Feb 17, 2011

Bird's Eye View 2011 Preview: Orgasm Inc.

Dir: Liz Canner
Orgasm Inc. is a more serious and less salacious film than its title might suggest. It's a personal film from director Liz Canner, who apparently spent nine years working on this project, beginning when a drug company contacted her to ask her to edit together pornographic footage for use in a clinical trial of a cream designed to treat a newly defined condition 'female sexual dysfunction'.

Canner clearly started out pretty simply, documenting what she was doing for Vivus, and talking to various people at the company about the drug and about FSD, but the film expands with its director's horizons, as she begins to ask questions about whether FSD is a medical condition, and what the drug companies motives are for pursuing a treatment for it. Orgasm Inc. becomes, if not a full assault advocacy film, a skeptical exploration of the comodification of disease and cure, especially in the US. Canner isn't Michael Moore, and her film is inquiring rather than hectoring, but no less disturbing for it. Perhaps the most troubling sequence takes place in a private FSD clinic run by Dr Laura Berman, where we are taken through the process by which, day by day, perfectly normal sexual issues are being medicalised, with a bill of $1500 at the end of the day.

There is also a fascinating insight into the way a drug gains FDA approval for use in the US, with Canner's footage of the meeting to decide whether a testosterone patch to treat FSD should be approved providing a genuinely intimate and edifying (and surprisingly heartening) glimpse of this process. If nothing else, Orgasm Inc. raises some important questions about how we classify and treat disease in the 21st century.

It doesn't all work though. While she's not hectoring, Canner's interviews can feel a little lightweight, and you'll want to hear the answers to questions that she apparently doesn't ask. It's also a little scattershot, and though it's just 79 minutes long some sequences feel extraneous,none more so than one that opens the film, then recurs later, in which Canner sets up a camera to film a woman's face as she masturbates to orgasm. There's no real purpose to this scene, it doesn't say anything, and all it did for me was remind me that I should rewatch the video for Romantic Death by The Sun sometime soon. There's also an animated sequence depicting four FSD drugs in a race for FDA approval which seems out of step with the rest of the film; it's silly, and far too on the nose for my liking.

Orgasm Inc. could be much more developed, but as a primer on an important and under recognised issue, it certainly has merit, and is well worth the 79 minutes it will take to watch it.

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