By Jessica Skelton
Where do we draw the line between sex as an art form and sex as pornography?
That is the central question brought up by the controversial release of writer/director John Cameron Mitchell’s new film "Shortbus." Some of the sex scenes in "Shortbus" are so graphic, many feel the film could be considered porn.
Mitchell, who wrote, directed, and starred in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," did not cast any well-established movie stars or overly-experienced actors in the film. Instead he placed ads and hosted a recruitment website in order to cast his sexually-charged look into post 9-11 New York City. Mitchell felt that the point of the film would have been clouded had a cast of A-list stars been steaming up the screen.
"Shortbus" is a fictional underground New York City salon, based on actual places where people meet to explore their unconventional sexuality. The salon brings together a slew of characters, each questioning their sexual, emotional, and personal needs against a backdrop of music, art, sex, and politics. The Shortbus parties take place in the loft of the wise Justin Bond (who played himself), a cross-dressing homosexual with a unique perspective on love and sex. Bond is actually one of New York City’s most influential drag performers, giving his character in the film a certain level of credibility. His performance in the film is vivacious and comic, yet never too over-the-top.
In this honest portrayal of life, love, and sex, a homosexual couple James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy) try to decide whether or not to engage in an open relationship after five years of fidelity.
Shortbus is a place where the characters break down and redefine sexual norms and rhetoric with one another through sharing stories, experiences, and theories. At Shortbus we also meet several characters that all share problems of intimacy with their partners.
All of the sexual encounters in the film are 100 percent real: the source of the film’s controversy. The film pushes the boundaries of what we have come to expect in cinema and an audience’s comfort zone. And this is done in a beautifully artistic and poignant way. There is no simulation in "Shortbus," so it helps to go into the film with an extremely open mind as well as a willingness to challenge your own views on sex and intimacy.
The lack of movie stars in "Shortbus" lends the film a realistic and gritty feel, making it easier to believe in the characters and identify with their flaws, despite the brazen sexual content.
Even in their most intimate and embarrassing experiences in the movie, you cannot help but feel for these emotionally intense and complicated characters. Whether it be a homosexual threesome punctuated by a group performance of the national anthem or a man being spanked by a dominatrix, the characters are full of intricate and confusing emotions unseen in porno movies.
Although sex is an important aspect of the film, "Shortbus" is about the way people act in love and relationships, and the film does a great job of striking this balance. "Shortbus" confronts sexual taboos head on with an in-your-face attitude. It attempts to use sex as an avenue in which to explore various aspects of characters’ lives.
The goal of "Shortbus" is not to make the audience uncomfortable, but to instead make them more comfortable. Funny, sad, and at times hard to watch, "Shortbus" will make the audience question their own lives as sexual beings.