Saturday, March 17, 2007

Shortbus

I've posted this before, but in honor of its recent DVD release, I felt it warranted repeating.

SHORTBUS
Directed by
John Cameron Mitchell
Stars Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Peter Stickles, Jay Brannan, Justin Bond
Not Rated - contains pervasive, explicit sexuality, graphic nudity, language, mature themes and drug use

In John Cameron Mitchell’s sophomore directorial effort after Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the actors do almost every conceivable sex act under sun, and it’s all real. Once referred to as “The Sex Film Project” while in production, Shortbus uses graphic, unsimulated sex to explore the profound effect that sex and sexuality has on a group of disillusioned, post-9/11 New Yorkers – a married sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, a gay couple thinking of opening up their relationship, a dominatrix who can’t connect to other people, and the denizens that surround them in a sex-themed nightclub called Shortbus.

Watching the film, I was reminded of a recent discussion in my Film Theory and Criticism class of what defines pornography, and what separates it from art. The definition we arrived at was that to be called pornography, it must have a “money shot.” Well, Shortbus delivers two – within the first ten minutes. So where do you draw the line between art and pornography?

Shortbus is the perfect embodiment of that question, because it is the most sexually explicit film ever shown outside of a back alley porn house, and as such was released unrated to avoid the inevitable NC-17 rating (although even no NC-17 has even been this extreme). What separates Shortbus from being pornography, or for that matter mere sensationalism, is its heart. Pornography is not meant to have any emotional impact or make any statement, it is only meant to excite. Shortbus, on the other hand, is a deep and probing film, exploring the intricacies of sexuality and relationships with warmth, humor, and heart.

Mitchell fearlessly breaks ground with his new film, but the real sex is more than just a subversive gimmick to lure in curiosity seekers – it adds a gravity and a realism that the film wouldn’t otherwise have had. Knowing that the actors are actually doing what we see on screen in real life is also a tribute to their dedication to this project. The actors worked in close collaboration with Mitchell to develop their characters and their individual stories, making the film an ensemble piece of the truest kind.

But what makes Shortbus so unique and so special, is that no other film in history has ever been this open and honest about sex. It’s frankness, mixed with its keen insight into the carnal desires of human nature makes it the most essential film about sexuality since Last Tango in Paris in 1972.

It explores sexuality in a very open and moving way, with a joy and exuberance that is as exciting as it is liberating. The enthusiasm of Mitchell and the cast simply radiates from the screen.

Without boundaries, without restrictions, and without fear, Mitchell has crafted a singular work of art, an unabashedly erotic amalgam of sexual experiences, straight, gay, and everywhere in between, fearlessly melded together in one fantastically raucous, yet somehow poignant visceral experience.

Mitchell is a born filmmaker, one of America ’s true independents, and Shortbus showcases his bravura narrative and stylistic talents. He boldly goes where no other filmmaker has gone before, and emerges with a glorious, groundbreaking, taboo-shattering film that transcends convention and skillfully avoids exploitation.

In an era where violence in entertainment is becoming more and more accepted, while sex remains mysteriously more taboo, Mitchell intrepidly tears down barriers for something more than shock value. He has created one of the most emotionally naked films in recent memory and a landmark in cinema history.

Shortbus is at once wild and untrammeled, loose and free-wheeling, yet strangely tender and poignant as well. It’s a giant, no-holds-barred love letter to sex, the human condition, and all the complications that go along with it.

In short – Shortbus is a triumph.

GRADE - **** (four out of four stars)

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