Tara Emory is a born star in The End of Wonderland, a scintillating artistic portrait

Premiering in Montreal tonight, the documentary explores the life and work of a pioneering trans porn actress and artist.

The End of Wonderland is a loving portrait of a person, a place and a passion. ​​In the early 2000s, Tara Emory was one of the first major adult trans film stars. For her, it was a way to make money and find success. It also became an outlet to create new realities and personas. Years later, Emory continues her tireless creative projects. In a workshop called “Wonderland,” we see remnants of photoshoots, car repair projects and the epic creatures and locales of her yet unfinished epic trans sci-fi porno. As the film begins, Emory might lose the space as the owners have put it on the market. 

Emory’s studio, Wonderland, feels like a look into her mind. It’s overflowing with ideas and heavy with the weight of the past. We soon learn that growing up, her father was also a collector (some might say hoarder) with dozens of cars on their property. Emory’s parents were drowning in things, objects and mementos that reflected who they were, but more importantly, who they could be. A rusted-up vintage car was not just an opportunity to restore and resell. It was also an opportunity to restart, to build something back up from nothing, gifting it with a new life. At some point, though, Emory muses that they might have grown “overwhelmed,” and the objects overtook their space and lives. 

Emory lives on the edges of success. She has a niche audience and a parade of dedicated fans. It’s not enough money for Emory to buy her studio, though, and it’s not enough that she can think of stopping working. Yet, one has the impression that Emory wouldn’t stop even if she could. Emory works day and night, making her films, going to conventions, restoring old cars, and repairing her Wonderland. Fuelled by creative energy and brimming with talent, she always seems on the brink of something groundbreaking.

The End of Wonderland
Tara Emory in The End of Wonderland

The documentary is intercut with the self-financed and self-produced porno that Emory has been working on. She not only writes but also directs, produces and stars; she made the sets and the props. Her work brims not only with originality and campish vitality but reveal a keen and attentive filmmaker. The colours, the cuts and the energy are not only singular and expressive but are more than just competent; they’re technically impressive and even seductive. Emory’s filmmaking vision also reflects a fundamental aspect of her worldview: that sex can be an avenue for artistic exploration and expression. 

The film touches on many aspects of Emory’s life, from her childhood to the new trials of getting older. The film doesn’t shy away from all angles of her life, including a trip to Mexico to get some feminizing cosmetic surgery and mundane presentations of nudity. The film has a very open-minded and mundane perspective, showcasing Emory as a grand artist who uses her body as a living, moving and breathing work of art.

The End of Wonderland is a refreshing view of an artist at work. It showcases the labour involved and how money can only barely sustain life for most working artists. For the most part, Tara Emory’s money goes back into her projects, for better and worse. Yet, she remains a shining beacon, a wildly talented artist, compassionate friend, collaborator, and perceptive thinker. ■

The End of Wonderland screens in Montreal at the Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve E.) on Thursday, Sept. 8, 6 p.m., $11, and continues at the Cinémathèque through Sept. 15.

The End of Wonderland, directed by Laurence Turcotte-Fraser

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