Truly Form-Bending, Eye-opening, Shatteringly Queer Cult Classic Comes Home
DIRECTED BY JULIET BASHORE/1986
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: SEPTEMBER 13, 2022/KINO CLASSICS
Once upon a time, two women had a dream. Being of a particular societal class shunned and distained by many, they knew that their dream was the longest of long shots. That dream? To one day create a film that depicts in honest, graphic detail how two women make love. Not like women actors in the exaggerated male-gazy porno movies- the very type of movies they made and starred in- but how it really is. Because it was time the world knew. It was time the world saw. Or at least, those who’d see such a film…
Enter filmmaker Juliet Bashore- a filmmaker with an idea. The two initial women, grandstanding, prolific porn star Sharon “Mitch” Mitchell and her girlfriend, the younger and comparatively demur former adult film actress-turned-key crew member, Tigr Mennett, love it. The idea: A “quasi-documentary” about the lesbian couple as they live and work day-to-day in their chosen field. At some point, when the mood is just right, Mitch and Tigr would organically lapse into living their dream. And so it came to pass, the legendary rough n’ tumble cult classic Kamikaze Hearts was birthed.
If it sounds as though Kamikaze Hearts isn’t ideal family viewing, consider yourself base-level astute. One uncredited blurb calls it “A feast for intensity addicts!”. A strange rave, to be sure, and perhaps not the most accurate descriptor, but yes… not altogether wrong, either. Armed with two distinct film stocks (a grainy rough stock for the on-set and “real world” stuff, and a cleaner more pristine stock for the footage of the film they’re making within the film), a cast of rarely dressed exhibitionists, and an actual crew assigned to make their opera-house themed adult movie, this shameless Kamikaze squadron took flight in skeezy/”free” 1986 San Francisco. The portrait is of an uneasy, drug-addled filmmaking “family” not unlike the one depicted in Boogie Nights.
The real story, though, is what happens in the fringes of the endeavor. Though the Mitch & Tigr dynamic remains the effective primary point of interest, much time is spent showcasing the various crew members, and their own quirks, ticks, and tempers. The late real-life adult filmmaker and cinematographer Jerry Abrahms portrays the director, a ranting and raving short-tempered megalomaniac. (On the commentary track, it’s mentioned that much of Kamikaze Hearts was filmed around the corner from American Zoetrope. So perhaps the spirit of Francis Coppola had penetrated this shoot?) With his typhooey tirades and gross coercion tactics (true to form, we’re told), it’s unclear just how much of an act Abrahms putting on for Bashore’s cameras.
It’s interesting that of the two leads, the mantle of “most enigmatic” has shifted in the years since the film. On camera, Mitch is the untouchable presence who soaks up and demands everyone’s attention. Tigr, by then, had relegated herself to the sidelines. Time and again, Bashore’s camera zooms in to linger on her distant, apparently crushed, collapsed face as she is made to watch her lover freely flaunt herself (and more) with other people. It’s communicated that it was this very boldness that attracted Tigr to Mitch in the first place. We are made to watch as she realizes that there are rambling wild swaths of Mitch that she will never harness. (On the commentary, Mitch and Bashore clarify that the goal nor the reality was “poor, poor Tigr!” But then, Tigr herself does not participate on this Blu-ray- not even when someone attempts to call her while they’re recording). It culminates near the end with a confrontational “hate scene” (as sex-positive academic Susie Bright calls it, in relation to an earlier love scene) as Tigr finally calls out Mitch on everything… and Mitch agrees with her. At this point, we begin to assume that that one idealistic organic love scene isn’t going to happen. And Tigr begins her quiet “slide away” into enigma… where she seems to reside to this day.
It’s hard to say that Kino Classics new Blu-ray release of Kamikaze Hearts looks and sounds great when the film itself never has. What can and should be said is that the company has done a valiantly impressive job in securing and preserving the always-intended grit ‘n grime feel of Bashore’s film. Understanding dialogue is not an issue, even in the more chaotic moments with several people talking to each other in small rooms.
In terms of bonus content, Kino has gone all out with its new Blu-ray edition of Kamikaze Hearts. New on-camera interviews with stars Sharon Mitchell and Howie Gordon, author and critic Susie Bright, sexologist Annie Sprinkle, artist Beth Stephens, and director Juliet Bashore. True to the spirit of the film itself, some of these interviews operate in complete defiance of today’s “twenty minutes or thereabouts” time threshold for special features. Every one of these interviews is an enthralling must-watch denouement for anyone who makes it through Kamikaze Hearts.
Mitchell, now fully clean, well spoken, and holding a doctorate in medicine (as to why, she humbly says “I could always find a vein, so I figured what the hell?”), shares her harrowing story of spiraling downward in the years following Kamikaze Hearts. The adult entertainment industry was shrinking both artistically and budgetarily thanks to the advent of inexpensive video technology. Today, she does her part to keep sex workers free of AIDS and STDs. It truly seems as though Mitchell, since getting clean, has dedicated herself to helping “the least of these”, also including animals and vulnerable disaster victims. She bristles whenever someone tries to laud her humanitarian efforts. This is an entirely different Sharon Mitchell. Despite her presence in Bashore’s film as a cautionary tale in the making, it’s amazingly good to see that she has bucked the odds and landed on her feet, more than steadily. Many, many others from her old scene have not.
Former porn actor Howie Gordon’s interview is eloquently, ridiculously honest and entertaining. He wasn’t even in the film, but he was supposed to be. Apparently, his near participation made enough of an impression on the finished product to warrant his presence here and on the commentary. There are even a few non-explicit vintage film clips cut in to illustrate his on-camera relationship with Tigr. When he talks about the adult film actress Samantha Fox, the editor mistakenly shows a few images of the 1980s “Naughty Girls Need Love Too” singer Samantha Fox. An easy mistake to make… but oops.
Also tremendously enlightening if not quite as gripping is the group audio commentary by director Juliet Bashore, with Sharon Mitchell, actors Jon Martin and Howie Gordon, and performance artist Shelly Mars. These are the few, the proud, who’ve lived to tell the tale. Most everyone else is now either missing or dead. There’s a certain refreshing unguardedness about these folks as they reminisce- far different from the typical demeanor of mainstream actors on a commentary track. It’s the rare group commentary that’s not chaotic and is hard to turn off.
Also included among the bonus features is Crash (1990), a short film by Juliet Bashore made during her tenure with the American Film Institute. The initial notion was to make a dramatic narrative version of Kamikaze Hearts, but that’s not quite what it is. Bashore seems to regard the overly “artsy” but intriguing short as a failure, though it’s not the worst film to bear the title “Crash”. Anyhow, nice of her to include it here. Following Crash is the original trailer for Kamikaze Hearts, and the new 2022 re-release trailer.
Sharon Mitchell today refers to the unclassifiable Kamikaze Hearts as a “docu-dreama”- an appropriate term insofar as it’s as hard to say as it is to grasp. But that only renders it even more appropriate to this movie and its shoot, which Mitchell herself understandably claims to remember very little of. The ending shows the reason, in unflinching detail: Tigr and Mitch finally do end up alone in bed together with the camera rolling, but the only love they’re able to share is the love of the needle. Here, they both shoot up, and we see every bit of the process. Then comes Mitch’s infamous direct address to the camera, as she holds up the spent needle and confrontationally declares as part of a longer diatribe, “This is my dick.” It’s all the “lovemaking” that this messed up couple can muster as the film ends with them headed for certain death. And that’s the heartbreaker. But somehow, miraculously, these doomed Kamikazes survived. As has this untethered document of their singularly remarkable, intensely queer, sometimes explicit, thoroughly anti-sexy, horrendously uneasy and monstrously uncomfortable “happily never after”.