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Riding the Shortbus


There was a naked woman covered in fake blood, a punk rock marching band, two slutty Catholic schoolgirls on a wooden cross, and two towers flowing with sumptuous liquid chocolate, where you could dip your dirty little strawberries. It might have seemed especially hedonistic, but it was par for the course for a party thrown for John Cameron Mitchell, director of the much-talked-about movie Shortbus, which opens in New York Wednesday.

The after-party for the New York premiere last Tuesday at Angel Orensanz was like a continuation of the film’s lush, anything-can-happen multi-sexual vibe. With performances from the Hungry March Band, Julie Atlas Muz, Dirty Martini, the Wau Wau Sisters, the World FamousBOB*, members of the cast (including Sook-Yin Lee, Jay Brannan, Paul Dawson, and PJ DeBoy), and Mitchell himself, it was as if the East Village utopia created in the film—where almost everyone is young, tattooed, liberal, and omnisexual—really existed. Those without drug-damaged memories may recall this alternative reality first surfacing in 2004’s Scissor Sisters video for “Filthy/Gorgeous,” directed by Mitchell and featuring many of the Shortbus cast members.

I told the director in real life that the parties depicted in this movie would have been shut down by the neighbors via anonymous 311 calls. “You’re probably right,” Mitchell says. And good luck finding a true-life salon big enough to house multiple rooms with multiple people having multiple orgasms. “It’s definitely a New York problem,” Mitchell says. “Fischerspooner did it for a long time. There’s Rubulad. But you have to go farther and farther out to the Bronx and Sunset Park and Jersey City.”

Still, real life and faux life merged while making the movie—the sexed-up loft scenes were shot in DUMBO at the DUMBA artists’ space, and guess what: “DUMBA—where we shot it—has been shut down,” Mitchell says. “The neighbors complained about parties and sex parties. The lease is up this December.”

But there was a semi-real-life Shortbus—the sex-and-art salon for which the movie is named—thrown by Stephen Kent Jusick, where, like the movie, films playe d and people had sex. The movie even borrowed the sign from Jusick’s party for its “Sex Not Bombs” room. (Where, I have to wonder, are all these sex parties? Who are all these people having sex? The only place I’ve ever been with semi-public sex is the Cock, and I’m not sure that counts.)

Other confusing dualities abound: Two of the main Shortbus characters, who date each other (James and Jamie), are played by two cute boys who date each other (Dawson and DeBoy). In the film they need a third boy to spice it up; in real life at the after-party, they didn’t appear to have any problems. After singing an acoustic version of Loretta Lynn‘s “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” they kissed and then kissed some more. After they finished, host Murray Hill cracked, “Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for the Indigo Girls.” Then there’s Justin Bond, who plays himself, or rather, “himself” in the movie, playing host to the cinematic Shortbus salon.

Back to reality, at the screening, it was like we had all gone to East Village High School and never graduated. My seatmates were Rufus Wainwright (le sigh) and Michael Cavadias, a/k/a Lily of the Valley (le double sigh); behind me sat Mr. Bond and the equally lovely Parker Posey. I found my orgasmic happy place sitting among such finery. (While fag hag is the commonly used term for my current affliction, please use hopelessly deluded woman in love with handsome gay men who make her feel fabulous instead.)

Luckily for all of us, Dirty Martini and her 400-foot-tall wig sat a few rows down, so we had a fantastic view of the now infamous “Star-Spangled Banner” scene, involving three men, with one singing into another’s ass. (“I want to clear something up about the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ scene,” DeBoy said at the party. “That was not felching. I don’t know where you people are from, but that’s rimming.”

This was also the scene that caused Samuel Jackson to walk out at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Oh no, we lost Samuel!” Mitchell recalls thinking. “At one screening, I heard someone say, ‘Now
that’s taking it too far!’ ” But this being a roomful of East Village heathens and sexual deviants, we all laughed and applauded. You can be sure we’re all going to hell.

The sex is not nearly as shocking as you mightimagine, even though the opening scene is both dirty and sad (it shows Dawson giving himself a blowjob and then crying). After a while it becomes almost a non-issue that the sex was real. “There are seven onscreen orgasms, and only one is faked—I’m not telling you which one,” says Mitchell, who insisted on real sex as a storytelling device. “Why treat it like a snuff film? It’s just sad. When you can show it, sex can be metaphor for something else. A guy sucking his own dick is a metaphor for a guy truly trying to be alone. It ends in tears.”

The real-sex thing was one of the reasons to go with mostly unknown actors. One principal in particular—Sook-Yin Lee, who plays a woman who’s never had an orgasm—is a revelation. She had so much charisma, you were compelled to watch her regardless of whether or not she was naked. The film gig, not surprisingly, almost got her fired from her high-profile Canadian Broadcasting Corporation gig, but big-time celebs like Michael Stipe, Yoko Ono, and the Coppolas wrote letters to her boss in support. Lee got to keep her job, and she got to make out with Justin Bond. Hot.

After the screening, we were taken to the after-party via a long procession down Houston Street led by the Hungry March Band, who stopped traffic for a few blocks. It was one of those moments that mythologize New York—the sort of thing a tourist sees and thinks, “New York is so crazy! Anything can happen here!” (We hate to break it to them, but it’s just as rare a sight in NYC these days as it is in Kansas.)

The band kicked off a long evening of performances (which led to an after-afterparty much later at the Delancey): Mitchell and an all-star band that included Corn Mo played “Ça Plane Pour Moi.” Singer-songwriter, violinist, and lesbian extraordinaire Bitch performed one of her own songs with The L Word‘s Daniela Sea (a/k/a the Hottest Dyke Alive), who is also her girlfriend. (Bitch.) And Julie Atlas Muz performed her patented bleeding-heart routine, which, like parts of Shortbus, is shocking and beautiful. One woman standing nearby wasn’t impressed: “I’m offended. We’re in a church.” (This, after watching a movie with all manners of fucking?) Later, when the Wau Wau Sisters did the most acrobatic, sacrilegious striptease on earth to the tune of “Sister Christian” (ending with one of them nailed to a giant wooden cross and the other one spread-eagled), I was sure the offended woman would go up in flames, but no, she liked that performance.

The celeb-studded crowd included Michael Stipe, Barry Diller, and Harvey Fierstein, as well as Mitchell’s usual utopian mix of omnisexuals. ” ‘Utopian’ is the right word,” he says. “It’s all about the spirit of the (2003) blackout—that feeling we had that night is what I wanted to show. You turn off your cell phone and look into each other’s eyes and realize you’re alive and you’re in New York. Shortbus is a love song. I hope it’s not a fucking requiem. People are still gonna come here. They are gonna figure something out.”

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