I was originally going to take on this review in the usual manner,
going through the movie scene by scene, but I've changed tack this
time, partly because Sexual Disorder has been so ably reviewed in
this way elsewhere on this site, and partly because I really wanted
to discuss some of the points it makes. Unfortunately, I was listening
to Journey while drinking a bottle of the Bailie Nicol Jarvie when
I was inspired with numerous ideas for this review, most of which
have already slipped from my mind. Which is probably a relief to
you. In the end, what I have is a collection of fragmented statements,
questions and half-recollected notions to share.
The primary thing that I want to say is that I am passionate about
Mason's right to make this movie but I am less passionate about
some of the things it takes in. It really does surprise me that
Sexual Disorder, and indeed The Fashionistas, should receive - at
least at first - largely uncritical appraisal when the subject matter
is such that extreme reactions must inevitably be provoked. It's
not that these are bad movies, but rather that Sexual Disorder in
particular seems like such a powerful personal statement from Mason,
so closely tied to her own concerns, that it's almost inevitable
that elements of it will jar with individual viewers' sensibilities.
Simply put: some will love it, but some will truly hate it.
A flimsy comparison with French independent cinema
It just so happens that I watched Baise-moi this week, before Sexual
Disorder, and while the comparison may or may not be somewhat fatuous,
it still provided food for thought. Namely, is pornography the best
form for dealing with the kind of issues that Mason wants to breach?
After all, she clearly wants the audience to think as well as stroke
off in response to this movie. In that regard, this is a true success
because if surely only the most jaded of viewers will find their
thoughts are not truly provoked after viewing Sexual Disorder. Secondly,
and less favourably, with allowances made for differences in scale
of production, Baise-moi shows what can be done with a punchy, fast
moving independent movie, illustrating how laboured some parts of
Sexual Disorder are. I just wonder if the long, harsh, relentless
sex scenes really maximise the impact or if they reduce it to a
relative level of normality.
The Baise-moi comparison was made mostly because I felt the issues
of femininity that Mason deals with overlap. Specifically, that
women are really and truly free to choose whatever path in life
they desire. Did feminism really mean that an autocracy of feminists
should replace traditional paternalistic social values? Shouldn't
women be able to do whatever they wish in the same way as men? After
all, I can't think of any path chosen by men that is considered
to demean other men.
For me, the real key to success in this genre is the connection
between the performers, and that's something that's brought into
stark relief by the first two scenes. In the first, Mason finds
relief from the harsh regime of the psychiatric facility she's in
by watching Mickey G cruelly bang the life out of (initially hooded)
slave Jessica Darlin till she's reeling like a punch drunk boxer.
In the second, Katrina Kraven becomes the plaything of Manuel Ferrara
and Denis Marti. On one level the sex is similar - lots of face
and tit slapping, spanking, anal sex and an abundance of rough attitude
- but on another they could not be more different.
The raw desire and passion of Katrina's scene is so evident, and
draws me in as it's so clear the performers innately relate to each
other, while Jessica's scene is so heavily focussed on the subjugation
of the woman, who ends up having her head bashed against the wall
of the service elevator in which the action takes place, as Mickey
ruthlessly throat fucks her. Of course, Jessica's submission is
entirely of her own volition, but the two scenes act as a rudimentary
barometer of what I find comfortable and oppressive as far as this
type of sex is concerned, especially when considering the aspects
of trust, control and mutual understanding that I feel are crucial.
Mind your language
The difference in the attitude of the male performers is another
point; one that I also feel reflects a wider issue. While Denis
and Manuel do it in a way I only wish I could, I have serious misgivings
about the way some of the guys, especially in the later scenes with
Julie Night, pile in and heap on the physical and verbal abuse,
as though they've just been waiting for the chance. So yeah, yeah,
yeah, it's only a film, they're only playing a part, but it bothers
me, like this is legitimising a certain attitude. The wider point
is that I recall a discussion on the ADT forums where Mason responded
to a comment I'd made about the use of terms like "bitch", "whore",
"slut" etc. I accept the point she made, which I shall refrain from
paraphrasing here, but my lasting concern is that the men in the
business who continue to use such language and many viewers at home
are far from being clued in on the determination of Mason and like-minded
women to make something positive from such terminology.
As the movie generally deals with Mason's - or should that be Mason's
character's - obsessive pursuit of Julie Night and ends with
a trio of emotionally draining scenes where Julie is almost literally
put through the wringer, it would be churlish of me to skip Julie's
massive contribution. I wonder what sort of award-ceremony bauble
could compensate Julie for the way she bares her heart and soul
in this performance, not to mention allowing herself to be tortured
by paintball! At times her intensity is frightening, and I warmed
to her defiance in the latter scene where she's being strapped and
slapped and she roars at the guys, questioning their heterosexuality.
She says they can't do anything to her. I wonder if this is a statement
or merely provocation. It also worries me where the next level from
this might be. Her performance is really emotional and often pretty
hard to take.
Sexual Disorder lends a different perspective on a couple of its
performers. Maggie Star and Mr Pete conjure up a scene that casts
both in a new light, as they clearly have empathy for the subject
matter. I also feel their scene has an intimacy and immediacy that
better puts the curious viewer into the mindset of people in such
a situation. This is perhaps the most intriguing scene in the movie,
in some ways, and the hot wax treatment for Maggie in combination
with some raw fuck action and the dubious delights of rough verbal
and physical treatment makes for a surprisingly memorable scene.
It's certainly the best I've seen from either performer.
In her scene, a raw, crude and sweaty jail cell number with Wesley
and Cuntree, Selena Silver looks hot in black stockings, but that's
just right up my street anyway. This is actually pretty conventional
porn, though certainly hot enough to merit inclusion. It does inspire
a couple of thoughts: I was surprised Wesley struggles to keep it
up for Selena, but am I reading too much into it to wonder why the
only black characters in the whole tale just so happen to be jailbirds?
Lastly, I must commend the way Mason has shot Sexual Disorder. It's
a truly gonzo movie with the camera forming the view of a protagonist
in the action. Mason's perspective is pretty naturalistic, and she
seems to have an instinctive notion of how to shoot around the sex
rather than arranging the performers to suit the camera. It's obviously
low budget but is quietly innovative in its use of "home movie"
footage and so forth to fill in the story. I'm not so sure the use
of car lights, in the manner of the "dogging" scenes in Never Say
Never to Rocco Siffredi, is a really effective way of illuminating
the action in the later scenes here.
In the end…
So to sum up, Sexual Disorder is not easy viewing and as such it's
hard for me to firm up a conclusion, as I have yet to resolve many
of the issues I have with the movie. It's not a middle of the road
flick, and will not receive a middle of the road score from me.
I should note that I rarely place much emphasis on the scores I
attach to a movie, but in this case the marks are awarded with particularly
plentiful caveats and qualifications. Sexual Disorder is provocative,
intense, passionate and utterly committed in all regards, but it
would be surprising if it were to be the subject of unequivocal
approval. For my part, I have my doubts. Of course, like most of
these things this is all a matter of personal preference and perception,
and in that regard it all feels like such a personal statement that
at times I empathise but equally often I feel held at arm's length.
There's something I find unavoidably alienating in the scenes where
Jessica and Julie are really being treated badly. The idea that
this is their choice is fine, but it makes it no easier to watch.
This is a fine package, with a good selection of extras to back
up the main feature. You can view the "home movies" with Julie that
are used in the movie, see scenes from the making of the feature,
some outtakes and listen to an interview with Mason - done before
she "came out" in public! As is so often the case, the behind the
scenes material casts much of what we've seen in a different light
- especially the Jessica/Mickey G scene - and provides an adroit
insight into many of the topics that Sexual Disorder seeks to discuss.
The picture quality of the main feature is pretty good, but although
this is a feature-length story, it's done in the usual gritty gonzo
style. The sound is fine.