Filmmaker Gregory Dark, his “Fallen Angels,” and the other side of Hollywood

By on February 9, 2016

In 1983, filmmaker Gregory Dark began working on a documentary for the Showtime cable network that was supposed to give us a peek behind-the-scenes at what was happening in all aspects of the adult film business as it existed in the mid-80s. The documentary was called Fallen Angels.

Showtime knew before filming began that they wanted Dark’s exposé to show the dark side of the porn industry, but Fallen Angels could not be too salacious or raunchy for Showtime’s premium channel subscribers. (The only clips we’ve found online appear to be provided by a grey-market online company called J4HI — for “Just For the Hell of It” — which offer up “rare, out-of-print & lost cult films onn DVD,” but we can’t vouch for their authenticity or quality, or anything at all, really).

The documentary had the potential to be seen by a wide audience, and based on his background and experience, the director Greg Brown — not yet calling himself Gregory Dark — appeared to be the right person for the job.

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Greg Brown was (possibly) born Gregory Hippolyte Brown on July 12, 1952, at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles; some sources list his actual birth name a little bit differently (Alexander Gregory Brown, for instance), and some (including Wikipedia and IMDB) give the year he was born as 1957, although that’s likely incorrect, but who knows? No one seems to ever tell their correct age in Hollywood anyway, not even the people working behind the cameras. We’re going to use the name Greg Brown for most of this post, even if that’s not his real name.

He grew up as the only child raised by his mother, a Las Vegas stripper. His father, an occult-obsessed Beverly Hills anthropologist, had split their family scene when he was just four years old, but Brown remembers him singing French voodoo songs when he was very little (when he was ten, Brown says he heard that his father had disappeared in Haiti).

His mother would end up marrying eight more times, but she was rarely home. He grew up in Las Vegas, from what we can tell, and spent at least some of that time living at his grandfather’s house but apparently he was left to discover the world without much parental or grandparental supervision, which meant he wasn’t too different from a million other latchkey kids in this country, but there was a always a danger that any petty shoplifting or harmless childhood pranks he pulled might have led him quickly down the path towards more serious crimes. Brown seems to have avoided any serious trouble, however, because he was always a very intelligent kid.

Brown had become an avid reader by the age of nine, and would steal copies of paperbacks from a newsstand he frequented, which meant he was looking at porn mags before he even went through puberty. But he also had discerning taste as a reader, drawn to sexually-themed literature, and claims to have found his way to most of the important novels which decades earlier had been banned for being too profane or even obscene, books like The Autobiography of a Flea (an anonymous erotic novel first published in 1887), the complete works of the Marquis De Sade, and all of Henry Miller’s often luridly sexy novels, most of them published in the U.S. by Grove Press, which led to obscenity trials for the publishing house and lots of hassles for Miller.

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Throughout his pre-teen years, Brown fostered an interest in all things dark and strange and weird — like black magick, voodoo and 20th Century Surrealist art — and those interests led to his own dark artistic work, very early on. He began drawing and painting and taking photographs, and he particularly liked working with collage art, manipulating the images using cut-up techniques, which then led him into making his first 8mm (non-pornographic) films as well as obsessively watching all of the important films directed by underground filmmakers, and lots of foreign films too, including those directed by Jean-Luc Godard, and Luis Buñuel (in particular That Obscure Object of Desire, and Belle de Jour). He also enjoyed 70s horror films and others classified in mostly-dark sub-genres, name dropping Wes Craven and David Lynch in interviews as an influence. And, he remained interested in sex, that was always a constant in his life.

He was eleven years old when he had is first sexual experience was with an 18-year old housekeeper: she gave him his first blowjob and also taught him about cunnilingus. He didn’t have actual intercourse until he was seventeen, and here’s what he said about it:

“I’d been smoking opium all day and took her back to my grandfather’s. I didn’t know what the fuck was doing, but my dick was like a rock, so I stuck it in her and just hammered away. I couldn’t come ’cause I was so high. She screamed so much somebody called the cops, and my grandfather told me I had to get out of his house within a week. He said to me, ‘Some people have trouble with alcohol. Others have trouble with gambling. But you will always have trouble with being obsessed over women and sex. And I promise it will be your downfall.'”

Brown would later tell Psychotronic video magazine, in 1997, that he was thrown out of the first college he went to — Mount Saint Mary’s, a private, independent, Catholic liberal arts college — because he was “drug dealing, getting too loaded and trying to fuck too many girls,” but he ended up moving to Northern California, where his early interest in fine art led him to working on paintings, but also conceptual art and installations (some of his paintings are actually in the Whitney Museum now). He managed to graduate from Stanford University with a Masters of Fine Arts degree, then moved to New York, where he pursued graduate studies at NYU’s prestigious film school, finding work as a freelance filmmaker and lensing documentaries for a variety of outlets — NBC News, the United Nations, even Cambodian TV.

He then moved to Los Angeles, and made his first first full-length feature documentary about the city’s strip club scene — Hollywood Underground — in 1980. The doc focused on a dancer he’d become friendly with, as a good paying customer, and on camera she would tell Brown all about her life, about her father pimping her out and having incestual relations with her (Brown also interviewed her parents, and, amazingly, no one asked to have their identities blurred).

This brings us to 1983, when Brown was hired to work on the Showtime doc, Fallen Angels.

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Brown told writer Chris Nieratko — he writes “Skinema,” the longtime porn film column for VICE, a hundred and fifty of the columns of which were later collected into a book of the same name — that Showtime wanted the doc to focus on the dark side of porn and its effects on the performers, particularly the women, who during the film itself are seen talking about their deep inner feelings, which sometimes brings them to tears (as you might expect from a Showtime doc, all the erections and any real penetration scenes were blotted out).

At the time, porn flicks in the early-to-mid 80s were transitioning away from being mostly like soap operas where relationship problems are solved by sex, or couples hooking up randomly due to the fact that the wife or girlfriend was putting out, or was frigid, or the husband or boyfriend was already cheating on them and so the sex was an act of revenge. Very soon, a lot of porn movies would be dispensing with trying to tell a backstory and get right to the fucking a lot sooner.

“It was actually a negative look at the adult film industry. It wasn’t really negative, it was just very ‘what it was,’ and it you just let the camera run and ask questions, people will openly show you how it is. It wasn’t positive, it wasn’t negative, I just asked the questions people would ask and followed stories that people wanted to know about, like how does this girl live, how does she feel, do her parents know what she’s doing, how was she brought up, that kind of stuff. You just portray that, and when you put the whole thing together, you’re like ‘Oh, my God, that’s really negative.'”

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Jim South in Fallen Angels

Brown’s film would end up focusing on the adult film career trajectories of three young on-the-rise porn starlets — “Kimberly,” “Clarissa” and “Kim” — as they went from posing nude in photo sessions to acting in hardcore porn, but it begins in the World Modelling Agency office of Jim South, a somewhat shifty former insurance salesman, who we see sitting behind his desk, talking on the phone with hopeful applicants who want to get into the lucrative world of nude modeling.

“I sold insurance and loved it,” South tells us. “I find that the training I got selling people cold, even in this business, helps me a lot because you’re selling the girls on modeling. You’re trying to explain to girls that they can trust you.”

Brown spent three days shooting in South’s office, and the two men ended up becoming friends, at least at the beginning. We see one of the hopeful models, Kim, 21 years old and a single mother trying desperately to make enough money so she can move out of her mother’s house. We see her undressing in a side room studio before South takes Polaroids of her.

We’re then introduced to porn movie producer, Hal Freeman, who sits behind his desk as another model, takes off her clothes while we hear a simply awful country western tune being crooned by a dude playing acoustic guitar. Kim does her screen test, looking into the camera as she talks about the reasons she’s come to this point in her life.

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We also meet an Asian porn actress named Kimberly, now clearly identifiable as porn star Kristara Barrington, who tells us how she enjoys being an exhibitionist, and she has plans for her future which include going back to college. She also only wants to do “girl-girl” scenes. She’s just five months into her career at this point, and appears to us much more self-confident than Kim, and it’s easy to see why she became such a bona fied hardcore adult film star — at this early point in her career, though, she had still used numerous aliases, including Kimberly Wong, Kim Warner and Chi Chi Ling, before settling on the name Kristara Barrington.

We see Kristara/Kimberly, Kim and another girl — Clarissa — who are encouraged to participate in an all-girl lesbian scene for producer/director Bruce “Seven” Behan, who asks them — much to their disgust, as we learn later — to use dildos on each other after documentary crew had left, a violation of the agreement they’d made with him beforehand. The girls all say they will never work for Seven again, and South, who looks shocked on camera, assures them that he’ll never work with Seven himself again.

At some point we’ll also meet all of their boyfriends, who talk with the director about their relationships with their girlfriends who are all trying to break into the business.

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Freeman tells us about a porn star whose boyfriend tried to kill her after watching her fucking another dude on camera. “Every guy who goes out with a performer is going to get angry,” he tell us. “He’ll say ‘That’s my property being used and abused.'”

Kristara/Kimberly’s apparently clueless boyfriend tells us “Kristara doesn’t like to have sex with strangers,” as the film then cuts to her, now without her boyfriend present, sitting on the patio her Pasadena apartment, telling Brown “I slept with 350 guys in high school.” She also tells him she doesn’t plan on doing porn much longer. “You’re just a piece of meat,” she says. “You have no say… You do what they say.”

We spend just a little time with a couple of male adult film actors and models, where we hear one guy telling how he pissed off a film producer after he accidentally jizzed on the camera after a camera operator no doubt got too close.

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Much of the documentary is devoted to the behind-the-scenes shooting of Caught From Behind II: The Sequel — the first sequel in an impressively expansive anal-themed franchise — which was being shot, during September 1983, in Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb southwest of Los Angeles.

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We learn about the difficulties of being a professional adult actor from Eric Edwards and Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy, all glorious hirsute 5-feet 7-inches of him. Jeremy was known as Ron Hyatt when he attended Benjamin Cardozo High in Bayside, Queens, NY.

He had been dubbed the Hedgehog in 1979, after he showed up on the set of Olympic Fever, an adult film being shot up in Lake Arrowhead, in the mountains a couple of hours north of L.A., where the weather had turned so cold that when Jeremy arrived on motorcycle he was suffering from hypothermia, and he had to be warmed up in a hot shower, which made all of the hair on his body stand on end like a “walking, talking hedgehog,” according to fellow porn actor Bill Margold, who today gets the credit for giving Jeremy his beloved nickname.

There’s a famous quote, usually attributed to Al Goldstein of Screw magazine fame, who said that Jeremy would have never gotten laid if directors had not ordered naked women to have sex with him, but he does have an undeniable and certain charm, it’s hard to dispute it

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We also see a few scenes shot inside an adult video store, where a customer is seen renting Camp Beaverlake, telling the man behind the counter: “It’s a funny title… Ya’ know, when I was a kid and went to camp, I always looked for beaver. Now that I’m an adult, I’m still looking for beaver.”

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Fallen Angels then jumps 18 months ahead chronologically — which accounts for the reason the documentary was finished in 1985, but started two years earlier — and we now see that everything has changed in everyone’s lives and careers, particularly for the girls, making their earlier efforts seem all the more disposable and tragic. Their boyfriends, as we might have expected, have all broken up with them. Clarissa has already left the porn biz, and Kim has pretty much disappeared.

Only Kristara Barrington (having stopped using the name Kimberly by then) had stayed in the business, and she is now one of the top porn actresses, having appeared — along with Traci Lords — in the ground-breaking film New Wave Hookers, which we told you all about in this popular Night Flight post.

We see Barrington and Lords arriving in their own white stretch limousines, at the movie’s world premiere at the Pussycat Theater in Los Angeles, looking simply stunning in their flowing gowns.

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Barrington’s career would continue on into the early 1990’s, before she eventually left the porn biz to become a veterinarian.

Greg Brown, however, ended up having an even more interesting career, as we see from picking up more from his interview with Nieratko:

“… After doing that documentary for a year I was broke, so I said ‘Shit, I’m a trained filmmaker. I can make films better than these idiots.’ What I’d gotten into it for was I thought that the business was like the alternative film business, where it was sort of the other side of Hollywood, where you could do almost anything you wanted as long as you had sex. Which, I later found out, wasn’t the case, because the adult business is actually a very middle-class business that tries to be acceptable. It’s not an experimental film business, but I feel it should be. So I’ve always tried to make experimental films in porno which are very interesting sexually and erotically.”

And so that’s exactly what Brown did — in the midst of making a documentary about the porn biz, he decided that he’d begin making porn films, interesting movies that weren’t like every adult film he’d seen up to that point. He says he felt the porn industry was ten years behind popular culture back then, and he was going to shake it up.

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At some point in the early 80s he’d already met Walter Gernert, a film distributor who was making a lot of money off of porn, who had asked him if he liked being a starving filmmaker (Gernert apparently wanted to know if he had milk in his fridge at home, which the distributor must have thought was some kind of clue as to how successful Brown was as a documentarian) and promised that with his financial backing and Brown’s obvious filmmaking talent, they could make a lot of cash together in the adult film biz.

Greg Brown became Gregory Dark, and Walter Gernert became Walter Dark, and together, they became the Dark Brothers.

Their first film, 1984’s Let Me Tell Ya About White Chicks, was the first indication that Gregory Dark (we’ll now start calling him by the name he’s used for the past thirty years, although he’s also used the name Alexander Hippolyte during his long career) was not going to be like other porn filmmakers. The film was essentially shot the same way he’d shot documentary films, and followed the exploits of black dudes having sex with white women, which wasn’t seen a lot in the adult film business at the time and may have actually been the first interracial movie to feature scenes with white-and-black actors having sex.

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If Let Me Tell Ya About White Chicks was any indication of what to expect, we were always going to get filthy stuff from Dark, filtered through his continuing interest in art (particularly Surrealism) and music, and off-beat humor.

It was a great start, and soon enough the Dark Bros. — “purveyors of fine filth” became their motto — began appearing in sex-themed magazines, dressed in white suits and looking like pimps, sitting in wicker chairs surrounded by stuffed iguanas, rubber snakes and sexy black chicks restrained by collar and chain.

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“Most persons in the porn industry find me peculiar because my interests are intellectual,” Brown said in an interview. “I have a background in conceptual art which is what I do in my porn. Porn is a business of people who aren’t trained film artists or artists generally, or even educated people. The performers are not trained actors. I do mainstream films and I can tell you that there’s vast difference in the acting ability.”

Their biggest success came the following year with their second film, 1985’s New Wave Hookers, arriving in theaters the very same year that Gregory Dark appeared in his own Showtime-backed documentary, which showing him arriving at the premiere of the film, jumping out of his own white limo and flipping off the news cameras, covering the event, as they followed him up to the Pussycat Theater’s entrance.

These weren’t your typical middle-class big-haired American hausfraus we were seeing in porn, wearing black thigh-high nylons and garter belts: these were sassy punk rocker and new wave chicks, the kinds of girls Dark was seeing on a regular basis at the Hollywood clubs he was going to, or he’d just be driving down Melrose. and he’d see these radioactive-looking girls with electric hair coming out of hip clothing boutiques like Let It Rock or Flips. These were the kinds of rocker chicks that all young guys wanted to fuck but usually couldn’t get to go back to your place.

The sex in Dark’s movies was way raunchier, and nastier, too. Ginger Lynn’s DP (double-penetration) scene in the film pretty much made DP scenes thereafter a mandatory part of 80s porn. Dark would later say: “I make pictures that show the type of fucking that men wish they could to women.”

Dark also focused on hip music (with a great soundtrack by L.A.’s awesome band the Plugz), and the kinds of red or green punk hairstyles, with wild makeup and clothing that was clearly MTV-influenced too.

New Wave Hookers was a huge success for the Dark Brothers, and showed girls that hadn’t been depicted in porn flicks at the time. Dark’s punky girls were upfront sluts who talked about what they wanted in bed (and on top of desks and just about any flat surface you can imagine), and they took charge and made it happen, and they were aggressive and hot, and almost overnight, porn movies began to show more hardcore women on top than they ever had before. You can thank Gregory Dark for at least some of that.

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Along with the success at the box office, New Wave Hookers, of course, would also bring the Dark Brothers a lot of trouble because it had featured a then sixteen-year-old Traci Lords, who had moved to L.A. in 1983, when she was just fifteen, ending up in the porn biz. She was also signed to a representation deal with South’s World Modeling agency, and according to one story, she’d first been sent to a photo shoot where she was supposed to simulate having sex, but the photographer (it’s unclear but also likely he knew or suspected she was underage) had to stop filming her because she took it past simulation.  Dark once said Traci Lords was “the dirtiest girl in porn’s existence.” She would make her actual on-camera sex debut in the 1984 porn flick What Gets Me Hot!, for which was paid $200 a day.

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You can read all about what happened to the legally-underage Lords and everyone else involved in 1985’s New Wave Hookers at our previous Night Flight post.

This wouldn’t be Gregory Dark’s only legal troubles during the 80s, however. He’d also paired up with World Modeling agent Jim South to run a dance agency (no doubt this was for hiring strippers), but Dark ended up turning it into an escort service, apparently unbeknownst to his partner.

Bruce “Seven” Behan, however, also seems to have been involved with Dark at this same time, and moved his office next door to Dark, where he no doubt received a steady supply of fresh talent from the World Modeling roster of clients.

Dark ended up serving nine months in prison for pandering, which is the legal term for pimping, really, but is defined as: (1) “the act or crime of recruiting prostitutes or of arranging a situation for another to practice prostitution,” and/or (2) “the act or crime of selling or distributing visual or print media (as magazines) designed to appeal to the recipient”s sexual interest.”

Dark has reportedly rarely spoken to the former insurance salesman and partner South since coming out of prison. Perhaps elaborating on what happens, he later said: “I make conceptual art pieces and then I become that character…I made a documentary on porn and then became a pornographer. I made films about pimps and then I became a pimp.”

The focus on the adult film Caught From Behind II — highlighted during the documentary — would also play a significant role in the legality of filming sex and then paying the performers, as it was totally illegal to make a dirty movie at the time. For years, adult films were shot in secret locations, which always changed to avoid the eye of law enforcement. The concerns were serious – in California, pandering carried a minimum three-year sentence with no possibility of probation.

After authorities now had the visual documentary-filmed proof that the porn shoot documented during the filming of Fallen Angels could be traced back to video producer Hal Freeman, it led to his arrest by the overzealous LAPD officers, and his subsequent prosecution by the L.A. county district attorney’s office, who used a recently-passed 1982 anti-pimping law to charge him with five counts of pandering, saying that paying for sex was essentially prostitution, regardless of whether or not the paid actors were doing it on-camera or not.

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Jim South in 2005

Freeman was the first person ever charged, one count for each woman who was paid to perform in Caught From Behind II (he wasn’t charged for each of the men who appeared in the movie). A jury trial lasted just six days in Van Nuys Superior Court, and Freeman was found guilty, and the DA’s office were trying, at the time, to make a big deal out of the case in order to use the ’82 law as a defining case in order to put an end payment-for-sex porn in California, the porn movie capital, once and for all.

However, Freeman was given just 90 days in jail, a $10,000 fine and five years probation. His attorneys ended up filing a routine appeal, which then wound its way through the court system for years, and ended up leading to the California Supreme Court’s important decision in the case in 1989 (the same year Freeman also died, but he’d already left the adult film business by then), which effectively legalized and legitimized porn films in the Golden State.

Think about that for a sec: before porn was legalized, it was previously a felony to film someone in California having sex and then pay them for their time: People v. Freeman, 46 Cal. 3d 419, 758 P.2d 1128, 250 Cal. Rptr. 59, 1988 Cal. LEXIS 171 (Cal. 1988). What’s really strange about this was that it wasn’t illegal for video stores (which began popping up after a huge rise in the sales of home-use VHS/Beta video players), to sell adult films depicting sex acts, even though the conduct depicted on those tapes might be deemed illegal if undertaken by an individual outside the State of California.

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Meanwhile, throughout the 80s, Gregory Dark continued to work creatively, making adult films — which were now being shot on video instead of film — which continued to push the envelope. Let Me Tell Ya Bout Black Chicks was 1984’s sequel to White Chicks, which was intended by the filmmaker and his screenwriter (Antonio Passolini) to be as politically incorrect as possible. There’s a scene in which hooded Klansmen find a porn actress named Sahara masturbating while listening to gospel music. Said Dark: “I had these Klu Klux Klan guys riding on top of black girls as if they’re horses. That scene made me happy.”

Hustler magazine said Dark’s movies “… are more like nightmares. Twisted and fevered…. Sex in the concentration camps. Every treat has a gooey center, but beware the few that slip past containing the occasional jagged piece of glass. Are you ready for your shower, mein herr? Step right this way. Enjoy the music we have provided for your listening pleasure – it’s Wagner. Would you prefer soap or Zyklon-B?” In 1987, James Wolcott, who wrote a feature on Dark called “A Walk on the Dark Side” for Vanity Fair , said about the filmmaker and his partner: “They attempt to bring to porn what Sam Kinison brings to stand-up comedy: sacrilege, no apology, hostile pathology, hoarse gusts of laughter from the jaws of hell….”

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The Dark Brothers films were never sadistic or violent, however, and they rarely contained bondage scenes and never portrayed any rape. His films were always so unique that no one really ever tried to copy his style — but they weren’t exactly “art,” and Dark himself, when asked about it, had no illusions about what he was doing, and he has said that “no porno could rank in the top ten thousand films ever made.”

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Dark then spent roughly thirteen years of grinding out porn fare like Black Throat, Dr. Penetration and White Bunbusters, which was promoted at the time as “The World’s First All Double-Penetration Shocker!”, and today the film might be best known for its absolutely ridiculous theme song — by Johnny Jump-Up (Passolini) and Wavy Dave — which plays over the opening credits and a montage of some of the raunchy sexual Dark stuff his audience expected to see. The White Bunbusters, by the way, are a couple of dudes who provide a unique service for husbands with reluctant wives (we’re pretty sure you can figure out what it is).

By the end of the decade, X-rated video tape rentals had dropped — 12% in between 1988 and ’89, about three million, representing the largest drop the industry had seen by that point — and Gregory Dark was ready to move on. After continuing working together on films like Metropolis Pictures’ Dead Man Walking (starring Wings Hauser as a mercenary tracking a psychotic killer), where he used the name “Gregg Brown” and the production was still being credited to the Dark Brothers (although the logo was now changed to “Purveyors of Fine Art”), Gregory Dark eventually ended his partnership with Walter and continued transitioning out of making adult films to work more in the mainstream Hollywood feature film industry.

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Sometimes for these projects he uses the last name Hippolyte, which may actually be his real last name (again, we’re unsure), and although he’s clearly not hiding his adult film background, it wasn’t easy at first for others to accept this more legit phase of his career.

You check IMDB for his full resume, where you’ll see that he’s directed music videos for Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and many other artists. He does go back to work occasionally in the porn world — when he does, he continues to use the plural name The Dark Brothers — but his main focus is nowadays clearly to work on mainstream films and music video producitons, saying that he doesn’t really like working in the adult film industry now because most of the people in the business are “lame.”

(h/t Luke Ford)

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Smooth

    Gregory Dark also directed the slasher/horror film, “See No Evil” with WWE superstar “Kane”.