Travis Mathews’ name has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue since his second feature-length film Interior. Leather Bar. (co-directed by James Franco) caused quite a buzz at Sundance earlier this year. His debut, I Want Your Love, did the festival circuit back in 2012 and (after censorship problems elsewhere, including the film getting banned in Australia) has found distribution in the UK in a fully uncut form. What caused the film to get banned in Australia? Well, one of the films many unconventional qualities is that it was assisted in its production by the gay porn studio NakedSword. This is a film that genuinely pushes at the boundaries between cinema, art and pornography.
The story revolves around Jesse Metzger, a performance artist, who after a decade of living in San Francisco, is forced to move back to his Midwestern roots in Ohio because he can no longer afford the city. The film presents the audience with his final 24 hours in the city during which Jesse tries to come to terms with his emotions about leaving, whilst his friends and ex-lovers gather for a going away party.
The problem for me is that it’s difficult not to compare it to (Andrew Haigh’s utterly fantastic 2011 film) Weekend in terms of plot and tone, and it’s simply nowhere near as good. The film has clearly been shot with the intent of realism – which, indeed, it achieves – but in doing so Mathews sacrifices the cinematic quality that Haigh managed to retain. A lot of the film is shot in close-up, which does provide an appropriate level of intimacy, but the film suffers from having such little scope.
Or course there are redeeming features: the cast for example realize some wonderful performances. At times it feels like a queer Slacker – there are arbitrary
conversations and moments that are only there to paint a picture of a particular lifestyle. These stand-alone moments are in turn insightful, playful, artfully handled, and enjoyable, but they don’t add up to anything more than an (arguably incomplete) portrait of gay life.
Unavoidable in any discussion of the film are its sex scenes. This is not only because they are some of the most explicit scenes I’ve ever seen in any film, but their duration too easily surpasses that of most others. For both Travis Mathews and the performers involved in these scenes, this is brave and uncompromising film-making, in a way that is perhaps necessary. Indeed, in many ways this is a protest film, an act of defiance against the decided homophobia of the mass culture establishment. But, personally, I feel these scenes genuinely go on for too long, beyond (in my opinion) the temporal pertinence of cinema. At some point, the film inevitably forces the question upon you: is this cinema or pornography?
And this is not the only part of the film in which verisimilitude is put centre stage. The lives of the characters and the stories therein are mostly based on the lives of the actors; in fact all of the character’s names are just the actor’s names. There are moments where it felt like I was watching a queer, R-rated take on Made In Chelsea, in that it is full of moments in which characters talk about the sex lives, about the upcoming party, about how awkward it might be if they bump into their ex-lover etc. Is this kind of dialogue suitably compelling? Enjoying this film inevitably becomes a question of whether you want truth (everyday and outright realism) or Truth (using iconography to go beyond realism; addressing absolute, philosophical, universal Truths). Whether it works for you depends entirely on what you want from cinema: the big T or the little t?
In the end, then, this is far more interesting film than it seems on the surface, and one that offers an incredibly candid portrayal of homosexuality. And of all the questions it raises, the biggest question for me is: will films like this ever sit side by side in the cinema with films like The Avengers or Fast and the Furious 6? I feel that the likes of Weekend and (the recently released) BOYS ON FILM 9 collection of shorts can and do. But perhaps I Want Your Love really belongs in an art gallery.