugliest piece of furniture I have ever seen?”

When amateurs or hucksters (or both) are behind the camera, little details often ruin a whole skin flick. But when masters of the craft are at the helm, all those details can come together and elevate the production to art. Granted, the auteurs are few and far between, but they are out there and deserve recognition. Today, it is hard to argue that there is a greater auteur among us than Evil Angel’s Mike Adriano. Here’s why.

Not only does he use color better than every single other pornographer, he knows how to use color better than plenty of chaste directors as well.

Women’s clothing in porn tends to come in two colors: black and red. I don’t inherently oppose those colors, but they have their limits. Red is overused, not just in porn, but in everything. Vampires, sports cars, lipstick, cocktail dresses, and on and on. I get it. Our primitive brains associate it with ripe fruit. That’s fine, but not even our most primitive ancestors ate nothing but ripe fruit. Moreover, the girls are already red. Flesh has plenty of red all over it, especially our erogenous zones. Tongues, pussies, and cockheads: all red. There’s no need for the overkill.

Black, meanwhile, does nothing. Black is a blank space, a void. An ass in black looks smaller than it would in any other color. In black, the contours and the dividing line are harder to make out. A rack in black spandex will show nipples only at an angle. Black is the opposite of ripe fruit: it’s rotten fruit and death and obfuscation. It is not somehow mysterious or elegant. Porn is not the Oscars, especially not gonzo porn.

Mike Adriano understands all this. His colors pop. The girls wear neon colors to draw attention to themselves. Lime green, work-zone orange, and spring yellow are all colors native only to Adriano movies. It might seem like a small detail, but the splashes of bright tones bring a vibrancy to the whole production. The colors energize the set, and ergo the viewer. The performers aren’t in lingerie from Walmart, office clothes from Goodwill, or ridiculous Dollar Store costumes. Instead, they have Easter blue mesh tops, skin-tight magenta leggings, and canary yellow bracelets.

All those colors are accentuated by the equally colorful sets. Adriano shoots almost all of his movies in a backyard (presumably his own) surrounded by white walls covered in pop-art graffiti. Sometimes, when I watch his stuff, I find myself trying to make a map of where all the various murals and pieces are. There are ice cream cones, cupcakes, comic book-style action bubbles (“wow,” “boom,” etc.), anthropomorphic vegetables, and the like. The coloring of all of it can best be described as “neon-pastel.” A contradiction? Maybe, but take a look for yourself and I think you’ll see what I mean. On top of all this, you’ve got the natural lighting of the SoCal sun, the source of light women were meant to be illuminated by.

The house attached to this resplendent backyard is much the same. Pop art on the walls, neon-pastel duvet covers and blankets, and pillows that’d make Andy Warhol proud. The house’s exterior walls seem to be almost all glass as well, so all that natural light is still with us. The fucking is not in just another supersized suburban living room or master bedroom. You don’t see any black leather couches or Lay-Z-Boys or ostentatious stairways. Instead, you get a sun-drenched mansion decorated by Keith Haring, filled with women in attire picked to grab your eyes and remind you that Crayola missed a few shades.

If you’re rolling your eyes right now, go find a Mike Adriano Tumblr fan blog and click around for a few minutes. When it comes to effective use of color and lighting, Mike Adriano is in the same league as Pedro Almodóvar, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Jean-Luc Godard. That puts him well above Jim Jarmusch, Noah Baumbach, and Francis Ford Coppola, by the way.

Mike Adriano’s movies are also groundbreaking in their perversion, but never stop being cinematic.

The blowjobs he shoots are so filled with energy, I swear those girls must be shooting up a flavor of coke I’ve never even heard of to keep it up. The best part is that the head never falls into a steady rhythm. There are pauses, both at the base and the head, and the general speed is ever oscillating. Whereas those steady back-and-forths Jenna Jameson delivered leave my mind wandering, Adriano’s direction keeps my attention every time. The gobs and gobs of spit help a lot as well. Think you’ve seen a sloppy blowjob before? Go watch one of Adriano’s American Cocksucking Sluts and get back to me.

Everything anal, Adriano’s clear priority, is uniquely cinematic as well. Gapes are literally measured by another girl. Speculums are made of clear plastic and are accompanied by penlights. He dons his hands in furry blue gloves with pink lettering (“Gape Gloves”). If it’s a threesome, while one girl is flat on her back getting sodomized, the second girl is on her knees, head perched right next to her friend’s ass. That way you get to see a sexual act up close, and a beautiful woman’s face as well. Moreover, it makes the ass-to-other-girl’s-mouth seamless.

Even the craziest stuff he commits to film is always highly visual. Giant black dildos are fine, but why not use a banana instead? Sure, you or I could have thought of that, but we didn’t, Adriano did, and then he filmed it. Pulling a giant black dildo out of a girl’s ass is whatever. Having a girl push out a banana that had all but disappeared is quite another. The same kind of comparison can be made for most every eccentric act he shoots. A girl pulling out her anal beads and licking them is hot and cinematic, sure. But it’s hotter and even more cinematic to have a girl push out a colorful cupcake and eat it. Take care to notice the different verbs in these comparisons. “Push” and “pull” may share fifty percent of their letters, but they are a world apart. Anal milk enemas are very perverted, and those milk jets are nothing if not cinematic. Yet it was Adriano who decided to film a girl’s gaping asshole being held open and turned into a bowl of cereal. Don’t believe me? Google it, I dare you.

Perversion plus cinematic talent plus an understanding of color: what more could you ask for? A plot? Maybe, but Adriano is gonzo and has never pretended to be otherwise. We all pretend like we want plots, but we don’t, really. A real plot would take way too much time, and if the setup is only going to be two minutes, much better to have a pervy interview than whatever paper-thin “oh look, it’s the handsome plumber” bullshit. And Adriano’s interviews are up to par as well. His love of ass is palpably genuine, and his accent is unique. Italians are so twentieth century, and the French are for cartoons. Adriano’s Spanish is good. Not that ugly Mexican or unbearable Puerto Rican, but a pure Iberian Spanish, both dirty and romantic.

Simply put, Mike Adriano fills that void in our hearts and hands that arrived the second Sasha Grey welshed on her promise to direct. We should be so lucky.


“What Makes Mike Adriano Great?” is an excerpt from Richard Power’s new memoir, Letters from a Heartbroken Pervert. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.