Shortbus (2006) [LA&M Film Fetish Forum]

Director John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus” is a movie I’d only ever heard about since its 2006 release but never actually sat down to watch. Nothing really prepared me for what he had to offer in terms of not only commenting on sexuality but on sex in general. “Shortbus” is unabashedly shocking in its presentation, offering up a movie about a group of New Yorkers, all of whom are seeking human connection. Some of them think that sex will grant them that connection, while some of them are just seeking emotional connection that may or may not allow them that desire with sex and various sexual acts.

“Shortbus” explores the lives of several emotionally challenged characters as they navigate the comic and tragic intersections between love and sex in and around a modern-day underground salon. A sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, a dominatrix who is unable to connect, a gay couple who are deciding whether to open up their relationship, and the people who weave in and out of their lives, all converge on a weekly gathering called Shortbus: a mad nexus of art, music, politics, and polysexual carnality.

John Cameron Mitchell’s film is very blunt about its exploration of sex, establishing its adherence to examination of sexual dynamics with his characters. In the first five minutes there’s a shot of a man’s genitals, a depiction of BDSM, masturbation, hardcore sex between a hetero couple and a character who performs oral sex on himself, ejaculation and all. “Shortbus” is never shy nor is it apologetic at any point, and for some that’s a deal break while others it’s a surefire indication of honesty and trust in the audience. “Shortbus” follows a group of thirty somethings staring down the edge forty, all of whom are not quite sure where they’re wandering in life.

They’re merely wandering around the city seeking that real fulfillment that often times involve sex. John Cameron Mitchell uses sex as a metaphor for seeking human connection from the trauma of a post 9/11 New York. The movie is set only a few years after the attacks where the characters are all still frustrated and filled with anxiety. They all completely relinquish their inhibitions in the “Shortbus,” a small house filled unbridled sex and kink run by Sextra, as played by John Cameron Mitchell. This is where most of the revelatory sub-plots unfold as Sofia seeks guidance on how to achieve her first ever orgasm.

Meanwhile boyfriends James and Jamie find trouble communicating and things get worse when they introduce a potential third partner. The best sub-plot involves Severin, a female dominatrix who is completely fearless in sexual expression and artistic expression but finds it impossible to have mundane human conversations. The collective cast is all very good but Linsday Beamish as Severin is the stand out, especially as “Shortbus” never quite offers resolutions or easy answers to anything that unfolds. That said, “Shortbus” does lose steam in the finale never quite indicating what it’s trying to ultimately convey to the audience.

And I’m not at all sure how the great black out of 2003 was supposed to connect to the climax in the “Shortbus.” Nevertheless, John Cameron Mitchell’s classic is a fine film that confronts post-9/11 anxiety through a very unique lens. His fearlessness in sexual politics and the satisfaction many of us chase kept me hooked to the very end.

Playing at the LA&M Film Fetish Forum July 15th, @7pm; Co-Presented by Pride Film Fest.