When it debuted in 1997 director John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus quickly became an independent hit that penetrated the culture. The beats of the story explore the lives of several emotionally challenged characters as they navigate the comic and tragic intersections between love and sex in and around a modern-day underground salon.
A sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, a dominatrix who is unable to connect, a gay couple who are deciding whether to open up their relationship, and the people who weave in and out of their lives, all converge on a weekly gathering called Shortbus: a mad nexus of art, music, politics, and polysexual carnality.
Set in a post-9/11, Bush-exhausted New York City, Shortbus tells its story with sexual frankness, suggesting new ways to reconcile questions of the mind, pleasures of the flesh, and imperatives of the heart.
What a lot of people don’t know is that the film was inspired by real events. “When John Cameron Mitchell attended Northwestern in the early ’80s, the theater department consisted mostly of closeted gay men,” reports The Daily Northwestern, “himself included.”
Then, in the middle of his tenure at the school, the AIDS crisis hit its peak. It was a frightening moment for queer people, but for Mitchell, it was also activating: Suddenly, being in the closet felt selfish when people were dying.
And after coming out, he remained strident in his queerness, refusing to ever closet himself or participate in something he thought went against his values.
“I would show up to auditions in my ACT UP pin, and sometimes challenge the people I was auditioning for, especially if something was written very homophobically or racistly,” Mitchell said. “I would walk away assuming I just wasn’t going to get the job, but I didn’t want to be a part of something I felt was lazy, immoral, sexist, homophobic. Sometimes, saying no is empowering if it’s for the right reason.”
After a string of remarkable successes Mitchell created something extraordinary: Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Hedwig was revolutionary. The film adaptation of Hedwig was released in 2001, and Mitchell was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. The film was a box office bomb at the time, but over time people discovered it through DVD and it developed a strong following that spans several countries, from Spain to Korea. That following led to the show finally making its way to Broadway in 2014 in a critically-acclaimed revival that won four Tony Awards. In the middle of that run, Mitchell returned to the Hedwig role in a limited stint, after he had gone several years without performing. Although he said it was a nerve-racking experience, and the choreography was meant for a much younger man, he said it was one of the most fun moments in his career, and getting the story on Broadway was gratifying to see.
Now for its 15th anniversary it’s getting the star treatment.
A tale set against the backdrop of a post-9/11, Bush-exhausted New York City, Shortbus tells its story with sexual frankness, suggesting new ways to reconcile questions of the mind, pleasures of the flesh, and imperatives of the heart.
Manohla Dargis at The New York Times said at the time: “As utopian visions go, it doesn’t get much better than “Shortbus,” a film in which all you need is love — and sex, lots and lots of mutually, sometimes collectively, pleasurable sex.”
15th Anniversary 4K Restoration of
John Cameron Mitchell’s
Opens at the IFC Center in New York on January 26th, 2022.
Followed by theatrical expansion to select cities.