Perhaps all of us at some time have wanted to reinvent ourselves; to be reborn a new person. For former housewife Morgana Muses, the desire came when she was at her absolute worst. Recently divorced and feeling isolated from her conservative community, Morgana, sadly, wanted to end her life. Before doing so, she hired a male escort for one last stab of intimacy. It was from this point onwards her life took on a whole new meaning. Seizing a later opportunity to make an erotic film about her experience, Morgana lit the touchpaper to a new life as a feminist adult actress.
The documentary, Morgana, follows the titular subject as she takes ownership of her sexuality and identity and is directed by Melbourne filmmakers, Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard. Isabel is an award-winning animator whose short Butterflies won great acclaim on the festival circuit. Josie, along with writing and producing the short film Sunroom, has worked on numerous indie erotica projects including Morgana’s Permission4Pleasure label.
“Josie had approached me to direct Morgana’s 50th birthday present to herself, which was to be suspended in a giant bondage installation,” Isabel explains. “It wasn’t something I would have directed, because I only direct my own visions and the stories I write. However, Josie told me about Morgana’s story, that three years ago she was a housewife from rural Australia and now she’s a pornographer and I thought ‘wow, that’s an incredible story’.”
FilmInk had kindly been invited to their Kickstarter launch for postproduction. Dubbed the Grand Dame Guignol, it was an evening filled with sex positive shenanigans and imaginative wrestling smack downs. Yes, aside from burlesque dancers and Shibari demonstrations, on the menu was Psycho Biddy Wrestling which saw the likes of Carrie White and her mother tag team the might of Grey Gardens’ Edith and Edie. It’s an evening of defying expectations and cutting through societal norms. Much like Morgana herself.
“With her work alone, she’s fighting ageism by putting herself out there,” Josie says. “We think it’s important to put this type of person out there who is allowed to have a sexuality. We do some ground work, so eventually it’s not a thing anymore. It’s a non-issue.”
Originally envisioned as a short, Morgana has blossomed into a feature length production. “It kept going and the story went weirder and deeper than we thought.” Josie confesses. They describe the film – which will take us from Morgana’s conservative upbringing up to the present – as both intimate and objective, something which seems to come out of the separate relationships the directors have with their subject. With Josie having a shared history with Morgana, Isabel took on the role of objective eye. “I got to know her in the way that an audience would get to know her,” Isabel says.
What you discover in conversation with the two filmmakers is how endeared and protective they are of Morgana, highlighting her prolific career.
“In the last three years, she has made 12 films. Which is crazy!” Isabel laughs. “We haven’t even made one! She’s like Ed Wood. She’s really enthusiastic. She has these ideas in her head, and even though she’s not from a film background, I think there’s a real vision and originality in the pornography that people really respond to.”
However, if it isn’t already obvious, Morgana is much more than digging into titillation, it’s about uncovering the truth of someone under the guise they create for themselves.
“It was this spiral into the truth of the character,” Isabel says about filming. “It’s like a character exploration outside of all the issues and outside of the potentially sensationalist nature of the material. Every time we had an expectation of her, she overturned that expectation.”
“You think know the 50-year-old porn star,” Josie jokes, “but you do not know the 50-year-old porn star!”
Whilst their Kickstarter launch was over the weekend, the campaign started earlier in the week and so far, the response has been enthusiastic, branching far out from Australia. Including those attending the Guignol, does the response from their supporters surprise them?
“It’s still definitely niche, because, you know, it’s about pornography and a pornographer,” Josie admits. “Porn turns people away sometimes; they’re like ‘Ooh, that’s a little edgy.’ But we’ve been surprised by the outpouring of people’s support. I think I’m pleasantly surprised at people’s ability to see the story there underneath the other stuff.”
Yes, whilst Morgana’s journey from ‘suburban gothic hell life’ to feminist porn star might not be immediately relatable, it does good to remember that life in its many facets chooses ways to oppress and, perhaps, limit our potential. One of those ways is, sadly, in how women should behave and act. If Morgana can put herself out there, defying what we’ve collectively decided is the norm, then why can’t others.
“I know as a director,” Isabel says. “When you’re a leader as a woman, it’s not always well received. You have to do this dance of ‘Excuse me… would you please mind…’ Lots of passive language. But I think with her, it’s all out there because it’s more exaggerated and her lifestyle is more extreme. In a way, it’s what some of us face in our daily lives on steroids.”