The war between pharmaceutical companies and the personal injury lawyers fighting them can be seen on virtually every American and New Zealand television channel, no matter what time the day or night. No wonder so many people are depressed. How could they not be when they must live in fear of catching some God-awful disease, or discovering that lurking within their genetic composition, some horrific disaster awaits.
Orgasm Inc(2009, Region 1 DVD 2011) is the provocative brainchild of documentary director Liz Canner. It is a film that will leave you scratching your head and wondering what just happened, and why it continues to do so.
Born as a gently graphic by-product, Orgasm Inc. emerged when Canner was invited by the biopharmaceutical company, Vivus, Inc. to create erotic videos to be used with their clinical drug trials. The trials in question concerned the development of “Alista,”
a topical gel for the treatment of Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). While making what amounted to pornography for the good of science, Canner discovered that all was not necessarily beneficent at Vivus, and she asked if she could make a documentary of her own. Considering what Canner unearthed, it is a wonder she was allowed to make such a project at Vivus’ headquarters, and live to talk about it.
Strategically disguised as a black comedy, complete with animated FSD pills racing for US Food and Drug Administration approval, Canner’s film is comprised of a series of observations and interviews with high-profile Vivus personnel, including its founder, and its Director of Clinical Trials. Other interviews include bio-medical inventors, leading Harvard Medical School gynecologists, reputed psychologists/sex therapists, an esteemed editor and author from the British Journal of Medicine, the owner of a “clean” women’s sex shop, members of an FDA advisory board, and others.
What is particularly amazing is that not only did these expert contenders agree to speak with Canner about so controversial a subject as FSD, but they often let their professional guards down, even to the point of looking and sounding, foolish.
The label “Female Sexual Dysfunction” was initially coined by two doctors, Laura and Jennifer Berman, a psychologist and a urologist, respectively. Exactly what Female Sexual Dysfunction is, and whether or not it is a true disease to be cured, is the subject of Canner’s highly seductive film.
The bottom line of Canner’s cinematic argument – and it really is all about money in the end – is that not only are major pharmaceutical companies vying for the gold, but they are creating diseases where none exist.
Where this gets particularly dicey, is when the drugs do more harm than good, and when pharmaceutical companies spawn other medical mercenaries promising to resolve the so called, female-pathology with dangerous surgeries and cancer-causing hormone treatments.
Though most critics concur that Orgasm Inc. is brilliant, too many label it funny, when it is anything but. Yes, Canner’s editing may be seen as comical, especially when she focuses on the dead pan faces of Orgasmitron’s inventor, and the dour nurse and technician who assist him, but can we really fathom what she’s proposing as anything but deadly serious?
Orgasm Inc. is yet another prize for independent distribution company First Run Features and a clear omen of what is to come from gifted filmmaker Liz Canner.
Amy R. Handler is a Boston-based film-maker, film scholar, writer and critic.