As a filmmaker who makes G-rated porn I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being thoroughly excited when I learned that a festival devoted to celebrating sex onscreen had filled its opening night slot with a flick that contains not one sex scene. And writer/director/producer/editor Zach Clark’s SXSW 2009 hit Modern Love Is Automatic (pictured right), a refreshingly respectful and poignant comedy that centers around a jaded nurse who moonlights as a dominatrix and her aspiring (or rather delusional) model roommate, wasn’t the only selection to subversively screw with the very definition of porn. This year’s fifth edition, which concluded on Halloween, included some highly improbable subgenres in the mix — gay zombie and vampire porn and even a porn musical retrospective.
And Rambo porn. Or rather one critical essay in the form of my short, The Story of Ramb O, in which I’ve juxtaposed images from Rambo First Blood: Part 2 with text from The Story of O (to show that a soldier is forever the government’s bitch). Interestingly, my arrival in Berlin to both cover the fest and to support my own film seems to have coincided with a minor NYC cinephile immigration of sorts. While I’ve recently decided to set my bags down in Amsterdam film critic and distributor Andrew Grant, a.k.a. Filmbrain, who along with his Benten Films business partner Aaron Hillis is representing Modern Love, is now based in Berlin. As is producer/filmmaker/writer and now N.Y. ex-pat Pamela Cohn who joins Andrew in their first European venture called Kino Satellite, a cinema series that opened at the Das Direktorenhaus art and performance space just this month. (But I’ll have more to say about Kino Satellite in an upcoming interview with Andrew so, for now, back to porn.)
Since I’m used to covering the impersonal cattle drives of NYC’s big festivals, where the flicks too often play second fiddle to the events themselves, the “intimate” Pornfilmfestival Berlin, more sophisticated than sexy, felt like a back-to-basics oasis to me. Biding time between sold out screenings in the cozy filmmakers’ lounge at Moviemento, a small art house in hipster Kreuzberg that is also Germany’s oldest cinema, with its busy bar and homemade food, wasn’t an inconvenience but a delight. As were the wide-ranging yet high quality films, many of which like Modern Love, could easily play at more mainstream fests. I’m thinking of Marcus Lindeen’s Regretters, a truly eye-opening Swedish documentary that began life as a conversational theater piece — and shows it through artistry that also makes inventive use of a slide projector and period footage along with straightforward talking head interviews. Starring Orlando, one of the first Swedes to have a sex change in 1967, and Mikael, who waited until age 50 to have surgery in the mid-’90s, the two probe one another with a combination of hardball directness, heartfelt empathy and humor both hilarious and defiant to illuminate a taboo subject in the GLBT community. Now in their sixties, both regretted their choice to change gender immediately after the operation (and harbored doubts even before).
Yet Regretters wasn’t the only discovery I made (which beats my record at the fun but wearily predictable Tribeca this year). The Experimental Porn program, in which The Story of Ramb O played, boasted several explicit art films that served as deconstructions of porn and had more in common with the audiovisual overdrive of a Fincher video than with Internet schlock (though Charles Lum’s Lloyd _____fein Must Die does make surprising use of Internet bear porn mixed with press clips of the Goldman Sachs CEO). Randy Caspersen’s Toward The Blue, a melancholy Super 8 montage that Gus Van Sant would adore, contained a poetic simplicity that probably wielded more power than fellow American Matthew W. Mishory’s too self-conscious homage/collage delphinium: a childhood portrait of derek jarman. But none of these thrilled me quite as much as the laugh-out-loud short from Hong Kong that opened the program, Erkka Nissinen’s Night School. With its sci-fi Kubrickian aesthetic, characters that seem sprung from the mind of Dr. Seuss, and scenes as unsettlingly weird as anything from early Coen brothers and Cronenberg — including an animated Panda bear being pressured to have sex with a “Sprockets”-accented “instructor” and two guys dressed as bears urinating on a dumb blonde (same “Sprockets” guy in drag) to entice her to drop her inhibitions — the film defies rational explanation. “I am sliding into ethical relativism,” the blonde cries out at one point. If only sex was always this good.