Shortbus: The Holy Grail Is Filled With Lube


Shortbus1John Cameron Mitchell has done it.

He’s cracked the code. He’s found the Grail. Best known until now as the director/co-writer/star of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” John Cameron Mitchell has done the thing that it seemed was going to be done in the ’70s but never quite happened; the thing that those of us who care about sex and movies have been hoping for decades would happen but never really expected to see.

Shortbus2He’s made a movie — a regular, non-porno, arthouse-circuit, movie-type movie — with real sex. Explicit, non-faked, “actors actually doing it” sex. Lots of it, not just a scene or two. And he’s made it good. The smart, funny, engaging, “stay up ’til two in the morning talking about it” kind of good. Serious, top-notch, deserving of many awards good.

And now nobody else can ever again say that it can’t be done.

Shortbus3Thus begins my review of “Shortbus” — a movie I’m tremendously excited about — which just got posted to the Adult Friend Finder magazine. Lately I’ve been putting my Adult Friend Finder reviews in their entirety here on my blog — but my contract with AFF says I have to wait 60 days to do that, and since the movie opens this weekend, I thought y’all would want to read it now. I’m not ecstatic with the editing on it, and I’ll almost certainly post the original version in its entirety here at some point… but in the meantime I’ll tell you that you absolutely cannot miss this movie. If you care about sex and movies, you have to make seeing it a high priority. And I’ll leave you with how I closed my review:

Shortbus_4This is much better than a perfect movie. This is a great movie. This is a true movie. This is a unique movie. And this is an important movie. This is a movie about sex that’s explicit, not just in the standard sense of the word, but in every sense. It tells the truth about sex, as clearly and precisely and honestly as it can.

And that, all by itself, makes it invaluable.

Comments

  1. Dean says

    Isn’t this the same thing that people were saying about Nine songs? And that thing was a stinker (though I don’t recall having seen your comments on that movie). Tell me why this latest movie that really is frank about sex succeeded where Nine Songs failed.

  2. jrb says

    I haven’t seen it yet, and part of that is because of the Ruthe Stein review in the Chronicle, the gist of which is “Oh, don’t get me wrong, I ordinarily like porn, but this is just bad, boring porn.” At least Mick La Salle admits that he thinks porn is bad and hurtful, and you can skip those reviews if you like.

  3. says

    Well, let’s see. First, Ruthe Stein is an idiot. “Shortbus” is not bad, boring porn. It’s not porn at all. I mean, yes, it’s bad porn, in that if you went to see it expecting a hot turn-on you’d probably be disappointed. But her complaint that the sex is un-erotic is completely missing the point. The sex is not meant to be erotic. In fact, director Mitchell specifically didn’t want the sex to be erotic. The sex is meant to be expressive of characters and relationships. And I think it does that extremely well.
    I think some critics have simply not able to look past the fact that there’s explicit sex in it, and to look past their expectations of what a movie with explicit sex is supposed to be like. And I think Ruthe Stein’s review is a prime example of that.
    Re Dean’s question: How is “Shortbus” different from “Nine Songs”? Well, for one thing, it’s not pretentious and tedious. It’s engaging, thoughtful, emotional, often funny, and very watchable. And it’s very smart and perceptive about sex: the place sex has in people’s lives, how it mirrors the other ways we connect with people (or don’t), how problematic it can be, how necessary it is. (If you want more details on what exactly I liked about it, read my review — the link is above in the original post.)
    And no, I don’t think what I said about “Shortbus” is what people were saying about “Nine Songs.” My memory is that “Nine Songs” was almost universally reviled. (I actually didn’t hate it myself, but I realize that this makes me a freak of nature. Anyway, mostly I liked about it was what what it was trying to do and occasionally achieved, rather than what it actually succeeded in.)
    Of course, ultimately, I can’t promise you that you’ll like “Shortbus.” It has gotten mixed reviews (although one of those reviews was a standing ovation at Cannes), and it is flawed. All I can tell you is that I liked it. Loved it. Hugely.

  4. says

    “And no, I don’t think what I said about “Shortbus” is what people were saying about “Nine Songs.” My memory is that “Nine Songs” was almost universally reviled.”
    I certainly didn’t revile 9 Songs, in fact, I rather liked it. Everything except the concert footage, that is, which were long tedious shots of music that I don’t particularly like. The sex parts were nicely done, though, and something that porn directors could take a cue from. I normally only watch girl/girl porn, but even I thought the boy/girl scenes in 9 Songs were hot, and from me, that’s saying something. (Of course, the filmmaker claimed that that actually wasn’t his goal with 9 Songs, and in that, I think he was being coy and pretentious.)
    Now whether 9 Songs succeeded in putting sex in the context of a narrative film – obviously not, because between the concert footage and the sex scenes there was precious little time left for any kind of narrative development. That’s going to always be a problem with any kind of movie that includes both explicit sex and narrative – one or the other is going to have to be cut short.
    As for the critics – don’t even get me started about how most highbrow liberal movie critics seem to have their heads thoroughly jammed up their ass when it comes to the issue of pornography and explicit sex in film.

  5. says

    “Now whether 9 Songs succeeded in putting sex in the context of a narrative film – obviously not, because between the concert footage and the sex scenes there was precious little time left for any kind of narrative development.”
    Actually, the thing I did like about “9 Songs” was that the narrative was *in* the sex. The story of the relationship is told in the sex scenes (and the concert footage), with the tone and feel of the sex and the way the couple relates to each other sexually being the means by which their characters and the story of their relationship are unfolded. I don’t think that the sex got in the way f the narrative — I think the sex *was* the narrative. (And I think that’s true of “Shortbus” as well — with “Shortbus” being more successful at it.)

  6. says

    “Actually, the thing I did like about “9 Songs” was that the narrative was *in* the sex. The story of the relationship is told in the sex scenes (and the concert footage)”
    Actually, I can kind of see that with the sex scenes – but the concert footage? That just seemed to take the viewer away from the characters for 3-5 minutes at a time.

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