review by Emma French, 16 November
Wash Westmoreland's prior stint as a
gay-porn director, for both financial and educational purposes, has
produced a compelling and provocative new feature film, The
Fluffer, on which he served as writer and co-directer (along
with Richard Glatzer). One of Westmoreland’s porn films, The
Devil's Bottom, was the first ever adult film, gay or straight,
to be included on the LA Weekly Best Films of the Year list,
and his break-out into the mainstream is promising.
film opens with a misunderstanding, as Sean (Michael Cunio), a young
ingenue newly arrived in Los Angeles, borrows Citizen Kane
from the video store only to discover he has been loaned a gay-porn
film called Citizen Cum by mistake. Westmoreland’s porn
industry training is put to good use in the opening sequence of
Citizen Cum, which is strikingly erotic, whilst avoiding any
explicit images, and which successfully fetishizes its star, the
anti-hero Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney), for the viewer from the
outset. Significantly, this is also the first and last time in which
sensuality can be found in the porn film sequences and shoots, which
are subsequently sterile, disconcerting and faintly ludicrous.
Sean’s ensuing obsession with Johnny Rebel leads him to procure a
job as cameraman at Men of Janus, the production company which has
an exclusive deal with Johnny. Much of the film’s considerable
humour rests on the early porn movie scenarios, always an easy
source of laughs but presented here with freshness and originality.
A city slicker dominates two hapless dungareed rustics, a pool
cleaner does some unpaid overtime with his boss and the actors steal
Viagra between scenes to maintain the illusion of arousal. Men of
Janus (Janus being, as the boss explains, ‘the god of entrances and
exits’) produces such vintage movie titles as Tour De Ass and
Tranny Get Your Gun.
Sean and the reprehensible yet magnetic Johnny invite empathy
throughout, despite their complicity in the many tragic events the
story narrates. The capacity of Johnny’s girlfriend Babylon (Roxanne
Day) to convey innocence and goodness even when dressed in
pseudo-bondage stripper costumes is remarkable. Sean’s immersion
into the sleazy world he is experimenting with occurs with
disturbing and insidious imperceptibility. His job description
rapidly expands into “fluffing”: helping the porn stars out when
they have difficulty maintaining arousal. Encouraged by Johnny to
experiment with crystal meth at an industry party, the hilarity of
Sean’s wired description of Hitchcock’s Vertigo as ‘pure
porn’ temporarily masks the sinister nature of his transition from
classic movie buff to fluffer and criminal accomplice.
potentially dangerous ground with both their morality tale plotting
and their undeniably heavy use of symbolism, the directors somehow
make it work. Sean removes the batteries from his kitchen clock in
order to fuel his remote control for pausing Citizen Cum
lovingly at every body shot of Johnny Rebel. The frozen clock,
eternally trapped at the same moment, remains a motif throughout the
film, until a new clock faraway finally chimes the next minute for
Sean, relieving him of his emotional stasis. The protagonists’
descent into emotional betrayal, drugs and loss of selfhood is
enacted with considerably more plausibility and directorial
restraint than the orgiastic downward spiral in Boogie Nights.
Black and white flashbacks to Sean’s childhood and the inevitable
introduction of a childhood abuse subplot are less successful.
Though the motivation is clear, the equally tired plot device
involving characters crossing the border to Mexico in this as in
other movies produces little more than a sense of gratitude to
Ridley Scott for driving Thelma and Louise into the Grand Canyon
instead. However, even the handling of these elements is far less
crass than the treatment they receive in many Hollywood studio
pictures. Indeed, the film throughout merits particular praise for
its subversion of traditional cinematic narratives: unrequited love,
coming of age and crimes of passion follow unpredictable courses in
an intelligent and compassionate movie.
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
yet been rated.