Andrew Blake made me take a serious interest in porn exactly 20 years ago, when I saw his film Secrets in 1993 in the company of my girlfriend at the time (who expressed her enthusiasm for it in ways you can well imagine). If not for that movie, in all honesty, I would probably not be writing this today.

There are some among us, however, even amid the porn cognoscenti, who dismiss his work as pseudo-fashion masquerades much too glossy and stylized for their own perverted taste. Everything looks way too slick and much too perfect, they say, and I even had a particularly memorable argument with a stripper I was dating; she loved porn but didn’t much care for his work. “Nobody ever sweats in Andrew Blake’s films!” she complained. Sex, to her, should be messy.

So when I finally met the man himself, I put her statement to the test. I interviewed Andrew in his then-studio in Santa Monica, California for my “Cinema Blue” column (Penthouse Variations, March 2001) and the piece also appeared later in the main magazine (“Confessions of a Porn Director,” Penthouse, May 2001), and in it he was quite righteously unapologetic. “Of course they don’t sweat in my films — sweat will mess up their hair and their make-up will run!” he said. ”This is not about reality. It has to do with fantasy, with angles and positioning and women with their breasts hanging just right. If people want to watch amateur porn and gonzo porn, there’s plenty of that out there.”

“I’ve said this for years,” he added (and I would remember this for years). “When people who are hungry want something to eat, they can go to different places. There are people who will go to a beautiful restaurant and have a $300 meal, and there are going to be the other people who are going to go to a McDonald’s and have a couple of Big Macs. I’m the expensive restaurant.”

That explains his legion of gorgeous models often shot in elegant, natural light and seen basking in breathtaking, exotic locations. “We get along well because we’re both quite alike, “ Inari Vachs once told me, about working with him. “We both like coffee and jazz, we’re more European in that way.” Inari had a sizzling scene in his film Pin-Ups 2, made in 1999 (which I own in a European version, with the better title Fetish Dreams), although most people remember it for the hot girl-girl romp featuring Anita Blond and Dita Von Teese. His films often pushed the envelope, dancing on that exquisite knife edge where erotica and pornography meet.

Or do they? Where, I asked him, is that fine line for him? “I don’t think there is one,” he replied. “I think it’s in the way it’s packaged and the way it is presented, and in the sensibilities you bring to it. You can have the most salacious-looking blowjobs and have it look quite beautiful and make it art, as opposed to making it have less than 100-percent visual style. I try to do pictures that have a lot of style to them. If they’re both going to be called pornography, I would rather my work be called erotic pornography as opposed to sleazy pornography.”

At that time, he had just returned from Paris and I remember sitting in his editing bay as he screened for me raw footage from the film he was then making, later released as Secret Paris. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Was I really there with Andrew Blake, watching uncut scenes which no one else had yet seen? Yes, I watched the lovely Regina Hall in her opening solo scene, masturbating with a slow and rhythmic relish, and then her fellow Czech superstar Zdenka Podkapova trussed-up against a tree and then crawling on all fours with sunlight setting her naked body aglow in its feral felineness. (Really, how could anyone not love that?)

Of course, I found myself questioning my Andrew Blake worship a few years later when he took shock value to some extremes, with films like Valentina (with its bizarre sequences of blow-up dolls dangling from ceilings and the very sultry Valentina Vaughan all gussied up in medical gear, sheathed in bandages and self-pleasuring in a wheelchair – way too weird, even for me). His recent films have shown a return to form, however, particularly Paid Companions starring the lovely Faye Reagan, and while I have not seen or spoken to him in many years, I do have one enduring memory from those good old days.

We ran into one another at The Venetian in Las Vegas,  right after the AVN Awards had concluded in January 2001. “Well, I didn’t win anything,” he shrugged, effecting an empty-handed, mocking gesture. I offered to buy him a drink but he declined, pleading fatigue and saying he needed sleep. I was struck with the lingering feeling that he was only there for the formality of it all. After so many years of always winning the “technical” AVN awards (like “Best Cinematography” in 2003 for his film The Villa, still an all-time favorite of mine), what did he really care if his peers preferred to vote for big Vivid blockbusters?

He always made his films on closed sets with small crews, shooting 16mm with a Bolex and releasing an average of three films a year in an industry where most studios were then churning out 30 titles a month, and so he taught me that small can often be beautiful. And that beauty can indeed persist in the eye of the beholder. “My visual sense is really about showing a woman in the best way possible,” he told me. “Showing her in the most beautiful light and basically making a goddess out of her. And hopefully that translates to the viewer, into a turn-on or an erection or something soaking wet.”

Ask my ex-girlfriend, from Los Angeles circa 1993, about that last part. I’m sure she remembers that sensation, too.