Sook-Yin Rides the Vanguard

Sook-Yin Rides the Vanguard

It’s crazy, sex, dark and cool, appealing to those for whom typical festival fare is simply too inhibited and slow. It’s Vanguard, the Toronto International Film Festival’s attempt at wooing what festival Co-Director Noah Cowan calls “early adopters… people who delight in movies that push the envelopes of technology, culture, sexuality and cinema itself.”

If it all sounds a bit forced to you, you’re not alone. But there are definitely a few interesting films on the section’s inaugural slate. At this point, the biggest buzz surrounds Shortbus, the first film from John Cameron Mitchell since his much-loved and discussed Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That film followed the times and travails of East Berlin transsexual punk girl Hedwig as she toured American seafood houses and fought to get her songs back from the wide-eyed arena rock star who stole them. Shortbus promises to be equally epic and challenging. But it also promises to rub a whole lot of people the wrong way.

Shortbus stars by far the most interesting and inventive of MuchMusic’s VJ alumni, Sook-Yin Lee. Now the host of CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera, Lee was almost fired by the broadcaster when she signed on for this film. Why? Well, following in the footsteps of Michael Winterbottom’s Nine Songs, Shortbus contains unsimulated sex—lots of it. The film is a comic exploration of the role that sex, in all of its polymorphous permutations, plays in the lives of a set of semi-lost souls in New York City. From the rumblings I’ve heard, Mitchell’s film is poised to be the most sexually explicit feature ever planned for North American release.

Still not quite sure why so many CBC execs would be freaked out? Here’s James Joyner describing the film’s opening moments:

“[Shortbus] opens with three intercut scenes: A dominatrix unpacks dildos in a hotel room overlooking Ground Zero and proceeds to whip a male client; a man videotapes himself masturbating and then ejaculating into his own mouth; and a married couple have sex with the kind of physical flexibility usually associated with prepubescent Romanian gymnasts.”

The reaction the film received at Cannes this year was almost universally positive. Joyner goes on to describe how “audiences doubled over in laughter during one scene in which three men perform oral sex on each other while singing a rousing version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

The French love this kinda stuff, welcoming such explicit films as Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible and Vincent Gallo’s Brown Bunny with open arms. But will Canadian film lovers react in the same way? How will we enjoy seeing the woman who defended Terry Fox on The Greatest Canadian playing with a remote-controlled vaginal egg? I’m itching with anticipation.