Sex with Strangers **
A documentary by Joe & Harry Gantz. Photography Mike Rock, Kary D'Alessandro, et al. Editing, Alysha Cohen. A Crushed Planet production. A View Film release. 105 minutes. Not rated.
Three pairs of swingers (two from the States of Washintong and Oregon, one from Mississippi) are followed by cameras and microphones over a period of time. The film underlines the fact that swingers engage in sex as duos and are not to be confused with "open marriage" couples in which each partner has "outside" affairs which get labeled as "cheating "or "infidelity." So much for matters of morality.
The Gantz Bros were apparently successful with their long-running HBO series "Taxicab Confessions." I cannot judge this item as I caught just part of a single episode before I dropped HBO and Cinemax in favor of channels such as Sundance, BBC, the Independent Film Channel, a second History channel, and other sources of satisfaction.
Here the couples (and/or trios,) complete with tattooes and gold rings in odd places, range in age from twenties to late thirties. Some (one with a child) are married, others not. Their activities are more or less detailed, both visually and in spoken language. The older twosome is relatively well-balanced, lives in a motor home, drives it a lot, parks it outside swinger clubs for immediate access by the owners and their recruits for one-night (or one-hour) stands.
The others have problems--such as jealousy, getting older, etc.--that I shall not detail. The youngest male is named Calvin. He is an insufferable, overbearing schmuck. James, the oldest male, seems to spend as much time polishing his motor home as in doing anything else.
There is, overall, a solid quota of sex and nudity but compared to staged movie-porn it is relatively mild. At least two cameras are used per scene. All things considered they do a better job than the microphones which record endless and dull language and conversations. All of the "performers" are what in the U.K. is known as the working class, though no one seems to work here. The Internet is one of their sources for fresh partners. The oral/aural contents of this work are most limited in interest, dialogue or voiced thoughts.
The film is what in music is called a "tema con variazone," but it is far too limited and unsophisticated to accomplish this. It not riveting, instructive, arousing, illuminating, or even titillating. What it aims at seems to be the status of a "reality" movie. However, "reality" of this sort has turned out to be a fake in most cases. The genre is a successor (on video) of the "cinema verité" which surfaced around the time of the French New Wave, mostly thanks to the great, compact, Nagra tape-recorder (Swiss-made) and to light, portable 16 mm. film cameras. At the time there were furious debates as to whether or not the new technology produced truly "true" documentaries. The naysayers' main point was that the very presence of a visible camera made its human subjects act, at least to some degree.
There is no doubt that the presence of equipment and camera-people, no matter how relatively inobtrusive, affects this movie's principals. To boot, their bad English, non-BBC elocution, and fast talk do induce a certain lack of clarity. Still, the characters are far more credible and presentable than those appearing on TV's Jerry Springer show. Even so, the people are not exactly rocket scientists with profound thoughts.
The main information derives from this work is that swingers are far more numerous than many imagine. The main puzzlement is not who and what those people are but how, no matter how cautious, those types avoid--if they do--venereal diseases, AIDS and other such bonuses.
The video shipped to my newspaper came with a wealth of nicely printed positive reviews, mostly from the alternative press. Most of the mainstream press is much less flattering. Still, this work is a curiosity, one that premiered on cable TV.