Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Even though the man has been dead for over twenty years now, John C. Holmes is still the biggest name in pornography. Books have been written about the man, Paul Thomas Anderson, who is featured in this documentary, based his character of Dirk Diggler after John Holmes, Val Kilmer played him in the screen dramatization of the Wonderland murders in ‘Wonderland’ and filmmaker Cass Paley, who Alan Smithee’d this somewhat scattershot documentary, documents the rise and fall of John Holmes in his documentary ‘Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes’.

John Holmes died in 1988 due to complications from the AIDS virus at the age of 43, though he looked like he was at least 68. But before Mr. Holmes met that unfortunate end he had to start out somewhere and this film chronicles his humble beginnings in a farming community in Ohio where he was the youngest of four children and had to endure the problems of his alcoholic biological father and a physically abusive step father. Most of this information and most of the pertinent information about the life of Holmes was told by his first wife Sharon, who in the shadows tells about their life together and quite honestly they could probably do an entire movie on her because she is one fascinating person who has led a ridiculously bizarre life, despite the fact that there are nuns who are less straight laced than she is.

Another fountain of information about Holmes is delivered via his former manager Bill Amerson who tells how he ‘discovered’ Holmes after taking some Polaroid’s of the young man and determining after seeing them, despite the fact that most of these people say that Holmes was neither good looking, well built or too smart, declared that he was going to be star. And a star he would become largely thanks to pornographic director Bob Chin and his ‘Johnny Wadd’ series of films which we are told were the first pornographic serial films. Again while hearing the words of Sharon Holmes, she tells how her husbands choice of a career completely baffled her. Eventually the marriage would end, though they would still live together while Holmes star began to rise at an exponential rate.

I would imagine having a self worth that’s completely tied to the size of your penis can’t ever be a good thing, and in no small part added to Holmes complete lack of self esteem, leading him down a slippery slope of drug abuse, drug dealing and eventually murder. One of the more interesting aspects of the doc were these murders, Holmes being on the run with his underage lover and eventually being captured and brought to trial on four counts of homicide. Holmes would be acquitted of the murders, though most who knew him felt he did bear some responsibility in the deaths of those people, though few doubt he actually did any killing. Eventually Holmes wall fall back into pornography, even dipping into gay porn, until his death a couple of years after being diagnosed with HIV.

‘Wadd’ is a very interesting documentary with a fascinating story to tell, though the way that Cass Paley chooses the story is a bit peculiar. Since Paley opted to tell the tale sans narrator and instead chose to use his interview subjects to move story along, the movie felt as if lacked a coherent direction. The story is linear for the most part, though there are places where the story jumps around a bit, but the inconsistent lighting of the subjects, with the occasional odd background placement wiped away the professional feel of the documentary and made it look, well, pornographic. Perhaps this was by design. All the technical stuff aside the story that Paley’s subjects had to tell was grossly interesting, though trying to get a complete grip on who exactly John C. Holmes was seems next to impossible. On one hand you have people in interviews talking about what a great guy he was and then in next frame you have people discussing what an ass he could be. Bill Amerson, who obviously cared a lot about the guy, admits that Holmes lied so much that he became confused about what was true and what they made up, and even his court appointed psychologist labeled him a ‘sociopath’.

Despite the fact that Holmes as a person lived and died pretty much an enigma, if one was to form an opinion of him simply based on simple facts presented in this documentary, one would be hard pressed to call him a ‘good guy’. We know that Holmes physically abused his fifteen year old girlfriend, as if a 37 year old having a fifteen year old girlfriend wasn’t bad enough, then tack on the fact the he hooked the kid on drugs and then pimped her out buy more drugs… even R. Kelly thinks that’s messed up. Holmes served as a rat informant to the very industry that was paying to buy his drugs – I have a personal thing about snitches by the way. I don’t know why. We also know that Holmes was in some way responsible for the murders of four people. Worse still, Holmes had unprotected sex even after he found out he had HIV – which obviously still upsets Ron Jeremy to no end. So no matter how ‘great a guy’ Holmes might have been, this is a fairly large litany of egregious offenses to get past and makes it pretty easy to form an opinion of the man no matter how much of an enigma he may have been in life.

On another note I watched the VCA DVD release of this film, VCA being an adult film company and as such the version I watched had pretty much every hardcore uncensored sexual act that Holmes had ever performed, including his gay work, and it appeared to have been done simply because they could it, as opposed to having any real benefit to the doc itself since I only have to see his dick a couple of times to realize its big. Just throwing that out there because I believe there’s an R-rated version that has all the graphic sex cut out. Regardless, despite the somewhat unfocused feel of ‘Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes’, his story is still one crazy ass ride and about as hard to turn away from as a twelve car pileup.

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