Kristen Among the Lions
Jun 05, 2008 | By: Ken Furtado
This interview is the first of two parts
The climactic moment of the film Jerry Maguire occurs near the end, when Renée Zellweger interrupts Tom Cruise's pleading "forgive me" speech with, "Shut up. You had me at hello."
Kristen Bjorn had me at hello.
Not Kristen Bjorn the porn star, though I could probably have replayed every moment of his three famous Falcon loops in my head. And not Kristen Bjorn the photographer, whose amazing work could be seen in the pages of Advocate Men. But Kristen Bjorn the director, whose films I first became aware of in 1989, when I opened a package containing Tropical Heatwave, Carnaval in Rio and Island Fever.
This was porn the likes of which I had never seen. Breathtakingly gorgeous men, filmed in Brazil. Brazil?! They came without touching themselves, and the sex was redolent of fantasy, romance and intimacy. It was is if they inhabited a world where sex between men was the most natural thing in the world, and the natural settings and spectacular camera work conspired to make everything seems like a latter-day Mount Olympus, sans the goddesses.
Bjorn's films are exceptional also for their erotic imagination, which has influenced many directors since. To cite two iconic scenes bracketing his career so far, Bjorn gave us Roberto Almeida fucking the spaces between the cast iron bars of his balcony railing in a solo sex ballet in Tropical Heatwave. And he gave us the incredible courtyard milk bath with Mario Segovia, Matthias Vannelli and Zeca Romeiro in Fire Dance. He practically invented cock jousting, and he discovered any number of models who went on to become stars for other studios: Ivan Andros, Phil Bradley, Michel D'Amours, Claude Jourdan, Arpad Miklos, Jason Kingsley, Carlos Morales, Sean Davis and more.
From Brazil, Bjorn moved on, capturing "the world's most gorgeous men" in carnal abandon — in Australia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Russia, Canada, Miami and now Spain. Whether he is a man without a country or a man with every country, Kristen Bjorn's skill and talent have had a powerful influence on forging the identity of gay adult entertainment.
Kristen Bjorn has now rounded the 20-year mark, and his work is stronger than ever. His last three films, Fire Dance, Rocks & Hard Places, and El Rancho are among his best (despite being mostly ignored by the GayVN and Grabby awards this year). Fans are in for a special treat this year, because he has five new films scheduled for release, which you can read more about below.
I was very gratified a few weeks ago when I requested an interview through Bjorn's publicist, and he replied yes. When Falcon Studios named Kristen Bjorn, in about 1981 (with tennis champ Bjorn Borg in mind), little did they know they had created one of the most enduring names in gayporn history.
When your first film came out, I was very excited because I knew your name and was a fan of your photography. What prompted you to make the transition from still photography to live action, and why did you choose to do a solo film for your first film?
Wow, I didn't realize you had followed my work so far back! Thank you, I'm very flattered. My first move from still photography to video was in 1986 for a video series put out by Advocate Men (today just MEN) which they called Advocate Men Live. They wanted single model shoots, similar to what I'd been doing with still photography, but in motion.
After shooting a few of those clips for Advocate Men, I decided to try making a couple of solo features on my own, and in 1987 I shot two solo videos, Tropical Heatwave and Champs. It was the following year that I shot my first hardcore videos Carnaval in Rio and Island Fever.
For me it was a fairly natural transition to go from doing solo photo shoots of men, to doing solo video shoots. Shooting hardcore porn was quite a bit more challenging. I was able to make a decent living as a still photographer in Brazil for six years before I started producing videos. I was intrigued by the idea of being my own producer, and no longer being at the mercy of the whims of ever-changing art directors at the magazines I was working for.
You attended college in San Francisco. Did you complete a degree, and if so, in what field?
I dropped out of SFSU after two years, so I never had a major, or got a degree. I basically studied subjects that were of interest to me, like French, literature, philosophy, even Chinese medical theory. Later I realized that the sorts of things I was interested in doing in life didn't require a university degree.
You have lived all over the world. You stated in an interview in the 1997 book, The Films of Kristen Bjorn, that your parentage is British and Russian. Of what country are you a citizen?
My mother was the daughter of Russian immigrants, and was born in New York. She passed away in 1999. My father is British, and I was born in London, but at the age of 2, I moved to Washington DC with my family, and lived there until I was 18. So, my passport is British, although I feel like a complete foreigner whenever I'm in the UK. And since I've spent most of my adult life outside the USA, I don't feel exactly American either, even though I'm more culturally identified with that country than the UK.
How many languages do you speak? Do you direct in the languages of your models or do you keep an interpreter on the set (or both)?
Aside from English, I speak very good Spanish and Portuguese. I can get by in French and German, although I can't say I speak them well. These days, most of my models speak one of those five languages, and I direct them in all of those languages. When newcomers speak some other language, I usually arrange to have an interpreter on the set. Once the guys get used to how we work, interpreters aren't usually necessary, though
How do you find models?
I have talent scouts in different countries who seek them out high and low … but mostly low!
All external things considered — looks, musculature, cock, body hair, tattoos and piercings — is there one or more of your models whom you regard as the ideal?
That's a difficult question; I have worked with a lot of really gorgeous men! If I had to choose one, I'd say that Carlos Montenegro is about the most perfect specimen of male beauty I have ever known.
Of all your films, do you have a favorite scene and if so, why is it your favorite?
I can't say that I have one favorite scene in particular. There are many that I like for different reasons.
Why have you never filmed in Hawaii using its indigenous people? As a filmmaker who is known for the ethnic diversity and richness of his models, I'd think Hawaii would beckon you strongly.
I've been to Hawaii several times, and I find it incredibly beautiful. But I don't have the sense that the Polynesian culture in general is very gay friendly. Certainly, a "mahu" ("queer" in Hawaiian) isn't held in very high esteem in Hawaii. I wouldn't mind working with Hawaiians, but none have ever applied to work with me. It's very difficult to recruit models from certain ethnic groups, like Arabs, or Asians. There are still many places in the world where being gay, or performing in porno films, isn't socially acceptable at all.
As a producer, you have produced and distributed the works of other directors, such as Lucas Kazan and Tom Bradford. It's been several years, though, since you released work other than your own under the Sarava or Kristen Bjorn label. Will you work with other directors again?
I was never very successful at marketing videos directed by other directors, so I decided to give that a rest for a while. But later this year a new film directed by my assistant Strongboli will be released under Sarava Productions.
Falcon Studios named you. Why did you keep that name?
At the time, I thought that my "porn star" past might help promote me as a photographer. If I had known better, I would have chosen another name that wasn't so difficult for people to pronounce.
Why did you use an actress with scarlet hair to play Carlos Montenegro's wife in El Rancho? Were you trying to suggest that she was the part of Carlos' life that was artificial or unreal, or was that simply who was available?
For that role I was looking for was a woman who embodied every straight man's fantasy. It wouldn't have done justice to the story if Carlos had a mousy little wife who could be easily ignored. I originally wanted another woman to play the part, but she backed out shortly before the shoot. Khristine X was my second choice. Her crimson hair was in vogue in Europe last year, and I wasn't very fond of the color. However, now I'm really happy with the character she developed out of that role, crimson hair and all.
I loved the sequence in El Rancho where Carlos Dispone emerges naked at the far end of an outdoor cloister lined with doorways, and as he approaches the camera, another nude man emerges from each doorway he passes, joining him in his march. It reminded me of the scene with Yul Brynner near the end of The Magnificent Seven. Did you have that scene in mind or was it a coincidence?
I'm afraid I haven't seen The Magnificent Seven, so it must be a coincidence. Since it was a dream sequence, I thought it would be fun to take some artistic license with that scene.