sat 25/05/2024

Blu-ray: Kamikaze Hearts | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Kamikaze Hearts

Blu-ray: Kamikaze Hearts

Provocative 1986 docudrama about the adult entertainment industry

Former porn star Sharon 'Mitch' Mitchell playing a version of herself

Last month’s Storyville: Sex on Screen (available on BBC iPlayer) was a slick, speedy (and repetitive) canter through the history of the sexual exploitation of women in Hollywood. It had star names like Jane Fonda, many references to the #MeToo movement, and praise for the new role of intimacy co-ordinators. 

It ended with a rallying call for women to take control of the camera and portray female erotic pleasure for themselves. Despite Sex on Screen taking us back to pre-cinema (Eadweard Muybridge) and acknowledging how erotically self-empowered Golden Age stars like Mae West and Marlene Dietrich were before the Hays Code stamped out overt sexuality, the programme failed to acknowledge that there were American women filmmakers back in the 1980s who challenged the porn industry and rejected the male gaze.

Those provocative, ultra-low-budget movies made by second-wave feminist directors like Candida Royalle, Lizzie Borden, and Bette Gordon were completely overlooked and Sex on Screen was weaker for their absence. But there's an opportunity now to reassess one of the most incendiary films from that wave: Kamikaze Hearts. 

Kino Lorber has restored this infamous 1986 docudrama set in the adult entertainment industry. It’s anything but straightforward documentary observation. Although porn performers and crew play themselves and hardcore sex scenes are shown being filmed, along with performers mainlining drugs, the documentary scenes are intertwined with a semi-scripted drama.

Sharon "Mitch" Mitchell and Tigr Mennett play versions of themselves – a lesbian couple who relish the transgressive exhibitionism of working in the sex industry. Mitchell proudly claims to have worked in over 1,000 porn films. 

Kamikaze Hearts director Juliette Bashore, who had crewed on adult movie sets, constructed the script with performer Mennett, drawing on the world they knew.

The result is a film that is often provocative, occasionally slow (Mitchell dominates the screen and her druggy narcissism can be wearing), but always fascinating. Bashore cleverly differentiates between the quasi-documentary (shot to look grainy, blue-hued and handheld) and the luscious Kodachrome porn version of Carmen that is supposedly being made. It's metafiction filmmaking, well ahead of its time.

When Kamikaze Hearts came out no-one quite knew what to make of it, Bashore notes. Marketed as a lesbian film, it didn’t fit the positive representation agenda of the time (for that you’d have to go to 1985’s hit lesbian romance Desert Hearts).

Neither was Bashore's film an overt left-wing attack on the exploitation of women in the porn industry, preferring to present an ambiguous portrait that fully acknowledged its actors' agency and pleasure. It’s not really a surprise that the film disappeared from view for such a long time and languished in bootlegs and poor quality internet uploads. 

The extras included in this BFI presentation of the 2K restoration include the original trailers and an audio commentary. In an interview filmed in 2022, Bashore gives a fascinating and often funny account of the making of Kamikaze Hearts.

Best of all is an interview with Mitchell (and her pet parrot Boo). This impressive woman recounts not just her extraordinary life as a porn star and burlesque artiste, but explains how a near fatal sexual assault led to her quitting heroin after 13 years and moving into medical care and pioneering sexual health checks in the porn industry. Now in her mid-sixties, she deserves nothing less than her own biopic. 

Metafiction filmmaking, well ahead of its time

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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