Shortbus taught us all how to use sex in a film. That is, as if the sex scenes matter and as if they have something to say. They shouldn’t be window-dressing, they shouldn’t call a halt to the narrative arc and they shouldn’t contradict every other scene. In Shortbus, the characters never stopped being who they were while they were having sex, whether joyfully well-adjusted or broken down in tiny pieces.
Commercial porn often alienates because those actors aren’t characters: They’re types; they’re objects. They inhabit no other narrative arc other than the most predictable one. (Ever wonder why the cum shots in gay porn can feel anti-climactic? Well, in cinematic terms, that’s why.) That’s all ok and can be hot — and few homos are bigger porn junkies than me — but that mode of production bores me after awhile, and that’s why I prefer amateur stuff. No directors, no cheesy set-ups, just sex. Imagine: Sometimes real desire pokes through and then, I come.
The sex scenes in Wrecked, a gay indie directed by Harry & David Schumansky, resemble amateur porn: Ordinary-looking guys, real locations, naturalistic situations and natural hard-ons produced by those situations. These scenes also resemble the sex scenes in glossy Hollywood flicks in which the story abruptly stops, falls on the bed and rolls around for awhile while the camera tastefully surveys the perfect bodies of the actors, naughty bits carefully tucked away deep in shadow, of course. In Wrecked, the camera shows the full monty but no money shots. Maybe that’s why I felt ripped off.
I don’t think that’s the effect the directors intended, however. The sex scenes do have something to say. It’s just that they say the same thing over and over again: Sex without intimacy is bad; using sex as a power over someone else is bad; combining drugs & sex is bad. However, if one wants to make these points, one ought not to spend so much time making the audience forget that point. Despite the fact that these shapeless gay twinks aren’t really my type (but at least they weren’t shaved), I got turned on at one point and I ‘m sure others who like shapeless twinks did, as well. I forget which scene. Oops, there went that distancing strategy. At most other points, I rolled my eyes and thought, Not again! Commercial porn creates boring sex scenes in a highly efficient assembly line; I don’t need my independent cinema to do the same thing, only less efficiently. I guess I’m supposed to feel complicit, a la Funny Games?
Wrecked ends predictably enough, hammering home the lessons we might have learned from the sex scenes if they weren’t so busy trying to get us hard. Thankfully, the revenge reel is short: A sequence of quick cuts featuring drug deals, line-snorting, and detached butt-sex, all coated with a non-stop soundtrack consisting of limp ambient music. Self-destructive, anonymous sex plus drugs plus, being a character who’s also a bad actor (that’s subplot I could have done without) equals an overdose in a hotel room. Yeah, I get it.
Someone made a film about the relationship between power, sex, intimacy, personality, and identity and did it without preaching, too much, exploring characters who had spines and interesting lives, and did it in an affirming, comic and honest way, in a way that made me tear up more than once. That film is Shortbus.