This sexy Shortbus really wants you to get it on

by Beacon Staff • October 11, 2006

No kidding: the film's opening montage involves autofellatio, voyeurism, hardcore bondage, pegging and two money shots that put Peter North to shame.

It's like the scene in Amelie when Audrey Tautou wonders how many orgasms are happening in Paris at that moment, except here, they're shown in graphic detail.,John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus is a movie about sex.

No kidding: the film's opening montage involves autofellatio, voyeurism, hardcore bondage, pegging and two money shots that put Peter North to shame.

It's like the scene in Amelie when Audrey Tautou wonders how many orgasms are happening in Paris at that moment, except here, they're shown in graphic detail.

Mitchell was also forthcoming during a post-screening QA session on Sept. 28.

Before beginning the film, he warned there would be saturnalia and carnal sex scenes, but insisted "there's more than tits, pussy and dick, because those are all attached to things, aren't they? Those things are called people."

Mitchell's big break came with 2001's film adaptation of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a stage play he wrote, directed and starred in.

Shortbus is Mitchell's second turn as a director and first as a screenwriter. His unorthodox approach to filming Shortbus was uniquely appropriate for the innovative vision he had for his project.

Before writing the script, Mitchell held an open casting call and reviewed over 500 applications before whittling his cast down to seven amateur actors.

"We avoided agents and stars because neither of them have sex," Mitchell explained frankly.

After finding his cast, he worked in conjunction with the actors and actresses to build their characters from improvisation. Each character was encouraged, quite literally, to act naturally.

For instance, the boyfriends in the movie, James and Jamie are actually dating, and Sook-Yin Lee, who plays the "pre-orgasmic" Sofia, actually had an overbearing father who made her uncomfortable with her own body. This approach allowed Mitchell to coax powerful performances from his amateur cast.

The script was very loosely plotted and, as shooting began for the film, unfinished. Mitchell decided only to incorporate the North American Blackout of 2003 that affected 50 million people in the United States and Canada as the dramatic climax after it interrupted filming in New York City.

In the movie, "Shortbus" is a New York salon where freaks, transvestites and even pre-orgasmic sex therapists can come and feel a little more normal-or at least feel a little less out of the norm.

It's a place where you can eat potcorn ("The popcorn has pot in it, the brownies don't"), join an orgy or chat with a gay ex-mayor about his failure to address the AIDS epidemic while closeted and in office.

Or you could just stand back and watch, for as Justin Bond (playing himself), the owner and proprietor of Shortbus, says, "Voyeurism is participation."

"I knew [Shortbus] was going to be set in a salon because I've been to places like that and I was fascinated by the combination of food and art and sex and politics," Mitchell said. "We wanted to reattach sex to humor and emotion and politics."

Re-attaching sex, humor and politics is easy-all you need is three men having sex with each other while giving an impromptu performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Indeed, explicit nudity itself is a political statement in an American film, never mind the spectacular sex scenes in Shortbus.

Even cable network Independent Film Channel won't show it.

However, Mitchell's greatest accomplishment in Shortbus, aside from taking one for the team in an orgy scene by performing cunnilingus, is striking balance in his script between the emotional ups and downs of sex.

On the one hand, the opening sequence is spectacular, arresting and absurdly funny.

On the other, after the money shots are over, people are left with their own messes to clean up, literally and emotionally: their unsatisfied desires and their unhealthy relationships. Shortbus is one of the most incisive and coherent explorations of American sexuality of the 21st century.

The music in Shortbus is fantastic; Mitchell said half the songs were written by the actors themselves, and the best of the rest include Animal Collective and Gogol Bordello.

The salon has a house musician, Scott Matthews, who's just freaky enough to fit in at the Shortbus. There's also an excellent group sing-a-long toward the end of the movie led by Justin Bond and the Hungry March Band.

Not everything is spot-on, though; Mitchell mishandles some of his female characters and, as powerful as Sofia's and Severin's stories actually are, they are obviously stereotypical. Sofia's a straight woman married to a man who can't satisfy her and Severin was emotionally abused by her father, so now she's a dominatrix with trust issues.

Then again, Mitchell is a gay thespian, so he's probably suffered more than his fair share of presumptive generalizations.

Really, Shortbus is not a movie about

genitals and what we do with them.

It's about the people to whom those are attached.

John Cameron Mitchell succeeds in shifting our focus past the genitals and onto the things we do in the name of satisfying ourselves and each other-and the repercussions of those actions.

Like falling in love.