Wednesday, June 27, 2018

John Cameron Mitchell

John Cameron Mitchell, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2006

YOU WOULDN'T KNOW FROM THESE VERY SIMPLE, EVEN FORMAL PORTRAITS just how outrageous Shortbus was - the movie that the subject was at the festival promoting. Maybe that's for the better - I'm not sure what I could have done in two minutes to tease that director John Cameron Mitchell's film contained a scene where a man sings the American national anthem into another man's asshole. And I'm not sure if that was the most outrageous scene.

Mitchell, an actor and writer in addition to being a director - had made his name with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a film about an East German post-op transsexual touring America with her punk band seeking revenge against the rock star who stole her songs. It's a bit Warholian and a bit Rocky Horror and has a cult following, which includes one of my most adamantly conservative friends. Which just goes to show that, in the end, the persistence of personal taste makes us all individuals, united against everyone else.

These portraits of Mitchell are pretty much where my work in the digital era finally started to coalesce around something like a new personal style - albeit one dictated by the brute circumstances under which I'd been working. It's simple and (often) symmetrical and all about the subject staring down me and my lens in the brief moment we had to make a portrait.

John Cameron Mitchell, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2006

The rooms are dark and so are the pictures - although I doubtless tried to lighten up the versions I sent into the free daily, since newsprint hates shadows. Which means that the photos that I'm posting now, over a decade since they were shot, are being seen as I imagined them for the first time ever. I'm making some kind of point about delayed gratification, which is suitable, I suppose, when talking about a film featuring a character desperate to have their first orgasm.

In my capacity as DVD columnist at the free daily, I ended up reviewing Shortbus when it came out on disc. I dug up the review the other day, and ended up quite liking this sentence:
Almost everybody ends up doing someone else during the course of the film, in varying combinations, but as John Cameron Mitchell’s film wears on, it becomes obvious that no amount of sex will cure their problems, and a thick sadness starts to saturate what started out as a gleefully outrageous tale, complete with a snide transvestite, a surly dominatrix, and a dim but beautiful male model.
The really funny thing is that my review reads as far less prudish and put off than the one that ran in the Guardian around the same time, where reviewer Philip French quotes Bertrand Russell's cringing dismissal of D.H. Lawrence's celebratory sequence of poems about his sexual liberation. Which seems noteworthy when you remember that I'm supposed to have a reputation as a social conservative. Once again, taste is what makes us individuals, not ideology.

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