Destricted – The place where art and pornography connect. (film review)

Please note – many of the You Tube excerpts I have added here are sexually graphic. Please don’t watch this material if you suspect this might bother you.

According to Jean-Luc Godard the primary role of popular films and almost all television, is to see our “story” reinforced. No where is this more obvious than in pornography, where anything outside of the mainstream will interfere with desire. This assertion is reinforced by the truly remarkable lack of imagination expressed in pornography.  The entire industry (up until the last six years or so) has looked like nothing more than a promise to the status quo, a deeply conservative reinforcing of one sort of sexuality that promoted a feminine servile aesthetic and a masculine aggressor aesthetic. All of this changed, of course when women got access (and permission) to be fully functioning sexual beings. Suddenly men didn’t have to pay, because women could express and act out their sexual interest on-line.  The other great change was the prevalence of female-centric and samesex-centric pornography that transformed lucrative industries such as the romance writing market and the local sex trade.

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It’s very difficult to find accurate statistics regarding the fortunes of the sex industry. I have read that the porn industry combined makes more than cigarettes and alcohol put together and I have also read that it is an industry run by fools (including the 70’s and 80’s magazine barons) who can’t create sustainable business models and can’t capitalize on the enormous demand. It seems the pornography industry is as shrouded in secrecy as its clientele, and that begs one important question. Is it possible porn does not have the importance and influence we suspect it has in our lives? As Godard would say, its primary role is to reinforce a certain story, but given its secrecy, is it possible the “story” of porn is bigger than porn itself?  Is the current internet backlash against paying for pornography a demand to reclaim sexuality from these “stories”? What would it mean for our “stories” around pornography and sex if the people getting laid the most, with the most satisfying sex lives were married couples?

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Enter the film Destricted, a wonderful little patchwork quilt of a film that takes seven film makers and asks them to create a film that sits on the edge of pornography and art. While the films are very different, they all deal with the importance of the mythology of pornography and its symbolism. Each film implies pornography isn’t nearly as important to us as our relationship to the idea of pornography, which is extremely important to us. There are, to date, two versions of Destricted and I saw the 2006 UK version. This version highlighted film makers such as Gasper Noe, Sam Taylor-Wood, Richard Prince and Larry Clark along side of artists such as Matthew Barney, Marina Abramović, and Marco Brambilla.

The first film is a recognition of the importance of the phallus and the mental masturbation for males that comes from big machines. Matthew Barney creates a gorgeous film where men are shown to be working those large-scale mining machines, enormous in capacity and power, and underneath the machinery an erect phallus and its sprouting seed runs and oils the machines keeping them going. Close ups of the penis as it is (untouched) moving from half to full erection are intensely erotic, as are shots of the masturbation on the enormous spinning lubricated cogs themselves.

This was followed by Marina Abramović’s exgtremly funny short film depicting the importance of the sex organs in the superstitions and myths of the Balkan people, including shots of large groups of men “fucking” the earth to make it fertile before they sew crops, women calling rain from the sky with their breasts, men sticking their penis through holes made in small bridges that cross streams to protect them from impotence and women placing small fish in their vaginas, grounding the fish to powder once they’re dead and placing them in their husbands coffee to ensure he never leaves(!).

Marco Brambilla does a characteristically machine gun of a film depicting every porn film you’ve watched and every porn film you’ve never watched in short sharp relentless flashes that give weight to the enormity of porn that a single active user might go through in a certain period.  It’s a beautiful but relentless flashing of meaningless images that under different circumstances are arousing but here are just burdensome and somehow very lonely. Posited against Sam Taylor-Wood’s image of a young man masturbating in Death Valley, we come very close to recognizing how personal, lonely and solitary pornography and masturbation are.

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Gasper Noe follows this idea to an extreme with his own version of that epilepsy inducing light flash, and the images of a male and a female, separate, going through the process of masturbation. She is on a pretty bed, surrounded by plush toys, and ends up using her teddy bear to simulate oral sex before she comes.  The male subject uses pornography, and moves through extremes till he is fucking a blow up doll and using a weapon on her. Again, the idea of the extreme privacy of our desire is reinforced as Noe seems to be making no judgement on his subjects, rather that each is fulfilling some sort of per-prescribed formula despite the privacy they have created for themselves. Neither is really alone, and yet the understanding is that even with someone else, ultimately we fuck alone. Richard Prince follows a similar sort of line with no protagonists, rather the simple image of a pornographic film going through its paces, occasionally flicking and tripping over a repeat, but blurred so that we can and can’t see what is really happening.

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Finally, so interesting that you can’t look away, is the documented Larry Clark experiment where he interviews young teen males to be in a porno film. They are to be interviewed, seen naked, and when one is chosen, they are allowed to choose the porn actress that they will perform with. The young man chosen by Clark is gorgeous.  One of those immediate star attractions that you imagine getting discovered in an airport or restaurant. He is completely engaging and very intelligent. He meets about six porn actresses, confidently choosing a woman in her forties, because “that’s what I fantasize about.  Older women.”  The sex act is then performed for the camera, including a first go at anal sex, where the young man has a certain sort of reality thrust upon him.  We are left with his experience that living out a porno film was nothing like what he expected, but that he was glad for the experience.

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In my opinion there should be more of these films, but I know they’re not to everyone’s taste. When we live with the knowing that porn is the perpetual reinforcing of a story that we want reassurance for, then films like this give us a challenging and fascinating way to look at ourselves.

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