Not a porn film as such but a film about porn and the representation of sex on screen, Destricted still follows a similar template to more conventional skin flicks, being a series of short, disconnected episodes, each with its own self-contained hardcore climax(es), and all varying greatly in their power to give the viewer pleasure. In these seven pieces by seven different artists, the shadowy spaces between sex and art are probed, prodded and palpated from every angle, and the results range from ecstatic overload to aesthetic onanism.
Into the latter category fall the sections by Sam Taylor-Wood, Matthew Barney and Gaspar Noé, where masturbation is key. Taylor-Wood's 'Death Valley' is an eight-minute single-take depicting a solitary man attempting (and failing) to pleasure himself amidst a barren, epic background, and it is as dull and pedestrian as it sounds.
Altogether more transgressive (if not necessarily more engaging) is Barney's 15-minute 'Hoist', featuring a man attempting (with considerable success) to stimulate himself against the working driveshaft of a raised Caterpillar truck from which he is suspended. There is a lesson in there somewhere about the fragile relationship between man and machine - although it is anyone's guess why Barney's fundament is plugged by what appears to be a large radish throughout the strange encounter. The artist best known for the Cremaster cycle offers some decidedly uncomfortable viewing, as well as a sex act so bizarrely particularised that even the porn industry, renowned for its niche marketing, would struggle to keep up.
Best of the three autoerotic pieces is Noé's 23-minute 'We Fuck Alone' (aka 'Babysitter'), in which a young man and woman are shown playing out contrasting masturbatory fantasies - hers cute and fluffy, his rough and violent - as both watch the same hardcore film in different bedrooms. It is explicit, but any hint of titillation is undercut both by a constant, headache-inducing strobe effect, and by a soundtrack of strident electronica mixed with a baby's irritant cries. Confrontational and unpleasant, it lays bare the dynamics of desire in all their raw ugliness, while refusing to bridge the gender divide.
'House Call' comprises a doctor-and-horny-patient routine that Richard Prince has lifted from the archives of 1970s porn, re-recorded several times to degrade the picture quality, and then set to his own score of shrill synthesised chorales. It reconfigures a disposable piece of hardcore as an icon of cultural memory, locating a certain nostalgia, and even a sense of the sacred, amidst all the hairy fellatio and play with thermometers. Still, at 12 minutes it stretches out for too long - as does Marina Abramovic's 'Balkan Erotic Epic', which intercuts the artist's descriptions of traditional Balkan sexual superstitions with dry, straight-faced reconstructions of the rituals. The faux-documentary style is amusing enough, but there is not enough shape here for the whole to hang together.
In Destricted size really does matter, which is why it is so surprising that the film's finest segments also happen to be its shortest and its longest. In Marco Brambilla's dazzling 3-minute 'Sync', countless tiny samples of sex scenes from different films are woven into an amphetamine-paced rush of fleshy gratification stripped of all fixed identity. This frantic, furious 'pornucopia', capturing all the unfocussed free association of (male) sexual fantasy, is a triumph of hyperactive editing, and has a monumentalism that belies its brevity.
Larry Clark's 'Impaled', on the other hand, breezes through its 38-minute duration without ever outstaying its welcome. It opens with a group of young males ostensibly being auditioned for a porn shoot, while in fact being slyly interviewed by an off-camera Clark about how their sexual imagination and practices have been affected by the ready availability of porn. Then the 'winner', a shy boy keen to try a bit of backdoor action, interviews a parade of 'hot porno chicks', before selecting the much older, anal-friendly Nancy Vee to be his partner, and joining her in a sex session in front of the cameras.
This is undoubtedly genuine hardcore, but by asking provocative questions, refusing to objectify his subjects, and focusing on unusual or absurd details (a child's picture on the wall, Nancy's white trainers, the messy mechanics of sodomy, the post-shoot clean-up), Clark's piece gets right to the bottom of noughties porn, exposing Generation X's great confusion about the relationship between sexual fantasy and sexual reality. Like an old pro revealing to a younger generation what's what, Clark manages all at once to be arch, entertaining and edifying. If only the same could be said for all of Destricted.