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Orgasm Inc. (DVD Review)

20 Jun, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Street 6/21/11
First Run
Box Office $0.05 million
$27.95 DVD
Not rated.

If the title sounds a bit on the flip side, it turns out to be a dead-on precise one to serve subject matter that could have befitted a Robert Altman comedy — albeit one that might have ended up becoming a companion disaster to the director’s satirical and barely released HealtH, which was supposed to skewer the health-food industry. In this case, documentary filmmaker Liz Canner casts a wary eye on scientific attempts to develop a kind of equal-opportunity Viagra: a pill to enable women to have more and better orgasms. Perhaps a little of this public servicing has been for altruistic reasons: the pleasing kind involving patient blood-flow. Much more of it is for the cash flow of pharmaceutical companies.

Filmed over a period of years, Orgasm Inc. gets off to a shaky start with the filmmaker injecting herself into the story something like the way, say, Alexandra Pelosi did in her own documentaries on George W. Bush and evangelist Ted Haggard. Unfortunately, Canner doesn’t have the ingenuous dimension (real or concocted) that allowed Pelosi to get away with it. Canner also comes up with animated shots of competing pills racing each other on a bed mattress as a track announcer “calls” the contest. In truth, the story at hand is sadder than this, which the director quickly seems to realize. Before very long, the tone relaxes some, and Orgasm Inc. simply elects to mine the rich material at hand. Eventually, it even turns footage of FDA testimony into a mild nail-biter.

The alleged culprit here is something called Female Sexual Dysfunction (naturally termed FSD), from which 43% of women are said to suffer. But as it turns out, this figure comes from a survey that wasn’t among the most scientific ever conducted — which, of course, didn’t prevent its conclusion from catching on. We even get the inevitable Oprah tease clip where you-know-who touts a coming hour whose theme is going to be about the “43% of women who …” – well, you get the idea.

Canner interviews at least a few orgasm-industry doctors and spokespeople who feel a little queasy about their jobs dependent on creating a malady that isn’t — or, if it is, at least one that might be helped by other and less-complicated means. The most sympathetic character here is a 60-ish guinea pig of considerable Southern charm who has tried just about everything without two-person synchronized success, even though her partner is simpatico in other ways. We believe her when she confesses having a shy nature and how much of a struggle it was to go public with her problem. So, naturally, this poor woman ends up being the center of an experiment that utilizes a spinal device actually called an “Orgasmatron.”

It can’t be earth-shattering anymore that the female sexual response is more complicated than the male’s; wasn’t it Billy Crystal who said that a woman has to have reason but a man only has to have a room? To this end, Berman interviews one subject who talks about not being receptive to sex after working at a job all day and then coming home to do housework (and you can probably bet a disproportionate volume of it). Even though it has stood the test of time, this last gripe sounds like an old-school problem, and you could have probably heard some kind of non-clinical variation on it in 1930s radio comedy. But Orgasm Inc. also deals with newfangled concepts that represent a collective loss of mind: cosmetic labial surgery to construct what is inevitably termed a “designer vagina.” Now, that is Robert Altman-ish — which doesn’t make it any less depressing.

Canner lands a mild jab or two on the piece-of-work Berman sisters (Laura and Jennifer), a pair of good-lookers who always seem to be on the verge of taking a flying Wallenda fall off that tightrope between degreed medical respectability and that bad-dream feeling you get when you’re trapped in the deep pockets of the pharmaceuticals and can’t get out. The sisters’ financial reward is one of those clinics where the lobby sign tells you “we don’t take insurance” — in other words, cash, please — and TV appearances with, sigh, Oprah. Is it just me, or does sexual functionality seem to be determined by a Queen of Imprimatur who’s on again and off again with guy named Steadman?

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