24 September 2006 | Chris_Docker
More contemporary art than contemporary cinema
(Due to the 1000 word limit I've trimmed this review by over a third: apologies if some of the notes on films in this seven-film collection are therefore rather brief.)
Andy Warhol once said, "An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have but that he - for some reason - thinks it would be a good idea to give them." Destricted doesn't fit into convenient mainstream or even art-house niches, but is more like a Tate Modern exhibit. It would be hard to identify a 'market' for the film, yet it is undoubtedly of some merit.
Destricted is a collection of shorts linked by a common theme. Two of them are directed by acclaimed film directors and the other five are made by heavyweights (two of them women) from the world of contemporary art. All were invited to make films on their views of sex and pornography.
The films in Destricted are mostly iconographic or impersonal fabrications. They distil essential elements into images that remain long after they are viewed. Each uses different artistic techniques, and each is worthy of serious study - although cinema audiences' reactions may also include boredom and amusement.
The most accessible section of the film (and the most linear in format) is Impaled by Larry Clark. Clark examines the effect pornography has on youngsters, but his film goes further, looking at the human dynamics and insecurities of the porn industry and making a porn film. He interviews young male pornstar wannabees, in discussions that are almost like a shrink session, asking them about their sexual experience, preferences and use of pornography. One of them is a virgin. Many have quite understandable hang-ups about their bodies. Asked what sort of things they would like to do, they all express an interest in anal sex. When they undress, nearly all of them are shaved. These last two characteristics, although only evinced by a minority of the general population, are frequently the norm in pornographic films. The female porn actors interviewed are shown as human and genuinely sensual (unlike the way they are portrayed in porn films), although their comfortable attitude to sexuality threatens to bring out more of the guys' insecurities (a theme that was also explored well in Breillat's Sex is Comedy). The girls prove mostly adept at putting the young man at ease however and he selects the oldest of them (40yrs) to be his 'co-star'. Clark avoids the pitfall of making the film funny or sterile or missing the eventual sex scene. The result is a documentary about porn that is also seamlessly pornographic.
The sense of dislocation is felt even more strongly in House Call by Richard Prince (a twelve minute section). Almost an homage to a golden age of porn, Prince takes the naughty doctor-patient fantasy stereotype but reprocesses his film until the image quality is overrun with graininess and bad lighting. To this, he adds jangling, futuristic music so that, even though the images are very explicit, we are reduced to observing them in a distant, dispassionate way.
Hoist, the fifteen minute contribution by artist Matthew Barney, will be no surprise to fans of his acclaimed Cremaster Cycle. Barney develops cryptic, intricate symbols that draw you in to their artistry long before you decipher them, whether in Freudian or any other terms. He is a very visual artist and can be extremely unsettling, perhaps in the way Dali is. At the start of Hoist, we are not sure what we are looking at. It could be a slug. Very slowly it grows, like a painting that slowly changes. Gradually we become aware that it is in reality something very different to what we had expected. It is a human penis. The ultimate, dystopian contrast occurs in an onanistic union with a deforestation machine.
Balkan Erotic Epic by Marina Abramov is thirteen minutes of amusing but quite instructional scenes re-enacting ancient sexual rites for fertility, warding off evil and the like. It also provides some of the most memorable images, such as the bare-breasted woman repeatedly clutching a skull to her chest in the closing credits. One of the scenes - where men are seen from above, lying face down and copulating with the earth itself, is reminiscent of the work of the photographer Spencer Tunick who stages vast public gatherings of naked people around the world.
Sync by Marco Brambilla is the shortest contribution at less than 2 minutes. Brambilla uses sensory overload in the form of clips, each no more than a few frames in length, from typical hard core features. The resulting choreographed collage (set to loud drum music) is like being hit over the head with Dante-esquire force by images that once would have appeared sexual or arousing.
Death Valley by Sam Taylor-Wood is eight minutes long and puts a Marlboro man type character in one of the hottest infertile places in the world where he 'spills his seed'. Taylor-Wood's work often has the human figure isolated on film, as if she views the body in its most revealing moments as a work of art in itself. Death Valley conveys the loneliness and stigma attached to self-stimulation and is uncomfortable, almost homo-erotic viewing.
Gaspar Noé provides one of the longer segments with We F*ck Alone at 23 minutes. As with his earlier Irreversible, he uses strobes and a heartbeat-like thumping background score to create sensory disorientation. At one point a man puts a gun in sex-toy doll's mouth as he copulates with it. The scene maybe suggests the danger of sexual repression symbolised by solitary pleasure - if the psyche is unable to negotiate normal sexual relations with another person it tends towards force and a desire for dominance. The title is a play on the title of the director's first feature film, I Stand Alone (Seul Contre Tous), a controversial story about despair and loneliness and the resulting sexual pathology.