November 17, 2004

Sex Church film

I spent much of the last year researching "Sacred Sexuality," looking for an sensual spiritual place or time or community. I didn't really find anything. I found bits of things - a dark room, some books, nice folks, expensive teachers.

Now I'm in grad school, taking a film class. I had to come up with three short film ideas. I thought about the power of film to create momentary realities. I thought I might make a film about a sex church. Here's what came of that - here's the film, followed by a self-critique.

click below to watch the film:
sex church

Filmmaker: Justin Hall - Date: 17 November 2004

Title: Sex Church - Project No: 3


INTENT: (How you want to affect us)

I want to share my search for intimacy. "Sex Church" is a recounting of some efforts I made to find a sacred context for human touch.

I've been researching sacred touch, sacred sexuality for about a year; when I last became single, I wanted to find a healthy way to get the nourishment and stimulation that comes from intimacy without the procedural attachments. The attachments can be a rich part of intimacy, of course, but I was curious to see if there might be explicitly celestial entanglements that could bind intimate physical relationships.

That search took me to some curious places; I kept a journal at When I was thinking of short film ideas for this class, I thought about the power of film to make visions tangible. In his book The Red Thread: Spirituality and the Paradox of Sex, David Guy provides a number of mini-biographies of writers and artists who worked to develop alternate visions for human sexuality. They used their craft to reach towards utopian living. That's something I've done with regards to technology; I work to promote personal expression on the internet with many of the articles I've written as a freelancer. Why not take the same approach to sacred sexuality? If there's a sex church I want to join, and I can't find it, why not write it up, film it, see it realized on-screen?

Well, as it turns out, there's a good reason "why not": that being, I still don't know what that "sex church" would look like. Even after months of study, with teachers, tantrikas, meditation, rituals, books and movies. This is a self-crit about a film, not a personal spiritual exegesis, but in short, I've sampled many of the world's spiritual traditions but I've never found any conclusive truth other than "be good to people." That's a hard thing around which to build strong visual images. I couldn't figure out how to script a ritual around "be nice" where people would end up touching each other in a way I found compelling.

I interviewed folks from Northern California who had participated in different sorts of modern spiritual rituals, some sexual/sensual. They reported a mix of spiritual influences - Hindu/Tantra, Pagan/Celtic, general New Age. Drawing on that mélange of mysticism, I figured I would just find my appropriate spiritual leader actress and work out a proper ceremony with her. Los Angeles would have plenty of props for whatever we wanted to put together. I would give some measure of control of the ritual to someone with some preferences. Gather enough parishioners together, give them roles to play, objects to wield, and a few hours on a shag carpet, and I should be able to get some compelling ritual footage out of it.

Besides, I was planning to have a soundtrack of a voice over by a participant, so I didn't need to record all the sound of the shoot. Talking to Professor Gray had encouraged me to frame the film as a sort of fake documentary - create a vision by portraying the participants in this world I was imagining. The soundtrack would be interviews with participants as footage of the sensual services was mingled with b-roll from their daily lives.

Most of my ideas about the film were shots I wanted to get - moving the camera over intertwingled, prone bodies; all permutations of people kissing, hands and fingers interlaced. And break-out interviews with individuals, asking them why and how they participated. Basically, I wanted actors who would improvise this setting according to some loose rules. I felt confident of my ability to arrange appropriate moments once I had the people.

But I didn't have any core idea of how this service would work, and that made it hard to recruit participants. My casting call for a film called "Sex Church" did not get a lot of takers. Professor Suissa gave me some suggestion to emphasize intimacy more than sensuality, and I did get a terrific response to a film called "Ritual Romance". Hundreds of head shots! People saying, yes, I'd like to be your cult leader. Yes, cast me as the vulnerable, searching male lead. I struggled to imagine one of these strong-jawed men who were each straining to project confidence in their headshots sharing my words about my search for sacred sexuality. I tried to imagine asking one of these aspiring actresses to improvise a romantic ritual for twelve. And then casting the extras! Please be prepared to lay around wordless for hours using feathers to explore divine touch. Yeesh.

Casting was daunting. Frankly, I lost my nerve. I was trying to do something too unusual in too short a time. I thought I might look for porn actors who were comfortable with nudity, if not with intimacy. Instead, a volunteer leader offered herself up off of Craig's List; and it seemed to be the perfect solution.

Widow Centauri: a supremely-confident-sounding dominatrix-turned-comedian, and sex educator, she stepped right into the role of the group leader. She said yes to every question I asked her, she was eager to help plan, she had friends who would show up, she had few boundaries about nudity or sexuality. I felt so immediately relaxed, I went about writing my script for all the voiceovers, how the characters might respond to a ritual I expected her to concoct. I was able to write out all the thought-processes the characters might have had that would lead them into this sacred sex session, I just couldn't imagine the session itself.

The night before, I had a feeling I wasn't going to find the lead actor I needed in whatever motley crew emerged from Widow's rolodex. I filmed myself talking about my hopes and aspirations for the shoot. I had become almost completely fixated on Peter Greenaway's stunning film The Pillow Book, about a calligrapher-lover who finds text on skin to be the height of sensuality. His movie layers images and text, picture in picture, varying opacities and image foreshadowing to create a deeply sensual series of moving pictures. While I had no idea what a sex church service might look like, I knew exactly what the film about that sex church service would look like - it would look like The Pillow Book.

The next day, our enthusiasm didn't quite pan out. About three of her six committed participants cancelled within 12 hours of the shoot. I had no back up performers scheduled. We were left with a total of three actors; Widow, her fortunately agreeable and helpful friend Sallie, and a talkative older gentleman Michael whose belly had served as the model for the cave troll in the first Harry Potter movie. He was pleased to show us his pocket full of generic Viagra he'd brought for the ritual.

Fighting desperation and eye-widening misery, I cast myself as the "lead" and had two cameras running as we four worked to create something that could be filmed for footage to create the images I envisioned building in the editing room.

Widow's vision for a ritual was more about the Bondage and Domination, Sadism and Masochism that she was familiar with professionally as a dominatrix, and less about graven images, chanting, waving burning bundles of sage and reading poems, the spiritual soup I was half-expecting. Instead of anything New Age, I was covered head to toe in lube, and zipped into a latex bodybag by two relative strangers. Immobile, unable to speak, breathing through a tube, I had a powerful sensual experience that was the opposite of the sex church I had been vaguely imagining for all these months. I spent ninety minutes in the dark, alone, unable to feel directly or smell the people that were touching me. I was in isolation, being manipulated and treated to an altered state. Maybe I was being punished for my sins. More likely, I was being shown that I could have an intense sacred-ish sexual experience on demand with no planning, but if I wanted something more specific, well I had better be able to put that in my Craig's List posting.

So, now I've created Ed Wood's The Pillow Book. Uneven, improvised, inappropriate, insane. And yet, to my taste, still somehow sensual and at times even sacred. I'm honored that the people who showed up were willing to play along with this scheme. I was touched by Widow's optimism, and frankly blown away by the bodybag experience. And I had a queasy blast making this thing.

SYNOPSIS: (What we see)

A filmmaker's voiceover describes his hopes for shooting a film the next day as the actual events that transpired are edited in a series of layers to undercut and reinforce his message: he doesn't know what he's doing but mostly he likes it.


  • Unusual visual effects - certainly better than watching just the talking head of the voice over! The window panes, seeing only the eyes or the mouth, plays some with intimacy, making intimacy and connection attractive but elusive.
  • Unscripted raw performances.
  • The inclusion of the filmmaker - it makes the piece honest, almost meta-media at moments. A movie about making a movie: how film school!
  • I hope it's not too long - I worked hard to trim off about three minutes from this thing after I had a rough cut. I was already begging indulgence with the inclusion of myself in the action, and with the subject matter; I didn't feel comfortable taking too much time from my peers with an overlong film.


  • Unusual visual effects - it's not clear that they always serve the story. Why am I watching this guy's mouth move?
  • What is the story? The filmmaker's search for sacred sexuality? Yowza. Character, and plot, and motivation are fleeting here, and so connection between the viewer and the action on-screen is hard fought. Perhaps all we're left with is shock.
  • Unscripted raw performances. Were these people acting? What just happened on screen? Was there any script? Obviously not. Meandering!
  • The inclusion of the filmmaker - was that a cop out? Because it was a weird idea and no one else would play along? Because he couldn't find a better concept to hang his hat on, he just ranted about his perverse predilections and then included unusual footage from a low budget sex party? Ahem.


  • Most of the time, I don't have a problem with confidence. I tend to do things I believe in, or at least fully participate expecting that there will be some worthwhile results. But here I lost my nerve a bit. I didn't fully commit to this idea in a way that I could recruit the people I needed to help me. It was a difficult challenge - taking on physical intimacy between strangers; asking that from actors. Perhaps as difficult as the concept of a sex church itself.
  • I want to learn to write scripts or treatments that explore my more philosophical ideas in more personable detail. Less abstract, more character. I think this film resembles an entry I would write for my web site - exploring some personally important phenomena with layers of meaning and media. If I look at the piece as a sort of a web page, I can be happy with it. It's a personal document. But if I look at this film as an attempt to frame a vision for sacred sexuality, it doesn't quite live up to my ideal. Perhaps my ideal is silly, and that's the lesson I should take away. I think there's some portion of the sacred sexuality puzzle that can be worked out in film; perhaps I need to learn to be more honest with myself about the pieces I do understand, and the pieces I don't understand. Watching a meta-media film like Adaptation, I realize that many brilliant film writers are explicit about their struggles. Talking about my process comes naturally to me - crafting a story about someone other than me is a greater challenge. I would like to learn to use actors to tell a story that's not so directly my story; in order to do that I may have to use Meta-Media techniques to understand what I can describe and what I can't. So maybe it's a film about a guy searching for sacred sexuality - he doesn't have to be me. And maybe he doesn't find what he thinks he wants, but he finds some nice, odd people and some pretty pictures along the way.

Posted by Justin at November 17, 2004 03:37 AM | TrackBack

Nice meta-commentary, Justin. After watching the movie a couple of times, I was going to comment about how your limitation as a cultural critic has something to do with your openness to enjoying anything anyone else does or says - you're so content to be living the moment that there's no need to work on finding the point and driving toward it, proving it. Good at illuminating other people, but not so good at making a statement about your ideas and building around that.
But I see you've made all that commentary yourself! The extent to which you know just what you think and feel while making a pretense of being confused never fails to impress me.
Then again, you recognize your work is half-assed (out of overcommittedness or sudden shyness or being caught in the interestingness of the moment), but what are you going to do about it? When do we get to see your whole ass behind something Justin?

Posted by: Lulu at November 18, 2004 11:23 PM

Nasty -- the people, the idea, the activity, the film. Everything from the zit on your face, to the Ron Jeremy-looking dude you were making out with, to your making out with him, to the harridan who was stroking you in the latex bodybag, it all came together as a digital amalgam of nastiness.

Not everything is worth trying, is it? Debasement isn't less debasing just because you're Justin Hall. You could have filmed cars on the street and gotten the same technical experience in making a film. This film, it seems, documents an act of self-pollution. Isn't the personal/psychological/social cost of doing things like this too great? Or do you live among friends and family where absolutely anything is respected as a growth experience if it's daring enough?

I'm saying this as someone who is usually a fan of your work.

Posted by: James at November 19, 2004 04:32 PM

"I wanted to find a healthy way to get the nourishment and stimulation that comes from intimacy without the procedural attachments."

All of the taste, and none of the calories.

My cake and eat it too.

I wish you god speed toward the day your dick isn't such an issue. You want inspiration? Lift your gaze out of your lap. You're enclosing yourself in hormonal parenthesis and calling it creativity.

(To say nothing of the lack of attention to the craft.)

This thing will get you laid for all the wrong reasons.


Posted by: Don Wrege at November 19, 2004 08:30 PM

Wow, Justin, with everything going on in our world--all the strife and turbulence--when there is so much to said and so much needing awareness, all what you can muster up is some self-indulgent attempt at crappy, pseudo-intellectual porn?

What are you, like, 16 years old?

Is that the extent of your depth and creativity?

Are we supposed to be shocked? Titillated? In awe of you? I felt none of these.

I thought this "film" (and I use the word loosely in this case) was absolutely atrocious.

Justin, you need to get over yourself. And for God's sake, could you please retire the nude b&w shot that is now, what, almost ten years old? When you were younger you got adventurous and let someone take a photo of you while not wearing any clothes. Ok, we get it. Yay Justin! You're so cutting edge!

When are you going to grow up and realize the world doesn't exist to simply amuse you while you spend your trust fund, hang out, play video games, think of "clever" ways to convince people to have one-night stands with you and, all the while, call yourself a "film maker"?

Posted by: SM at November 19, 2004 10:54 PM

Usually a fan of your work, but gotta say pretty revolting stuff, and the end product didn't seem really to justify the grotesquerie that you had to go through.

Posted by: John Ames at November 20, 2004 09:57 AM

I'll agree with the others. This thing, this little video, was horribly ridiculous. It had no message, no meaning, no entertainment, well, it was nothing. Cars on the street, as another person said, would have done a better job at helping this guy hone whatever craft he is persuing. After 30 years, you'd think he'd settle on something.

My advice is to maybe get out of the film school thing, and do something real and meaningful, something you could excel at. Construction? Accounting? Cooking? I don't know. I've been following this guy's journal for years, and he seems a hopeless adolecent, constantly trying to make a statement, be outraged or shocked at something, trying to find self-importance in things which real people take for granted.

He may have a trust fund, and that is at least part of his problem, altho not an excuse, as other trust babies go on to make something of themselves.

Honestly, I'd recommend he work at target for a year stocking shelves. That would give him some real insight and experience which would fuel whatever artistic fires he may have.

That film deserves an F. I hope whatever teacher he has gives it to him. Anything else and he won't really learn.

Posted by: steven wilson at November 20, 2004 10:09 AM

I agree with the others about the film. in a word; BAD. I still have that image of you kissing that fat dude in my mind; thanks a lot.

This is the first time I"ve heard your voice. Gee, you haven't smoked a few truck loads of pot in your short life have you?

Posted by: billy bob at November 20, 2004 01:06 PM

This film showed all of the ugliness of sex with none of the beauty, just like that Blood movie you were in. I don't think it's a matter of taking your head out of your lap -- isn't sex one of the most fascinating subjects there is? -- but you should try for more subtlety and complexity in how you approach it. This reminded me of a revolting segment of Real Sex on HBO. And while what you write about sex is often very interesting and honest and unmooring, this was direct and nasty and kinda artificial.

Posted by: name less at November 20, 2004 01:06 PM

i thought it was pretty highlarious myself, and after reading these comments, even more so.

hopefully i am not misreading this, and forgive me if i am, but it seems like you are pointing up your own ludicrous and misguided attempts to recapture a feeling you had when you were in the relationship you preface the piece with.

everyone behaves this way. even when they're still in the relationship and things have radically changed and neither feel the same way for each other. fuck people you don't feel nearly as, or at all close to. fuck hookers. masturbate with your left hand. put something up your ass, put on a costume, and look at the neigbors through a telescope. whatever it is, people try a lot of weird shit to try to get back to that simple thrill.

in the end, sacred sexuality just boils down to two (or more, i suppose) people who are absolutely, crazily attracted to each other on a million different levels. they might put on the latex for laughs, but that's just dressing up the pig and putting lipstick on it.

maybe i missed the point entirely, but that's what i took away from it. and it's not self-indulgent in my interpretation, just laying bare the absurdity and somewhat pathetic search that we all go through for a "higher high".

Posted by: eric at November 20, 2004 02:52 PM

I don’t think that the film was really about sexuality. Of course, there are different methods to arrive at what something is ‘really about.’ As a viewer, I interpreted the film to be much of what your website is, in a productive and powerful sense, which is an homage to surrender and self-disclosure.

Most of us exist amongst people who are, perhaps unknowingly, obsessed with ‘being right’ or with covering our asses. Most of us consider ourselves trustworthy, and yet we trust no one. We are terrified of being vulnerable or “wrong” in public. In your buying-a-house piece you briefly discuss surrendering your subjectivity. You decide to listen to the designer about the bathroom cabinet, even though you are ambivalent. You solicit advice from all of these strange and unstrange people and consider it collaboration. You invite their critique and the typical tropes of ‘watching out for your own ass’ don’t seem to surface to destroy your fun in this upside-down vulnerability project. This film seemed similar to that film.

Most people are guarded and unwilling to take risks. I see you as someone who is hurling yourself, perhaps with too much enthusiasm, into vulnerable situations in an attempt to inspire the general culture to follow suit. Maybe you think that inhibition is unhealthy for a society? Or that it is a waste of time and energy? I don’t know. Maybe you think that we ought to be willing to trust and to give and to be OPEN in the truest sense of the word.

But isn’t there something noteworthy about your very position (as a white male) in this project of vulnerability as a means to power? How often are white males institutionally humbled in this country? Does it occur? Is it systemic? Is it widespread? If not, then isn’t this film also about privilege?

Is there a relationship between privilege and the confidence which is required to embrace--to choose--vulnerability? The powerless are lusting for power, and here you are, seeking powerlessness: seeking to trust, to be wrong, to be a fool, to be naked.

But your positionality may ultimately prevent you from being passive. You are not passive in that rubber suit. You are not passive when someone is rearranging the bathroom décor. You are not passive when Jorge, the electrician, reschedules the uber-important meeting for the tenth time and you have to retain a pleasant smile because, after all, this is all about trust and escaping the “I”!

‘Original vulnerability’ may require occupying the space of having something done ‘unto you.’ I see you as ushering in a new type of vulnerability (or perhaps not so new, I don’t know) which attempts self-debasement but never achieves it because it is always a willed experiment. You are always the ‘do-er’ even when you are craving and pursuing to be nothing. You are the artist masquerading as the palette.

Then again, maybe this film isn’t about identity and power and vulnerability at all.
Maybe it is about sex? If it is, I think that there is too much voice-over. (Incidentally, the constant voice-over can be interpreted as relapse: you want to surrender, but the desire for control is triumphant.)

The voice-over part that I liked best was the one with the profile body image of you and the ex-girlfriend and also the one with the shot of the massage parlor. These two images hinted at the greatest possibility for narrative. We want a story!

Posted by: leyla at November 20, 2004 06:42 PM

Hello, Justin; I am Linda, an erotica writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have never seen your sexuality film, but I have a huge interest and expertise in Sacred Sexuality, and some very interesting adventures in same. Sounds like a lot of people disliked your film. Well, I would encourage you to continue with writing, or whatever your art is. I highly suggest that everyone involved use condoms and clean the sex toys carefully! I think it's hard to write good stories, films, songs, etc., without coming up with some true junk now and then. Anyway, I'd love to talk with you via email about sacred sexuality, or whatever. The idea of a "sacred sex church", as you probably know, is not at all new. The Pagans, the Native Americans, the Hindus, and many other races and cultures found ways to make lovemaking sacred. NO, Sacred Sex doesn't mean making love like rabbits with any warm human body or orifice you can find or insert things in...sacred sex is much more profound than that. I don't have time to read your blogs tonight. You sound to me like a horny young man with artistic tendencies. That is a good combo. :-) However, my belief is that casual sex is not the answer. I know the sex urge is one of the most compelling there is in we humans. There is also an urge for a God or Goddess, plus an urge to Create Artistic Stuff (films, poems, music, etc.), and the urge to Survive. Can you email me? I'd love to hear from you. Thanks.

Posted by: Linda Smith at November 20, 2004 08:32 PM

i think i'm the only one here who actually liked the movie. Why does everyone just look at the images of the movie; but dont listen to what Justins saying?

.. and i really like the pillow-book homage you did. wonderfull editing :)

Posted by: mw at November 21, 2004 08:57 AM

Wow. Justin. This was just really awful. It was awful on so many levels. I wouldn't call it a film of any sort and would grade it with an F. I agree with many of the other comments and don't want to beat a dead horse but I think Linda really hit it when she made the distinction between horniness and sacred sex. Please read the following comments through to the end because I do have some positive comments that I think may help you.

What Didn't Work
1. There's no real story. Even a short has a point and a narrative flow. This was just bad pseudo porn. Next time develop a real story and tell it.
2. There was nothing appealing or interesting about any of the characters. Consequently I had no interest in them which was o.k. since there was no real story
3. You begin by saying you are looking for intimacy, touching, looking etc. Then you proceed to show yourself wrapped in a bag where you are isolated and detached from your "partners". You can't see them, kiss them or make any real connection to them. There's nothing intimate here and certainly nothing sacred. And it makes the entire premise of the "film" contradictory.
4. The "interesting" visual effects that you mentioned? They weren't. They were annoying and amateurish.
5. The subtext amounted to an apologia for the "film". It was also annoying. If you want to film crap then at least put it out there without apology or explanation. Let it speak or not speak for itself.

What Worked
1. The very beginning with Jane and the thoughts and feelings you expressed.


You said: "I wanted to find a healthy way to get the nourishment and stimulation that comes from intimacy without the procedural attachments."

It seems that you're defining intimacy as sex. The mechanics and technique without the deeper feelings of love. I would argue that casual sex is just that: sex with people you don't really care about. It's a release. Nothing more. Nothing less. But it's not what I would call intimacy.

You're taking screwing and trying to dress it up as sacred sex. Doesn't work because there's no deep feeling attached to the acts. Go to any church and what do you see? Intensity, joy, peacefulness, rapture, sadness. In short - the range of human emotion. What don't you see: faith beyond reason. Sacred sex isn't screwing. If you're going to use the metaphor of religion with sex then you have to use the full recipe. You have to add human emotion. Without that who cares what happens in your film?

When I watched this "film" I saw detachment and emptiness. The intro with Jane was the only part that I felt worked. Why? Because it had heart and warmth and there was some feeling to it. If you had explored in some way the subject of gaining and losing true emotional intimacy you would have ended up with a real film with real people. Instead you ended up with an empty shell and an ugly one at that.

Posted by: nubchai at November 21, 2004 10:17 AM

uh Linda dear, why don't you watch the film before you comment? It's right there in front of you, at the top of the page

Posted by: billybob at November 21, 2004 06:03 PM

I have to agree with all the pseudo complaints your film has generated. Like nubchai wrote, the first part of the film was good and appealing, something one can relate to. Then it turned into a making of gone horribly wrong.

All in all, you really seem to mistake sex and physical closeness to intimacy. Intimacy isn't only about getting laid and doing it in all the positions. It should also be about caring for the other person, standing by through the ups&downs, knowing the bad, the really bad and the so bad it hurts and yet staying there and sharing the everyday life. I hate the way intimacy gets turned into equipment sport in your film. You shouldn't need latex bodybag to feel close or force trust when it obviously doesn't come naturally.

What are you trying to achieve? Why do you have to go through "weird trip where I experience like a total loss of ego" to achieve it? Do you find it somehow purifying? Are you a better person after the experience? Are you more ready for true emotional and physical intimacy?

I have to admit that after watching the piece twice I do find the irony also. "I don't know what I want to evangelize with this practice 'cause I don't know what the practice is. But I do love doing things and talking about it."

You sure do.

Posted by: anniina at November 22, 2004 04:30 AM

I finally saw your short and I have to say I'm not as annoyed as some of the other posters. It is exactly what I would expect from you, no more, no less.

My thoughts...

*I love the frame work and voice over stuff.

*The condition of your skin bothered me. You needed some concealer.

*I wondered how JP would feel about your latest venture. You seemed to miss some things about being with her at least thats how it came across to me.

*It reminded me of things I've seen on HBO many times.

*I wondered how you could stand the latex? Watching your air supply being cut off was disturbing.

Thats about it for me. No big emotion of digust or envy. No, none of that from me. Now I just want to know what Professor Suissa thought of your film.

Posted by: Liz at November 22, 2004 09:01 AM

One word if I may, Crap-o-la.

Posted by: uncle chuckles at November 22, 2004 12:18 PM

This is hilarious. The goal of sacred sex combined with images of a woman playfully limiting the air supply of a film student squeezed into a latex body bag. The dubious promise of fabulous sex. A linear, emphatic, patterened, spiritual narrative and a casting call on Craig's List. It is worth watching and apparently encourages a lot of discussion.

Was it hard to achieve emotional initimacy in the moment? I think viewers of the movie are secretly inspired by your appeal to sacredness and emotional intimacy and then depressed by the result. But why should viewers expect to see and experience something both real and touching without offering anything ourselves? I think we are left as movie watchers to touching fictions or an awkward, absurd and sometimes depressing reality. If you want to start a shared spiritual feeling you have to give less away for free.

Posted by: Mike Love at November 22, 2004 01:12 PM

this is a red hot thread, proving to me how easily otherwise intelligent people can be "disturbed and shocked" by fairly innocuous images: a facial blemish, two dudes making out, one nude dude sitting on a bed, same dude dressed in latex. perhaps i don't get it, but what is disturbing about any of this?
and am i the only one who not only liked it, but laughed as well? here's what i saw:

filmmaker, with bold vision typical of every burgeoning young auteur, records self describing same bold vision for his project.

intercuts the vision with the reality. only three people show up. director spends majority of shoot, not filming, but blinded and immobile while "cast" drinks beer in his apartment. sits nude on bed, confused and wondering how the dream and the reality strayed so far apart.

perhaps with the next one, you should actually wink at the camera when you are introducing irony.

and i'd be careful. it might not have been as funny if they put you in that suit, then drank beer as they loaded all your valuable shit into that furry guy's van.

Posted by: eric at November 22, 2004 01:22 PM

Eric --

Maybe there was some irony intended in the film, but that doesn't matter. That doesn't change my opinion that the film was crap.

I think my objection boils down to a disgust with Justin's lack of respect for himself -- to subject himself to such vile humiliation on film is beneath someone like him, who has incredible intelligence and opportunity and connections. It suggests, really, a kind of moral vacuity on Justin's part that is disturbing. To me, the film can be "read" to say: "I'm so unmoored from any meaningful commitments in life that I am willing to strip naked, grope and kiss several disgusting strangers, and then broadcast a film of it to thousands of people, including my closest friends and family."

I could go out and pay some toothless, heroin-addicted hookers in my city to have a sexual romp with me in a cheap motel room, film it, and then post it up on my personal website; the film, most likely, would look amateurish, the situation ridiculous, and I would probably be visibly disgusted. But on your view, I would deserve congratulations for my innovative, countercultural spirit, for my courageous and ironic questioning of societal norms.

But every reasonable person would just think it was disgusting.

One more thing: Justin has expressed, in recent posts, a desire for a meaningful romantic relationship. Everyone he meets, knows or will find out about I frankly think this weird behavior probably hurts his chances at achieving lasting romantic unions. What healthy, stable woman would really want to be with a dude who does stuff like this and broadcasts it on his personal website?

Posted by: James at November 22, 2004 03:54 PM

Wow. I'm surprised at how really upset all these comments are! The film itself really isn't that bad. I rather liked the way three things were happening at once - the voice over, the face (I liked the expressions and the close-up and WHAT are people so obsessed about a simple zit for? Reading the comments I thought his face was covered in hives or something) and the images and text telling slightly different stories. I don't really think you can find spirituality in sex with strangers, and certainly the body bag seems a strange way to go about it, but it's not doing anyone else any harm, and why not experiment if that's what you want to do? The body bag sequence is so obviously ironically portrayed - I mean, listen to the music, guys, the fast forward, it's a Chaplin movie - and it's obvious that the narrator's distancing himself from it.

No, the film doesn't do everything it sets out to do, but I do think it's similar in tone to the exploratory style of many good blog posts, and that's interesting to me.

Posted by: Jill at November 23, 2004 03:27 AM

the thing that greenaway knows how to do is make beautiful images. he can be depicting some of the most digusting things but transform them into something thought provoking and beautiful, he creates a spectacle. i have heard him say that he is often trying to re-create the feeling of traditional painting.
you could use some typography and design classes in addition to what you are learning about filmaking. i think that if this film had more of an artistic vision it would make up for alot of the "story" flaws... you need more than just your voice to communicate what you are trying to say. yes, in general in your films, there is very little of what one could call an artistic vision, and this element is pretty much essential to provoking the audience (in the way that you want.)
in so far as your idea about a "sacred sex church" and the reason why this theme fails to work in the film may be because you are being too literal, perhaps. get to the core of what you want using the video...
i know you are just starting with all this so good luck.

Posted by: womanonfire at November 23, 2004 06:58 AM

Oh for the love of God!

Upset by fairly innocuous images?



The images seen in this piece of waste are nothing compared to what we've all seen on HBO, in porn, etc. It's not the images that provoked my response. It's how Justin took, yet another, opportunity to illustrate how much supposed depth he has, how he's so in tune with his sexuality and wanted to share it with us...again.

Like writing about himself for ten years isn't enough. Now he has to make "films" about it.

I'm sure, deep down, Justin really just wanted to make a film of himself masturbating in front of a camera, but thought better of it because, after all, he is a film student now...

There's nothing ironic about this effort. Justin takes himself far too seriously too engage in irony.

Posted by: SM at November 23, 2004 01:30 PM

I see the film as Justin's statement about leaving his teens.

Ok, yes, I understand, he's going to be thirty in a matter of days, not twenty. But it seems like he's saying he's leaving his teens. Won't this be a wonderful "before" episode when he does something worthy of his potential?

Justin -- People are intense about our feedback, because your unrelenting brutal honesty has endeared us. We care about your story -- those of us who know you ftf and those who follow you only online. And now, your honesty seems like a mask. That's my interpretation of the reason the emotional intensity of this thread is so high.

My personal opinion -- it has its moments. I like the idea of the Church. I like the beginning. And the rest of it, including the sum of the parts, is crappy. But it really doesn't matter that much if your first film is crappy. What does matter is whether you end of doing forty more films, and if they get less crappy. Some people, and I would include myself, need to start out doing fairly crappy work, then apply ourselves to improving it.

However, the most important message that I could try to convey to you -- by far -- is that this thread is the golden road to self-knowledge. You don't have to spend any more on expensive tantric gurus. No need to travel to anybody's ashram. Your gurus are here. All you need to do is to read each critique ***as if it was true.*** It really doesn't matter if each critique is true -- after all, it's a matter of opinion -- but it does matter that each one is like a hexagram. They are readings of yourself.

All of us have been STUDYING you for years -- you've provided the text. Get past the emotional reaction to the harshness. Read what we're saying. Work on discriminating the useful part and figuring out how to apply it.

Then make more films.

Posted by: Howard Rheingold at November 23, 2004 06:18 PM

Another comment -- I really cringed at the beginning of the film, because I'm assuming that you didn't secure permission to use the image of your ex girlfriend. Forgive me if I'm wrong about that. But if you didn't, well, I'll comment about that only if I'm not wrong.

But that was then. What's more important is what is to come.

What kind of girl is going to want to have anything to do with you after seeing this? What kind of advertisement for yourself is this? It's like the opposite of a plea for help. It's like a plea for everyone but the most grossly disturbed to stay away.

And that's NOT fair to you. You are FAR more sensitive and intelligent and aware of others than you paint yourself to be in this. And THAT is disturbingly self-destructive.

Posted by: Howard Rheingold at November 23, 2004 06:28 PM

@ SM. you wrote :

(quote) "And for God's sake, could you please retire the nude b&w shot that is now, what, almost ten years old?"

this is justin's page, the one where he decided long ago to do things, experiment, and talk about it. wonderful things and mistakes. documents and archives. so what would you expect ?
what's old and boring for you is new to some, discovering this website.


(quote)"Like writing about himself for ten years isn't enough. Now he has to make "films" about it."

and you're perfectly right (tho you forgot the the drawings). that's exactly what he does.

the fact that you don't like the film, or justin naked, or Justin himself, or whatever, fine, i can understand.
but i really don't understand why you are *so* angry. there's no point. or if there's one, it shouldn't be taken so seriously
(unless you're in the film).

anyway, i hope to see more of his films here. justin hall surprises me. and makes me smile. and makes people react, as we can see.

and he learns fast : art direction is the next step, obviously.

and please SM don't be angry at me, now, because it's not serious, and i'm french. thanks.

Posted by: jerome at November 23, 2004 06:46 PM

"People are intense about our feedback, because your unrelenting brutal honesty has endeared us."

Speak ONLY for yourself, Howard.

Posted by: SM at November 23, 2004 08:31 PM

I'll speak for whoever the fuck I want to speak for.

Posted by: Howard at November 24, 2004 07:43 AM

I finally got time to see your film, and I think I liked it a lot. It was a crash-course in getting your ambitions down to earth, though, I mean, who wouldnt want it to be possible to organize meetings where people could be close, intimate - not necessarely meaning sexual. This would solve a good part of the problem we have in modern western society, I think. Everyone is looking so hard for someone to be close to, going into twosomeness just for that special confirmation - you are not alone.

So, your ambitions were great! And to be able to tell that story is as Howard wrote, brave and very honest. Thank you for that.

As for the result of your ambitions, well, it doesnt look good. We have to work on that!

But, as someone said, this is only the beginning....


Posted by: Svante at November 29, 2004 12:32 AM

i want to be one of your memmber.

Posted by: oluwasesan at December 1, 2004 02:08 PM

dude... I have seen alot of movies in my day but goddamn. that was awesome. more skin next time! maybe throw a zombie in there for measure. a naked zombie...

Posted by: steve glenn at December 1, 2004 07:47 PM

Hi Justin! I enjoyed watching your video! Rectangles, rectangles! You made the personals come alive! I miss you.



Posted by: M.C. Schmidt at December 1, 2004 11:40 PM

Wow, how can people use so much time and energy to be so negative? I reacted very positively to this film on a gut level, an intellectual level, and as somebody who knows Justin. Sure it's shocking and, at moments, wince-inducing. But that's part of the courage that makes it great. It's really like nothing else. Somehow, it manages to be pretentious and self depricating at the same time; also horrifying and hilarious; even raw and meticulously cooked. I maintain, it's imposibe to be zipped into a latex mummy bag ironically.

And FYI - I'm one of Justin's instructors in the class he made this film for, and he's getting an A.

(And if you read this before Monday, Justin, you still have to turn everything in.)

Posted by: Mark W. Gray at December 3, 2004 11:23 AM

Haven´t even watched the film but the commentary and the critique is always fascinating. I wonder why SM @ takes the time to write such eloquent critique of you, yet doesn´t post his real e-mail?

Posted by: Joao at December 3, 2004 07:02 PM

Mark --

"the courage that makes it great"

I could run into a crowd of African-Americans wearing a KKK costume and capture it on film. That would be courageous, no doubt, but would it make good film?

"it's really like nothing else"

There are many films one could make that are like nothing else, but are still pointless. Maybe that's why they're like nothing else -- nobody else was stupid enough to spend money and time to do something so pointless.

Mark, your aesthetic sucks.

That's good for Justin, I guess.

Posted by: James at December 3, 2004 11:39 PM

hi james,

i think you don't know what "courage" is.

if you want to illustrate "courage" (in this specific case of course), could you please give us another example of something you would really love to experiment and capture on film, but are too ashamed to do. something intimate, just as justin did. come out.

then we can compare, and understand why you think it's so easy.

in your example, it's not courage you're describing, it's trash stupidity and spectacular provocation. why ?
because i'm sure you don't *want* to run in a KKK costume, even in your own house.
(just imagine : if someone asked you to do such a thing to show how brave you are, would you ?)

while justin hall *wanted* to experiment what he filmed.
and in his film, no one got hurt or shocked or abused, while it would certainely be the case in yours.


Posted by: jerome at December 5, 2004 01:26 PM

Okay, my example of the KKK costume was stupid. But I think the wanton fetishization of courage and originality obscures the points I made somewhat earlier in this thread -- (1) that not every act that transgresses social norms is worth doing; and (2) that there is a social cost to doing things so flagrantly bizarre. That second point, I note, is one that seemed to be echoed by Justin's longtime mentor, Howard.

I hate to be so harsh. I love Justin's work. He's an incredibly inspiring individual; I think is a great, overwhelming, fantastic work of art.

Posted by: James at December 6, 2004 04:16 PM

It's a great experiment, but I must come down on the side of having feelings for the other person. Let's face it, the greatest love of all is an empethetic don't even need to ejaculate - just enjoy. Don't get me wrong if you don't ejaculate every now and then your doomed also, but that's just a biological neccessity... the former is neccessary for the whole of the universe...or for life as we know it....which given the evidence what meaning does the universe have without our lives?

Justin -

Posted by: Justin Tindall at December 13, 2004 11:46 AM

It was your first film, Justin. Don't let the bastards get you down; keep working at it. Next time, though, try collaborating with a writer for fun. I've plenty of screenplays up my sleeve. ;)

Posted by: Mike B. at December 14, 2004 09:46 AM

Well, I saw Blood and the Thrust film, and I didn't see anything repulsive about them. Granted I'm in the local bdsm scene here in Dallas and I guess I have a different view on these matters. I will tell you right now, many bdsm activites are far more intimate than about a trust game!

Take care!

Posted by: Blue Rosebuds at December 16, 2004 10:59 AM

3 January 2005

Portland, Oregon

Having spotted Jeffrey Rosen's reference to what you attempted, I checked it out. Just curious and perhaps a bit optimistic. Now, yawning slightly, I have to say that the novels of persons such as D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, William Burroughs, et al, strike me as being vastly more engaging and memorable. Nice try, however. Self-expression does a body good...pun intended. Good luck and may you find the ultimate revelations while engaged in self-worship before the altar with a mirror affixed in the golden "church" you have inaugurated! Blessed be! Frederick

Posted by: Frederick at January 3, 2005 07:15 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?