A Missed Opportunity
The controversial novel, “Frisk” (Strand Releasing) about gay sadomasochism has been turned into an effective, but pointless, movie which revolves around two long friends, Dennis and Julian. They have different attitudes about sex, pain, and pleasure. “Frisk” attempts to look at pornography and imagery and how it fuels these two guys. Dennis has been attracted to ‘snuff” magazines and he gets together with masochistic Henry who likes to be bloodied while having sex.
Julian, after a while in Paris, wants to settle down in a monogamous relationship but the two friends drift apart when Dennis trams up with a group of San Francisco thrill killers.
Given these two characters, it is easy to see that “Frisk” is a disturbing film as it shows extreme sexual practices with are rarely dealt with on film. The main problem with “Frisk” is that director/co-writer does not make his audience care about his characters. This matter-of-fact movie startles occasionally, startling and shocking.
When this film came out in 1995 it was the most talked about gay film among gay folks so much so that people boycotted it and those that went to see it ran out of the theater seething with anger. What the film depicted was a gay writer who went on a killing spree to satisfy his own sexual curiosity. There was no moral judgment imposed in the film and no punishment was dealt out. He simply killed his tricks, invites friends to participate and then kills some more. He never gets caught and never feels any guilt whatsoever. There was little narrative and little dramatic tension. The film just ended. Taken out of circulation, Verow rethought the film and trimmed it. It did not alleviate the rage, it just channeled it. What remains is an awkward and boring “exercise in pretension by marginal talents who take themselves too seriously”.
Other filmmakers have dealt with controversy with wit and relevance. Verow has isolated his characters in empty, poorly-lit rooms that would not both “literally and metaphorically don’t let in the rest of the world”.
If Todd Verow had the intention of raising the issue of internal homophobia, media violence or the acceptance of death as a consequence of AIDS then he failed dismally. He provides nothing to show that the fate of the characters has any great meaning except that the consumption of porn during the impressionable years can cause someone to become a cold-blooded murderer. These people are sick losers who are too lifeless to arouse sympathy or identification.
I have read that such a portrayal could have been an attempt in the name of objectivity but this also does not work. A major fact that I noted is that everyone in the film is white, handsome, built and well-coifed. The may have bruises but they still look good. Murder is simply glamorized.
The acting is stiff and it was obviously intended to provide the kind of message it gave. In the aim to explore the extremities of racial and sexual power and fetishism there is a gap between the intent of the film and the way it was executed. The violence surrounding the characters is overt and by confronting conventional notions of the real and the imagined, Frisk tries to challenge the subjectivity of the viewer by looking at the way our culture de-racializes and de-sexualizes identity by hegemonizing and homogenizing them under the supremacy of reductive sameness.
“Frisk” comes across as half finished, rambling and confused because of the way Verow addressed such issues as sexual compulsion and the objectification of types in gay life by making the mistake of attempting to celebrate and honor the diversity of style.
Instead of looking at and illuminating the power of mass culture to cannibalize difference, Verow describes these issues in a rather boring manner. “Frisk” could have been fascinating but it turns out to be a missed opportunity.