By David Finkelstein | November 5, 2008

Darrin Martin’s “Aviator” mixes found footage from educational and military propaganda films about aviation with original footage of two men in underwear, playing “airplane.” (That is, one lies on his back on the floor with his legs straight up in the air, and the other one balances on his friend’s legs, stretching out his arms and legs as if he is an airplane. You might have played this game as a child.)

In the opening section, images of the two men flicker back and forth with images of planes and bombing. This makes a familiar connection between masculinity, machines, violence, playful male bonding and eroticism, but Martin has constructed his collage in a visually engaging way, which seems to promise that the film is about to move into unusual territory.

We read and hear an anecdote about Martin getting sick the second time he flies in a plane. He happens to have the flu and is hung over, but he experiences it as if his spirit is wrenched from his body. He then talks about how thrilled he was by playing airplane with his brother when he was a boy, and how the erotic undertones of this experience continue in his current relationship with his lover. The images of the two men here take on an erotic, purple color.

This compelling material examines the origin of a fetish. Playing airplane with his brother seems to have been an “imprinting” experience for Martin, a very early experience in which the intimate connection with his brother as well as the thrill of leaving the earth and being suspended in the air combined to awaken his nascent sexual feelings and create a permanent association between homoeroticism, freedom, power, and detachment from the earth. It is also associated with a powerful fear of the loss of orientation. “Aviator” is an effective and fascinating look into the way that an early experience can have a seemingly permanent effect on one’s tastes and obsessions.

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