Monday, April 12, 2010

PORNOGRAPHY: A THRILLER opens in NY, offering a good example of the "gay" film

What's the difference between a "gay" movie and a movie that has a "gay" theme? Two films open this week that illustrate the ques-
tion rather well. PORNOGRAPHY: A THRILLER offers the former, while HANDSOME HARRY shows us the latter. TrustMovies will cover Bette Gordon's new work later this week; for now, let's stick with our gay film, written and directed by David Kittredge (pictured below).

In some ways, I suppose, "gay" film can be defined via the same route that a certain Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, back in 1964, used to define obscenity: "I know it when I see it."  Well, when I see "it" -- gay film, that is -- what I see is generally some-
thing very low-budget; with acting, writing and directing that is usually serviceable, at best; offering plenty of skin, sometimes full-
frontal; with its themes/ideas/situations all quite restricted to a like minded/bodied group and thus preaching to the converted (it's hard to imagine non-gays being particularly interested in these movies).  To my mind there is nothing inherently wrong in producing a gay film, but this does rather mark your level.  What distinguishes Pornography: A Thriller is that, while all of the above remains true and on view, the film manages to transcend its own genre in many ways.

The performances range from serviceable to surprisingly good, the direction is generally strong and sometimes quite imaginative, and the screenplay is far above the usual paint-by-numbers model.  As writer, Kittredge clearly wants to tackle the subject of pornography and gays: why we watch, what we think want from this -- and what we actually get. To achieve his ends, the filmmaker has written a sort-of thriller in which events from the past (the disappearance of a semi-famous gay porn star) keeps haunting those in the present, with the situation remaking itself over and over in similar-yet-different ways. Also in the mix are themes of identity, the "other" and sleaze/quease-producing idea of  gay "snuff" films.

As a director Kittredge has come up some more-interesting-than-usual visuals to keep us hooked: An angel that may remind you of the recent Red Riding Trilogy; quick shifts from present to past and back again that keep us off-balance and alert; camera-
work, sets and lighting that take us into strange and unknown territory befitting the thriller/otherworldly aspects of the tale.  The filmmaker has conceived of his creation as a kind of crossword puzzle (a character doing crosswords pops up now and again) in which everything connects -- if only we can discover those connec-
tions.  Comparisons have made between Kittredge's work and that of David Lynch, and while these are valid, I would suggest that the former has a way to go to catch up with the latter. 

As fantastic as things do get, they still sometimes remain a little too literal for my taste.  And repetitive.  By the end, the movie (along with some of its characters) seems to have been hoist with its own petard.  Still, Kittredge's ending is a nice, ironic surprise that works on several levels: "Isn't this what you want to see?" a character asks, repeating an important line we've already heard once or twice.  He's asking that question of the camera -- which takes in those within the film, as well as us voyeurs without. The answer, of course -- together with the soft-core "money" shot we've been waiting nearly two hours to view -- is Yes!  The beauty part is that Mr. Kittredge has given us, if not all we might want, considerably more than we usually get.

Pornography: A Thriller opens Friday, April 16, in New York City at the Cinema Village.  Let's hope it makes it way to some other urban center around the nation before, one expects, that upcoming DVD appears.

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