Reviewed by: Chris

Andy Warhol once said, "An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have but that he - for some reason - thinks it would be a good idea to give them." Destricted doesn't fit into convenient mainstream, or even arthouse niches, but is like a Tate Modern exhibit that has more in common with underground art, or the Warhol aesthetic, than conventional film genres. It would be hard to identify a "market" for the film, yet it is undoubtedly of some merit.

Destricted is a collection of shorts, linked by a common theme. Two of them are directed by acclaimed film directors and the other five made by heavyweights (two of them women) from the world of contemporary art. All were invited to make films on their views of sex and pornography. They are Gaspar Noé (Irreversible), Larry Clark (Kids), Matthew Barney (Cremaster cycle), Marina Abramov (Sean Kelly Gallery), Richard Prince (Spiritual America), Marco Brambilla (Demolition Man) and Turner Prize nominee Sam Taylor-Wood.

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The films are mostly iconographic or impersonal fabrications. They distil essential elements into images that remain long after they are viewed. Each uses different artistic techniques and each is worthy of serious study - although cinema audiences' reactions may also include boredom and amusement. In making this as a commercial movie, the producers establish fairly extreme imagery (by contemporary standards) as art that the reasonable censors dare not touch - the BBFC passed it uncut - and also launch an experiment in which the audience is largely unaware. An insight is provided by a free discussion download from the Tate Modern (where the film was also screened), when leading commentators address audience responses, from serious art analysis to the macho "chavs"'s reactionary attempt to put it down as boring ("Yes, but would you find it 'boring' in the privacy of your own home?" counters one of the panel in addressing the "pornographic" element.)

The most accessible section - and most linear in format - is Impaled, which is also the longest at 38 minutes. Clark is interested in the effect pornography has on youngsters, but his film goes further, looking at the human dynamics and insecurities of the porn industry and making a porn film. He interviews young male pornstar wannabees, in discussions that are almost like a shrink session, asking them about their sexual experience, preferences and use of pornography. One of them is a virgin. Many have quite understandable hang-ups about their bodies. Asked what sort of things they would like to do, they all express an interest in anal sex. When they undress, nearly all of them are shaved. These last two characteristics, although only evinced by a minority of the general population, are frequently the norm in pornographic films. Clark gets the most promising candidate to interview the female porn star applicants. The girls are shown as human and genuinely sensual (unlike the way they are portrayed in porn films), although their comfortable attitude to sexuality threatens to bring out more of the guys' insecurities (a theme that was explored well in Breillat's Sex Is Comedy). The girls prove mostly adept at putting the young man at ease, however, and he selects the oldest of them (40yrs) to be his "co-star." Having got this far, it would be a shame if Clark had opted to make the film funny, or sterile, or miss out the actual planned sex scene. He does avoid the pitfall, making his contribution a documentary about porn that is also seamlessly pornographic. Unlike porn, however, we have (to uses Breillat's famous distinction) invested emotionally in the characters by this point and the resultant scene is both sensitive and uncomfortably sexy. With porn, the actors are de-humanised, but here there is a sense of walking in on people we know and therefore have only a dubious right to be aroused. It is not shocking, in the way porn is no longer shocking, but still arouses mixed reactions.

The sense of dislocation is felt even more strongly in House Call by Prince (a 12-minute section). Almost an homage to a golden age of porn, he takes the naughty doctor/patient fantasy stereotype andreprocesses it until the quality of the image is overrun with graininess and bad lighting. To this, he adds jangling, futuristic music so that, even though the images are very explicit, we are reduced to observing them in a distant, dispassionate way. It reminded me of a dinner party I attended with a famous sexologist and a couple of guests. She broke off to show one of the earliest porn films transferred to video. A forkful of roast meat with cranberry sauce was halfway to my mouth as she observed, "Isn't it remarkable, with the equipment they had in those days, how they managed to get the lighting right under that guys balls . . ." With House Call, the audience is similarly forced to confront material they might technically class as pornographic, or erotic, but simultaneously forced to observe it in a totally dispassionate light. At that point, it is a short leap to see the doctor/patient romp as a deeply ingrained representation permeating our cultural mindset.

Hoist, Barney's 15-minute contribution, will be no surprise to fans of his acclaimed Cremaster Cycle. He develops cryptic, intricate symbols that draw you in to their artistry long before you decipher them, whether in Freudian, or any other terms. He is a very visual artist and can be extremely unsettling, perhaps in the way Dali is. His film work proceeds at an almost organic pace, like watching crystals form, or a speeded up image of nature, and the end result can be very disquieting. At the start of Hoist (the first short featured in Destricted), we are not sure what we are looking at. It could be a slug. Very slowly it grows, like a painting that slowly changes. Gradually we become aware that it is in reality something very different to what we had expected. It is a human penis. From there on it gets even more weird. The ultimate, dystopian contrast occurs in an onanistic union with a deforestation machine.

Balkan Erotic Epic by Abramov is 13 minutes of amusing, but quite instructional scenes, re-enacting ancient sexual rites for fertility, warding off evil and the like. It also provides some of the most memorable images, such as the bare-breasted woman repeatedly clutching a skull to her chest in the closing credits. One of the scenes, where men are seen from above, lying face down and copulating with the earth itself, not only touches the myths of many ancient cultures, but visually recalls some of the work of the photographer Spencer Tunick, who stages vast public gatherings of naked people around the world.

Brambilla's Sync is the shortest contribution, at less than two minutes. He uses sensory overload in the form of clips, each no more than a few frames in length, from typical hard core features. The resulting choreographed collage, set to loud drum music, is like being hit over the head with a Dante-esque force that once would have appeared sexual, or arousing.

Death Valley by Taylor-Wood is eight minutes long and puts a Marlboro man type in one of the hottest, infertile places in the world, where he "spills his seed." Her work often has the human figure isolated on film, as if she views the body in its most revealing moments as a work of art in itself. Death Valley conveys the loneliness and stigma attached to self-stimulation and makes for uncomfortable, almost homoerotic viewing.

Noé provides one of the longer segments with We Fuck Alone at 23 minutes. As in his earlier Irreversible, he uses strobes and a heartbeat-like thumping background score to create sensory disorientation. There are scenes of male/female sex followed by solo female and solo male scenes. At one point a man puts a gun in a sex toy doll's mouth as he copulates with it. Is he getting a safe release, or exacerbating a dangerous fantasy? Is the gun a symbol of power to reinforce his sense of masculinity? Maybe the scene suggests the danger of sexual repression, symbolised by solitary pleasure. If the psyche is unable to negotiate normal sexual relations with another person it tends towards force and a desire for dominance. The title is a play on the director's first feature film, Seul Contre Tous, a controversial story about despair and loneliness and the resulting sexual pathology.

As with Irreversible, the audience has to disengage emotionally and sexually to draw ideas from Destricted and perhaps evaluate it properly. The film hovers uneasily and intentionally between art and porn. Although offering a forum for uncensored, legal work, it aspires in very different directions to those of Breillat, who redefines and circumvents pornography, Winterbottom (9 Songs), or the limits of acceptability, such as Gallo with Brown Bunny, or Oshima in the classic Ai No Corrida.

In many ways this is a film about film, an examination of how images of sex and pornography affect us and are central to our culture. For those planning to catch a screening, especially those more familiar with cinema than contemporary art, learning as much about the artists and their work before viewing could be recommended. Otherwise, the predictable reactions mean that many will miss the point.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2006
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Explicit seven-part portmanteau feature examining pornography, sexuality and art.
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Themroc **1/2

Director: Marina Abramovic, Matthew Barney, Marco Brambilla, Larry Clark, Gaspar Noé, Richard Prince, Sam Taylor-Wood

Year: 2006

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, US

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