Shortbus
R1 - America - Think Film
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Jim Stanton (21st April 2007).
The Film

I wasn't ready to believe that the follow up to the gloriously manic "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (2001) would be any good at all. I had totally convinced myself that if so much was crammed into that completely mad trip of a movie then what would be left over for the future? So I braced myself for the dregs of that seizure of cinema. If that's what I was hoping for then, I was disappointed. "Shortbus" retained all the kaleidoscope colour of John Cameron Mitchell's previous films and adds a more approachable feel which I really liked.
"Shortbus" follows three characters and their separate issues which intersect early on in the piece. Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) ,a sex therapist, married but stressed to snapping point over the her inability to orgasm despite daily helping other couples to do so. Severin (Lindsey Beamish) a professional dominatrix who distains what she does but finds it inescapable. And James (Paul Dawson) one half of an intense gay couple, "the Jamies" the golden couple everyone wants to be. It follows Sofia's journey from unfulfilled to trying to help James, to in turn being guided by him to the "Shortbus" of the title, a underground sex club where everything goes, presided over by the Madam (Justin Bond) here Sofia encounters the damaged Severin and forges a abrupt connection with her. Here at "Shortbus" pleasure rules and nameless faces choose to forget the outside world. More cock than a poultry farm.
The two female characters have great dynamic from two very different perspectives of sexual nature, one happily married to Rob (Raphael Barker) who seeks sexual release and one experimenting unhappily with dominance, lesbianism, soliciting while craving a place to call her own. The dynamic that occurs is so balanced their scenes are refreshing and light and inspired a genuine interest as to where their relationship would lead. In fact to coin an unnecessarily clumsy metaphor, the connection between Severin and Sofia is like comparing the taste of a delicious cucumber sandwich to the year old pickled egg of James and his story. To be honest it is hard to connect (maybe it's a girl thing?) to a character you first are introduced to trying to suck his own cock, failing then having a cry about it. The smothering affection of his boyfriend while designed to give us an insight into the real love of Jamie for the melancholic James is hard to believe or even remember while watching the two of them threesome it up with their latest boy toy Ceth (Jay Brannan). While some insight into this penis-fest is somewhat reveled though James' journey later on but was it really worth an age of masturbation, oral sex and excuse the pun, wankery?
Some great performances are had most notably from Sook-Yin Lee in the opening scenes I admit my thoughts drifted towards "Is she the poor mans Sandra Oh?" but my mind was changed and she sold an engaging character over the course of the film.
There were definite moments where I waited for the movie to get sorted and move on. Porn style orgy scenes, yawn, another cock, yawn, I'm so sad I think I'll die, yawn, another cock sucking sequence? No thanks I'm trying to give up.
In the end I think my positive reaction surprised me but it's easily explained. While trawling the genital heavy minutes of "Shortbus" there are plenty of great moments. Severin lives in a storage locker decked out like the home of her dreams, performance artist Shabbos Goy (best name I have come across since Dr. Savory), the revelation of Severin's real name, James' "My Private Idaho" revelations, "I thought I was an albino!" All this among the grouping hands and heaving buttocks of "Shortbus", so dim and seedy you can feel the sticky vinyl. You should cum sometime. (snigger)

Video

Presented in a ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic widescreen transfer is a solid effort from Think Film, the image is sharp and beautifully detailed especially the colors. The animated city sequences are lush and vibrant and stand out as one of the key features of this transfer. Other than that the overall print holds color very well, sharpness is well balanced although some dimly lit interiors appear a bit soft and grain does make an appearance. Blacks are bold and also hold up well. Overall this is a fine presentation.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included both of which are in English, one in Dolby Digital 5.1 and the other in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its 5.1 soundtrack. This is a very dialogue heavy film that has no use for dynamic surround mixes, but regardless what we get here is quite a solid surround track with a nice balance of dialogue, ambient noise and music which does use the rear speakers at time but for the most part it's a front heavy mix but a good one at that.
Optional subtitles are also included in both French and Spanish.

Extras

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast members Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, PJ DeBoy and Justin Bond. Director Mitchell opens the track talking about the stylistically cool animated cityscape sequences, he comments on originally wanting to create a scale model of New York but being financially prohibitive it was created with digital effect and made to look like a model. The participants remain fairly screen-specific revealing various aspects of the production including the audition and casting process, work shopping the scenes for two and a half years which is how they developed the film's story. They also comment on the shooting the explicit sex, working with each other the rewarding experience it was as well as developing relationships with each other which helped provide an authenticity to the project. Some of the fascinating aspects of this track are when Mitchell comments on the improvisational atmosphere created on set and performance among other things.

Next up is "Gifted and Challenged: The Making of Shortbus" a documentary that runs for 30 minutes 31 seconds, in this piece Mitchell comments on seeing a lot of films coming out of Europe that involved actors having real sex but that all those film were quite negative, his aim was to make a sex movie that has a positive spin on things. Which is how "Shortbus" came about, what follows is the chronicle of how the project started, finding the cast of largely unknown actors developing the scenes with the actors in workshop, setting up financing and briefly looks at the shooting and also the Cannes Film Festival response.

"How to Shoot Sex: A Doco-Primer" is a featurette which runs for 8 minutes 15 seconds, this clip includes optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast member Sook-Yin Lee. This clip is basically some camera roll footage of the orgy scene, as we see how the scene was shot. The footage includes audio part of the time but is mostly silent, in the commentary Mitchell and Lee provide some insight into shooting sex and the challenge it posed plus they reveal that almost all the people in the scene were friends.

Following that are 8 deleted and extended scenes all of which include optional audio commentary, each track includes different participants but the general gist of each track is to comment on the scene, discuss the context and why it was cut. The scenes included are:

- "I Would've Been Somebody Else" runs for 1 minute 40 seconds with optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast members Lindsey Beamish and Adam Hardman. This is an extended scene with Severin performing her service to a client from the beginning of the film.

- "Marboro Man With Titties" runs for 1 minute 53 seconds with optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast members Sook-Yin Lee and Raphael Barker. Sofia and Rob share pillow talk about how the g-spot is named after the man who discovered it.

- "The Most Powerful City-State In The History Of The World" runs for 2 minutes 58 seconds with optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast members Paul Dawson, PJ DeBoy and Jay Brannan. Shabbos Goy tells of witnessing a guttural female orgasm.

- "Are You Sure You Don't Want To f*** Me?" runs for 1 minute 46 seconds with optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast members Paul Dawson and Jay Brannan. Ceth is propositioned for sex but would rather be receiving than delivering.

- "Ophelia's Clothes" runs for 6 minutes 32 seconds with optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast members Sook-Yin Lee and Bitch. This is the full uncut lesbian circle scene where Sofia describes how she feels when she's having sex that prohibits her from having an orgasm.

- "If You Weren't Molested As A Child, You Must Have Been An Ugly Kid" runs for 4 minutes 35 seconds with optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast members Sook-Yin Lee and Justin Bond. Sofia and the "Shortbus" mistress watch the orgy as the mistress tells Sofia that it's all for her.

- "Painful Gas And Intestinal Discomfort" runs for 3 minutes 9 seconds with optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast member Sook-Yin Lee. Sofia tunes out in a therapy session while Cheryl and her husband talk about intestinal discomfort.

- "Personal Assistant Suite" runs for 1 minute 18 seconds with optional audio commentary by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and cast member Peter Stickles. Caleb the voyeur takes calls from his boss while he's watching the two Jamies.

A video credit is included entitled "Thanks To The Shortbusriders" which runs for 2 minutes 20 seconds, these are a list of people that helped spread the word about this DVD edition.

Also included are the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 3 minutes 5 seconds, the films' original Internet trailer that runs for 3 minutes 21 seconds and also the teaser trailer which runs for 44 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are some bonus trailers for:

- "Candy" which runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds.
- "Off The Black" which runs for 2 minutes 12 seconds.
- "Tideland" which runs for 2 minutes 5 seconds.
- "Lie With Me" which runs for 1 minute.

Overall

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B Extras: A Overall: B+

 


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