Marc Huestis brings us interviews with 15 men, including himself, around a set of topics starting with “what is sex?” The film was made in 1993 so it is quite dated but interesting nonetheless. men are gay, living in or near San Francisco. They talk about their first sexual experiences, the gay scene in San Francisco in the late 1970s, the pall cast by AIDS, the safe-sex movement, getting into serious relationships, the illness and death of partners, pornography, S/M and pain, race and stereotypes, personal fantasies, and bliss. Huestis has a thesis, that sex is going to be with us, so how best do we embrace it? There are 15 subjects, archival footage, clips from porn films, and looks at men loving men.
When it was released, the film was met with popular and critical acclaim throughout the U.S. and abroad and it placed amongst the top 5 grossing documentaries of 1993, according to Variety. Many claimed to never having seen anything like it before. It is “explicit but not pornographic, blunt but not titillating, this is unapologetic in its discussion of the often poignant reactions and adjustments to the AIDS crisis.”
Through graphic footage and surprisingly candid interviews, the film covers a range of gay male experiences from “monogamous bliss to bath house orgies” but it also takes a risk of getting stuck on director Mark Huestis’ fascination with S&M technology. It also takes a stand in defense of life over death as it offers a vivid chronicle of gay life before and after the virus.
This documentary covers the whole fascinating spectrum of what sex means in gay society. It looks at the issues of race, religion, monogamy/promiscuity, love, friendship, community, gender identity, “coming out, coming of age, coming…(!). We see the dichotomies of different stories as it weaves a whole patchwork of the makings of a community from the personal to the political. What makes the commentary interesting is not only its diversity but that each commentator tells us about some piece of ourselves. By including people of all ages, we learn something of our history (something which the current generation seems to be interested in forgetting).
Occasionally throughout we get clips of grainy gay porn and the men interviewed hold nothing back. The language and sexual talk is frank. Watching it today, I see that it has lost its shock value but it is still a fascinating film.