The trailer for Travis Mathews’ I Want Your Love—newly released on DVD and on-demand via the gay adult website Naked Sword, which also co-produced the film—is book-ended by blurbs from Andrew Haigh and John Cameron Mitchell, who effectively anoint Mathews as a fellow gay auteur. Although Mathews’ film doesn’t exactly feel like a watershed moment in gay cinema, it promisingly suggests a direction in which gay cinema might do well to head. It successfully blends the low-fi, minimalist aesthetic of mumblecore with the sexual explicitness of pornography in a way that recalls the attempts of filmmakers like Radley Metzger (or the fictional Jack Horner from Boogie Nights) to integrate hard-core sex into an otherwise traditional film narrative. Even in its sex scenes I Want Your Love stays firmly grounded in a realist mode rather than dissolving into sheer fantasy—what is sometimes referred to as “pornotopia.” The sex scenes are all of a piece with the rest of the film; they arise naturally, and they’re informed by the motivations of the characters, for whom sex becomes a way of better understanding themselves, their relationships, and their goals.
Without the sex, I Want Your Love would be a diverting but mostly un-remarkable gay indie in which Jesse (Jesse Metzger), a struggling performance artist in his late twenties, says goodbye to his friends and neighbors in San Francisco as he prepares to move to Columbus (shades of Parting Glances here). It doesn’t have the urgency or the romantic ache of Haigh’s Weekend, for instance; it’s also not nearly as well written, and its characters are a good deal flatter. But the frankness of the sex scenes lends the film a certain edge. We’re so unused to seeing explicit, un-simulated sex in the context of a narrative feature that the effect feels unfamiliar, exciting.
The best thing that can be said about I Want Your Love is that it works. It almost doesn’t matter that the plot and the characters are somewhat thin, because Mathews has done something quietly extraordinary: he’s found a way to use hard-core sex as a narrative element that doesn’t overwhelm everything else around it. With this film, Mathews has pulled off something that the porn auteurs ultimately gave up trying to do thirty years ago. And the hardcore scenes themselves manage to be both sexy and interesting, in part because Mathews uses them to explore a range of affects beyond mere pleasure, such as affection, uncertainty, joy, love, playfulness. This is not to disparage the kinds of pornotopic fantasy that we find in more mainstream pornography. It’s merely to emphasize the significance of what Mathews has accomplished here. I Want Your Love has its flaws, but it’s onto something.