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More Talk Less Rock   by Greta Christina

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Reviewer Greta Christina has worked in and around the sex industry for over a decade writing about it, editing books about it, and living it. She edited Paying For It, a collection of articles by all kinds of sex workers: dommes, escorts, peep show girls, T-girls. Her novella called Bending is out in Susie Bright's book Three Kinds of Asking For It (published by Simon & Schuster and can be found at amazon.com). In response to overwhelming member requests for reviews of sex toys, sexy films, and other sex whatnots, Ms. Christina brings her girl-about-sex wisdom twice monthly to Adult FriendFinder. You can check out Ms. Christina on her web site, www.GretaChristina.com.
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Orgasm! Faces of Ecstasy, DVD
Produced by Joani Blank. Directed, shot, and edited by Marianna Beck and Jack Hafferkamp. 120 minutes. Blank Tapes and Libido Films. Available at Good Vibrations, www.goodvibes.com.

First and foremost, I want to say this: The core of this DVD is rock-solid. Beautiful, fascinating, completely unlike any other adult movie you've ever seen, not to mention vividly hot. I mention this because many things about the movie make me very cranky, and I'll be ranting about them at some length. So I want to make it clear upfront: The heart of the movie is stunning, and I do in fact recommend it.

The heart of "Orgasm! Faces of Ecstasy" is footage of the faces of people having orgasms. Just the faces. No naked bodies, no butts or boobs or genitals. You might think that'd be boring or frustrating... but in fact, it's anything but. A person's face gets across the actual feeling of an orgasm, what it feels like to be inside a body having one, better than a hundred cum shots. If you've ever watched your lover's face when they're coming, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The opening pleasure, the building tension, the up-and-down rollercoaster of arousal and collapse, the final ferocious release, the sweet relaxing comedown... all of that plays out on the face more vividly, more intimately, more expressively, than on any other body part. It's unbelievably intimate, so personal as to be almost unsettling. Other adult videos (good ones, anyway) turn me on, inspire me to fuck or jerk off, make me want to come. Watching this one makes me feel like I'm coming.



And when you have 22 people having 22 orgasms, all woven together in an intercut montage of close-ups on their faces, it feels like one big group orgasm, an ecstatic collage of arousal and pleasure, an intense and almost overwhelming whole made up of fascinating individual parts. "Orgasm! Faces of Ecstasy" has a tremendous variety of people in it -- women and men and trans, big and skinny and medium, black and white and Asian and Latino, with ages ranging from 22 to 68 -- and all of their orgasms woven together give a gorgeous, fascinating, wildly sexy view of human sexual repines, of what we have in common and what is uniquely our own.

So why am I cranky? I'm cranky for one big, glaring reason. "Orgasm: Faces of Ecstasy" is a one-hour movie (not including DVD extras)... in which the actual ecstatic faces take up less than 15 minutes.

You heard me right. This amazing, arousing footage of people's faces as they come -- 15 minutes. The rest of the video consists of interviews with the participants, discussing how they felt about being in the video, why they wanted to do it, what they felt its political implications were, whether it should have been shot in digital or analog.... okay, not that last thing. But you get the idea.

Now, if you include the DVD extras, you do get more of the promised ecstasy. There's extended individual footage of six of the participants, with more orgasm time as well as more interviews. And one of the extras is the very first nine-minute "Faces of Ecstasy" video made many years ago. So that's more play time for you. But even if you include all the extras, you still have less than an hour of ecstatic faces in a nearly two-hour movie. The unique, sexy, solid foundation is buried in a pile of glonk.

This is a problem for a lot of reasons. The most obvious is that it's boring. A talking-heads documentary is hard to keep interesting in the best of circumstances, and an audience that's impatient to get to the pretty orgasms is not the best of circumstances. While this may sound like a boorish "Skip the chit-chat and get to the sex" gripe, that's really not what I'm getting at. I'm not that much of a Philistine, really. I am, in fact, perfectly happy to watch a documentary about sex that doesn't have any sex in it at all. But that's not how this video is being pitched. This video is being pitched as "Watch the faces of people coming, oo how beautiful and sexy" -- not "Watch a few minutes of the faces of people coming and then listen to them blather about it for close to an hour."

Okay, "blather" isn't really fair. These are smart, sexually-aware people, and they have some good things to say. But while the interviews start out reasonably interesting, they do get a bit tedious after a while. A lot of the participants say a lot of the same things -- they're all from the San Francisco Bay Area, they're clearly all part of the Bay Area sex-positive subculture, and they're mostly coming from very similar places, with very similar ideas. They're interesting and thoughtful places and ideas, but you don't need to hear them repeated 22 times.

And there's a distancing quality to the interviews, a strong tendency to intellectualize that yanks you right out of your body and dumps you into your head. Look, I like sex theory as much as the next nerd, I think it's important and often fascinating and fun -- but when I'm watching a DVD that's supposedly about the beauty and delight of the human face when it's coming, I hit my theory limit pretty damn fast. Everyone in the video talks for so long about how wonderful and cutting-edge it is to be showing this intimate act in this intimate way, and after a while I just wanted to scream, "So show it already!" If it's so goddamn beautiful and intimate and precious, can we stop analyzing it for six seconds and just for fuck's sake see it?

All this talkiness might have been okay if it hadn't been so self-referential and inwardly focused. But so much of the interview footage is focused on the DVD itself: how the participants felt about it, why they were doing it, whether they felt making it was a political act, etc. Maybe I'm too bourgeois in my sensibilities, but it seems to me that a "making of the video" video shouldn't be three times as long as the actual video itself.

I should make it clear that none of this is the participants' fault. They were just answering the questions they were asked. The responsibility falls squarely on the filmmakers. The filmmakers were the ones who asked these 22 intelligent people in their camera lens and then asked them nothing but navel-gazing, snake-eating-its-tail questions about being in the video. And the filmmakers are the ones who decided that listening to people intellectualize about their orgasms would be more interesting than watching people have them.

But even if the content of the interviews had been fascinating, their sheer volume would still have been a problem. There's something my partner Ingrid pointed out about the original "Faces of Ecstasy" video, which is that it gave you this sense of mystery, a curiosity about who the participants were and what their deal was. She said it was a bit of a tease, but it was the good kind of tease, the kind that leaves you fascinated and wanting more. Not with the new DVD. By the time you get around to the orgasms in the new DVD, you don't have even the slightest scrap of curiosity about these people. In fact, you're getting kind of sick of them. I wouldn't be nearly so irritated with the interview footage if there hadn't been so bloody much of it.

There is, however, a very simple solution to all of these problems, one that I think will make watching it a true delight. I don't like to advocate fast-forwarding in an adult movie, especially fast-forwarding through dialog to get to the sex. It seems like cheating or skipping foreplay or something. But in this case, I say go for it, and with gusto. If I hadn't been reviewing it and thus feeling obligated to watch the whole damn thing straight through, I would have hit fast forward very quickly. And I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more, and felt a whole lot less cranky about it.

Here's what you want: You want Chapter 4 of the main DVD, titled "Let's get it on" (yup, that's right -- out of 10 DVD chapters, only one is devoted to the actual subject at hand). And you want the extras. You want the individual, non-intercut orgasm footage (they start off with interviews, but be patient, they get to faces and orgasms pretty soon), and you want the original "Faces of Ecstasy" video. After that, if you find yourself curious about who the people in this video are and what's motivating them socio-politically, then by all means, knock yourself out.



In addition to her web site (http://www.gretachristina.com), Greta's got a blog you can visit: http://gretachristina.typepad.com