Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Hooters & Orgasms

Sexual desire among women -- and the complications that arise when said desire is not or cannot be met -- is the subject of two very different new releases. The OWLs (now on DVD from First Run Features) was fairly well-received on the 2010 GLBT festival circuit despite its dark storyline. Written and directed by Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman), its protagonists are all former members of The Screech, a fictional band whose members were the hottest lesbian music-makers around ten years earlier.

Now faded into obscurity, depressed and/or alcoholic, the ladies refer to themselves as "OWLs": Older, Wiser Lesbians. Their accumulated wisdom becomes highly suspect, though, in the wake of an accidental death at a pool party hosted by former band leader Iris (a great performance by Guinevere Turner, best known as the star, producer and writer of 1994's rightly-heralded Go Fish). They conspire to cover up the event and succeed... that is, until a mysterious stranger (Sklyer Cooper) shows up at their doorstep one night.


According to the press notes, Dunye intentionally set out to imitate "pathological lesbian" films such as The Children's Hour and The Killing of Sister George. One OWLs character notes, "Even sisters can stab each other in the back," and another states, "We're always trying to be the alpha male in our community." Do we really need to project such images in this more liberated day and age? Dunye seems concerned that younger lesbian women aren't aware of the struggles their foremothers endured. To my thinking, though, this makes as much sense as re-making 1980's notorious Cruising so young gay men today will be more cognizant of the stereotypes that previously defined us. The original versions of all these invaluable time capsules are available on home video. It would be better to screen and discuss them and note how far we've come than to recreate them.

The narrative of The OWLs is oddly interrupted at times by interviews with the actresses regarding their roles and their "collective" approach to the project. Even with these, the film runs just over an hour and its hard to think of the interludes as anything but padding. There is also a documentary about the making of The OWLs -- somewhat derisively titled Hooters -- being released separately. If lesbian viewers think I'm off, I'm certainly willing to hear from you. As it is, I can't recommend The OWLs very highly.


On the other hand, the current theatrical release Orgasm Inc. (also from First Run Features) is a must-see for women and men alike. This expose by award-winning documentarian Liz Canner delves into the pursuit of a Viagra-style drug to treat "Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD)", aka the inability by a reported 43% of women to have an orgasm every time they have sexual intercourse. As one expert interviewed on camera notes, "(FSD) is the first corporate-sponsored definition of a 'disease'."

Orgasm Inc., which was filmed over nine years, reveals with often-clinical precision the expensive and mostly fruitless research that has gone into developing pills, creams, devices and even a nasal spray to assist affected women. The result of such labor? Viagra works as well for some women as it does for men; pornography is the most effective stimulant for both men and women; and the pharmaceutical company-backed, long-term solution of combining estrogen pills with testosterone patches can cause cancer. Wisely and thankfully, the latter proposed "treatment" was rejected by the FDA.

One interviewee's giggly likening of female orgasm to "a blooming flower" and some unnecessary animated sequences threaten to undermine Canner's insights into a very serious issue. But so long as the filmmaker sticks to disturbing facts and figures such as "The USA makes up just 5% of the world's population but it accounts for 42% of the world's spending on prescription drugs, and yet Americans don't live any longer than others," Orgasm Inc. provides a stiff tonic indeed.

Reverend's Ratings:
The OWLs: C
Orgasm Inc.: B+

UPDATE: Orgasm Inc. is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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