Today, our media is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. Images, text, video gets spread so far and wide that, at the whim of a machine, they’re on the verge of getting lost. I’m not railing against the digital age here – I love its multiplicity and know that we can seek out the good while x-ing out the crap.
Yet, the old media remains. Even DVDs seem obsolete, the wide disk dropping into the player appearing as redundant as the fat VHS tapes of old. Pornography blossomed in the video age and became virtually omnipotent once we all went online. Once the dominating force, VHS skin flicks are now antiquated smut – and, just like a dirty old man, all the more perverse.
This quiet disgust lurks beneath “Pornography,” an indie that suggests the porn tapes of old haunt the present milieu. Subtitled “a Thriller,” this gay-themed headscratcher misleads, since we find more freak-outs than suspense (and, for the record, hardly any of the titular matter).
The film concerns Mark Anton (Jared Grey), a rising gay porn star circa early 90s who disappears mysteriously, leaving the industry and fans to speculate. Tired of all the bullshit, Mark agrees to take on one last job before retiring, though his new trade of prostituting himself for rich porn buffs seems like more of the same. The final gig leads to an effective set piece, even if it sounds familiar: an empty room with a camera faced at an expected interview subject, and a sinister little speaker buzzing out distorted directions to him.
The film then swallows up this plot for another storyline. A journalist researching the history of the business is curious, then perturbed, over the missing star. Right when we suspect we’ve entered part two of an anthology film, Mark’s fate begins to haunt the investigation, which yields some deliberately befuddling results. A recurring occult symbol seems worn, but a room of voyeurs entranced by its image serves up some eerie menace. Sticklers for clarity will feel cheated – well, they shouldn’t even show up to this one – by the film’s third narrative turn, a postmodern reflection of the initial tale.
When handled well, dread can extend far beyond our conscious need for order – Lovecraft himself held that our fear is strongest when we fear the unknown. “Pornography” approaches this conceit without the timidity of lesser efforts. On American screens, it’s as if the ghost of “Psycho” forces dark ambiguity to be explained away – though we can’t completely blame the audience-friendly Hitchcock, since gothic novelist Anne Radcliffe invented it long before him. The recent overseas haunts “Left Bank” and “Sauna” (both released stateside through IFC Films) sport terror so strong that clarity need not apply. Something similar lurks in this surreal entry. Even if it’s marketed to gay audiences – the film will screen at Philadelphia’s QFest this month, and has appeared at similar national fests – I recommend all fans of the bizarre have a look.