Anna and I went to see "Shortbus", John Cameron Mitchell's followup to "Hedwig and the Angry Inch", at the Chicago International Film Festival last night. It's a look at the (sometimes tenuously) connected lives of a handful of confused New Yorkers who mostly interact at a club called Shortbus, a performance space/club/constant sex party hosted by the lovely Justin Bond of New York's Kiki and Herb. If you've heard about it, you've probably mostly heard about the fact that all the sex (and there's a lot of it) is real. It's interesting, because Mitchell effectively blurs the line between (as one of the actresses put it) porn and non-porn but also because it seemed to me that by showing all that sex it just became another part of people's lives. It makes me reconsider what porn might be defined as, whether it is characterized by its explicitness or by the erotic effect on the viewer. Two of the main actresses, Sook-Yin Lee and Lindsay Beamish, were at the screening and answered questions afterwards, and Lee pointed out that although there is a lot of graphic sex she didn't think that most of it was particularly sexy, and when I think back about it I feel like she has a point. Not that there weren't extremely erotically charged moments (and really, if you can watch a sex party and not feel something than you might be a bit jaded), but when I'm remembering what really struck me it wasn't so much the acts as the moments of tenderness between people. Sometimes those occur at the same time, but not always.
The other interesting thing to me was the presence of the penis. The first shot of an actual person contains a penis, which is a pretty good indication of how things are going to go in terms of nudity. It reminded me of how infrequently you see that in film. I read something last year about how, in terms of rating stuff and things like that, showing a woman's breasts is barely considered nudity at all anymore, but show a penis and you know all hell's going to break loose. (I could go on about how this is because the people rating and judging things are mostly men and male nudity opens up the male body to way too much discussion, not to mention the same kind of criticism and value systems that are routinely attributed to women's bodies, but I won't.) In "Shortbus" there were some breasts and some cunts, but most of what we were seeing was full frontal male nudity. Because it is something that I'm not used to (unlike naked women, which sometimes seem to be plastered everywhere in media and advertising) it was a little shocking to me. Behind my theory, it still is so startling to me to see male bodies so exposed to the viewer but it's also kind of exciting, to see men in the way that normally I would only see women. I felt positively voyeuristic at times.
When I looked this movie up on IMDB, one of the comments by a viewer was "Should we also use real bullets onscreen?" All I could think was wow, that person really missed the boat.