Thursday, October 26, 2006

SHORTBUS - the best flick at this year's fest

You've got to get on to get off  SHORTBUS is by far the best film I have seen in the London Film Festival and one of the better movies I have seen all year. For sheer originality of vision, honesty of content - drama, emotional engagement, humour - it's hard to beat. It's one of the few films that I would urge you to hunt down, even if you do not normally like to see graphic sexual content.

The movie is written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell - the guy behind HEDWIG AND THE INGRY INCH. True to the spirit of that movie, SHORTBUS is a frank and warm-hearted look at contemporary life, love and sex in New York. In this review I am going to deal with the controversy first and the real issue of whether this is a good movie after that.

SHORTBUS has attracted a lot of column inches because of the extremelely graphic sex scenes, some of which are apparently unsimulated. Frankly, I find this not an issue at all. I find it more demeaning and degrading to see the usual soft-core Hollywood sex scene where the woman is often more revealingly dressed than the man. These scenes are designed to titilate and the use of a strategically placed bed-sheet is just coy and infantile. The whole thing smacks of hypocrisy. Genuine and honest depictions of sex in Hollywood are few and far between - DON'T LOOK BACK and the more recent A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE are notable exceptions. This leaves sex to the porn industry - which hardly leads to healthy expectations of what real sex is like. I am more than happy for movies like SHORTBUS to fill the gap. Sure, some of the sex is hardly main-stream but I was over-joyed to see a happily married couple (Sook Yin Lee and Raphael Barker) having a lot of real sex. Finally! Of course, some people will object to the graphic sex because it is gay sex or group sex, which frankly speaks more to the fact that homophobia is still prevalent in large sections of society than the merits of this film. I suspect that behind cries of "we shouldn't see this on screen" lurk feelings that "we shouldn't see this in real life either." Well, sadly, there is not much we can do about such prejudice and artists certainly should not make concessions to it.

What irks me most about the controversy about SHORTBUS is that it obscures the fact that SHORTBUS has a truthful emotional core - which is that people want to be respected, loved and included. We see happy relationships and we want something like that too. So, for instance, the happily married couple come to SHORTBUS - a night-club come sex-club presided over by the glorious Justin Bond - because they want to have a better sex life and cement their marriage. Ironically, the wife, Sofia, has never had an orgasm despite the fact that she is a sex therpaist. Another couple comes to SHORTBUS - James and Jamie (Paul Dawson and PJ de Boy). James wants Jamie to experiment with another lover - Ceth (Jay Brennan) - but his motives are far from superficial thrill-seeking. Finally, Sofia is helping a young girl called Severin (Lindsay Beamish) come to terms with her self-hate.

The emotional heart of the movie is counter-balanced by a truly wicked sense of humour, and dear lord, isn't it wonderful to see sex depicted with humour that is not of the sleazy Carry On! (nudge, nudge) kind. In particular, having watched this movie, you may never view the American national anthem in the same light again.

The other great thing about SHORTBUS is its visual style. From the magical production design of the SHORTBUS club, scattered with candles during the black-out to the beautiful animation of New York. Animator, John Bair does the impossible - he makes that hackneyed opening shot where the camera swoops up over the Hudson and pans to the Manhattan skyline look fresh.

So, all in all, I love this movie on evey level - ambition, visuals, music, acting, comedy, emotion - it's all there.

SHORTBUS played Cannes, Toronto and London 2006. It opened in the US, Israel, Germany and the Netherlands earlier this month. SHORTBUS opens in Belgium, France, Australia and Finland in November and in the UK in December. It opens in Russia in January 2007.

1 comment:

  1. i need to see this movie.your reviews are simply incredible.