Aug 13, 2007

On DVD: Shortbus

Since I meant to stay up to watch the Perseids, I finally got around to see what was collecting dust in my Netflix for months. I had two choices. Edmond, by David Mamet and Shortbus, by John Cameron Mitchell. We chose the second one, thinking a little explicit sex would be highly diverting. Boy oh boy, were we wrong.
There are two things that are routinely confused with art:
1. Good intentions. (In which the auteur wishes to inform the audience that his soul is pure, wise, tolerant, and ecumenical and he has the benefit of mankind at heart). This is the most pernicious of the two. When confronted with this one, run for your life.
2. Shock value. (In which the auteur has not outgrown his/her childish need to get attention by any means necessary, except he/she now thinks that by doing something deliberately outrageous he/she are in fact doing something original and brave).
Both together are a recipe not for art, but for kitsch, which is the opposite of art.
Shortbus is one such example.
It is a capital, unforgivable sin for a movie to promise to be erotic and then not deliver. Shortbus is awash in explicit sex, but it is absolutely, resolutely not sexy. Why? Either because the sex is joyless and selfish (as in the gay couple who struggles with monogamy and one of them is really depressed because he was abused, or as in the sex therapist, that, surprise, surprise, can't have an orgasm and spends an entire movie humorlessly trying to force one out); or sex is too joyful, as in an orgy room full of loving-caring people who look like a million bucks and who seem to be having a moderately nice time in fantasyland, and I mean the Disney one.
The sex in Shortbus wants to be both well intentioned and shocking and thus it is reduced to absolute corn. It's like watching a visual version of sex therapy (like that Canadian woman, Sue Something, and what could be less sexy?). Then Mitchell thinks he is brave for using very explicit real sex scenes, one homosexual one involving the blowing of the Star Spangled Banner into someone's rear orifice, for instance. This, because of its transparent need to shock, has quite the opposite effect. It is puerile and completely devoid of real shock value. Borat's rendition of the national anthem in that rodeo in Hicksville -- now, that was truly transgressive and much braver.
To cap it all off, there is a garishly hideous animated travelling shot over Manhattan I guess meant to connect the stories of the sex crazed New Yorkers that inhabit this particularly unrealistic universe, that makes this town look like a toy you buy at K-Mart. The movie feels long, the humor forced, the bathos unbearable. Unwitting kitsch may be fun once in a while, but kitsch that thinks it has something important to say is a fake and a waste of time.

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