Culture

“Aroused” flaccid on arrival

aroused

Aroused

dir. Deborah Anderson

Release Date: May 03, 13

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The pseudo-documentary Aroused is currently playing in very limited release at Chicago’s Landmark Century Theatre, at special showings that only those ages 21 and up can attend. Its release isn’t limited enough. It should be playing in no theatres and on no screens, except for a wall monitor in the bathrooms of hell where it belongs. They often describe movies as for “all ages.” This is entertainment for no ages, and only those over 200 years old should be allowed in. If they showed this in nursing homes, requests for assisted suicide would skyrocket. Eighty minutes in, my date begged me to leave, or at least to shoot her. I didn’t bring a gun. I only had a pen. Because I’m still unarmed, my words will have to do.

I don’t even know where to begin with this waste of time, celluloid, electricity and natural resources. Never before have I seen a documentary that so utterly squanders its subjects and material on a director’s misguided vanity project. As an “expose” on the porn industry and an intimate look at porn stars, it’s a disservice to its subjects, the porn industry and the film it’s printed on. Director Deborah Anderson mistakes intimacy for jamming the camera up its subjects’ noses, filming the entire documentary in extreme close-up. Anderson also switches from black and white to color at random during the film, because why not? I would try to examine the thought process behind it, but that presupposes she had a thought to begin with.

Aroused operates under the misconception that Anderson, a clear first-time filmmaker, has any idea how to make a film. Aroused fails in just about every way a documentary can can. It’s ugly, dull and sheds no light on its subjects whatsoever. She’s allegedly a renowned photographer, but you wouldn’t know it from the film. She can’t even frame her subjects correctly, but is so confident in her obtuse camera angles that she repeats them ad nauseam. The film is 90 minutes of two camera angles, one close-up and the same musical cue on a loop. By the end of the film, I never wanted to hear music ever again, unless it’s the sweet symphony of Deborah Anderson’s tears.

Anderson applies her concept of filmmaking to her interview style, endlessly repeating the same points and getting similar answers out of her subjects. The goal of a multi-interview documentary is to obtain a multiplicity of personalities and perspectives, but almost nothing stands out in Aroused, except for its nude subjects’ engorged nipples. Ms. Anderson repeatedly hammers home the idea that many of the women involved in the sex industry have absentee fathers, grew up in repressive households and were promiscuous from a young age. The topic of religion is discussed at length, but to what end? It doesn’t reveal any hidden truths and only serves to perpetuate damaging stereotypes about sex workers. Anderson all but erases their sexual agency and instead painfully objectifies them, literally shoving the camera up their rear ends.

Not all documentaries have to be Capturing the Friedmans, but Aroused is about as intellectually deep as a bird bath, like wading in the shallow end of progressive thought. Anderson wants to empower us to see past stereotypes, but why then parade them around like circus balloons? Why tell us not to judge porn stars if the film you are making is horribly judgmental? At the end of the day, the film isn’t about any of the women Anderson interviews. It’s always about her, a giant cinematic fingerbang of hypocrisy and self-congratulation. The film opens with one of the porn stars praising Ms. Anderson for making the film and for giving porn stars the time of day. Most people don’t want to listen to them or hear their perspectives, but Anderson is different. She gets it. Pardon me while I find a shoe to vomit in.

This scene is enlightening. Rather than listening to the subject and affirming her need to be heard, Anderson dominates her and speaks over her. Her subject can barely get a word in edgewise as Anderson trumpets the thesis of her film. Some films make you guess what they’re about or where they’re going. Aroused announces it like the neon M of the Golden Arches while offering a product equally unhealthy and tasteless. To hold the viewer’s hand throughout the film, Anderson reminds them of the themes by flashing quotes from famous authors. Instead of forcing us to think, she lets Anais Nin and Erica Jong do the work for her. For a film so drenched in soft light, it’s about as subtle as an atom bomb. At least a nuclear explosion would have been shorter.

Aroused could have made a fascinating five-minute short subject, but even at a slim length it feels interminable, a miserable slog that told me nothing I didn’t already know about the porn industry. The women in the film seemed lovely, and I wanted to get to know them. Deborah Anderson just wouldn’t let me. The result is not a film but a glorified infomercial that a snarky review won’t fix. I almost feel bad for giving it a 2, not for the film but for the number 2. The number 2 has done some great things for the world. Aroused doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as 2s. Aroused deserves a flamethrower. That’ll fix the problem.