Jon got back from Japan on Friday morning, so he was able to come with me to see Shortbus at Cinerama. The place was packed, and it was a good time, all in all.
After talking to Jon about Shortbus over Septieme burgers yesterday afternoon, I came to the conclusion that some of the shortcomings of the movie, such as having on-screen heterosexual sex, but no penetrative gay sex, an estrangement from the female characters and being generally self-congratulatory in nature, were merely a byproduct of the process by which the film was made. For those of you who don’t know, this whole film was a product of open auditions for an unnamed, unwritten script that was workshopped with the actors and John Cameron Mitchell into what ultimately became the film. It reminds me of what I learned in art school about performance art (I really did love the performance department, though it was truly impractical for a major.)
In my performance classes, it wasn’t enough to do an improv. If you were going to do an improv, with a base scene, you NEEDED to have an artifact. I suppose that once you get so famous that people pay you for your improv, you don’t need an artifact, but for us lowly types, we needed some kind of prop– a set, an installation, a video (of the performance, to be shown again, or as a backdrop), slides, a sculpture, something — as long as there was something that echoed the creation of the improv. You created a space with the improv, and when you left, you would have this piece left for people to look upon as visual art.
Shortbus is an artifact of a process that is more artistic, challenging, and risky than the end result. All the footage, the workshopping, the inevitable improv that gets created into a script, the lives of the actors, the extras, the sexual heat that occured between the players of the film are where the art are, not in the film itself. The true risk was in the buds of creation, not in the end product, which as been sanitized for your protection (and to perhaps skirt any obscenity issues). Shortbus ultimately doesn’t take the huge risk that would make it a true catalyst of change in the hearts and minds of those who would see it, or even hear it’s name. It stands alone as a rather banal piece of work. Beautiful to watch in many ways, but banal and accessible to even the more prudish of movie goers. It’s sexy like a Victoria’s Secret catalog, which isn’t enough to challenge us cosmopolitans.
Perhaps it’s all money motivated — how do you sell a film like this to the theatres and the public? How do you prepare for the inevitable DVD sales, matching soundtrack, etc. You make something that is sanitized for global appeal, so in the very least, the self-congratulatory hipsters, LGBTQIAXYZ’s, art critics and sexual libertarians will want to consume it, and tell their more prudish friends to consume it to a positive end. It’s as close as you can get to a sure thing that will have more instantaneous monetary rewards vs. becoming revolutionary in retrospect 30 years later. It seems that no one wants to take a risk in media any more — Broadway is all rehashed movies, best-selling book adaptations and revivals of successful shows of the past. The most controversial visual experience I’ve heard about has been the plastination of human bodies touring in exhibits all over the world. If you’ve heard of other more controversial visual experiences in the past 3-5 yrs, please let me know.
I like Shortbus as a souvineir or an artifact of an event. I think, though, I’d prefer a documentary of the making of the film to the actual film itself.