“We have been expropriated from our own language by education, from our songs by reality TV contests, from our cities by surveillance, from our friends by wage-labour and from our flesh by mass pornography.”
– The Invisible Committee in The Coming Insurrection
Besides being the highest grossing cinematic genre, pornography may very well be the last possible form of political filmmaking, almost Marxist in its explicit depiction of the ruthless way in which we use and exploit each other under the puritanical rule of production and consumption. By pornography we intend here the (post-)industrial and addictive apparatus we obsessively consume online, for the filming of a sexual intercourse is a ‘sinful’ and ‘indecent’ as any other movie, and it is in fact as old as cinema itself. Far from being a transgressive genre, mass-mediated pornography is the ultimate act of subjugation, insofar as it monopolizes sexual urges to shelve them in the digital supermarket of desire. Providing us with an unspoken but shared vocabulary, the pervasive and instantly available rule of virtual sex erases experience, libidinal exploration and, most unforgivably, carnal bliss. The almost utopian aspect of sex, the luxurious matching of action and desire, is hijacked by mass pornography and confined to a compulsive and aseptic isolationism. To methodically catalogue and file (sexual) fantasies is the closest one can get to total dominion of the senses.
That such a widespread phenomenon is hardly mentioned in the cultural discourse is not surprising, corporate Puritanism and its repressive chastity being our ultimate credo. Yet three films screened in Locarno this year, one more prominently than the others, uncovered the social and relational implications of pornography in the age of its digital reproduction. In Jack and Diane by Bradley Rust Gray, a mild and mostly ineffectual teen lesbian flick, the friend of one of the protagonists sells photoshopped pornographic images online. Literally cutting and pasting body parts, blowing up tits and shaving off imperfections, this 14 year-old guy churns out inexistent creatures and uploads them onto someone else’s fantasies. Though marginal a character this may be, it describes the rather disquieting tendency Internet sex has in obliterating the bodily referent of desire.
Bachelorette by Leslye Headland, an obtuse comedy starring specimen of homo Americanus in their late twenties behaving like teenagers, features the specter of pornography too. Here though it manifests itself in verbal form, voicing that self-censored vocabulary we all share. One of the main characters, the gracefully restless Lizzy Caplan, shares her blowjob philosophy with a stranger on a plane. She proceeds to graphically describe and grade the different ranks of oral intercourse and the material gain they are conceded upon. The cheerful young lady illustrates in a hilarious monologue the commercialization of sex proper to pornography, the only (very significant) difference being that she is not referring to a professional and waged instance (i.e. pornography), but to her ‘ordinary’ life.
Starlet, a subtly perceptive film by Sean Baker, constitutes the centerpiece of this body-odorless disquisition on serially consumed love. Sharing a flat with a couple of friends (?) who spend their stoned days playing video games, randomly quoting Sun Tzu and trying to apply his Art of War to the latest version of Call of Duty, 21-year-old Jane (Dree Hemingway) grazes the aimless sprawl of Los Angeles with her dog Starlet. An unexpected and not entirely disinterested friendship is forged when Jane buys a thermos off Sadie (Besedka Johnson) inadvertently containing a stash of money. Feebly determined to let the lonely pensioner know about the considerable amount of money she found, Jane ends up keeping the secret for herself and implicitly leaking it to her flatmate by asking what she would hypothetically do in her place. Initially reluctant, Sadie slowly befriends Jane; the two play bingo as Sadie raves about Paris, a city to which she has never been.
One day Jane's flatmate asks for company on a trip to her workplace, from which she is expecting some payment. We find out that Jane’s flatmate is a porn star, and that Jane herself is about to make her debut in the industry. Her new career seems to take off as her roommate struggles on and discovers the stack of money thanks to Starlet, the noisy dog. The film entwines its multiple and fragile subplots with acumen; everyone guards his or her own petty interests, giving only if assured to receive back. The commercialization of the most pleasurable of all human activities is here mirrored by the self-seeking philosophy that animate all of the story’s relations. From the porn producer to Jane and her flatmates, every single decision and act is dictated by some self-serving concern or another; only the old and unproductive Sadie has no secrets, or has she? Tangled in a collective net of solitude, the characters use each other by expediency, never revealing their true motivations yet always eager to simulate. Starlet pieces together a fractured mosaic of modern life, in which even friendship is decreed by opportunism.
It is this covetous conduct castrating any prospect of mutual aid and union that represents the true vulgar obscenity.
Celluloid Liberation Front is a multi-use(r) name, an “open reputation” informally adopted and shared by a desiring multitude of insurgent spect-actors. For reasons that remain unknown, the name was borrowed from a collective of anti-imperialist blind filmmakers from the Cayman Islands. @CLF_Project
More dispatches from the Critics Academy participants will be published on FilmLinc.com through the end of the Locarno Film Festival on August 11. Keep watching for their bylines in the coming days!