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101 Rent Boys is shot on location in various motel rooms situated on the length of the Santa Monica Boulevard, and features 101 different hustlers. Although the film features 101 different people, it focuses on the lives (and loves) of a few key men. They have been chosen to reflect the immense diversity of the boys of the Santa Monica Strip. An amazing thing happens when you cross a video camera with award-winning directors, $50 and a hustler. The pieces are slickly grouped to cover certain themes; such as their first john, gay for pay, homelessness, drugs or the reason that they began to work as a rent boy. It also explores the variety of insiders' opinion on subjects such as; how a rent boy should dress, speak, act, think, give head, receive head, increase cash flow, keep safe, walk, eat, smoke, and flirt. Written by
Strand Releasing <www.strandreleasing.com>
Occasionally Sexy, Often Disturbing, Always Intriguing
Over the course of two years, producers and directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato interviewed one hundred two male prostitutes who worked in West Hollywood, exploring their backgrounds, private lives, and attitudes toward their work and paying each fifty dollars for their time. Edited together around certain themes with the occasional more detailed profile of certain individuals, the result was 101 RENT BOYS. It was and remains extremely controversial.
The central controversy involved arises from the fact that, at least to a certain extent, 101 RENT BOYS can be considered deliberately exploitive. The explotational edge is apparent in the title itself, which implies a certain sexiness; in that interviews are conducted in various hotel rooms which might be used by prostitutes and clients; in that the filmmakers have no qualm in encouraging their subjects to drape suggestively across bed; in that the filmmakers pay their subjects and very deliberately photograph the subjects accepting the money. By doing so, Bailey and Barbato essentially make both themselves and the viewer complicit in an act of prostitution. The irony is that in most instances the act of prostitution is not so much physical--nor can it be; we are distanced by film--than it is both spiritual and psychological. We are not paying for physical touch but for the right to invade the mind of the subjects in ways they would not normally give a client. The result is often unsettling, to say the least, particularly when one considers that Bailey and Barbato apparently have no problem in engaging in it.
No less so are the various subjects. The majority of the men involved are essentially street hustlers who have been recruited from Santa Monica Boulevard, men who range in age from their early twenties to late thirties; some are remarkably handsome; some are distinctly haggard. They tend to share backgrounds of physical abuse as children and current drug abuse. Even so, they are remarkably diverse and often very articulate and occasionally unexpectedly clear-eyed about their profession and the toll it takes on their lives. A handful are clearly upscale in nature, far removed from the streets; these tend to regard their work as less a matter of a life style into which they drifted than as a business they often enjoy.
Now and then certain individuals pop with their extremes. Perhaps the most disturbing is a man who enjoys physical pain, almost casually putting out a cigarette on his chest (and later and quite shockingly putting out a cigarette on another part of his body) in demonstration of his thought that "pain is good." Another goes through an emotional wringer as he describes his separation from his long-term lover; one is a gang member who announces he enjoys working as a prostitute much more than he liked being shot at; and several describe girl friends and children.
In many respects the men are indeed what you might expect, but in each instance they show, perhaps unintentionally, their humanity. They are indeed considerably more than the flesh and bone rented for a few hours by their customers. They are human beings and much, much more like the "average man" than they are different--a realization that adds to the film's uneasiness and which is, indeed, the ultimate point of the whole thing.
As a documentary, however, the film has two very distinct flaws. The least obvious of these is the fact that the prostitutes are selling more than their bodies: they are selling illusions, fantasies, and dreams. This is pointed out by more than one subject, and it has implications in terms of how much of their statements we can believe--but the film never really follows this up in any statement-making sense. The most obvious flaw is that it is in some ways superficial; the subjects are taken at their word and that is that, there is no real context and ultimately nothing we can describe as "cold reality." Both flaws feed into each other and tend to create a "how much of this can we truly believe?" quality.
The DVD issue comes with several bonuses. The Bailey and Barbato audio commentary track is interesting, but it may not be interesting in quite the way either man desired; they spend a fair amount of time talking about the sexiness of their various subjects. They also note that one of the original "101 Rent Boys" turned out to be underage, thus forcing them to an additional interview, but that only one hundred men actually appear in the film due to the fact that one subject later rescinded consent. It is also tremendously annoying in the sense that the sound mix is bad: the film audio is mute throughout, and it is impossible to know what soundbyte from the film they are actually talking about at any given moment. There are several unedited interviews, which are interesting in and of themselves, and there are the "three minutes alone" segments, in which subjects were give time alone with the camera to say or do whatever they desired. Needless to say, a few of them elected to "do" rather than "say." As a whole, and in spite of several very obvious and annoying flaws, 101 RENT BOYS is a very interesting film, always thought provoking. If you are looking for something mindlessly sexy, however, you will be out of luck--and I cannot imagine that it will appeal to the people who, rather ironically, would benefit most from seeing it. Recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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