Monday, March 31, 2008

Shortbus

Ahead lays a full-out body-slam on a movie that I wish I could expunge from my mind. Remember:

The content after the section break below will be graphic and whiney. Surf away if you want to save the next few precious minutes of your life for something better.

But first, a brief history of (some of) my encounters with porn.

There was one porno theater in the cities I attended college. One night during my freshman year, the whole male portion of the floor decided to take a field trip to the place because most of us had never seen a porno. This was before the big videotape boom, btw.

We went to see a double-feature of Debbie Does Dallas and Behind the Green Door. Needless to say, it was an uncomfortable event, because there we were, two rows of young, naïve college guys stunned into silence by the graphic sex on the screen, most concentrating on trying not to mess themselves as does the character of Joe Gideon (who was really Bob Fosse) in All That Jazz does when working in a strip joint as a blooming adolescent. I'm sure the cumulative blood pressure levels in the room could've propelled Apollo 13 to the moon's surface and back.

While it was enormously arousing to me, I was really uncomfortable at the same time. Something inside kept insisting that watching the act of others having sex was ... not a good thing to be doing.

Years later I worked at one of the first video rental stores. (Half their stock was Betamax to give you an idea of how long ago this was. And yes, betamax looked way better than VHS; it's taken till now with Bluray for Sony to win a format war.)

The owners said that if we had no moral or religious objections, to please watch a few of the pornos so we could recommend them to customers. One of their marketing thingys was the staff was well-versed in movies and could help you choose one. Again I discovered that while porno was arousing, I just couldn't get past feeling like I was doing something icky. I only viewed a few, and from there relied on the opinions of the others who kept up the practice.

(I can bet some guys reading this are thinking: dude, you had permission - nay, a directive - to watch porn for free and you didn't do it? Well, dudes, yes, I didn't. I guess there's just something wrong with me. For the record, I like perusing the occasional tasteful/artistic/funny nude on the web, but I still get bugged by raw boinky boiky.)

TLD: Quick side story. One of my co-workers at the vid store was this hot, young blonde who had a passing resemblance to Jessica Lange and who wore heart-shaped "Lolita" sunglasses.

It was just her and me at the store one day when a guy came in and b-lined for the porno section. After a few moments he called out, "Say, you got anything you can recommend?" I knew implicitly he was talking to me - guys (at least back then) did not consult women to assist them on their porn consumption.

Before I could get up, "Lolita" went back and started helping him out. She was oblivious to his discomfort, but I could practically see the "OMG!" waves shooting out of the doorway like in a cartoon. A sample of her patter was, "Well, my boyfriend and I liked this one. This one's OK. This one's gross; this guy [I don't recall what it was that she said] and I just don't like that kind of stuff. Oh, the girls in this one are pretty."

She didn't get very far. He stormed out of the porno section, practically slammed the tape on the counter, and shot me a look that screamed, "Why the hell weren't YOU the one helping me." His face was so red, I was sorta worried a vein would blow and spray me in the process.

"Lolita" emerged with kind of a puzzled look on her face and straightened shelves until he left. When he was gone, she said he'd rudely snatched the tape right out her hand! What was his problem?! she wondered.

I explained that he was probably uncomfortable with a girl, a cute one at that, helping him select jerkoff material. She asked (and I paraphrase): "Why? Isn't he fantasizing about fucking a girl when he does that anyway? I'm a girl. What's the problem?"

I really couldn't argue with that.


Suffice to say, I'm not what you'd call a fan of porn movies. Mind you, I don't really care/it's none of my business what other folks think and feel about porn. Grownups can do what they want, imo.




(Here we go.)

So, when I'd heard that the director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (which I have not seen - I've seen enough movies in the genre that focuses on modern western-society gay lifestyle, and I'm not a fan of them either), John Cameron Mitchell, made a film called Shortbus that was supposedly about various couples and had some racy sex scenes, I was intrigued. How bad could it be?

I'd seen the French film Romance that had some graphic sex in it, but anything truly graphic was so brief that it really seemed like a hard "R". And it was boring. The story/theme was kinda silly, too. And I'd seen Angels and Insects, which contains a graphic (and funny) scene where we, the audience, and the hero discover that his wife is also having sex with her brother. He leaps off her, still at attention. Then there's the old classics Last Tango in Paris (couldn't eat butter for a week afterwards) and Little Big Man that had some blatant scenes. Only "Romance" had enough content that made it come close to being just a porno, but all of the blue content really did seem to have a connection to the story.

Then there's Shortbus.

Shortbus is just a porno.

Mitchell claims that it's not, that he and the cast who improvised most of the story together were really trying to make a film - an art film - that just happened to contain actual sex.

(Oh, and according to the "making of" (yes, I watched that, too; I wanted to see if the sick fuck ever blinked, if you get my drift) it just happened to contain actual orgasms of/by all cast members who are filmed in the act. Btw, Mitchell himself "performed" in the orgy scenes, something I'm sure he told the cast he did out of solidarity. I bet they believed him, too.)

What Mitchell has made is the exact kind of movie I never want to see again. It's on the short list with The Wife, the Cook, the Thief, and Her Lover and a couple others that I must've thankfully managed to repress as I can't recall their titles.

Now I know in this supposedly enlightened day and age we are supposed to be OK with openly gay characters expressing themselves sexually in film. Well, folks who really believe that apparently have no clue that people like what they like and don't what they don't. I will never be able to sit through a gay kiss or sex scene and think, "Isn't that nice/sweet?" No, I usually think "ew", and get past it. For those of you who think this is homophobia, so be it. I personally think homophobia is a hostile or fearful reaction to the same, and not (discreet) repulsion. For the record, I don't like watching extreme torture porn (a recent genre introduced by Saw and the like), because it repulses me, too. I know others get a bang out of it; I do not. Does that make me torture-porn-phobic? (My answer: hell no.)

Well, the main character arc of Shortbus is a gay couple who become a threesome and then a foursome. The other two "heterosexual" story arcs are mostly inconsequential. The first one, a sex therapist who can't orgasm, merely the bookends the movie, and the second, a dominatrix hooker who likes taking Polaroids of people at the exact moment it would piss them off the most, is more of an afterthought than a subplot. In short, this is the gayest film I've ever seen, with the gay esthetic essentially being the main element and theme of the movie.

Btw, in answer to my own question above, "How bad could it be?", I submit:
- One character manages to fellate himself (that supposed mythical fantasy of men everywhere) and we get to watch him ejaculate into his own mouth. And then cry about it. Couldn't decide which was worse.
- Not one, but two long scenes of three-way gay male sex, including one burying his face in the ass of another and singing a song.
- An orgy that is pretty much lifted from Behind the Green Door, but rendered entirely un-erotic.

And, after all, that's the biggest sin of this whole porno. Since it is a porno, it has no business being so aggressively un-arousing. So I can't even recommend this to people who LIKE porn.

That inspires me to employ a current internet meme about such things:


Now pardon me while I go shower. Again.

14 comments:

Whisky Prajer said...

Just over a year ago a (gay) friend pressed a pirated copy upon me and encouraged me to watch it. I'd already heard about the opening scene, so I told him this was NOT my, erm, cup of tea. He was still keen on it and explained why, so I took it home. I'd forgotten I still have it sitting among my DVDs. You've basically hashed through all my misgivings about it. Guess I'd better do some weeding out in my collection.

Anonymous said...

I, too, subjected myself to Shortbus. Agree with pretty much everything you wrote here: really, really awful film. None of the stories were engaging - and I would actually worry about anyone who did find those stories interesting.

Fortunately, I didn't waste a full 90 minutes on it. After the first 15 mins or so I began using the 30-second-skip-forward feature on my player, and probably got through the film in less than an hour.

Joel

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I think I can answer Lolita's question: when a guy decides to go for jerkoff material, he doesn't want to deal with any woman who thinks, feels, or talks.

Joel

yahmdallah said...

Joel - excellent point.

Both you guys - it's nice to hear I'm not so far out there. I half expected "you're just too puritanical" or something.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Okay--here, just to hold down the "puritanical" side of things, here's a question. And I preface by saying, you know me well enough by now (I hope) to know that this isn't scolding, rebuking, or judging--really, just curious about your thoughts.

The standard Christian teaching on porn is that voluntary viewing of pornography (and putting aside the question "what is porn?" and stipulating to, say, Debbie Does Dallas) is morally wrong. I take it you disagree, or see the issue as more nuanced than that?

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Dang, that didn't sound right.

On the old About.com Protestantism forum, I used to occasionally have these odd I'm-an-outsider-here moment, when you or Tawonda or FOAF would say something that ran crosswise to my little insular Romish experience. (A friend who became Catholic after a lifetime of Baptist/non-denom had the same dizzy "it's a strange feeling when your car gets stolen" sensation the first time she attended a parish jamaica and the beer truck rolled up.)

Anyway, I just had a beer truck moment reading about you watching porn, or almost-porn, or whatever, knowing that you take your faith seriously.

yahmdallah said...

Nope, you're right. Porn is wrong.

The porn I watched back in those days - college and the vid store - were before I really grasped some of the finer points on being a Christian.

Such as: porn is wrong.

I realize now I was equivocating in this post. But, that equivocating was before I really "locked in" as a Christian - which was about 3-4 years after college.

I won't deny myself challenging films that have troubling sexual content, like "Blue Velvet" for instance.

But, yeah, I don't want to watch porn. And when I fired up "Shortbus", I watched porn. And I didn't like it.

Perhaps that's all I should've tried to say. This is porn. Don't like it. Think it's bad.

Oh well. As Luther said, sometimes I sin boldly.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

If only Herr Luther had written "Sin boldy, and then write amusing reviews."

Yahmdallah said...

That said, I have to confess to occasionally happing across something on the web that just gets the better of my curiosity. Frinstance, a while ago I followed a link from digg.com to watch a funny video (of a totally non-porn nature). I discovered that the site had a bunch of vids, among them was "porn bloopers". I thought "porn has bloopers?" and proceeded to watch. Laughed my ass off. Sent the link out to a blog that sometimes shared such things because I thought it was funny enough. Had to apologize to God in my prayers that night, though. Hypocritical? Hell yeah. Human? Hell yeah. I have no excuses. Sometimes we just fuck up. Temptation's a bitch.


Yet, I do agree with and put trust in the whole of Luther's "sin boldly":

"If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign."
- Letter 99, Paragraph 13. Erika Bullmann Flores, Tr. from: "Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften" Dr. Johann Georg Walch Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15, cols. 2585-2590.
(Source)

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I think many people misunderstand what Luther was trying to say; he was hardly recommending sin, as you show by the context of the quote. I agree with him and you that we ought to be confident of forgiveness.

Yahmdallah said...

Yep. That's why I thought it might be good to show the whole thang.

My late, great pastor had a fantastic sermon on this. Wish I had a copy.

Anonymous said...

http://www.oldlutheran.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=SB

yahmdallah said...

Anon, whomever you are, thanks!

I printed out the license to sin boldly and have posted it on the wall.

I also snorted over the subtitle of the page "The Center for Lutheran Pride! - (but not too proud)

Anonymous said...

That was me. Old Lutheran did, for a while, sell an actual Sin Boldly Lager beer. I bought a six-pack and found it to be mediocre, but I kept one of the bottles because it's so cool.

Joel