Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pornonomy Reviews: Destricted

Descripted (2006)

Directed by:
Marina Abramovic
Matthew Barney
Marco Brambilla
Larry Clark
Gaspar Noe
Richard Prince
Sam Taylor-Wood

Too many people to list

I'm of two minds concerning the use of hardcore by non-pornographers. On the one hand, hardcore scenes in otherwise non-pornographic films (Shortbus, 9 Songs, Antichrist) further the debate of the absurdity of the MPAA's tolerance of violence and intolerance of sex (definitely check out This Film is Not Yet Rated, if you haven't seen it). On the other hand, the idea that "straight" (as in non-hardcore) directors somehow have legitimize hardcore serves to reinforce the idea that porn is "less than 'real' film," despite the quality of great directors (like Gerard Damiano and Robert McCallum and Chuck Vincent and probably some that work today, but who I obviously don't follow). When you add another layer of constructing and deconstructing the idea of hardcore by putting it in the hands of artists, you could end up with a Grade A Clusterfuck.

When I was in college, as an art student, I saw - voluntarily and otherwise - my fair share of art films. I generally feel about art films the way I do about slam poetry: when it's great, it's really great; when it's anything less than great, it's fucking unbearable. Surprisingly, of the seven films here, I'd say two were really great, but the other five weren't without their interesting qualities.

Balkan Erotic Epic (Abromovic)
I don't know anything about Balkan folklore, so I'll have to take Abromovic's word for the way sexuality and genitalia are fetishized "een Balkan." Whether it's a groom-to-be penetrating holes he drilled in a bridge on his wedding day to ward off wedding night impotence or a woman suffocating a fish in her vagina overnight in order to make a coffee-lacing powder that will act as a sort of love potion, Abromovic's brief intros are illustrated - with varying degrees of literalness - by animation or live action. Overall, it's the sort of film that you expect to see in a museum or gallery. One which there's a more-likely-than-not chance of watching for a minute or two before moving on after "getting the idea."

Hoist (Barney)
Matthew Barney is probably most famous for being a former model and Bjork's partner, but people seem to be familiar with his Cremaster Cycle. I haven't seen any of the films, but the fascinatingly creepy production design is pretty well-known. Dude has definitely found the area in the Venn diagram where beautiful or horrifying overlap. Hoist is split into three - or maybe two and a half - parts. The first is what I'd describe as a Microcosmos in Hell. A close up of what might be a creepy slug in mossy cave is revealed to be a slowly engorging uncut dick against the dirty thighs and belly of some dude. (As an aside, after it was apparent what was going on, I couldn't help but be reminded of once - in a life drawing class - the male model got a boner; there was an audible silence in the room as it rose and fell....)

The perspective shifts to a video - shot at night - of a construction crew around some heavy machinery. With the low quality of the video and the fact that the crew's faces and company name are blurred out (let alone that it's shot at night) gives the impression that the guys aren't necessarily aware of what they're a part of. They seem to be working on raising an uprooted tree with a large piece of machinery, which is in turn hooked up to a crane and is raised off the ground.

Then, the perspective is back to the "cave" which is further revealed to be inside - or, underneath, I guess - the heavy machine which was raised off the ground. The machines spinning axle becomes a masturbatory aid for the "nature man's creepy slug dick." There's more than a little uneasiness - that'll probably be more visceral for men - while he's got his dong pressed against the spinning cylinder. Regardless of how you react to it, you can't argue that Barney's got a style and is pretty good at it.

Sync (Brambilla)
The film that I liked the most (and probably not coincidentally the shortest at a mere 135 seconds), Sync is a supercut of sex scenes from many different movies that stitch together into one, set to a drum solo. (Kinda Marclay Telephones-esque.) This is the film that, if you came across it in a gallery, you'd watch a couple of times and tell your friends about later.

In fact, fuck it, it's short enough:

Copyright violations be damned!

Impaled (Clark)
Larry Clark, the photographer and filmmaker most famous/notorious for Kids (1995), often - and not entirely undeservedly - faces criticism for seeming creepily obsessed with teenagers' sexuality. Of the films, Impaled is the most porn-like. Essentially, a "pro-am/gonzo/casting couch" film, Clark interviews a series of young men who answered a porn casting ad about their personal histories with porn and sex. After having the men disrobe - noteworthy both because of the non-porn-normative focus on flaccid penises AND a prime example of the voyeuristic tendencies that have informed Clark's career - he settles on one who'll be the male "star" of the show. The skinny emo kid - who seems likable enough, if not understandably nervous - is introduced to a series of actual "porn girls" (Clark always refers to them as "porn girls" instead of "stars" or "actresses"), before settling on his co-star (Nancy Vee, who, despite the kid's aforementioned interest in being with a woman significantly older than him, would probably seem to be the woman least-likely to be picked by an average dude).

With the casting set, Clark directs - or, at the very least, films - a scene between the two. Presented relatively un-edited, from a technical perspective, it's pretty interesting because the camera rolls during parts that would normally be edited out (Vee re-lubing; stopping an anal scene because things got a little messy). Anyone with a passing knowledge of the potential pitfalls of - and the oft-cited reasons for there being relatively few - male pornstars will be impressed by the kid's ability to get and maintain an erection (even through having his co-star wipe him down after the aborted anal scene, which he describes as "kind of sick" in the post-scene interview) and hold off his pop shot. The film ends with the camera holding for an uncomfortably long time on the kid's face. There seem to be about eight different emotions painted there simultaneously, and you can't help but expect him to start crying.

We Fuck Alone (Noe)
While Impaled would provide porn scholars with the most to write about, We Fuck Alone is neck-and-neck with Hoist for the film that would provide an art student with enough bullshitty fodder to stretch into an extended essay. From the title ("To 'fuck' implies a partner, whereas being 'alone' would imply masturbation. Perhaps beholden to our egos, regardless of our assertion that pleasing our partners is important, all 'fucking' is really 'masturbation.' The film uses pornographic scenes, and indeed the idea of pornography, to blahblahblahblahblah....) to the specific scenes (the couple fucking in a sparse concrete room; the male masturbating with a sex doll; the female on her stuffed-animal populated bed) to the ham-fisted imagery ("The man is sticking his dick in the sex doll's mouth, and now it's a handgun, and now it's his dick again!"; "The 'girl' is masturbating next to her over-sized teddy fetishizes pre-adolescent girls!!!") to the strobe effect given to the ENTIRE 23 minutes, making it easily the hardest film to watch ("By only giving us partial view of what's occurring, the strobe effect underscores the artificial nature of pornography.") All told, We Fuck Alone seems like less of an art film and more like the sort of edgy avant-porn that seemed to be the toast of the internet for awhile around the time Stuntgirl was made. I guess that slightly contradicts my prior assertion that Impaled was the most porn-like. I guess just list them 1a and 1b. But, anyway, definitely avoid this if you have a history of epilepsy.

House Call (Prince)
The film I enjoyed most after Sync, House Call appears to be a vintage loop that was converted to video, which was then filmed being played back on a monitor. A busty woman (credited as Kora Reed) seems be under the weather while oiling herself up (for some reason), so she calls up her doctor (credited as John St. John) for some treatment. What appears visually is juxtaposed with a sort of art-film-audio-by-numbers soundtrack. It's like if you fed a composer a steady diet of found audio, Brian Eno, drone rock, and circus music and asked them to come up with something. At one point, the music cuts out for a minute and there's only the sound of a film projector, giving the sense of being in a theater - or perhaps more accurately a wood-paneled den or garage. Perhaps it becomes a sort of porn version of John Cage's 4'33", a "silent" song in which the ambient noises (people clearing their throats or shifting in the seats) become the music. Hear though, I guess it'd be the ruffle of a rain coat, or the nervous swallows of awkward viewers. (How's that for a little bullshitty art student analysis?!?)

The most compelling part of the film is whether the hardcore was found/classic footage or an incredibly well-done original-in-the-style-of. If it's the latter, Richard Prince absolutely killed it. I suppose it'd be possible to find out if I was willing to do any research whatsoever, but I like the ambiguity. One thing's certain, I didn't recognize either of the actors, and their credited names are almost certainly made up.

Death Valley (Taylor-Wood)
The camera pans across a desert landscape. A man shuffles into frame, drops to his knees and jerks it. That's about it. The best part was the score, credited to Matmos and Andrew Hale.


Phew, that's probably the most I wrote for a single post. Since this is so long, even though I'm not grading either the whole project or the individual films, and because I'm so impossibly behind my 100 reviews in 2011 scedule, I'm counting this as seven reviews.

So there.

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