‘Shortbus’ a satisfying sex film | AspenTimes.com

‘Shortbus’ a satisfying sex film

Stewart Oksenhorn
Raphael Barker and Sook-Yin Lee star in John Cameron Mitchell's "Shortbus," showing at the Wheeler. (ThinkFilm Co.)

Last month, the Wheeler Film Series screened “Heading South,” a flat film populated by sour characters that never began to excite me. Strange that the purported topic of “Heading South” was sex ” more specifically, sex between single, white women and dark, young Haitians. The film’s side roads led into world politics and local violence, diluting the primary theme, but even when the focus was on sex, it was unmemorable.

John Cameron Mitchell, I have no doubt, would have the same opinion. Mitchell has stated his dissatisfaction with the state of cinematic sex; recent films about sex, he said, “were so grim and humorless. Sadly, most of [them] seem to end in rape, dismemberment and despair. They seem to portray as negative a view of sex as Jerry Falwell’s.” Mitchell began taking matters into his own hands with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a 2001 musical about the victim of a botched sex-change operation.

In “Shortbus,” Mitchell provides a dose of Viagra to this era’s limp films. The film explores the sexual challenges faced by two couples: two men who contemplate spicing up the relationship by expanding their twosome; and a sex therapist who can’t have an orgasm, least of all with her touchy-feely husband. Sexual dysfunction isn’t exactly a laughing matter, but Mitchell avoids a grim tone by creating warm, well-rounded characters who are fully open to confronting their problems.

Mitchell’s perspective on his characters is most generous, which stems from the way the film was cast and made. “Shortbus” features no professional actors; the cast was selected from audition tapes, and cast and crew then spent a year improvising the characters and story together.

“Shortbus” is anything but humorless. Even the sex scenes can be laugh-out-loud funny; witness what happens when one member of a homosexual triangle instructs his companions to turn up the volume. It’s the raunchiest version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” since Roseanne Barr’s. The “Shortbus” of the title is a New York salon, a three-ring mix of theater, psychology and fetishes that is as comedic and light-hearted as it is bizarre and revolting.

And be advised ” make that WARNED!! Mitchell was not about to reverse the trends in on-screen sex with story, character and laughs alone. “Shortbus” delivers the sex without filters, squeamishness or coy camera angles. It’s the fullest monty imaginable.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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