Wrestling, marinara, and buzzy things: the Indie Erotic Film Fest at the Castro

I wrote this for SF Weekly but they were unable to use it.

The health hazards of corsets are well-known: they crush your liver, squeeze your lungs, and sometimes, even break your ribs. They force you to take quick, shallow breaths, which leave you dizzy and often, unable to think clearly. Depending on the era, the corset constrained either the waist alone, or the waist all the way past the hips, and it’s no wonder that women were long considered incapable of rigorous physical or mental activity: their everyday dress literally crippled them. If you can’t breathe freely, you can’t function. Ask your yoga teacher.

The corset was the physical symbol of centuries of oppression, and  women had to dispense with it as an early, necessary step towards liberation. So it’s strange that the erotic, which distinguishes itself from the pornographic by associating itself with the mental, rather than purely instinctual, element of sex, has adopted the corset as its uniform. Erotica touts itself as the classier, gender-and body-positive, culturally-minded and generally more holistic alternative to its plasticized commercial cousin. Erotica is Schiele and Beardsley and Anaïs Nin; porn is Larry Flynt and Hugh Hefner and German shise films. Erotica is natural breasts and unmown pubes and liberal arts degrees; porn is razor burn and bleached assholes and abandoned GEDs. You can watch as much “porn” as you want on the internet, risking infecting your computer with as many viruses as the cast of Bareback Mountain, and you probably want to do so alone, with the volume turned low, then clear your laptop’s search history, and wonder guiltily over the lives and probable addictions of the dead-eyed waifs pantomiming the throes of love for your arousal. But to enjoy “erotic” films, you don your glad rags, bring a date to the grandiose Castro Theater, charge the tickets to your credit card without a second thought, chat with the well-heeled actors at the pre-party, and tell your mother you’re going to blog all about it. Many find some degree of bondage or oppression a turn-on, but isn’t it nevertheless a contradiction that corsetry and body modification are as popular as they are amongst the sensitive and progressive proponents of erotica as opposed to porn, which people more readily associate with exploitation and harm to women?  I doubt plexiglass heels and buttfloss have done nearly as much damage to womankind as the whaleboned torso-cages of our past.

These women don’t look particularly oppressed.

In any case, Hayes Valley’s Dark Garden dressed the staff of the opening night gala of the Indie Erotic Film Festival at the Castro, which included (producer) Good Vibrations’ employees, sexologist Dr. Carol Queen, drag queens Peaches Christ, Hugz Bunny, and Lady Bear, who provided catty and occasionally witty commentary on the short films presented. They looked fantastic, and we did not hear a single rib crack.

The pre-party included copious and stiff (what??) drinks, piles of brushchetta and garlic cheese bread with small tubs of marinara one hoped to god no one had double-dipped in, and   activities like a spin-the-wheel game with prizes such as DVDs, condoms, and devices requiring batteries and lacking phthalates. I won a film about “MILF”s and a dolphin-shaped buzzy thing with straps. I wouldn’t know what to do with those so on my way home I dropped them in a deposit box for a charity benefiting starving orphans with harelips.

What a great hat!

This lady won something that attaches to your finger and vibrates. I assume it’s for some sort of massage practice; in fact, I’ll bet that’s what people mean when they go on about rolfing.

The film festival was also a contest, decided by the dubious judgment of a crowd that bellowed most loudly at the film it thought most accomplished. This year that prize went to  a Mexican film called “La Putiza.” “La Putiza” follows the young Lucha Libre wrestler, Diamante, who looks like Jean Paul Belmondo and is easily distracted by fantasies of his wrestling opponents doing gayer things to him than Lucha Libre wrestling. He somehow ends up in this hero quest, bidden by “The Master” to overcome a myriad (or maybe around three) obstacles such as “The Penetrator” and a voracious man-orgy in order to prevail and assume the ancient sacred title of “Aztec Dick.” By “overcoming,” The Master specified that he meant “not coming,” which at first seemed a bit too easy a task for any man over the age of fifteen, but considering the Vegas Bellagio display spouting off around him in the man-orgy, perhaps Diamante’s struggle to contain himself deserved benefit of the doubt.

The thing is, it seemed like the main reason for the huge amount of enthusiasm for this movie was the fact that it had so many penii in it, and this audience at the Castro that night comprised many, many fans of the penis. There were a few clever elements, such as the animated comic-book effects (“Wham! kerpow!“), but generally it was written and acted like a pornographic version of a Spanish soap opera. This was a big improvement on your average porn film (and Spanish soap opera), but this was not a festival for “porn,” but for “erotica” and we generally expect more from erotica. There were other films with (sadly, fewer dicks) much better acting, such as “Tooth and Nail,” which depicted a young woman isolated in an empty, generic room, battling some nameless but potent psychological or mnemonic dread. Others were LOL-level funny, like Tales of Mere Existence, which described the author/director’s magnificently awkward history with women and the hilarious and depressingly accurate “What Would Penis Do?” explanation of men’s habit of “thinking with their dicks” and how it ruins everything but can’t be helped. This was animated in simple, to-the-point marker drawings that “drew” themselves into every scene with impeccable comic timing to accompany author Levni Yilmaz’s deadpan narration. As a comic achievement, even as a piece of writing and graphic art, this film towered over the others, but perhaps people were reluctant to give first prize in an erotic film festival to a film with a general look like this:

not erotic enough?

Another film, “Salam and Love,” appeared at first to be your standard ’80’s music video of lesbians petting in a cave surrounded by Pier 1 Imports’ entire stock of votive candles. In unusual pudeur for a French film this showed nothing beyond petting, but when the women finished their softcore fumbling and dressed, one of them assumed full-body burqa, and the other, a US Army uniform. Showing the night of DADT’s repeal, this film drew cheers. While the quality of the films varied, and the audience’s taste and my own diverged somewhat: the  submission I found really disgusting was “Burger Time,” in which a perfectly good hamburger is destroyed when a transvestite attacks a young woman while she eats her takeout and smears the burger in question all over his victim’s face, stuffs great soggy chunks of it into her mouth, and utters the unforgettable line, “It’s burger time, bitch!”

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