“I think I want to fuck you,” Brenden says.
“You think you want to fuck me?” Jesse asks.
“Yeah. I mean, is that okay?”
That exchange is followed by an extended kiss, groaning, and then laughter as Brendan helps Jesse pull off his pants. While the first four minutes of I Want Your Love, a short film by writer/director Travis Mathews, are cute, funny, and charming, it’s this moment, as Jesse stumbles and uses Brenden’s head to balance himself, that the film really begins to shine. What follows is an explicit sex scene that bristles with eroticism and emotional honesty.
“I wanted to film sex as I experience it, and how I assume other people experience it, which means that there’s different things that are going to happen beside just penetrating or fucking,” says Mathews. “I mean, those are all things that are incorporated, but there’s other pieces. Talking, or petting or wrestling or just hanging out for a little bit.”
On paper, the plot sounds little more complicated than that of your average porno: Two close friends decide to take their relationship one step further and have sex. The real intensity in the short comes from the genuine intimacy between the two lovers. Jesse Metzger and Brenden Gregory are not typical porn stars. They’re scruffy, tattooed indie guys, charming and occasionally awkward. The sex is interrupted by laughter, bouts of wrestling, and subtle gestures of negotiation. Certainty never factors into the scene. Seemingly, there is nothing coordinated or choreographed about their actions.
The demo ends with Jesse breaking their post-coital cuddle to answer his phone, leaving Brenden behind to watch him. In Gregory’s performance you can see the uncertainty he has about what the sex meant, and what the future holds.
Alt Art or Porn Film?
Mathews isn’t the first to make a sexually graphic art film, or even the first to target the indie and hipster crowds. It’s impossible to discuss a project like I Want Your Love without at least acknowledging John Cameron Mitchell’s superb 2006 release, Shortbus, a film that set the bar for discussing this generation’s sexuality, and has done more to blur the art/porn line then any other in the past three decades.
Considering that NakedSword, a gay porn website, is producing I Want Your Love, Mathews may have a hard time escaping the “porn film” label. “We’ve always been sort of invested in and interested in content that is innovative and pushes the envelope in some direction,” says Jack Shamama, Product Manager for NakedSword, “and when I saw Travis’ work, I thought, This is perfect.”
“I like the idea that a porn company is producing this. Why not? There were a lot of great art film/porn hybrids in the ’70s that people seem to forget or overlook,” Mathews says. “Radley Metzger and Curt McDowell are a couple of strong inspirations for me: arty, honest, playful, introspective ... and erotic.”
Actor Jesse Metzger isn’t concerned about the porn comparison. “It’s hard to care. I feel like anything can be porn. If I get off on something, it’s porn, right? So, although there is a constructed industry that has commandeered the word porn and they make visual experiences to arouse people, I feel like porn is kind of more a moment than a product. Some people may not have thought that the opening scene of Forgetting Sarah Marshall was porn, but it was to me because I jerked off to it. In terms of people’s desire to classify what is art and what is porn, I just feel like that’s so clinically obviously just a signifier of people’s need to categorize sexuality as something extra-curricular/non-normative/alternative/other. I would argue that for people who experience an integration of their senses of desire and pleasure into their day-to-day lives, art is totally porn. Porn is totally art. Duh.”
I Want Your Love is Mathew’s first foray into narrative fiction film, but the subject matter is close to his heart. His earlier work includes a feature-length documentary about gay men and body image issues called Do I Look Fat? and In Their Room, a film that profiles eight young San Francisco men. In Their Room is nearly as intimate as I Want Your Love: Each segment takes place in the subject’s bedroom as they discuss their sex lives, their turn-ons, their fantasies.
“Most of the work I’ve done leading up to this has been around the area of emotional honesty with gay men,” Mathews says. “I feel like there’s different ways in which to explore that, and cover that, and I’m interested in using sex as one of those ways.”
In Their Room, which won “Best Erotic Film” at Good Vibration’s Indie Erotic Film Competition, is both the thematic twin to I Want Your Love and the project that made the fiction film possible. “I was at a small dinner party where a friend introduced me to Jack [Shamama],” Mathews says. “He appreciated what I was doing with In Their Room and the concept behind I Want Your Love was interesting enough for him and NakedSword to take the leap into production.”
“I’m continuing to do the work that I wanted to do years ago, which is kind of pushing the envelope and looking at places that are really intimate for gay men,” Mathews says. “It’s stuff that I want to see, and I want to talk about, and stuff that I’m scared about. I know that I’m feeling it, and that other gay men are feeling that, too.”
Only in San Francisco
Whereas Shortbus is a portrait of a certain community living in a post-911 New York City, Mathews’ film is centered in and irrevocably linked to San Francisco. “I want to do something that’s like a time capsule, that’s a reflection of these types of people that I know and this particular time in San Francisco, and I also like the idea of it being kind of an updated hangover of Tales of the City,” Mathews says. “Even if I wasn’t conscious of [writing about San Francisco], it’s almost in the fabric of what I’m writing with the characters, and the spaces that I’m using. I’m lying in the bed that they fucked in because that’s my bedroom, and I think that that bedroom is a very San Francisco bedroom. But I think it’s also the casualness of how I’m drawing these characters. Because that’s also very true to San Francisco, and I can say this after having just been in New York for two weeks, it’s super-super casual here compared to New York.
People in New York are very direct, very driven and very friendly, but here things seem to be much more casual, often ambiguous and playful. I think that San Francisco’s just in the fabric of the piece without me having to say, ‘Look, Honey, it’s the Golden Gate Bridge.’”
Next: A Feature Film
Because the short film was intended to gauge audience interest in a feature-length version, NakedSword asked viewers to respond to a survey. The results gave the demo’s producers unprecedented feedback from the short’s significant audience. Since it’s April debut, 150,000 people have watched the scene.
“1,500 people took the survey—and I’m not just saying that they took the multiple choice but actually wrote in,” Shamama says. “People felt so engaged that they actually were empowered to take a survey and actually give us comments and feedback.”
“It’s been great, well beyond anything I initially anticipated,” says Mathews, of the response. He’s currently in pre-production on the full-length version. “I’m really happy about it. It has me really excited and quite honestly a little anxious about diving into the feature. It feels like it’s raised the bar and stakes are higher then maybe how I first envisioned them to be.”