Episode 14: Sexual Cinema: The Making of Shortbus with Raphael Barker

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When Raphael Barker came across a call for auditions by director John Cameron Mitchell, he couldn’t resist making a tape and sending it in. Mitchell described a movie about sex that would go beyond the usual love and romance. It would inquire into the curiosity and vulnerability of sex that is rarely talked about, let alone portrayed in film. Set in New York City after 9/11, Shortbus follows its characters in their quest to know themselves through their sexuality. After its release in 2006, reviews praised its frank, yet humorous treatment of a subject rife with emotion and taboo. On this week’s A Taste of Sex, Raphael tells the behind the scenes story of Shortbus. He talks about his motivation for doing the film. He also reveals the care taken by Mitchell to develop intimacy among the Shortbus actors before filming so that the outcome would appear genuine and real.

Transcript

Sexual Cinema: The Making of Shortbus

Announcer: This program is intended for mature audiences only.

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J: Raphael Barker is the type of person who deliberately puts himself in uncomfortable situations. He also likes sex.

Raphael Barker: I don't know. I'm some kind of low-grade perv at some level.

J: So Raphael didn't hesitate when he stumbled across an audition call for a movie that would feature explicit sex. He made a tape and sent it to them.

Rapahel: I had no idea they'll call.

J: Though far from pornography, the movie "Shortbus" shows real sex and believable emotional vulnerability. The movie opens with Raphael and the woman who plays his wife going at it. Lying in bed in what should be post-coital bliss, she drops a hint that she cannot orgasm. Raphael did the experience from the inside out.

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J: Join us this in week on "A Taste of Sex" as we hear from Raphael Barker on what it was like to expose himself so completely, both physically and emotionally on film. I'm J. Tune in and turn on.

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Before "Shortbus", Raphael's formal acting experience consisted of doing impersonations for his parents.

Rapahel: I often did like impression of a Pakistani businessman would be like, or like a Southern Baptist preacher man and I would just kind of go on these like improvised monologues, just like crack them up.

I got my associates in liberal arts studies when I was studying overseas and then I finished my Bachelor's in Psychology, so that was what I was planning on doing with my life - that is to become a therapist and counsel people.

J: Life took a turn with the purchase of his first laptop.

Rapahel: My habits were the sort of like download MP3s or I could burn and after a while... aaah... and then I was like OK, I got a leg and bring this up a notch and at least be middle brow.

J: He found nerve.com, an online magazine known for its frank discussion about sex.

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Raphael: It was just auspicious because then it was like this interview with John Cameron Mitchell, and then there was a hyperlink to the website and to auditioning for this film.
I don't know, it kind of so I was actually intrigued on the idea. Frankly, I'm a bit of a voyeurist so... I mean excuse me, exhibitionist.

Yeah, I was very interested in the idea. There's this part of me that feels like I'm this sort of a straight male but not like what I typically perceive a straight male is like. I wanted my sexuality to be seen and accepted at some level.

The partner I was seeing at that time, we were going into places that we hadn't gone before. We'd like to experience her menstrual blood on my body or just kind of going pee player. Things that.. just go to these raw kind of places.

The interesting this is we talked recently and I had this total fantasy of what our sex life is. I think she didn't orgasm. I think she even faked it.

The audition process wasn't like a typical process that we go through now like quote, read a monologue. The audition process of "Shortbus" initially, was like creating a video tape and like setting it in. I was just happy to get the tape out. We're living in Colorado; it's not quite the west coast. But there's this sort of quality of like that it's all good.

The days become months really easily, just sort of experience. It's so comfortable. I had a head shot or anything. I even printed out a photograph of my partner with me.

I had no idea they were going to call back. During the callbacks, I think a lot of us had some anxiety like "Oh, my gosh! They're going to make us fornicate now." They'll film us. It's part of the audition process. What I realized from there and really all the way up to the end is that the actual sexual act is only the tip of the iceberg. There were all these other things that we should explore.

J: You've been listening to "A Taste of Sex". We'll hear more from Raphael Barker after this break.

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This is "A Taste of Sex"

Honestly, I feel like I was ready from the beginning sort of like I was going to push it. gave me something to work

It wasn't until at one point, our director had...the three of us in the room alone - at The producer's apartment in Brooklyn. The three of us got naked together. We just walked around a little bit. We just took each other's bodies into our eyes, like allowed ourselves to look at each other and size each other up so to speak. The kind like "Oh, you're built like that...oh, your nipples are like that.... your pubic hair is like this..."

Eventually, Sook Yin and I cuddled, and laid down together. We touched each other's body slowly. It produced a lot of fear and anxiety there. We just stayed with it and eventually we cuddled. And the director was like "Ahh, this is the film right there."

J: After two and a half year of build up, the day finally came to film the sex.

Rapahel: There were condoms. We got tested. We wanted to do it safe. If they find out we were together for seven years. With female condoms, I tried on condoms, feels like we're making a documentary. You'd see me trying on, like trying to find like transparent or translucent condoms and fake it. Make people draw on the condoms or something. It's just didn't work.

Eventually, we settled on the female condom which was like... I don't know.. a combination of.. Yeah, it was like having sex with a cold jelly. It wasn't pleasurable at all. Another interesting thing is the fact that they kept a very closed set --meaning that it's just maybe me, the camera person and the director and the other actress.

What I had in perspective is that little white dot in the center of that lens is the portal to the whole world. I mean it's possibly a portal to the whole world so it was really intense.

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There was one time that I liked; it was during the masturbation scene, actually. I came because we did it in three different takes. I ended up trying to strike myself about having a hard-on like all of a sudden I would... myself to orgasm. Oops! Sorry, folks, I just had an orgasm. I came on the director's shoes and everything. It was wild. I just thought about it now. What are we doing? Like what were we thinking?

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After the film, there was this dead air. It was now off into post-production. OK, back to life. I went back to Colorado. I shot another film and it was just on some little business, as usual. And then I moved to California, chased after these girls. I was supposed to start graduate school in counseling psychology. This girl that I was with decided that we should split up, like a week end in moving here. I lost my iPod. I decided on to go to school to pursue acting. I ended up living in an aikido dojo for five months in Richmond serving my lesbian sixth blackbelt dan, my teacher.

All of sudden the film was finally done. It was submitted to Cannes and other festivals. We got invited to Cannes. We didn't have any money yet. We got to share rooms.

And then the premier - it happens to an audience of 2,100 or something. Just walking at the red carpet, brought in with these limousines and sharing these beautiful story screen - it was the prestigious cinema of the worlds and to a standing ovation of normally very cynical French film viewers and they followed us into the street - it was amazing.

It was like wow - this film does matter.

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I knew that for me, as a human being living in this body and being in the world right now, I knew that I wanted that to be a journey for myself, but because it's a film and it's for the world - I wanted to serve some sort of purpose, like how can I in the sense keep [xx] and feel the world in a different way.

I wanted my quirkiness in the vulnerability that I show, like the some sort of model in some way that sex is quirky. We are its bizarre and beautiful participants. It's OK. We might not know the answer. We might be stumbling through life at some level but to just have some compassion for that process.

J: You've been listening to "A Taste of Sex". You can find us on the web at personallifemedia.com.

For more information about "One Taste™", check us out at onetastesf.com. Music on this episode was composed and performed by Aaron Bolster [sp]. I'm J;

tune in and turn on.

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