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Commentaries on this Media!

John Cameron Mitchell's Relationscapes

by Ethan Tussey

by Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke for IN MEDIA RES


Shortbus portrays its characters and the space where they meet and connect in a way that can’t be easily categorised. The film diagrams a set of socio-sexual relations that are continually converging, diverging and intersecting. We argue that Shortbus invents with what Erin Manning calls “relationscapes”, a complex of embodied and embodying “biograms”, propulsively becoming bodies. The heterotopic hive – “the motherboard”– is characterised by the eponymous salon where people of all races, ages, genders and sexes come to talk, fuck, watch and convene to generate new “ecologies of experience”.

Just prior to our clip, pent up tensions of forced sexual “relational formations” impede upon the forming of new relational matrices, rendering a transmutation necessary. The skin on Sofia’s arms tears as she bursts through the woods in search of orgasmic fulfillment, Rob grimaces with pain as Severin vows to physically impress his body, and Jamie/James’s eyes fill with tears as he opens up to Caleb in preparation for anal sex, the final act of physical intimacy he has not yet dared to take with his partner. Whitehead would call these blockages to relational movement “stubborn facts”: we are never able to fully escape them, but they nevertheless create space for “concresence”, literally growing together. When the pathways to movement and emergent potentialities are clogged, we see the lights of New York City black out.

As the sweeping tensions dissolve the city does not cease to seethe, however, and we witness how the pulsating heart of the connective erotoscape draws the broken people into its ascendant rhythmic folds. One by one, they enter Shortbus and fall into the “pure plastic” erotic rhythm of the dancing room that enworlds them. The tissual breach creates a haptic “interval”; a chance to absorb the “elasticity of the almost”, the incipient “moment when anything can happen, when bodies are poised in a togetherness beginning to take shape”. To Justin Bond’s assurance that “we all get it in the end” Jamie/James returns to his partner, Caleb joins with their mutual lover Ceth, and Sofia finally manages to give herself enough room to reach out and enjoy an erotic encounter with a particularly harmonious and sexually synchronised couple. As Sofia’s eyelids dance with orgasmic intensity, the lights of New York City flicker on and the cityscape spins into motion. The body-room-city becomes a “machinic phylum” containing an infinite series of “potential velocities”. New York City “bends over” and gathers in “the new”, a preaccelerative opening toward different textures, shades, colors, “platforms of relation”.

Sofia’s orgasm is the interval out of which temporal and spatial movement emerges and generates “a becoming-spiral”, a relationscape of tangled, rotating and recombinative bodies that is an intensive extension of “movemented tendencies”. Bond’s lonely voice successively expands into a polyrhythmic and multi-modal orchestra. Shortbus’ brightening glow spreads exponentially as its tactile accumulations and affective tonalities alter and color the dynamics of the room and the “emergent environment”. As the elasticity of the not-yet is extended, the relationscape is intensively distended. New York City gracefully becomes-turbulence, the lights immanently move in a blinding syncopated dance, and as the characters revel in their sensing bodies-in-movement, the world appears the same but radically different, “still-moving”.

Clip from Shortbus

End of Shortbus

from Shortbus (2006)
Creator: John Cameron Mitchell
Distributor: THINKFilm
Posted by Ethan Tussey