Diary of An Unrepentant Sex Addict

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Get On the Shortbus

Voyeurism is Participation

That's the tag-line for John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus, which opened in general release this weekend. I've been chomping at the bit to see this, ever since I first heard about it and the fact that it featured real, un-faked sex between the actors. I have a weird thing for "real" film fare that dares to cross that line-- I own a copy of Romance, and have also seen Intimacy (which only had one little bit of crossing-the-line). I do confess that my fascination isn't strong-enough to yet experience Brown Bunny.

So I went in, expecting some nice titillation, and hoping there was some reasonable movie around the juicy bits.

This is, without exaggeration, one of the best-written, most moving films I've seen in years. Years. And I see a lot of movies. At this point, I'm easily in the high hundreds, though I doubt I've reached 1000 yet. I truly love the art of film, but I just was not ready for how good, how touching and gripping the characters and their stories were. In my defense, I had not seen JCM's previous film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. If I had, I'd have had higher expectations going in, and the movie would still have exceeded them.

(As it happens, another theater was doing a midnight screening of Hedwig tonight, as well. So I made the evening into an ersatz JCM double feature.)

It's hard to describe the film without giving away too much about the characters. You need to discover them bit by bit, like everyone else in the theater. The lead character is a couples' counselor named Sofia, played by Sook-Yin Lee, one of only a few of the actors to have an "established" career. I imagine getting actors willing to have sex on-camera wasn't easy, so it's no surprise really that so many of them are relative newcomers. But everyone in this film is good; there isn't a bad turn by anyone. Even the local color-- NYC performance artists appearing as themselves-- avoid the bland and/or wooden presence that usually comes from pulling such a celebrity out of their usual element and plopping them in front of a camera. The movie, in a broad and general sense, is about the intersecting lives of several New Yorkers who are all damaged in some way related to or centered around sexuality. Every one of them makes you ache, because each problem, different as they all are, resonates. And they all end up at the same underground performance art/music/play-space called "Shortbus". I can't explain much more without giving things away. Except that I came close to tearing up at several points, and I'll be back to see it again. And I'll buy the DVD when it comes out. (I'll also be buying the Hedwig DVD, but I don't have to wait for that one.)

It feels sort of like this movie has started a gradual movement of change in me, I don't know how to explain it. Seeing things in these characters that I recognized in myself, gave me a feeling like maybe things can be different, can get better. And, on an unrelated note, this movie has made me feel a genuine pull towards NYC, something that no other film has (and like I said, I've seen hundreds of films, of which several score were NYC-centered). I wouldn't be surprised if there was really a scene similar to what the movie portrays out there. If I thought I had a chance of meeting the right people, and finding that kind of creative, expressive space, I'd be looking at job listings tomorrow.

See this movie. You'll be so glad you did.


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