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New `Shortbus' among films that straddle the line between pornography and art

New `Shortbus' among films that straddle the line between pornography and art

When a longtime married couple bounces all over the bed in every imaginable position in "Shortbus," or when a particularly limber character bends into a yoga pose that proves he, um, never has to leave the house, that's all real sex, not simulated.
But writer-director John Cameron Mitchell says his intention is to educate, not titillate.
Unlike in porn, the sex in "Shortbus" and other recent films featuring actors in the act ("9 Songs," "The Brown Bunny") is injected as a means of character exploration. We learn that despite her creativity in the bedroom, the wife in the married couple (Sook-Yin Lee) is incapable of having an orgasm; even more ironically, she works as a sex therapist.
"We have to keep reminding people it's not pornographic _ it's not a film that's meant to arouse," Mitchell told The Associated Press. "We try to de-eroticize the sex to see what kind of emotions and ideas are left over when the haze of eroticism is waved away."
But the inventive filmmaker and performer behind the 2001 critical hit "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" knows some people will merely write off his latest movie as porn. That's why he's purposely placed much of the graphic content at the beginning, to get it out of the way and make room for his intertwined stories about New Yorkers who visit an underground salon to explore their sexual curiosities and relationship hang-ups.
"When they have seen it, my guess is that by the end of the film the last thing they'll be thinking about is sex," Mitchell said. "We always tell people, `This film isn't a one-night stand, it's a relationship,' and by the end if you're thinking only about the sex, then you have a problem."
All of the recent movies that feature real sex have arrived in art-house theaters, unrated, from independent distributors _ Wellspring released 2003's "Brown Bunny," in which director-star Vincent Gallo was on the receiving end in a now-infamous oral sex scene with Chloe Sevigny; "9 Songs," in which a couple alternates between rock concerts and romping in bed, was released by Tartan Films.
Still others that suggest actual sexual activity _ such as Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers," from Fox Searchlight and "Young Adam" from Sony Pictures Classics _ have gone out with the dreaded NC-17 rating, severely limiting where they can be shown.
Mark Urman, head of U.S. theatrical distribution for ThinkFilm, said he wanted to pick up "Shortbus" after seeing it at the Cannes Film Festival and finding that "it didn't function as an erotic experience, it functioned as entertainment."
"The film did take me back generationally as someone who emerged from the Woodstock generation, as someone whose movie appreciation was formed in the late `60s and early `70s," Urman said. "`Last Tango in Paris' and the theatrical experience of seeing `Hair' on Broadway very much shaped my sense of what's permissible and what's not permissible. This really made me feel nostalgic.
"What I found interesting in watching the film, one did not feel provoked. One felt enchanted. There's something Edenic about the sex in the film," he said, adding, "I'm not naive _ I understand that it is hardcore sex and that there might be people who are offended and won't want to see it."
Although "Shortbus" is scheduled to open gradually across the top 40 markets in the nation, that doesn't mean you should expect to see the major studios release movies like this, Urman said, because of a fear of drawing large, organized protests against the corporations that own them.
"An increasing acceptance is still not the same as multiplex, at a theater near you, big studio," he said. "Big studios have theme parks."
Mitchell agreed that his movie and others that include graphic sex, both real and simulated, harken to a time when cinematic boundaries were being pushed.
"I saw people starting to use it again in the late `90s. It started happening after AIDS came off the front page," he said. "It kind of came back ... but with a very different tenor _ it was very negative because of AIDS, because of a certain conservative resurgence, there was a lot of guilt."
It was back in 1970 that Terry Southern, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of "Easy Rider" and "Dr. Strangelove," wrote a satirical novel about this very concept: "Blue Movie," in which a Stanley Kubrick-type directs a major actress having actual intercourse in a mainstream film. While that isn't happening just yet _ most of the actors in these movies are unknowns who help craft the dialogue through improv _ we're getting closer.
"Now more than ever, the time is right for this kind of film. It does have a chance at the box office, to put it crudely," said Southern's son, Nile, an author himself and co-trustee of the Terry Southern Literary Trust.
"Why that is, I think, is a cultural phenomenon, an era similar to the Age of Aquarius in the `60s and films of the `70s like 'Carnal Knowledge,' a similar wanting to connect to the roots of what life is all about and make a statement, as well."
"I think what my father was proposing," Southern added, "was an actress feeling so comfortable and right with the director, knowing she was doing it for art, that it was going to be beautiful and important and meaningful. Of course it becomes a farce _ the process of making a film is so mechanical and chaotic, it has nothing to do with art at the moment."
Which brings us to Joanna Angel _ a journalist and Web designer who's also directed adult films including "Joanna's Angels" and "Joanna's Angels 2: Alt. Throttle" and starred in many more, including "Lewd Contact 27" and "House of Ass." She sees no threat of porn bleeding into mainstream film, or vice versa.
"They're still Hollywood movies," Angel said. "The difference between mainstream movies and porn, no matter how high-end the porn industry gets _ people are making movies in HD, with bigger budgets and plots _ porn is still being made with the intent that some guy will buy it and (masturbate) to it. If you can't succeed in that you've failed.
"I want to make something that's hot before I want to make something that's good," she added. "If people are saying these movies are porn they should sit down and watch a porn and find out."


Updated : 2021-04-11 09:27 GMT+08:00