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October 2002                                                SITE MAP   SEARCH
The Fluffer
cast: Michael Cunio, and Roxanne Day

director: Richard Glatzer, Wash West

90 minutes (18) 2001
Metrodome VHS retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Emma French
One of writer and director Wash 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. The film opens with a misunderstanding, as Sean (Michael Cunio), a young ing´┐Żnue 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. West'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 fetishises 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 and ludicrous.
   Sean's ensuing obsession with Johnny leads him to procure a job as cameraman at Men of Janus, the production company that 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 dungaree-wearing 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") have produced such vintage movie titles as 'Tour De Ass' and 'Tranny Get Your Gun'.
   Both 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 problems 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.
   On potentially dangerous ground with both their morality tale plotting and 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 of Boogie Nights.
   Black and white flashbacks to Sean's childhood and the almost 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.
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