Mike takes a peek inside Artsploitation's latest release, Chasing The Muse.
The 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis vs. Ohio, in which a movie theater owner was put on trial for showing a film the state deemed to be obscene, is famously remembered for Justice Potter Stewart's failure to define "hard core pornography", stating only that "I know it when I see it." The line between what is art and what is pornography has been debated since the advent of film, with neither term getting as clear of a description as the one provided by Justice Stewart. There are lots of instances in film where the line between these two concepts in particular is blurred, resulting in a beautiful but unflinching depiction of physical and emotional love. Without the raw emotion that defines eroticism, it would be difficult to see anything but what is widely considered "pornography". This is where the documentary Chasing The Muse lies, despite trying really, really hard to convince you that it's actually art.
Chasing The Muse follows French filmmaker Jean-Francois Davy as he travels Europe searching for a young woman to star in one of his erotic films. The viewer experiences Davy's, um, "casting" process, in which Davy basically films nude women, or is filmed with them, in his search of transcendent sexual beauty. The nudity is fairly graphic and quite frequent, as there are only a handful of shots that do not feature some mostly unclothed part of a woman's body. Davy narrates the film, mostly in French, waxing intellectual about the world's reversion to puritanical attitudes about sex or, of course, what defines art versus pornography. Unfortunately these thoughtful monologues about eroticism are often rendered a bit ironic compared to the action on screen.
For someone who claims to be an artistic filmmaker, Davy seems to have a bit of a problem with filming actual sex. The sex in Chasing The Muse (and there's plenty of it) is dull and lifeless, free of the energy and eroticism Davy claims to celebrate. Both participants (including Davy) are expressionless throughout, taking an act of intimacy and making it look like work. Indeed, to many of the women in the film, it is (Davy often visited brothels in search of his muse). If the people in the film having sex appear to be bored, how should the audience be expected to feel? Not to mention the fact that the sex scenes are filmed sloppily, using unflattering angles, and attempt to hide particularly naughty bits behind an overlay of the woman's eyes or whatever. The result is an attempt at eroticism that fails to be anything but the very opposite of erotic, and quite uncomfortable.
Chasing The Muse is a difficult film to watch for a number of reasons. Despite being about raw sexuality, it somehow manages to make the sex it depicts routine and even boring and at times slightly creepy. It's basically a feature length PornHub video without the self-awareness, pretending to be a smart, sexy, intellectual take on eroticism in film. Davy aims high with Chasing The Muse, but ends up with an unnerving, self-indulgent mess. Upon seeing Chasing The Muse, Justice Stewart would likely conclude that it's nothing but dull, garden variety pornography. It's safe to say many viewers would share this sentiment.
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