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Shortbus (A Movie Review)


Starring Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, PJ DeBoy, Lindsay Beamish, Peter Stickles, Justin Bond, Raphael Barker, Adam Hardman, Peter Stickles, Shanti Carson, Jan Hilmer and Murray Hill.

Screenplay by John Cameron Mitchell.

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell.

Distributed by ThinkFilm. 101 minutes. Not Rated.

Pornography is certainly a legitimate art form. However, for years, serious filmmakers have been trying – mostly unsuccessfully – to straddle the lines between art house cinema and extremely explicit sex. Recently there was Brit director Michael (24-Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) Winterbottom's musical love/sex story Nine Songs – which basically chronicled the relationship of a couple who went to concerts and had sex. Oh sure, there were some arty symbols and some hip bands, but essentially you were watching long scenes of people having sex. Which, as anyone who has ever watched pornography can attest, is very interesting for a limited time and then quickly becomes tedious after the itch has been scratched.

Now comes Shortbus from Hedwig and the Angry Inch auteur John Cameron Mitchell.

Shortbus is not really pornographic although it most certainly is very graphic. Unlike Nine Songs, the movie does not dwell on the individual sex acts. They are usually rather short, in fact, however they include some rather explicit images including penetration, hetero and gay intercourse, group sex, self-fellatio, sex toys, voyeurism, B&D, urination, orgasms – all of which made this movie a nearly impossible sale in legitimate theaters.

The irony is, though, that the shocking visuals of Shortbus are generally at the service of some surprisingly square, traditional storylines -- though granted tarted up with arty excess and flamboyant sleaziness. Still, Shortbus is really about a group of people whose desperately miserable (or at least dysfunctional) lives are only made bearable by love... though in this film love and sex can be rather interchangeable.

Most of the action revolves around a group of New York arty types who try to find love, compassion and understanding in the titular sex club – a Plato's Retreat for the new millennium where the fabulous meet with the frustrated for an anything goes (but only if you want it to...) extended orgy.

However, the film really is most interested in a couple of love stories and the tale of a couple of societal outsiders.

Some of the symbolism is a little easy and obvious. Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) is a sex therapist who has never been with another man than her husband and is completely unable to have an orgasm.

Severin (Lindsay Beamish) is a professional dominatrix who would really like to be able to relate to people on a one-on-one basis – which, given her chosen profession, must be a bit of a problem.

James (Paul Dawson) is a former gay prostitute who is inexplicably miserable in a happy, long-term relationship with a has-been sitcom star (PJ DeBoy).

They are all welcomed by the master (mistress?) of ceremonies, drag queen Justin Bond as himself, and are surrounded by a cross-section of the beautiful and not-so-beautiful people of the village (including an elderly man who claims to be a former mayor of New York.).

What follows is lots of navel-gazing, tons of arty and symbolic directing touches and sudden, in-your-face sexuality. It's an interesting ride, but most of it is not as shocking or intriguing as it wants to be. (3/07)

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: March 10, 2007.

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