The title, Rate It X suggests two equally tedious possibilities: a predictable diatribe against pornography or a discretely titillating peep at the world of sex for sale. But Rate It X is a film that offers a refreshingly candid, surprisingly witty look at the attitudes that allow pornography to thrive. Like smoking, drug abuse, and drunk driving, pornography is a tolerated vice that depends on broad, if undeclared, popular support. While a majority of men might not come right out and admit to consuming pornography, the fact remains that it is a multi-billion dollar per year industry.

Directors Paula de Koenigsberg and Lucy Winer have compiled a remarkable selection of interviews that put pornography—and the attitudes that nurture it—into a larger perspective. The filmmakers remain off camera while their questions, always polite, direct, and insistent, provoke discomfort and awkward mutterings from their subjects.

They begin with “average guy” types: a baker who specializes in three-dimensional “bikini cakes,” and an ad executive who explains that the voluptuous model whose ample cleavage all but overshadows what is being sold is consistent with a “quality product.”

But the film’s technique is most effective in interviews with the men who directly control pornography. A thirtyish manager glibly conducts a cook’s tour of his three-story sex emporium, giggling at Nazi paraphernalia while he demonstrates a life-size, anatomically correct female doll. “How do you blow her up?” asks the narrator. “Do you use your lips or a bicycle pump?” The manager is momentarily at a loss for words, as deflated as his sex-surrogate doll.

Even more illuminating are ...

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