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Stuck between life and art with Stagliano

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The Adult Video Network Awards show at Mandalay Bay.
TVT

Oscar Wilde once said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” -- but what if your life includes seven federal obscenity charges, the prospect of 30+ years in jail, and seven million dollars in possible fines if convicted?

If you’re adult film legend John “Buttman” Stagliano, you don’t waste time with hyperbole; instead, you focus on creating a poignantly political piece for the AVN Adult Movie Awards.

Stagliano has made a name for himself creating art that imitates life – “gonzo”-style adult films, especially – though the artistic nature of his craft has been questioned.

AVN Awards Dance Rehearsal

Is pornography art? While the iconic adult film actor/director/producer thinks so, a federal indictment stands to disagree.

The former Fashionistas director and one-time Chippendales performer tapped both his life and his art to assemble a dance sequence for Saturday’s awards show at Mandalay Bay.

It was the third consecutive year he was asked to produce a sexy halftime show for the event and the second time he used the AVN spotlight to stage an aesthetically-pleasing protest against the government’s crack-down on adult entertainment.

“Last year’s number was brilliant,” Stagliano said from the floor of the Adult Entertainment Expo, more matter-of-fact than boastful.

Like this year’s performance, the sequence he created for the 2008 AVNs was a five-minute objection to the federal government’s use of the Patriot Act to persecute adult entertainment companies and customers.

“Did we really believe them when they said they would only use these laws to prosecute terrorists?” the piece asked an arena full of porn stars, industry heavyweights and ticket-holding fans.

Stagliano created an optimistic, yet scaled-back follow-up for this year’s awards ceremony.

While one might not think porn and politics mix, the two make for strange bedfellows. The AVN Awards dripped with pro-Obama sentiment.

Coincidentally, the awards were held just over a week before Barack Obama is scheduled to be sworn office. For most porn industry insiders, Obama’s inauguration apparently can’t come fast enough.

Stagliano makes no effort to hide his political stripes.

While his 2008 AVN Awards sequence dwelled on the politics and controversy involving the sort of obscenity charges saw Max Hardcore was convicted on last October, this year’s number took a page from the Obama campaign and focused on hope.

“It’s not, like, radical or terribly innovative or whatever,” Stagliano said, joking that his inspiration “came from watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball.”

The presentation begins with Legends in Concert cast member and Whitney Houston impersonator Jazmine singing the national anthem. As she belts out the stars and stripes, images of George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Abu Ghraib, Haliburton, and the Iraq war punctuate the patriotism from a giant video screen above the stage.

It is a dramatic and effective statement that champions the First Amendment and decries censorship.

The resilient 57-year-old said it wasn’t hard to recruit dancers to the show. In fact, most of the dancers came to him.

“I set up on a little apartment off the Strip and then I have a couch in there and they come in and give me a blow job…” he said with a smile.

He wasn’t serious.

“Most of the dancers in this number were in my (Fashionistas) show,” he clarified. “There’s one new guy and one new girl, but most of the dancers I have worked with before.”

Fashionistas ended its run at the Empire Ballroom last February but many former cast members took time away from their current projects – including the Pussycat Dolls, Sirens of TI and Folies Bergère – to perform at the AVNs.

Former Fashionistas assistant director, Yanco Inone, also collaborated on the awards show’s sequence.

This year’s show was produced using a scaled-back budget and does not feature the aerialists that were involved in Stagliano’s previous AVN creations but the message remains clear.

“What I get off on is coming up with a good idea that works and I think I have a lot of ideas that work,” he said.

While it’s hard to know if Stagliano’s life imitates art or if Wilde’s assertion was a more accurate perspective, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Buttman may be facing seven federal obscenity charges, decades behind bars and bankruptcy, but he still has hope.

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Melissa Arseniuk

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