Movie Review: Xperimental Eros
Experimental films and pornography seem to be diametrically opposed to each other. One presents new ways of seeing things while the other just shows the same exact images over and over again ad nauseum, simply with different “actors.” Yet, you see so much porn being used in experimental and underground films, not for purposes of titillating and arousing, but more as commentaries on our culture’s obsession with pornography, both the cultivating as well as the banning of it.
Most of the erotic material you see in experimental films is of the found and then manipulated variety. Yes, Xperimental Eros, the compilation DVD put out by Other Cinema, has plenty of those kinds of “blue” movies, but the disc also mixes in some straight-up documentaries as well as one riotous fictional narrative. The result is a nice mixture covering a wide range of sexually contemplative positions. True, there are some pieces that may induce arousal, but for the most part watching these shorts may cause one to never look at sex quite the same way again.
Here’s the rundown of the individual films on the DVD:
King of Porn, dir. Jeff Krulik. Any compilation that includes a Krulik documentary automatically makes that project a home run. Here, the legendary filmmaker takes his customary deadpan style to illuminate the collection of Ralph Wittington, whose stacks and stacks of porno videos, magazines and one-sheets have totally taken over his entire house and is so impressive that the Museum of Modern Art has agreed to take it upon Wittington’s death. Krulik makes no commentary or judgments for or against Wittington’s hobby, which would be easy to do, and just lets the man show his most prized possessions in a purely straightforward manner. We never learn how he got into the porn collecting game, why he does it or even if he actually enjoys watching pornography, but somehow the less we know the more fascinating Wittington becomes. This is clearly the best film on the DVD, but how could it not be?
Blue Movie, dir. Mark Street. This is the first of the found footage films and Street takes extreme close-ups of women’s faces from old stag movies and literally turns this into a “blue” movie with some blue color overlays. Like King of Porn, we get an intense look at these subjects without ever really knowing who they are or how and why they got into their situation. The women are all beautiful and happy appearing, but the end result is very sad and serves to show just how hollow actual pornography is at its core.
Sneakin’ and Peekin’, dirs. Tom Palazzolo and Mark Rance. This is a bizarre documentary from the ’70s that, again, gives little in the way of explanation. Palazzolo and Rance sneak into the woods and you figure the set-up is that they’re going to surreptitiously film a nudist colony. However, what they shoot is even more strange than that. At some unnamed event, all the men are clothed while women walk around buck naked and eventually compete in some sort of competition. The gals all walk in a circle behind a rope, which gives the appearance that they’re being herded like animals into the slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, dozens of dirty old men photograph them while Palazzolo and Rance sheepishly ask for specific poses. On the one hand, you want to know what the competition is and why these women parade around like slabs of meat, but since we don’t, it all seems the more horrifying.
Removed, dir. Naomi Uman. This is a brilliant found footage manipulation in which Uman has taken an old European porn film — soft-core, I think, and one of the kinds that gave cable channel Cinemax the nickname Skinemax — and removed the female characters and replaced them with blobs of white light. Each of the scenes Uman has chosen deal with voyeurism. Also, all the chicks are groped and fondled both by themselves and headless males. There’s never any penetration. But as they watch and get turned on, we watch and are meant to become aroused simply by the sounds of dirty talk and groaning.
The Influence of Ocular Light Perception on Metabolism in Man and Animal, dirs. Thomas Draschan and Stella Friedrichs. This is the least “sexiest” film in the collection that only makes oblique references to sex. Again, this is mostly found footage, but most of it is fairly mundane — people swimming, scientific experiments, etc. It only all takes on sexual connotations with brief, almost unrecognizable images of erotic imagery.
The Color of Love, dir. Peggy Ahwesh. Like Blue Movie, Ahwesh takes a stag film and manipulates the imagery. But this time the sex is way more graphic as two lesbians make love while straddling a blood-smeared male corpse. What’s already a strange premise for an erotic film — I’m assuming the original intent was to tittilate — seems all the more degenerate and, frankly I found it disturbing, through the different color manipulations. The disorienting color palette makes the sex seem so far removed from the viewer as if we’re not allowed in to enjoy it along with the performers. Pornography is supposed to be enjoyed as a collaborative effort. By watching others get turned on, in turn the viewer gets turned on. Turning that theorum on its head, Ahwesh has forbidden her viewers from getting aroused.
Downs Are Feminine, dir. Lewis Klahr. In the last of the found footage films, Klahr re-enacts degenerate sex acts with cut-outs from porn magazines, both gay and straight, set amidst “glamor” shots of mod ’70s living rooms. The porn images seem like they’re from the ’70s as well and the film works as a sly ode to the fallout from the ’60s sexual revolution. The ’70s may have been swingin’, but Klahr reproduces it’s clinical-looking side that’s anything but, despite the fast-moving tempo of the cut-outs being swapped out, moved around and otherwise manipulated. Yes, this is the ’70s, but the primitive looking nature of all it, the images may as well have come from the ’30s.
SexJunkie, dir. Julia Ostertag. This is a fairly brave confessional documentary in which Ostertag talks about her search for sex without love, which is of course pretty easy to find. We see her engaged in various sex acts with faceless guys, some of it shot hard-core style. But the real gutsyness of the film is her monologue confession in which she comes off as sounding, to me anyway, kind of sad. It’s as though she realizes she’s on a path of self-destruction, which she isn’t celebrating here, but she doesn’t shy away from it and even justifies her resignation. Hopefully her film was a cathartic act needed for her to eventually find love because she didn’t sound too happy without it.
Pacifier, dir. Oscar Perez. The compilation goes out with a bang, pretty much literally, with an adult Perez recreating a letter he wrote to Penthouse Forum when he was just 13-years-old and never mailed in. The sexual naivety seen in the letter, since it’s filmed exactly as it was originally written, is hysterical, but really not very far off from what the magazine actually publishes. Although the scenario involves a guy cheating on his wife with his sister-in-law, the film exhibits a real gusto for sex and, ultimately, for life itself that’s extremely cheerful. Perez and his cast and crew had a lot of fun making this film and that really comes through in the finished product.
Finally, the DVD comes with a couple bonus performances by the PornOrchestra, a San Francisco classical music collective that creates new soundtracks to old silent stag films. There are two music videos here, one a benign striptease and the other a pretty shockingly graphic short from the 1930s.