Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"This leads to a degree of unevenness in the film, and at times it meanders in odd directions, but overall Hess and Peppard do a good job of pulling it back together." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Morgana was in her late forties when she got divorced. The people she had thought of as friends immediately began to shun her. All that her upbringing had focused on was teaching her to be a good wife and mother. She felt as if her role was over, her existence now pointless, and made serious plans to end her life. There was just one thing she wanted to do first - to experience a night of pleasure with an escort, sex on her own terms. It was an experience that turned her life around. By the time she turned 50 she was an award-winning porn star with a thriving social life. Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard's documentary looks at how it happened - and at what came next.

There's a lot of fascinating subject matter here, collected over a period of five years. It's presented in an appropriately inventive way, interviews and archive footage and clips from Morgana's films intercut with animated sequences that draw on Peppard's background in miniature-making for stop motion animation. Despite the subject matter there's relatively little explicit sexual content. The focus is more on desire than on activity, on Morgana's developing awareness of feminist thought and sex positivity, and on the celebration of bodies.

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Part of Morgana's insecurity, prior to her change of lifestyle, revolved around the fact that she's fat. Getting rid of the shame she had learned to associate with this, and with getting older, was a key part of her sexual awakening and a theme in her early short films, which won acclaim partly because they went beyond simple eroticism to express something very personal. Part of this documentary looks at what her work has meant to some of her fans, including men, who relate to that theme and recount how it relieved some of their own insecurities. In most English-speaking countries it's still a revolutionary thing to suggest that sexual pleasure shouldn't have an age limit, never mind to acknowledge that women whose bodies don't fit societal ideals still experience sexual desire. This film doesn't just make room for such suggestions, it shows us the joy on the faces of people whose thinking has changed.

Morgana's journey has been lengthy and complicated. This leads to a degree of unevenness in the film, and at times it meanders in odd directions, but overall Hess and Peppard do a good job of pulling it back together. Part of its unevenness also stems from Morgana's own temperament, and during the latter half she talks about her experience with mental illness in intimate detail. It's an important adjunct to her rise to success. As her dream becomes more complicated, we see a different, more human side to her. It's a reminder that achieving a dream doesn't always solve everything, and her willingness to reinvent herself yet again shows a different kind of heroism.

A very different item on the Fantasia 2020 menu, this is a passionate and challenging documentary which reflects the honesty of its subject's own work. it's blunt when it needs to be, unsparing, but many will find it inspirational.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2020
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A lonely housewife's plan to end it all takes an unexpected turn when her last hurrah begins a radical journey of sexual exploration and personal re-invention.

Director: Josie Hess, Isabel Peppard

Writer: Josie Hess, Isabel Peppard

Starring: Morgana Muses, Scarlet Blissand, Anna Brownfield, Kim Cums

Year: 2019

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: Australia


Fantasia 2020

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