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'The Pornographer's Daughter' a legitimate, solo show of justice and liberation

'The Pornographer's Daughter' by Liberty Bradford Mitchell at Z Below


Liberty “Lib” Bradford Mitchell, in her raucous new one-woman show “The Pornographer’s Daughter” at Z Below in the Potrero District, sees the big picture. Bradford-Mitchell wrote a ballsy 80 minute monologue with no intermission about her life as the first child and daughter of the infamous Mitchell Brothers who filmed one of the first feature-length adult films, “The Green Door”. A $60,000 investment turned into fifty million dollars in the days before the internet, personal sex tapes and sexting.

Cindy Warner
'The Pornographer's Daughter' Liberty Bradford Mitchell and director Michael Weiss relax on stage after her solo show opened at Z Below Gallery in the Potrero District.
Cindy Warner

Here is Marilyn Chambers telling the casting story with a clip of Charlie Sheen playing Artie Mitchell: MarilynChambersInterview.

Accordingly, Liberty Bradford Mitchell's ingenious set will be a green door and a chair, designed by Jeff Rowlings. The Fluffers join her on stage and play live music from the 60s to the 80s. Lib sports a rock star demeanor and a lovely, feminine singing voice, something Janis Joplinesque.

Warning, some plot spoilers ahead.

The brothers cast aspiring model Marilyn Chambers in the 60s when she had just arrived in San Francisco from Massachusetts, before her profile adorned an Ivory Snow box with her holding a baby. She responded to what she thought was a legitimate casting call.

This was after Bradford-Mitchell's parents met at San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” and the era’s burgeoning freedom of expression after the repressive 1950s. It was, during the Mitchell brothers’ rebellion against The Man, i.e. traditional values including sexual hypocrisy and racism. Actually it started in the garage in Antioch, where the boys learned they could earn some easy coin by showing a short piece of a woman masturbating against a sheet hung for use as a screen.

The truth is rarely pure and never simple—Oscar Wilde

Thankfully, jaunty Michael Weiss, who lives in Los Angeles, directs “The Pornographers” daughter. The tall, lean man with a soft brown beard seems like a gentle soul. Weiss mingled at the reception in the lobby and seemed to have a casual and caring, soft spoken manner—definitely not a control freak or dominating but more like somebody there for guidance and who is just there for you.

Weiss said he and Lib get along very well with the collaboration. His toughest job was just cutting parts as it was so long. Lib had been working on it since college and the draft was almost a foot high she said. In the end it’s a succinct, powerfully written piece with a distinctive sense of humor and mirth, the black comedy propelled through the decades with dramatic foreshadowing.

The Obscenity or Art question

So Lib starts with a bang, her irreverent act opening with a quick paced slideshow of sex depicted in the arts throughout the ages. It's the kaleidoscopic videography of Skye Borgman. Indeed, Lib goes on to say, the Mitchell brothers had big dreams of becoming legitimate film makers. Lib begins by relating the story of how her parents met when Artie told the hot chick with brains, Lib’s soon-to-be mother, that he was a film director. He invited her over to his pad in the Haight. Eventually “The Green Door” would be about a pure White girl who gets kidnapped and obligated to have a lot of sex including with a Mandingo, the film ending with her doing four men at once, one on a trapeze. The brothers submit it to the film festival in Cannes and the French audience gives it a standing ovation.

However Lib, at 42, a mother herself with a husband and a mini-van, seems more at peace than she ever has been as the spawn of Artie Mitchell, the revolutionary adult film maker behind the O’Farrell Theater in the Tenderloin. She even lived for a time in Lafayette when her parents divorced. The culture shock produced her first feelings of being a social outcast with a shameful secret, a dork. She began to lie about what her father did.

She would take her entire young life to deal with social conflict between reality and expectation and norms, finally “coming out” in college at USC at a party. She finally had the cajones to be honest but remained a virgin throughout her freshman year, which she spent dressing up and going to dance clubs but it seems always going home alone. She had found solace in Entenmann’s bakery treats.

Family is as family does

Lib tells a great story about attending the adult film awards and joining the hefty drag queen emcee on stage dancing. Lib had found her inner fag hag she said and reveled in the experience. She shows a slide of the moment, Lib with her perky blond looks and a red party dress kicking up her heels in a chorus line of porn stars and drag queens on stage. The mafia was also in attendance. Nevertheless, Lib was finding herself at her own pace. The shy girl began expressing her newfound love for musical theater and it’s group energy and sense of family.

Ultimate resolution comes with the sense of liberation she got after the death of the second Mitchell Brother, Jim. Jim died in Petaluma on his ranch of what was considered natural causes, although it was a heart attack, just in 2007.

Lib’s father Brother Artie died in 1991 in Marin, shot to death by his brother and business partner Jim. Jim’s attorney argued successfully it was an intervention gone wrong not an assassination. So, Lib not only felt traumatized repeatedly growing up but ultimately by Jim’s attorney who was smooth as silk at the murder trial she said in the show.

Brother Artie had fired the family attorney over a personal matter, that was Lib’s WASP flower child mother from East Coast society. Consequently the criminal attorney was able to force Lib to testify without giving her an opportunity to speak her mind and the truth. The man handling and manipulation, the staged and forced misrepresentation under the auspices of testimony, compounded Lib’s suffering and grief. Consumed by the need for revenge if not justice and the truth, Lib has fought a lifelong problem with anxiety, panic attacks and depression and just plain feeling awkward socially.

Feel the magic

Yet Lib Bradford Mitchell emerged on stage last night as “The Pornographer’s Daughter” a gifted, strong young woman who has worked hard to get control of her own life. She pulls no punches, uses strong language and strong visual images and live music to punctuate her points, a commanding presence as a master of legitimate artistry. She earned her new found self-esteem and rebirth, her spiritual freedom, through painstaking soul searching and on the merits. Her father’s daughter, she is no longer controlled by the man and lives up in triumph and defiance to the name he gave her.

Lib seems to have a lot of family support and that of friends, including Elisa Florez who appeared in the sequel to “The Green Door”. The film used rubber but not for bondage or S & M. The Mitchell Brothers knew of the devastation of the AIDS epidemic and created a porn film using safe sex—dental dams, condoms and rubber gloves.

Girl Power: It’s all about the shoes

Elisa Florez as Missy Manners arrived about 7:30 with a bouquet of roses for Lib and the girls mugged for friends and media around the stage after the show. “It’s all about shoes” and the girls posed like Rockettes with their platforms. Missy wore a black knit mini dress, long straight blond hair with bangs. Her silver sparkly platforms showed off her ankle tattoos.

Lib changed from her 1970s free spirit cotton top into rockin’ see-through plastic platforms. She like Missy showed lots of leg as Lib emerged like a rock star in a short, sparkly silver dress.

The effect: The evening took on a cockatil party look with a lighthearted, girlish and playful feel, a girls’ night out. Lib seemed jubilent and triumphant, her sense of relief after the raucous, no holds barred one-woman show seemed to mean the experience has been cathartic.

Band members of the live trio The Fluffers mingled. The young men looked like characters out of an X-rated Alice in Wonderland during the wine and champagne reception, one in a mad hatter top hat, with a feather in his cap. Geoff Knoop, guitar and vocals. Keith Stater, bass and vocals. Kevin Swartz, drums.

Z Space specializes in hot new work. It's a little intimate theater and each seat is good. Tickets cost $32.00, available at The show, a world premiere, runs to February 16, 2014.

Z Space has some public parking spaces on the street. It's near the KQED building, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco, California.

Shows on Thursday at 8:00 p.m.; Friday/Saturday at 8 pm and 10:30 pm; Sunday at 5 pm..

Chuck Sperry designed the classic rock poster with Lib's face from when she was 16.

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For more stories by this writer check out CBS San Francisco's website under Eye on the Bay, San Francisco arts & culture "Best Of"; and San Francisco Arts & Culture on Subscribe by hitting the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this article.

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