Shortbus John Cameron Mitchell

The hype surrounded the making of Shortbus — an American film that offers up multiple scenes of un-simulated sex — happened to spark a particular curiosity amongst Canadians. Word got out that home-grown broadcasting personality Sook-Yin Lee was part of the cast and you could watch her having a real orgasm. The country was reminded of its institutionalised attitude toward sexuality and censorship when the CBC gave Sook-Yin an ultimatum: quit the project or lose your job. Thanks to a star-studded letter writing campaign the corporation backed down and Sook Yin was allowed to continue. Director John Cameron Mitchell’s (Hedwig and the Angry Itch) original inspiration came after seeing many European films that also used un-simulated sex, only he wanted to move away from what he felt to be an overall "grim and humourless” treatment. His desire was to create a film that was sexually frank but also playful and funny. The cast was chosen from over 500 audition tapes mailed in by anyone interested in the project and the script and characters were developed through improvisation and workshops. The film follows a group of New Yorkers (among them a sex therapist who’s never had an orgasm, a monogamous couple who’ve decided to start sleeping with other people, a dominatrix who’s never experienced intimacy) whose stories converge in a colourful, carnival-esque underground salon. Mitchell’s intent was noble and necessary: to confront dominant attitudes and images of sexuality in American culture and to challenge a prudish and fearful mainstream. Shortbus, however, is overwrought with lousy jokes, flimsy characters and bad acting. The DVD special features are somewhat redeeming. The "making of” documentary is interesting and much of the on-screen chemistry that was lost in the final film can be seen in workshop and "behind the scenes” footage. The deleted scenes make you angry at the editor — many contain much more engaging and natural dialogue than what appears in the final cut. Though the "How to Shoot Sex: A Docu-Primer” doesn’t at all address its title, it does include sexier sex scenes where you can hear the panting and moaning and slapping eventually drowned out by the film’s soundtrack. Two versions of the trailer are also included.