Doc of the Day: Orgasm Inc. Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Orgasm Inc.

Posted in Days of Docs, Reviews by - January 01, 2012

A critical look at the clinical race for a little blue pill for the ladies, and an exploration into attitudes of female sexuality. But you aren’t even looking at this text with this poster right under it, are you?

Poster courtesy of First Run Features.

 Dir. Liz Canner, 2011, 78 min

Sometimes a movie just works despite itself. Frankly, for a doc that was made over the course of ten years, there’s not much excuse for Orgasm Inc. looking as shoddy as it does in places. There’s CGI that’s seriously pre-Toy Story quality, the cheapest titling work you can imagine, and a general unfinished feel to it. Just because you start filming at the turn of the century doesn’t mean your piece should look like it comes from then. And I’m not just ragging on low production values, the movie feels sloppy, and I think it could have used another round in the editing bay. There’s always a danger of rambling or going off on unfulfilled tangents when you focus on an issue, and that happens several times here. But the film doggedly powers through its limitations with a great sense of pluck, humor, and most importantly of all, real content.

All documentaries have a great story behind how the filmmaker discovered their subject, and I think this one has the best of any doc I’ve watched for this blog so far. A pharmaceutical company hired Liz Canner to create erotic videos for use in a drug trial. The drug was an experimental “female Viagra,” a cure for Female Sexual Dysfunction. At the time, Oprah and the evening news were in a hysteria over this new epidemic sweeping the nation, an inability for nearly half of women to experience consistent sexual pleasure. But Canner in researching her, um, “material” for her project, she ran across a rather perplexing fact: FSD might not actually be real. And thus, she set out on a journey into the sticky realms of drug business and cultural attitudes about female sexuality. It’s quite a leap from making strum bait for a clinical trial to a documentary, but life’s funny sometimes.

The story Canner stumbled into turns out to have a wider scope than she anticipated, and it becomes a terrific case study in how moneyed interests can shape society to their own ends. Pharmaceuticals is the third largest industry on Earth, and medical companies today have a direct hand in identifying and classifying diseases. Pair up those two facts, throw in some good ol-fashioned Laissez-faire to let those job creators work their magic, and you get the sudden emergence of an epidemic of woman who aren’t sexing right. And shortly after that follows businesses rushing to work the right alchemy to create the philosopher’s stone of a little blue (or pink, rather) pill. Who cares if the study they used to justify the ID’ing of FSD was horrendously (Deliberately? Surely not!) misinterpreted, and it turns out that no credible research actually points to half of women having anything but perfectly normal sexual issues? In our world, we want to be able to solve all our illin’ with some pillin’, and there are people all too happy to reassure you that the pillin’ will be fillin’ the hole in your life.

We see first hand the effects of this attitude, as Canner follows a woman who, concerned over never having experienced an orgasm in intercourse, elects for painful and invasive surgery to try to fix herself. She didn’t come up with the idea herself; countless magazine articles, TV commercials, and news bites have convinced her that something’s wrong, and a doctor of somewhat dubious intent is all too happy to implant his “orgasmotron” in her. This is the kind of movie that makes me fall to my knees and thank God I’m a man. It’s like Louis C.K.’s bit about being white: white isn’t better, but being white is unmatchable. Same thing with sexes: men aren’t better, but being a man? Can’t touch this. Dozens of women come before the camera to share how they’ve been conditioned in shame and embarrassment in their sexuality. It’s succinctly summed up by one woman who relates her uncle telling her to wait until after college to have sex, while encouraging her brother to sow his oats wildly. When we tell our girls this, is it any wonder that so many end up at least slightly askew in bed matters? And then, as they are wont to do, the suppliers of the world are all too happy to exploit the weakness to create a demand.

Orgasm Inc. is often very funny. Candidness on sexual matters usually seems to produce a winning tone, and this is no exception. It really helps to ease the crushingly shameful dishonesty that the doc is focusing on. It’s an atmosphere of liberation. A lot of the female talking heads in this film are liberated from the unfair expectations of the culture, and that feeling infects you as you watch. I never understood the idea of women’s liberation until I watched and read material like this. As an anti-corporate malfeasance piece, this movie is serviceable, but you can find better elsewhere. As a feminist piece, it’s pretty spectacular.

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Dan Schindel loves movies more than you do.

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