I recently watched five documentaries online, and all of them were about extremes of American stupidity and narcissism, in the forms of religion and sex. They were American Jesus; Orgasm, Inc.; Hot Girls Wanted; The Final Member; and Do I Sound Gay?
The first film under review is a 77 minute long documentary from 2010 called American Jesus. Yes, the annoying trend from the 1990s, of naming a product ‘American Something’ had yet to abate by 2010. Whether it still has is up for debate. What is not up for debate is that this cookie cutter film is utterly mediocre, at best.
The premise that Spanish director Aram Garriga pursues is, ‘Guess what> Aren’t we Americans an odd lot? Not that most believe in Jesus Christ, in some form, but that we do so in the oddest ways.’ We see snake charmers and bikers, stripper ministries, a pro-Creationism museum in Appalachia, and many other fringe cults of Christianity outside the mainstream Roman Catholicism and major Protestant sects. Hell, most of these loony tunes make the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses look normal! Ain’t that funny? Ain’t that a hoot? Well, no. It’s slightly depressing, but mostly narcoleptic.
It’s not all condescending, but it’s utterly unenlightening. Why do these folks do the things they do? Why does a weightlifter, lifting up a tree trunk, need to believe? Why does some fool create a television show called Bibleman? What is the relation of outlier Christianity to America’s obsession with capitalism? These points are nicked but never split wide open. I mean, who in the hell would want a pro-Jesus mixed martial arts clothing line? Why does a minister hope that by putting salacious covers on Bibles he will win converts? Near the film’s end it flirts with more serious journalism, but one always senses that Garriga is just shaking his head in disbelief, behind the camera, at the crazy gringos he encounters.
This is a film that has moments where it could have been something seen on one of the PBS broadcast documentary series, while the rest of the film could as easily been a gag reel at the Museum for the Weird and Inane! We follows a former druggy who has become a minister, but whether or not he is making a real difference is never related. He is trotted out as a freak- which he may very well be; but he also might be doing some minor positives with his work. The film drops the ball. We don’t even get a decent backgrounding of the subject of religion, and especially Christianity, in America. Sans this, a person from another country will get a very poor sense of not just the religiosity of America, but of America itself.
But, that’s just the start, A 79 minute film from a year earlier, called Orgasm Inc. is just as potentially journalistic as American Jesus, yet ends up equally as irresponsible. The film was the debut of Liz Canner and it presumably sets to take on the linkage of claims of FSD (Female Sexual Dysfunction) with the rise of many of Big Pharma’s claims to be developing a female Viagra. Of course, Viagra was tried with women and failed, because, unlike men, when women are not aroused, it is usually because of emotional issues, not a physical flaw, of which 90% of male Erectile Dysfunction stems from.
In the film, Canner is an editor of softcore films for Vivus, a pharmaceuticals company hoping to market a pill to counter what the company ludicrously (and non-medically) calls a disease: FSD. The film does a decent job of detailing the bullshit, lies, hucksterism and lust for pelf that drives Big Pharma, and we meet an assortment of repugnant characters, such as a female doctor getting rich off prescribing Viagra for women, even though it’s not approved for that purpose. This is known as off label prescription.
Throughout the film we see Canner get more and more cynical about FSDand her company’s blatant pandering for money. Whether or not this was real, or part of her planned diegetic narrative within the film is unclear, but I sense it was scripted, for to believe Canner was so ignorant at film’s start beggars credulity. The cynicism with which Vivus, its sales force, and legions of easily co-opted and corrupted doctors, export clearly specious information on the public is galling, and only at film’s end does Canner set the record ‘straight.’ Even worse than unneeded medications is a growing industry for female cosmetic vaginal surgery, to make vagina’s not only more attractive, but responsive. All this despite the fact that women are clearly not as physically invested in sex as men!
The film’s biggest failing is that for the bulk of its run time, not a serious question of any depth is actually asked, and the deepest thing revealed is that ‘blood flow is not what gets women hot!’
Seriously, this is the film’s major lesson. So, on that note, and while acknowledging that Orgasm Inc. is clearly not the worst film you could watch while surfing through Netflix, in no way can I recommend it as an experience that might leave one with the satisfaction of having been educated by it.
Hot Girls Wanted is another in the long line of anti-pornography documentaries that have had minor claims to fame over the last half century. It peddles the same nonsense that Linda Lovelace trafficked in: that all pornography is bad because it exploits women, who are poor victims of male lust, especially for ‘barely legal’ teenagers.
This narrative thoroughly informs the content and aim of this 82 minute long documentary from 2015, directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, yet, incredibly, the very content we are shown, of numbers of young female pro-am porno stars, meaning amateurs who get paid, and not the Jenna Jameson type, argues against that very premise. Sure, some of the girls are not ecstatic with their work, but none seems willing to leave it, and not because they have no choice. But, most of the female stars seem to enjot=y the work, their own camaraderie, and to such an extent that, like 98% of people who work in other fields, their biggest complaints about their job are NOT that they are exploited, but that they are bored, the work is not fulfilling, they don’t make enough, and so forth. Yes, their plaints are that they are mere workers, commodities, just like garbagemen, warehouse workers, and so forth. Seriously, this film that was clearly made with an agenda against the genre actually argues against that agenda!
The film details young women who are quite ordinary, whether doing film work or hosting online ‘chats’ in lingerie or less, with horny emailers and texters. There is even a near surreal scene in which a bored little porno star tells her mother of her career, and they very calmly talk about how she avoids diseases and pregnancy. Her mother, a bit shocked, is speechless as her daughter calmly informs her of bi-weekly doctor’s checkups for venereal diseases, as well as avoiding pregnancy by having their male co-stars come on them, not in them. Yet, one need only look at the dead end lives of the mother to understand just why this ‘hot girl’ left town in the first place.
Far from being exploited, this girl is using the lone marketable asset she has, her body, to its maximum advantage, to survive and possibly plan a future, when her hot girl status is cool and she’s a middle aged woman like her mother. Sure, the girls are naïve, but so is EVERY young worker in any industry. Sure, there are exploitive parts of porno, but every business exploits its workers by the fundamental nature of being a business. Is anything the girls are subjected to any more cruel that the manager who forces a worker to work while injured instead of collecting disability? Of course not.
Thus, the film’s very out of stepness with what it shows, its own dogmatic and out of touch viewpoint, makes this film an artistic failure even if, oddly, it achieves that great fallacy of bad artists everywhere: it tells the truth!
Perhaps the best of this five pack of documentaries I watched involved the oddest person profiled. The Final Member is a 2012 film that comes in at 72 minutes in length, and details the Icelandic founder of the world’s only penis museum. He has the penises of thousands of animals, but is missing a human penis to display. The film documents his ultimately triumphal search for one- a penis, that is. A human penis. From a male. Just in case you forgot that fact in these gender mixing days!
The museum is actually called the Icelandic Phallological Museum, and its founder is not a repressed homosexual with a fetish. Instead, he is Sigurdur ‘Siggi’ Hjartarson, The film starts off with his bizarre 30 plus year obsession with collecting penises as well as sculpting wood into phalloi, like a penile mini-bar and salt and pepper shaker! Siggi is a senior citizen and his obsession started relatively late in life, and the film follows him over several years on his quest.
Directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math gleefully detail his museum’s greatest treasures, and why he wants to display a human penis before he dies. Siggi, it turns out, has two possible specimens to choose from. A bizarre Californian rancher named Tom Mitchell, who named his penis Elmo, but wants to have surgery to remove it because he injured it during sex decades earlier, and has to engage in vacuuming his penis so he can urinate properly, has his glans tattooed like an American flag, and considers his penis’s display in the museum as his one chance at immortality. Of course, we learn he loses out to a nonagenarian that Siggi knows locally: Pall Arason, who has agreed to leave his penis, but only after death. Siggi fears the old man’s penis may be too shriveled to be good (five inches is a minimum length), but he seems turned off by Mitchell’s obsessiveness. Nonetheless, Arason croaks, and Siggi calls Mitchell with the bad news- not that Arason is dead, but that Elmo is not needed, despite Mitchell’s dressing his penis in costumes.
Nonetheless, all ends well: Arason’s penis is long enough, but once displayed in formaldehyde, is so whitened and shriveled as to be barely recognizable as a penis- much less one with scrotum and testes- a fact that sets Arason’s member apart from Mitchell’s. Siggi rejoices, and stands akimbo in front of the rock carved phallus in front of his museum. Even Mitchell seems to have moved on, as the closing credits tell us he’s developing a superhero comic book based on the adventures of…. Elmo!
No, The Final Member is not a good nor deep film, but it is sort of fun. These days, that’s about the best documentaries can seem to offer!
Such a pleasure is not forthcoming from the pointless vanity documentary from David Thorpe called Do I Sound Gay? The self-loathing director claims to be ok with his homosexuality, yet everything the film shows and displays about him belies this claim, and when you make a fim (released in 2014) that runs 77 minutes in counter to such a claim, maybe it’s time the director actually watched his own creation and reassess said claim!
The film details why so many homosexual makes (at least in the English speaking world, have the ‘gay lisp’ or the ‘gay accent.’ One positive the film details is how absolutely the accent is a learned trait, not something that is genetically made. We see gay sounding heterosexuals and straight sounding homosexuals, so the trait is clearly a learnt one, from one’s youth. Naturally, the film does not take the extra step of asking if a major affectation of homosexual life is clearly a choice, then perhaps so, too is homosexuality itself a choice- at least for some male homosexuals. The best we get is a researcher who admits that 60% of people can tell a male’s homosexuality from his voice, yet then declares the test a failure.
Thorpe spends most of the film searching for voice coaches to lose his nasality and upward inflections. We see him interview a bevy of people, but his determination for the film to focus on himself and his own personal perceptions of lacking this or that means the film is ultimately a piece of puffery rather than a serious examination into the life and meaning of homosexuality in modern American society. Among the gay men Thorpe interviews are bad writer David Sedaris, CNN newscaster Don Lemon, bad advice columnist Dan Savage, Star Trek actor George Takei, bad comedienne and lesbian Margaret Cho (for reasons never iterated), and celebrity fashion guru Tim Gunn. Just a brief scan of that list will evince the fact that the film is all empty calories.
And that’s a shame, because a better filmmaker, and one not intent and content to document his own vanity, would have founded numerous moments to expand upon, and lend a viewer, especially a younger one, the opportunity to be educated as well as entertained (well, there was an attempt at entertainment). But, this is a non-starter which means that Do I Sound Gay? ends up as one of those films that seems to have relevance, but when looked at just a few years down the line will elicit nothing but question marks as to why this film was even made.
In a slim qualitative field, only The Final Member has any real positives going for it, but, that said, if you happen to not see it you will not regret it either.
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