Erika LustI Wish I Was A Lesbian (2014)

In theory, Erika Lust’s approach to making pornography–outlined in her oft referenced TEDxVienna speech–appeals to me: an emphasis on context (characters are more than the performance of their respective sexualities) and diversity of modes of sexual expression are all v. on-point.

And it’s totally counter-productive but… the traditional trappings of porn are low-production values, improbably scenarios and exaggerated sexual performances. Thus, when you preempt the traditional with a more thoughtful diversion into the who, where and why instead of rushing into the what and how, you raise audience expectations with regard to ultimate quality whether you intend to or not.

That’s the great failing of Lust’s promise: by setting out to make better porn she sets her sights too low. She’d do better to expend her efforts trying to make art that just so happens to be pornographic.

Which is not to say that the above scene is without certain moments. Placing equal emphasis on graphic depictions of sexual expression and the physical response to those depictions is unquestionably inspired. However, those moments are ultimately diminished when they are spliced together in such a rough-shod, pretentious fashion.

And it’s entirely possible that I am putting too much emphasis on the fact that this scene was shot handheld. The current preponderance of handheld camera work in motion pictures is an enormous pet peeve of mine since with the exception of Lars von Trier (who is preoccupied with using a subjective cinema-verite approach in combination with editing to stylize ellipses of perception by a fly-on-the-wall observer) or the Dardenne Brothers (who have pushed subjective handheld cinematography to something perhaps not objective–framing necessarily precluding questions of inclusion/exclusion–but unblinking and entirely unselfconscious), there is a total obliviousness to the history and functionality of handheld camera work.

Granted, I haven’t seen the full scene but the excerpted clips suggest that the handheld nature of the shots is intrusive–it is supposed to be noticed. The audience exercises some sense of active voyeurism, a passive co-authorship. And while, yes, this arrangement allows for scenes like the young woman’s face in the third frame from the top and the lubing up of the strap-on in the sixth frame from the top, my response is that any narrative motion picture instructs the viewer how it is supposed to be seen in the first third of the first act. The expectations that this film establishes are cribbed from art-house/international cinema but it can’t follow through in execution once it arrives at the place where it’s always intended to be.

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