Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Bottom Feeders : From Free Love to Hard Core : The Rise and Fall of Counterculture Heroes Jim and Artie Mitchell

John Hubner

Doubleday Publishers

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-385-42261-X

$24.00 ($4.99 remaindered); 412 pages (indexed)

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001





The great American tragedy comes in all forms and happens at all levels of society. It's best when played out in public, most powerful when the participants are not gifted or insane, but ordinary people elevated by circumstance into the media arena. Few people could have started out more ordinary than career pornographers Jim and Artie Mitchell. The sons of an Antioch gambler, they were blue-collar boys with more ambition than talent, in-your-face hustlers with more luck than drive. John Hubner's "Bottom Feeders", the story of their rise and eventual fall, reads like a ballet of American sleaze, a carefully orchestrated true story that could only happen in San Francisco.

From the beginning, the two boys were inseparable. Hubner excels at evoking the down-and-dirty blue collar environment of Antioch that spawned the Mitchell brothers. It was an environment they desperately wanted to escape. While Jim managed to make it to San Francisco State, college, Artie ended up inthe Army. Jim was a film student who needed money, and the easiest money to be made was in "nudies", short, plotless exhibitions of sex recorded on 16 mm films and shown in theatres like the Roxie. Men were lining up around the block to see them. A couple of weeks later, Jim was walking up Ocean Beach with a still camera, looking for the right girl. He asked a bikini-clad beauty if she would let him take her picture with her top off.

"'We're looking for models, topless models. We couldn't pay you much, ten dollars maybe, but it wouldn't take very long. We could go over by the cliffs and take your picture right there. You'd be making lots of sailors real happy.'"

Hubner follows the Mitchell brothers' rise from stills to nudies, to porno loops to their first feature, 'Beyond the Green Door' in glorious, seamy detail. Their rise in the ranks of porno was accompanied by a series of fights in the courts for their First Ammendment rights to exhibit their ware, and an increased and increasingly varied consumption of drugs.

It was the drugs that lead to the downfall, as both brothers became incresingly addicted and unstable. Jim escaped the downward spiral of cocaine addiction, but Artie never could. Hubner's vision of these events is largely untainted by bias either for or against the brothers. It is this even-handedness that lends the book its novelistic quality. "Bottom Feeders" is a beautifully written history of an ugly business.