It’s been almost a week since I saw Shortbus, the new film written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who starred in and wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and I’m still not sure what I think about it. So following are some random thoughts and, as usual with my reviews, more questions than answers.
I’ve been anticipating this movie since I read articles about it in Salon.com — it must be three or four years ago. It was called “The Sex Film Project” because it was going to feature actors actually having sex with each other on screen, but it was not going to be pornographic — at least not in the accepted sense. The idea was that it would integrate the sex that is part of both gay and straight people’s everyday lives into the story, but wouldn’t shy away from the hardcore stuff — full frontal nudity, erect penises, actual penetration, oral and anal sex, etc. Mitchell was going to make all this clear to auditioners to make sure they would be comfortable (or as comfortable as possible) both playing characters and having sex on screen.
Mitchell certainly doesn’t waste time letting you know this is going to be a different kind of movie. The first few minutes show James (Paul Dawson) peeing in the bath, masturbating and even attempting to orally pleasure himself (he must do a lot of yoga), while videotaping himself and unknowingly being observed by his obsessive neighbor across the way, Caleb (Peter Stickles). There’s also the ferocious fucking of married couple Rob (Raphael Barker) and Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee), in multiple positions and in several rooms of their apartment, plus a dominatrix session between Severin (Lindsay Beamish) and her yuppie trust fund client Jess (Jesse Hardman). I guess Mitchell wants the people who are freaked out by this, or who wandered into the theater by mistake, to walk out right at the beginning.
The between-scenes animation — of Manhattan and the boroughs around it — is really cool. It’s as if the entire island’s buildings are done in miniature, complete with lights on the bridges, water flowing in the rivers, etc., as the camera swoops and flies from Ground Zero to Brooklyn to the Upper East Side. It has the same spirit, if not the exact same style, as the animation in Finding Neverland (which would also be a good title for this movie).