LOS ANGELES—As one legal pundit recently noted, obscenity trials are a reversal of almost everything the legal system usually does. Usually, when a trial takes place, it's been established that a crime has been committed, and the only question is whether the defendant(s) committed that crime. In an obscenity trial, a person is arrested and/or indicted, and the question for the jury is whether any crime was committed.
For the moment, though, that legal quandary probably has less meaning for producer/retailer Ira Isaacs, who's currently defending himself against charges that he produced, sold and sent allegedly obscene movies through the mails or other parcel carriers, and on this fourth day of his third trial on those issues, he got to take the witness stand in his own defense.
Before his testimony, however, the jury got to see the remaining two movies he's charged with selling and, in one case, making: Hollywood Scat Amateurs 10, which Isaacs performed in and directed under the screen name "Josef K.," and Japanese Doggie 3 Way, a feature made in Japan that Isaacs sold through his various websites.
AVN has previously described the content of those movies here and here, though the jury in the current trial seemed more attentative to the video screen than the previous jury had—although Japanese Doggie 3 Way had several jurors shielding their eyes or turning their heads away, or in some cases, simply looking down at the transcript of the translation of the movie's dialog which had been prepared by a Virginia-based translation service.
Incidentally, the dialog between the Japanese actors has some intriguing moments, where performer Mako (or as the translator would have it, "M-ko" or "Mazori") and an off-screen male discuss whether having sex with a dog can make a woman pregnant—something Mako says she'd like to try. Sadly, however, unless the jury actually reads the transcript, they could easily mistake the moans Mako—as well as just about every Japanese porn actress—makes during sex for her being in pain, though the transcript translates them as her saying she's "cumming, cumming, cumming," and later that she's "vaginally climaxing."
After the videos were done playing, prosecutor Michael Grant asked a few more questions of LAPD Det. Kyle Lewison, with the detective acknowledging that the Mailboxes Etc. location he had surveilled was on Sunset Boulevard, and noting that on April 15, 2011, he had received an email from Isaacs congratulating him on his "good work."
On cross examination, Isaacs' attorney Roger Jon Diamond brought out that Los Angeles is no stranger to the adult industry or its products, and that Lewison himself had attended adult conventions at the city-owned LA Convention Center for "about 15 years" as part of his work in the Vice Division. Lewison also agreed that some of the videos on display at the conventions were "fetish" videos, though Judge George H. King wouldn't let him answer just what types of fetishes Lewison had viewed there.
Diamond then questioned Lewison about his participation in the raid on Isaacs' business offices in January of 2007, with the witness acknowledging that Isaacs appeared cooperative. Lewison also said he'd seen some of the model releases and identification documents from the actresses in Isaacs' movies, had spoken to some of the women, and in January and March of 2011, had placed web orders for movies from Isaacs that featured some of those actresses.
During redirect examination, however, Grant brought out that although Lewison had investigated "all aspects of the pornographic industry," he had never seen bestiality or scat movies being produced, and had never seen them for sale at any of the adult conventions he'd attended.
At that point, the jury was sent out of the courtroom for a recess, and once they were gone, Judge King warned Diamond that he would not let Isaacs act as an "art expert" on the witness stand, though he would allow Isaacs to discuss some of the artworks that he had found to be inspirational in making his movies—and that if Isaacs strayed into "lectures" about what art is, the judge himself would object and stop such testimony in its tracks. This position troubled Diamond, who said he'd be fine if the prosecution raised such objections, but that he felt it was improper for the judge to take that initiative on his own volition, arguing that he felt that such objections would make him (and by extension, his case) look bad in front of the jury, might chill Isaacs' freedom of speech and might prejudice the jury against the defense.
But although Judge King stuck to his guns on the issue, once Isaacs started to testify, the judge had almost no occasion to put his announced practice into effect. There were, of course, objections from the prosecution which the judge ruled upon, but he only stopped Isaacs' testimony once or twice, usually to require that the defendant answer only the question asked and not "give a lecture."
Isaacs' testimony was far-ranging, beginning with a summary of his business life before he started selling videos online. He had brought with him several examples of advertisements he had created, usually featuring drawings or paintings of animals visiting a dentist's office or similar family-friendly fare, which artwork was usually part of a coupon offering discounts on products or services. It was only when he got tired of doing "cute art" that he began experimenting with web page design, and in the process, put up ads to sell adult movies he'd bought in New York City or Europe because "an adult site was a lot easier to do."
By 2000, Isaacs wanted to make his own "shock art" movies, and having seen scat movies during his days in New York in the '80s, he decided to make his own scat features, explaining, "I saw it as a subject matter that could set me apart," adding, "I wanted to explore the darker side of the human condition." But before he could explain further, Judge King cut him off to remind him that his answer had gone beyond the question asked—which led Diamond to ask what Isaacs' "goals, inspirations and intent" had been in making Hollywood Scat Amateurs 7 and 10.
Isaacs replied that his goal had been to "try to do something unique and different," and that he had even questioned himself whether scat movies could be art? He answered himself that the movies were part of the "post-modernist" art movement, whose goal was to "provoke criticism and thought," and "to show [people] a part of life they'd never considered."
Diamond then questioned Isaacs on some of the minutae that the government had brought up, such as Isaacs' directorial name Josef K. Isaacs explained that he'd gotten the name from Franz Kafka's famous novel The Trial, which he described as "one of the greatest influences in my life," and discoursed to the jury at length about one of the chapters in that book, a story titled "Before The Law." Without going into detail here, Isaacs basically said that he saw the story as a metaphor for life itself, and that life is "about taking risks."
Isaacs then testified about some of his artistic influences, including a "sculpture" that French artist Marcel Duchamp had entered into an exhibit at the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917. The "sculpture" was titled "Fountain," and consisted of a urinal Duchamp had bought from a vendor in Manhattan and signed with the pseudonym "R. Mutt 1917." Of course, the "sculpture" was rejected by the rest of the Society, from whose board of directors Duchamp resigned in protest, but over the years, critics have acclaimed the piece as an important Dadaist work. Isaacs said he was also influenced by Duchamp's post-Impressionist painting, "Nude Descending Stair."
"Art is what artists do," Isaacs declared, "It's just that my art is more controversial than painting puppies on a wall"—a statement which caused Judge King to admonish Isaacs once again not to deliver lectures, but simply answer the questions.
Still more influences, Isaacs testified, were the works of sculptor Kiki Smith, one of which featured a woman squatting with long streams of "urine" trailing back behind her, and another work featuring a woman on all fours with a yards-long turd coming out of her ass. Still another influence was The Holy Virgin Mary, a multimedia "painting" by artist Chris Ofilli that featured an image of the Virgin Mary composed, in part, of elephant dung—a piece which Isaacs noted had so enraged then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani that he attempted to cut off city funding for the Brooklyn Museum of Art where it was being exhibited. To Isaacs, however, it showed that "feces is a respectable medium in the art world."
That idea, he said, was driven home by the work of Piero Manzoni, who in 1963 had placed his own excrement into 64 tin cans, labeled them "Art Is Shit," signed them and sold them to art collectors and museums around the world. For Isaacs, the lesson of that piece was that art is "all about the reaction of the viewer," which "elevates [shit] to a whole new level."
Finally, Isaacs drew attention to famous artist Robert Rauschenberg's "White Painting," which he said forced viewers into an "intellectual interpretation" of why the artist would exhibit what for all intents and purposes appeared to be simply a blank canvas.
Diamond then questioned Isaacs about his use of the name "Mike" when anyone would call to speak to him about his movie business, and why he had used his childhood address in the Bronx as the return address for his movie mailings. Isaacs assured the jury that it wasn't because he had anything to hide, and recalled how adult entrepreneur Larry Flynt had been shot down several years earlier by a religious zealot, Isaacs said he wanted to keep his business address secret to protect both himself and his employees from being similarly targeted by lunatics.
When it came time for prosecutor Damon King to cross examine, the attorney stuck largely to the facts, questioning Isaacs on whether he or his employees had received orders for the videos his company LA Media sold, whether he had duplicated the movies and had sent them to the customers, all of which Isaacs admitted was done by him or under his orders—a stance he's taken since before even his first trial had begun.
King rarely strayed from factual questions, though he did ask, after reading the website description of it, what "intellectual interpretation" should be placed on Hollywood Scat Amateurs 10. He also brought out that in none of the advertisements for any of the charged movies did the words "art" or "artistic" appear on any of the packaging materials.
King also questioned Isaacs as to whether he had made certain statements about "only being in it for the money" to any of the actresses he'd hired; statements which Isaacs forcefully denied ever making.
After King finished his cross examination, Diamond, for reasons not explained (but possibly to show Isaacs' "family man" side), tried to bring up the presence of Isaacs' girlfriend in the courtroom, but Judge King ruled that line of questioning irrelevant, and after a sidebar discussion of the subject, the defense rested its case and Judge King dismissed the jury for the day.
When court reconvenes Friday morning, the judge will deliver his closing instructions to the jury, and both sides will present their closing arguments, after which the jury will retire to deliberate their verdicts on the charges. Check back with AVN tomorrow for what may be, for the adult industry and for free speech in general, an important decision.