Penis-Hook Gives A Brechtian Performance
NSFWCORP Film Editor, Eileen Jones, reviews Spartacus MMXII: The Beginning
In striving to elevate the artistic quality of pornographic film, director-producer-star Marcus London (AVN Award Best Oral Sex Scene 2007) has hit upon what I would term a “signature shot” that clearly identifies him as an emergent auteur. No, it’s not the kind of shot you’re thinking of.
In London’s magnum opus “Spartacus MMXII: The Beginning,” the shot represents a pair of gladiators fighting that suddenly split-screens horizontally into three shots, so you get the same gladiators fighting in triplicate. Three identical slomo hair-tossing gladiators versus three identical slo-mo blood-spitting-while-falling gladiators. You might argue, “What’s the good of stacking gladiator-fight shots on top of each other? If you stacked the actual gladiators on top of each other, you might get somewhere. Heh heh.”
But that just shows what a sad ignoramus you are. Because one of the main ways you value-add artistry to a film is through reflexivity, formal effects that call attention to the medium itself, to film-as-film. (Or at least video-as-video.) Reflexivity forces you to consider the ways in which you are being constituted as a spectator. And Marcus London is all over that spectatorconstituting shit. Show him a spectator and he constitutes him/her/it.
London has designed the viewing experience of “Spartacus MMXII: The Beginning” (AVN Award Best Parody Drama 2013) to position you as a victim of trauma attempting recovery in Freudian terms, by “remembering, repeating, and working through.” The “repeating” motif is especially stressed in the film: you have to watch a cruelly limited number of meaty physical actions performed over and over again, against a similarly limited number of backdrops featuring plywood and velveteen sarcastically arranged. Similarly, the number of crowd extras watching gladiator fights are very few in number but ironically presented as multitudinous by running the same shot of five dirtied-up people cheering over and over. The indoor orgies are better attended than the arena spectacles.
Among the film’s infinite “repetitions,” select images are intended to be “remembered” in a way that cannot be “worked through” by the spectator without intensive therapy and psychoactive drugs. For example, upon first seeing in the nude the nerdy middle-aged guy playing Caesar, who has a penis so upwardly curved he seems designed to have jackets hung on him in the hallway, you know with morbid certainty that you will see Penis-Hook in action again several more times in the course of the film. Then you will see him in your nightmares, your daymares, your hallucinations, and your deathbed imaginings of what Hell must be like.
Under Marcus London’s masterful direction, Penis-Hook gives a splendidly Brechtian performance, constantly signaling that he is acting by nodding his head emphatically at the other actor speaking to him. In this way he interrogates the very notion of “dialogue,” with its absurdly implied mutuality of communication. As his wife Lucretia, the celebrated Devon Lee (AVN Best Actress Nominee 2013, “Spartacus MMXII,” AVN Best All-Girl Three-Way Sex Scene 2010, “All About Ashlyn 2: Girls Only”) astutely plays the character of a formidable and decadent Roman matron as an aging blonde Valley Girl. How uncompromisingly she evacuates all conventional meaning from her superficially sense-making lines welcoming the elite to an orgy: “Fer now yew are ta be gods and these yer slaves.”
Surpassing even Devon Lee in subverting language systematicity, Tanya Tate (winner of multiple MILF of the Year Awards, so not exactly a lightweight), speaks almost entirely in gibberish. Playing a Roman senator’s lubricious daughter, clearly an allegorical figure representing the twilight of capitalist hegemony, she affects an accent so convoluted the best guess would be Finnish-Luxembourgian with a speech impediment, though it turns out she’s merely from Liverpool: “Pray tell something something a woman of my standing something something I thirst not for a woman’s touch.” [Pronounced “tooch.” Though maybe that’s slang for something?]
Marcus London himself plays Spartacus as short and ineffectual, unable to persuade anyone to follow him, reduced to a mere Hey You of a sex slave. Thus London ruthlessly inflicts the traumatizing wound from which we seek recovery in the form of the film itself, by celebrating the death of the patriarchy before we were done mocking it. Trapped in an endless spiral of repetition, paging Dr. Freud with no hope of a response, we can only whisper to ourselves in abject denial, “I’m NOT Spartacus! I’m NOT Spartacus!”
Oh, and I forgot to mention, the flashback sex scenes are in black-and-white. That’s really how you know it’s art.