In 1998 German director Jochen Hick went on to produce a semi-documentary feature retelling the story of a group of guys and their gay exploits through the streets of LA. Seven years later Jochen Hick is back with another documentary titled Sex/Life in L.A 2-Cycles of Porn which was recently screened at the Berlin International Film Festival (2005). This time around, however, Hick appears to have copied a well-known formula which MTV successfully established with their The Real World series. In Jochen Hick's documentary a group of male gay models are being filmed while they live, socialize, and spend time together sharing a large suburban LA house.
The structure of this rather unusual documentary could be quite intimidating for anyone unfamiliar with the director's previous work. The mundane activities of Holden Grey 19, Johnny Law 23, Vin Nolan 23, Rocky 24, Sebastian 23, and Corbin Michaels 21 were certainly something I was not prepared for. This explicit yet very thought-provoking feature delivers a glimpse at a culture and a way of life many have either demonized or intentionally glamorized. Those who have chosen to dismiss a lifestyle which is different from what mainstream America regards as "normal" will certainly be intimidated by the images shown on the screen. Yet, as Jochen Hick's documentary reveals there is a world out there which functions according to a completely different set of rules to what you and I are used to. On the other hand those who have chosen to glamorize the lifestyle these men have adopted will certainly find that there is much bitterness behind their forced smiles. After all living in a wired house where virtually every room has a camera, including the toilet, which subscribers can use to observe their favorite models is somewhat an unusual living environment bound to reveal much more than professional acting.
I don't think however that this bold documentary goes too far in exposing what America has become in the last couple of years: a large no-holds barred market for anything and anyone willing to pay for it. As Jochen Hick notes gay life (and the supporting industry behind it) has evloved into a full-time profession where acting is required 24/7. At least that is what most of the main protagonists in this film willingly reveal. And although they all strive to have "normal" lives something tells me that the lifestyle a.k.a the system they now belong to has taken complete control over their mundane routine.
What strikes as really unusual in this film is the enthusiasm which young male models reveal when it comes to breaking some of the societal taboos gay culture is associated with…only to be further exploited by bareback video producers in America. I thought for a long time how Jochen Hick described the occurrence as "unconscious exploitation" and could not agree any more with him. There is something visceral in this reversed process of fighting a discriminating ideology only to be mechanically consumed by it…while someone else is paying a monthly fee to secretly observe your life from the comfort of an anonymous computer screen.
I have to admit that had this film not been part of the 55 Panorama at the Berlin International Film Festival I would have never been exposed to it. Now having seen Jochen Hick's Sex/Life in L.A.2-Cycles of Porn I am unsure whether or not I liked it. His camera has certainly captured a fragment of a culture overshadowed by an industry where cash is king though the questions he presents the viewers with remain hanging without any concrete answers.
The film was part of the official selection at the Montreal World Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Turin International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, and the official selection at the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (2005).
How Does the Film Look?
Shot as a documentary in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the image quality is rather good though it certainly varies from scene to scene. Some of the footage shot inside the house where the main protagonists reside is rather grainy while the outdoors footage showcases a better degree of contrast. Overall, I believe the presentation to be deserving of the film. If there are any negatives about this transfer I suppose they stem from the fact that the actual print for the DVD has been delivered from a secondary master.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Stereo English 2.0 soundtrack the sound quality is very good. As this is mostly a dialog-driven production I did not encounter any issues while listening to it. The dialog was crisp and easy to follow and I have no reservations regarding the audio presentation whatsoever.
Aside from a gallery of trailers for other TLA Releasing productions there is a very informative interview with the director of the film Jochen Hick. In it he goes into further elaborating on the filming process as well as following up on some of the main protagonists who did not handle well the pressure of the industry they were associated with. As you will notice from the interview much of the documentary was an ongoing process which took more than five years to complete. Essentially this is the "director's cut" of this documentary where Jochen Hick provides its viewers with a few final words regarding each of the main protagonists from his feature.
Perhaps too explicit even for my taste Sex/Life in L.A.2-Cycles of Porn is a revealing documentary not so much about gay culture but the "entertainment" industry that thrives behind it. Copying a model which MTV established quite some time ago and adding up a bit of social flavor to it this film is not as impressive as it could have been. Regardless, it is an honest attempt to go behind the scene of a world mainstream America is unwilling to discuss. RECOMMENDED.