Porn Theater

Porn Theater

2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5

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Porn Theater (the original French title of which is the same as the porn film playing at the titular movie house: The Two-Headed Pussy) is an almost nonchalant ethnography of the inner workings of a gay cruising haunt. But for all the calm-eyed observation of the minutiae of the patrons’ actions, the film is more interested in the dynamics of three people who spend more time outside the auditorium in the lobby. A predictably world-wise and sassy middle-aged woman (Vittoria Scognamiglio) runs the front booth, dispensing ticket stubs, packs of tissues and sage sexual advise in equal measure. A 50-year-old man with AIDS (Jacques Nolot, the film’s writer-director) floats around the periphery of the theater—not because it makes him hot but instead comfortable (unlike many of the “straight” guys who shield their faces as they sneak in for a quick gay trick)—and writes poetry. The theater’s sweet and studly young projectionist talks about his small-town values but seems to be suggesting that he’s ready to indulge in kinkier pleasures. The three of them volley for each other’s attention, and their games would seem more like a meet cute prelude to a precious ménage-a-trois if they weren’t seemingly being held against and above the acts of the theater patrons. On the other hand, for as seedy as it initially seems, one would be hard-pressed to call the sex episodes (such as it is, since most of the time it seems to go no further than trading hand-jobs) totally anonymous. The people appear not only to be familiar with each other (one drag queen claims to be waiting for her favorite sex partner, saying he only comes in on that particular day of the week), but they also, as a collective, obey their own unwritten set of social mores to the tune of a Hawks picture. So, even if many of the characters are painted with an unsavory whiff of discontent (which can’t exactly be said of the three main characters), at the very least the rules prevent anything truly unpleasant from occurring inside the theater. There are no rapes, no beatings, when condoms break the sex ends immediately, and even a mid-film cop raid seems more based on latent racism against Arab immigrants than homophobia. Nolot manages to sustain a graceful balancing act between realism and fantasy, best represented by the chubby drag queen with a hand fan who gives himself so completely over to his private personal fantasy world as an irresistible debutante that it’s all the more heartbreaking to see him rejected time and again, eventually sucking off a noticeably disinterested tool. Every sexual fantasy that comes true is usually tempered by the placement of a depressed, obese, old man masturbating with his back against a wall and his eyes staring off into space. It might not be a world anyone was necessarily clamoring to better understand (least of all, perhaps, the characters of the film, considering that they prefer to watch pussy porn instead of dick flicks), but Nolot’s considerate portrait turns this panorama of wadded-tissues, bathroom trysts and sticky orange theater seats into yet another provocative examination of the cinematic relationship between the viewer and the viewed.

Image/Sound

The video transfer for the film comes from a relatively clean print, but unfortunately has a moderate ghosting effect characteristic of European PAL discs that are quickly turned into NTSC American discs. Colors tend to be flattened out, haze replaces grain, and occasionally faces look a little bit distorted. (I've seen worse, though.) The only other drawback is that the English subtitles are burned in. The sound levels are slightly better. Dialogue is mostly clear. Though there aren't very many sound effects or anything, I swear that I heard a moderate rumble of bass every time characters in the theater started to get it on.

Extras

Boy, that preview for Beefcake sure shows up on a lot of these Strand discs. Also included are previews for The Cockettes, Burnt Money and some straight movie I couldn't be bothered looking further into. That's all.

Overall

Michael Medved said, "It's the most moving experience I've had in a theater all year." Or was that Secondhand Lions?

Image 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Sound 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Extras 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Overall 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Specifications
  • DVD-Video
  • Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region 1
  • Aspect Ratio
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Dolby Digital Formats
  • French 2.0 Stereo
  • DTS
  • None
  • Subtitles & Captions
  • English Subtitles
  • Special Features
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Buy
    DVD
    Release Date
    February 5, 2004
    Distributor
    Strand Releasing Home Video
    Runtime
    90 min
    Rating
    NR
    Year
    2002
    Director
    Jacques Nolot
    Screenwriter
    Jacques Nolot
    Cast
    Vittoria Scognamiglio, Jacques Nolot, Sébastien Viala, Olivier Torres, Lionel Goldstein, Frédéric Longbois, Fouad Zeraoui, Jean-Louis Coquery