XPerimental Eros (DVD Review)

Xperimental Eros is a collection of strange and varied short films now available on DVD from Other Cinema. UC Berkeley Film Studies and Rhetoric professor Linda Williams writes in the collection’s intro: “Experimental films show some of the same things that pornographic films show — soft or hardcore sex, sometimes laced with violence. But they show it differently.”

“What draws me to the experimental is very often the same thing that draws me to pornography: the chance to see the human body — and not just the face! — in all its beauty and/or grotesqueness — caught up in either the most boring or the most ecstatic of states. And if we look back at the history of experimental film and the history of porno, we see that they have often been confused by censors because they have been the one place in cinema where an interest in sex is not taboo. Compared to the mainstream cinema, these seemingly antithetical forms have a lot in common.”

I’m not sure I agree with Dr. Williams’ assertion that the forms are “seemingly antithetical” — I think Alfred Jarry, Salvador Dali, and Picasso would all have a thing or two to say about that. In my view, both genuine (maker-inspired) pornography and radical art, within which I include “experimental” art, derive from the same need to follow an internal vision at the possible cost of real-world credibility.

This is especially true nowadays, when the most common style of pornography is the first-person POV director, where it’s pretty damn clear that the film is driven by the sexual excitement of the guy behind the camera, in pretty concrete ways, tempered only by what the model is willing do to for the amount of money the guy has to pay her.

To my mind, Williams’ thesis assumes perceiving both experimental cinema and porn from the viewer’s perspective — but films aren’t made by viewers. You need only watch a late-night showing of thesis projects at an undergraduate film school (where experiment is built into the formula) to know that there is a vast gap between artistic filmmakers and their audiences, a gap that is perhaps less evident elsewhere in indie film, where commercial considerations dictate 95% of the filmmaking as opposed to the 99.99% they dictate in big-studio films.

Similarly to Williams’ thesis, the collection seems to come at pornographic imagery from an outsider’s perspective, with a shocking dearth of the porny obsessiveness, which Williams alludes to in her introduction, that draws porn into a repetitive loop, supposedly governed by the demands of audiences that come to it wanting to pop a woody but more often generated, in fact, by the artist’s own psychological triggers, from the banal to the bizarre.

Read the rest of the review on Eros Zine.

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