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Film Scratches: The Underside of Desire – For Your Pleasure (2015)

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Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.

A Review by David Finkelstein.

For Your Pleasure, a ten-minute black and white short shot on 16mm by Miguel Maldonado, begins with an Oscar Wilde quote: “The gods are strange. It is not our vices only they make instruments to scourge us. They bring us to ruin through what in us is good, gentle, humane, loving.” The accompanying text, read in a voice barely louder than a whisper by Sam Hamilton, is a prose poem indirectly linking images of power, poetry and knowledge. “Understanding is just the result of a true compensation between laughing, deploring and detesting.” Hamilton’s voice is almost drowned out by an electronic music score of irregular clangs and tones, evoking a dangerous and unpredictable environment.

ForyourPleasureSideThe images accompanying this text would be familiar to anyone who has attended a gay bathhouse: men in towels, restlessly prowling along corridors. Some have hungry eyes which reveal a desperate need, while others try to conceal their need through a mask of indifference. In the film’s final sequence, we see the face of a man, wreathed by clouds of steam, writhing in the throes of intense ecstasy. As is so often the case, the pleasure on his face is almost indistinguishable from suffering. He grabs the crucifix from his necklace in his mouth, as if religion gives him a context for his suffering, his joy, and his passion. As the text says, “This false happiness constitutes the diabolical triumph of the Antichrist, and it is the End, now coming.”

By combining this powerfully erotic and emotional footage with this barely audible, evocatively poetic text and the fear-tinged mood of the music, Maldonado creates an intoxicating and unnerving world, where pleasure, fear, loneliness, and human contact all collide in an atmosphere of sexual freedom. The steam-filled underworld of the bathhouse recalls the eroticism of Genet’s Un Chant D’Amour (1950), but Maldonado has created his own distinctive cinematic voice. Like watching a Performance Art work in the middle of an orgy, his mix of poetry and cruising lights up the hidden underside of human desire.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact lakeivan@earthlink.net.

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