What is a pornographic image? What is the right attitude for society to adopt toward sex? Is pornography an acceptable form of expression – and if so, can distinctions be drawn between different forms of pornography? This documentary raises all of these questions, seeking to provide the answers from the perspective of pro-sex feminism, which asserts that pornography must be wrested from patriarchal control, and that in the hands of women and sexual minorities, it can become a tool of liberation. Director Virginie Despentes (Baise-moi) takes a wide ranging look at the movement and maps the evolution of pro-sex, or “post-porn”, from its pioneers like Annie Sprinkle to newer European work like Emilie Jouvet’s Too Much Pussy!
Filled with roughly two dozen interviews with the likes of Lydia Lunch, Annie Sprinkle, Catherine Breillat, and other members of the post-porn movement, Mutantes is part of a very queer feminist revolution. Exploring incomprehensive fashion the various sexual niches of punk porn, queer porn, S&M, and transgender, the film goes a long way toward demystifying a movement that has been several decades in the making.
eyelights: its many interviews. its broad coverage of the issues.
eyesores: its intensity. some of the participants’ heavy discourse.
‘Mutantes’ is a documentary by Virginie Despentes (of ‘Baise-moi‘ notoriety) that explores sexuality and feminism in the modern age. I knew nothing about it aside from its filmmaker, but stumbled upon it while I was looking for anything relating to Catherine Breillat. When I discovered that she was interviewed by Despentes for this film, I immediately assumed that their collaboration would be one delicious fruit in a much larger harvest.
I was right.
Bearing the subtitle “Punk Porn Feminism”, ‘Mutantes’ is also a call to arms, a manifesto for reclaiming women’s sexuality for themselves, for their own use, on their own terms, without judgement or repercussions. In the span of a mere 90 minutes, it covers a gamut of topics, including (but not limited to), pro-sex feminism, pornography, sex work, punk music, the queer movement, transgender issues, bdsm, and post porn.
Despentes traveled across the USA, as well as Paris and Barcelona to interview women from a variety of walks of life and subcultures, most of them artists and/or intellectuals. I only had heard of Catherine Breillat, Lydia Lunch, Candida Royalle and Annie Sprinkle, quite frankly, although I have it on good authority that there were a lot of notables on hand for this doc. All of them had very interesting things to say; nothing felt superfluous or inane.
Two of the ones that had the most screen time, aside from Annie Sprinkle and Candida Royalle (for obvious reasons), were Carol Leigh (a.k.a. Scarlot Harlot) and Norma Jean Almodovar. The former is a long-time activist who coined the term “sex worker” and boasts flaming pink hair. The latter is a former LAPD policewoman who decided to quit her job and turn to prostitution. Both had interesting stories and perspectives.
In particular, Almodovar said something along the lines that the arguments against prostitution are all wrong: that we want to make it illegal for the sake of protecting women, and yet women are also subject to violence and abuse in marriage but no one wants to make marriage illegal. I found that rather amusing and insightful at once; it is true that using argument of women’s safety is narrow and likely just a cynical means to an end.
Oftentimes I found myself overwhelmed with the issues that were discussed because there’s so much being packed in so little time, but I also found some of the interviewees too loquacious and/or sesquipedalian. Snicker, snicker… in short, I found the language being used sometimes far too complicated to grasp. The few times that this happened, it’s clear that precision was required to express complex ideas, but keeping up with it was a challenge.
Despentes obviously had a good grasp of the material, though, and at no point did I feel that ‘Mutantes’ was scattered; it was put together with intention and structure. Despentes disapproves of the notion that all levels of violence are acceptable on film but that sex is taboo, so she believes that pushing boundaries is an important feminist front. Even as she knows it’s not the only battle, she considers it significant – especially when the works are made by women.
‘Mutantes’ is a bold, fascinating film, with much to say, ponder and discuss. My girlfriend and I spent a good hour and a half talking about it and the issues that it raised. It’s not for the faint-of-heart, however: it’s up front and very graphic in its discussions, as well as in its visual content. This could easily offend or disturb some viewers, but I suspect that the people who would be interested in such a documentary would approve without reserve.
Date of viewing: July 16, 2013