Cannes (Reuters): In his provocative new film Shortbus, US director John Cameron Mitchell is seeking to demystify sex on screen by making it real. Showing out of competition at the Cannes film festival, the movie set around a colourful underground cabaret-cum-nightclub called Shortbus is the culmination of a long-held ambition of Mitchell's to present sex as no more than a fact of life. It is not the first time real sex has appeared in a film outside the porn world. British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom included it in his ''9 Songs'' in 2004, for example.
But in his touching exploration of New York today, Mitchell features a range of relationships-gay and straight-which intertwine when people searching for something more in their lives descend on the club. The opening sequence prepares audiences for what is to come, with three different sex scenes. One features a young man performing oral sex on himself in front of a camera, another a young man masturbating as he is whipped by a dominatrix and the third a couple having acrobatic sex in their apartment.
Mitchell succeeds in making the on-screen action less shocking than it sounds, and rather than gasps from the audience at a press screening, there was laughter at the comedy. ''This film was not pornographic,'' Mitchell told reporters Yesterday. ''I don't think anyone got a hard-on watching this film.'' For him sex is a metaphor for aspects of the characters' lives, so Sofia's search for the elusive orgasm is actually a search for happiness.
Not only is Shortbus a statement about cinema, but it is also a commentary on the United States which Mitchell said viewed sex too negatively. ''I really believe our country specifically needs to take a look at that stuff. You crush something, it pops up somewhere else, it comes back to haunt you.'' To avoid looking at it, to sweep it under the carpet, to discuss AIDS programmes only in terms of abstinence, to clamp down, you get trouble like the trouble you might find in the Catholic Church hierarchy.'' The film, which cost 2 million dollars to make, could find it tough to get distribution, particularly in the United States.
''We didn't really make this film to make money,'' said Mitchell, flanked by eight of his cast. ''There are a lot of easier things we could have done if we wanted to make money.'' Casting the movie was no mean feat. The director deliberately avoided agents and professional actors and advertised instead in alternative magazines across North America. The process of collecting 500 submissions, auditioning 40, choosing nine and carrying out workshops with them took more than two years. Mitchell's previous film was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a rights-of-passage film that gained the 43-year-old director a cult following in the United States.
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