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From suburban housewife to porn star at 52: the emancipation of Morgana

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Suffering from depression at the end of an unhappy marriage, Morgana Muses found a new lease on life by making body-positive, anti-ageist BDSM films

A turquoise-haired woman takes the stage at Berlins Porn Film Festival in stiletto boots and an evening dress split high up the thigh. The snigger from a couple in the audience is barely audible, but then, the woman is attuned to it. She stiffens for a second, and takes the microphone. You can laugh if you like, she says, but darling, I was a young, gorgeous creature once and youre going to be my age one day.

Applause.

At 52, Morgana Muses is a regular at adult festivals, but with her body-positive, anti-ageist BDSM films, shes not your regular adult star. In Having My Cake, she devours sweet treats off the body of cross-dressing performance artist Bishop Black. In Its My Birthday And Ill Fly If I Want To, shes trussed up into a scarlet web by Sydney rope artist Garth Knight. At the more extreme end, theres Breathtaking, in which she is choked by a female partner and submerged under bathwater.

While sadomasochism can seem like an aggressive concept, Muses insists the BDSM community revolves around care, trust and inclusivity, which were all elements that had been missing from her previous life. Each session of play is a micro-moment of deep connection, Muses says. I just fall into this magical space and disappear. Someone asked me recently, have I found my boundaries? I said no, Im still searching.

Her films often have an off-kilter humour, so its not surprising to hear that Muses is the instigator of red carpet hijinks. At New Yorks CineKink, she persuaded pornographic actress Stoya and other stars to assume positions in a cheerleader stack or a porn pyramid, as she puts it for the assembled photographers.

Typical Australian twat, she snorts self-deprecatingly now.

Morgana
Before she was Morgana Muses, the porn performer was a conventional housewife. Photograph: Morgana documentary team

If the interest in Muses starts with a snigger, perhaps its because seeing a middle-aged woman naked on screen is such an alien experience. The mainstream industry caricatures women of a certain age, Muses says, complaining of the video tags such as Milf, Gilf and Granny on sites such as PornHub. And those Milfs are usually in their late 20s. People see my work as pioneering because they dont want their own sexuality to have an expiration date.

Despite her confidence on film, Muses confesses to naivety and nerves. When we meet in a Melbourne food court, she is flanked protectively by the two women making a documentary, Morgana, about her life. One of them is Josie Hess, her partner in production company Permission4pleasure. Isabel Peppard, who recently made the acclaimed animation Butterflies, had been recruited to direct Its My Birthday, but quickly saw the value in the real-life story of a stifled housewife turned pornographer. I left our first meeting with a tingling feeling of destiny, Peppard says.

Muses had been trapped in an unhappy marriage, suffering depression and psychotic breaks after both her pregnancies, and dealing with being a mother while having a mental illness that no one will acknowledge. Upon getting divorced, she realised society expected her to discreetly fade to black.

During the filming of Morgana, the trio travelled to Muses former hometown of Albury, where, as Hess observes, the clouds had descended and there were crows on all the wires. Muses took them to a bleak stretch of highway in which she would drive at crazy speeds in the middle of the night, listening to Tom Joness Sometimes We Cry. To the two younger women, well-versed in horror movies, suburban living was existentially chilling.

Theres a creepy gothic thing going on where youre raised for your role of Stepford Wives mother in a patriarchal society, almost on an assembly line, Peppard says. Being a model-maker, Peppard set to work representing this in the documentary by creating the faade of a dolls house in which to imprison her star, as well as miniature sets of suburbs, to be torched. Theres a big character trajectory: ego death and loss of identity; being cast out of your community and almost stateless; then rising, phoenix-like. Theres almost a mythology to it.

Muses life pivoted when she decided she would hire a male escort for a last hurrah before ending it all. Lengthy research unearthed John, a 39-year-old university graduate, articulate, with refined good looks. We talked for months, then I booked him for my 47th birthday. Im not a picking-up-in-a-bar type person, she says. Its not in my nature. I need to get to know people before I can allow myself to let go.

She booked a suite at Sydneys Shangri La, and planned an evening of fine dining followed by a performance of Richard III, starring Kevin Spacey. It was beautiful. And the sex was great, too dont get me wrong.

A friendship with John developed, and through their conversations, Muses started to consider her unrealised desires. She booked him for company at events such as the Xplore Festival (now called The Sydney Festival of Really Good Sex), and sampled the workshops on offer. Having found her people, she became further absorbed into the kink community, flying to Berlin to attend gatherings.

The next step, she decided, was to make a film. But it was just for myself, a bit like getting your own personal sexy photos taken. After reading about a competition hosted by German feminist filmmaker Petra Joy, on the topic of female fantasy, Muses recruited John and his partner to help as a co-star and camera operator respectively. I fantasised about the things I wanted to do on my first date with him, she says, things that Id always been curious about.

Morgana
Morgana Muses: In the middle of the night Ill have these twitches of shame and self-doubt … The important thing is it no longer imprisons me. Photograph: Supplied: Morgana documentary team

The result was Duty Bound, a short film about a 47-year-old woman regaining her self-worth through sex. I thought, no ones going to see it, Muses laughs, but then the film won the Petra Joy award for first-time filmmakers, and Joy encouraged Muses to keep going. A few collaborations with respected adult director Anna Brownfield followed, with barely time to consider the consequences. Yet the more Muses became immersed in kink, the more supported she felt.

Muses teenage children know about their mothers new career, but the family and older friends of Muses will not make an appearance in the documentary. Peppard says: For once, we wanted to grant the woman her perspective. But Muses admits she still struggles with shame: There are times when I think: fuck society, Im going to do my thing. Then in the middle of the night Ill have these twitches of shame and self-doubt. I think that keeps me grounded. The important thing is it no longer imprisons me.

Now that shes promoting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the post-production of Morgana (with producer Karina Astrup on board), Muses is facing her fears, wondering how people will react to what Peppard jokingly calls the Shirley Valentine for the new millennium. Peppard and Hess reassure her that people will engage with the theme of rebirth. A lot of women will see themselves in you, Peppard tells her. And men, too, who fear that their time has come and gone.

The launch party for the Kickstarter campaign was certainly celebratory, with wrestlers dressed as mother-daughter tag teams: Little Edie and Big Edie from Grey Gardens taking on Carrie White and her religious fanatic mother Margaret from Brian de Palmas Carrie. Faces from the adult and burlesque communities turned up in support or took their turns on stage.

Despite the judgment her lifestyle will receive, Muses hopes the documentary may be a lifeline to men and women who feel starved of intimacy. I see myself as an ordinary woman who has had extraordinary experiences.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/27/from-suburban-housewife-to-porn-star-at-52-the-emancipation-of-morgana

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