Kamikaze Hearts is the perfect companion piece to Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure – an instructive yet saddening portrayal of the drug-pierced 80s porn industry.
Although society has grown from the kind of thinking where even the smallest allusions to sex or nudity on a big platform were shamed upon, there’s still much judgment towards the porn industry. Even if plenty of films depict it with sincerity, or at the least are sex-positive, a significant majority look at it with some form of disgrace or contempt. I don’t see why it’s looked at in that manner: it’s something that has been part of humanity forever. We have recently seen a couple of films depicting pornography in different ways and genres. Ti West’s X takes a horror slasher and exploitation cinema-esque route while intertwining the themes of sexual freedom and repressed passion. Nonetheless, Ninja Thyberg’s Sundance Film Festival 2021 hit, Pleasure, takes the cake in terms of the sheer power of portrayal – showcasing both the good and bad of the industry with a humanistic sensation and an emphatic voice. And the perfect companion piece for a double bill with-it would-be Juliet Bashore’s pseudo-documentary Kamikaze Hearts, set in San Francisco during the Golden Age of Porn.
The documentary follows a lesbian couple who work in the porn industry – an experienced porn star, Sharon “Mitch” Mitchell, and her lover, Tigr. They love each other so much, to the point where Mitch is moving to San Francisco so that she can be closer to her. Their relationship is the heart and soul of Kamikaze Hearts. As the documentary slowly goes through its short eighty-seven-minute runtime, we get to know the two better, both their good and bad aspects. In addition, we see how their bond develops through countless stories and conversations, as well as their chemistry through the different sets. Their romance is, in a way, caring and destructive for separate reasons. The affectionate aspect relates to the fact that they actually love one another, and you see it in the various interactions off the camera. However, once the spotlight is on Mitch, she can’t help herself; she’s an exhibitionist – she always wants the attention drawn to herself. Tigr, on the other hand, is flakier and more restrained; she doesn’t like to express herself one hundred percent but does share some complications and issues regarding her partner.
Nonetheless, beneath those complications, there is a sensation of mutual love, right until you see the destructive part of their bind – drugs play a crucial factor in the attraction. The couple enables each’s craving for the substance, in the process accepting their current existence, from porn sets (which brings Mitch a form of ecstasy) to heroin needles. From that point, they know that they cannot escape that reality. As the documentary transgresses, the viewer’s emotions shift from attachment to nervousness. Even if the documentary as a whole was storyboarded, none of it was scripted. It was even edited by a person who didn’t know the footage was authentic. These are people playing a “version” of themselves, yet it feels that everything coming out of their mouths is true, making it, in equal parts, informative, hilarious (because there are some jokes attached), distressing, and saddening. And its last ten minutes are truly heartbreaking, as this is the part where Tigr falls apart and comes clean about her addition, quoting: “This needle was my d*ck, and I f*cked her with my d*ck. And she loved it.” Director Juliet Bashore showcases the grimy and gritty characteristics of this atmosphere, reminding me of how Susan Seidelman did the same with Smithereens, even if it covers another facet from the 80s.
Both Bashore and Seidelman portrayed the famed decade with a dirty and unclean sensation, yet with some cinematic illusions so that reality and fiction are blurred to create a weird yet fascinating experience. Kamikaze Hearts is a presentation of the porn industry in a time when it was pierced by drug abuse left and right, misogyny, and narcissism by the crew (actors, directors, and producers). That’s one of the reasons why I think this, and Pleasure serve perfectly as a double-bill, and also the fact that you could apply the story of Bashore’s documentary to other places of work or locations. Thyberg and Bashore have a directorial sensibility of showcasing that industry with empathy and respect while also focusing on what’s wrong with it. And if you pay close attention, there are many parallels; some of the problems adult actresses, either upcoming (Sofia Kappel’s Bella Cherry) and veterans (Sharon Mitchell), had in the 80s are present in Pleasure, which is set in today’s day and age. These two features, coincidentally released on the same day in theaters, are essential achievements since they cover a subject not many would like to tackle – sheer mirrorings of each other, just set in different decades.