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Shortbus (DVD)

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Caffeinated Clint
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Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

If it’s confronting graphic visuals of sexual exploits, both of the hetero-, homo- and bi-sexual variety, and when I say graphic, I mean graphic, then John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus” is definitely a must see. If, however, you tend to have trouble stomaching graphic sexual activity, then be warned.


Sook-Yin Lee, Raphael Barker, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Jay Brannan, Peter Stickles, Justin Bond

If it’s confronting graphic visuals of sexual exploits, both of the hetero-, homo- and bi-sexual variety, and when I say graphic, I mean graphic, then John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus” is definitely a must see. If, however, you tend to have trouble stomaching graphic sexual activity, then be warned.

There’s little doubt that the film will be challenging for many; the perfect example of this being the very opening sequence, as we’re introduced to our main character James (Paul Dawson), as he fondles his penis in the bath. With extreme close-ups throughout the some 30 seconds of the initial opening, the sequence ends with a bubble of bowel wind rising to the water’s surface. And I’ll go on to say that it gets (immediately) a lot more explicit from here on in: I’m tempted to say downhill, but I won’t assume that all movie goers are seeking the same things from their viewing experiences.

The film cleverly follows and intertwines multiple story lines, one of the primaries being that of Sofia (Sook Yu Lee), a ’Sex-therapist’, or ‘Couples Counsellor’ as she prefers, through a period of sexual awakening. Ironically, Sofia has never experienced an orgasm, despite having, what we are all made (graphically) a witness of, a very active sex life with her husband Rob (Rafael Barker).

It isn’t until a gay couple, being James and his partner Jamie (RJ DeBoy), who seek Sofia’s services for their own relationship trouble, that her period of sexual awakening begins.

After blurting out her secret of orgasm-less sex to the both of them, the men introduce her to the Shortbus (named after the school bus for children with disabilities or emotional problems), a secret New York club where multisex is the chef’s recommendation.

The film also follows the story of James and Jamie, through their own period of turmoil and sexual exploration from the monotony of monogamy to the idea of bringing in outside sexual partners to spice up their relationship.
The fact that one partner in the relationship is more committed than the other becomes evident and the motive behind the private film that James’s is putting together for Jamie becomes predictably driven.

Should its viewers remain until the end (and I was a little surprised to see no early leavers), then the film succeeds in desensitizing its audience to a world the majority would not be familiar with.

The director does well to draw us into sexual explicitness through the use of comedy. He attempts to develop character depth through similar processes, but really only achieves partial success on this front.
As each of the film’s characters – from the main characters all the way to the extras – share each other’s bodies both openly and gratifyingly, the film also succeeds in merging the entire spectrum of sexualities, preferences, acts and positions into one mesh of pulsating flesh. It is at these moments that one also can’t help but wonder about the merging of infectious STDs as well.

Gritting through the explicit visuals, with the help of some good humour (a little bit of sugar, perhaps?), you can almost see somewhat of an interesting story unfolding. But by the end you will perhaps feel a little disappointed that Mitchell seeks with much less care to end the film well, than he took to have us accept a world of taboo behaviours and a neglect for responsibility.

The truth is, while watching the film, you also can’t help but wonder where the line is drawn between film and pornography, perhaps the only difference being pornography’s goal of sexual arousal, as it is hard to get this feeling from “Shortbus”

The film often lacked discipline, and the feeling too much character development occurred adlib was probably confirmed in the final credits.

Ultimately, “Shortbus” is a daring film that succeeds on many fronts, but falls short on many others.

Rating :
Reviewer : Davin Sgargetta

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