Reviews: Disorientations.com is Travis Jeppesen – Charles Lum
Charles Lum at the 3. Porn Film Festival Berlin
One of the highlights of this year’s Porn Film Festival was last night’s screening of a suite of short films by Charles Lum, The HIV Collection. Taken together, the films form a fractured feature of sorts that sustains itself thematically through a deployment of repetition that borders on confrontation, yet is never tedious. The films are extremely personal, and address various facets of the artist’s life as an HIV-positive gay man – particularly his pained ambivalence surrounding issues of sex and discretion.
Morning, Noon & Night serves as a sort of “day in the life” of Lum. Park, at only seven minutes, is one of the best (and funniest) films about cruising I’ve yet seen. The longest film, facts. SUCK, is as blunt as its title, portraying Lum’s conversations with his own doctors, shrinks, nurses, and pharmacists, then juxtaposing these interactions with footage of himself speaking directly to the camera on issues of desire and self-image. In Indelible, we are bombarded with a manic collage of the famous “pig guts” scene from the movie Carrie and footage of cumshots in bareback gay porn; the film is as disturbing as it is funny. Overdue Conversation is a split-screen conversation with one of his close friends, wherein each films the other, about whether it is necessary to disclose your HIV status before having sex with someone. Finally, “black” is another recorded conversation that takes place backstage at the Black Party in New York, wherein Lum interviews another friend about an unsafe sexual encounter he engaged in only moments before.
What makes these films feel so fresh, I think, is Lum’s near total disregard for cinematic convention. In many ways, his approach reminds me of that of the writer Peter Sotos, for whom the direct and explicit conveyance of information takes precedence over lofty notions of form and aesthetics. Lum brings the camera wherever he wants to go and uses it as a tool for his own ends – not to serve some unified conception of art or even a preconceived final product. At the same time, he is never grasping at straws in these films – the camera and the process of recording become an extension of his own being, and work hand-in-hand with whatever the situation happens to produce. There is nothing contrived here, and so it is never boring to watch – you literally don’t know what’s going to happen from minute to minute. It would be interesting to see if Lum could sustain this momentum over the course of a longer film.
In short, Lum’s willingness to submit to the momentary chaos of the life he lives, and generously presents, makes for fascinating viewing material. Taken together, the films comprising The HIV Collection form a complex self-portrait that lingers in the mind long after you watch it, sparking as it does so many questions: questions that are so important, most of us devote our lives to ignoring, rather than confronting them. It is for this reason I believe The HIV Collection will come to be regarded as a classic.