When it comes to documentaries, I’m always tempted to write all sorts of rubbish about fact and truth and exactly what those things mean to the audience and indeed the filmmakers themselves. Luckily, Juliet Bashore’s 1986 cult LGBTQ+ quasi-doc Kamikaze Hearts kind of does that for you, even laying out speculation about what is truth conceptually in the opening credits, courtesy of porn star Sharon “Mitch” Mitchell.
Kamikaze Hearts is a fascinating and topsy-turvy experience that on the surface is an exploration of making pornography, but really is an intimate journey into the relationship of Mitchell and her girlfriend Tigr Mennett. The big conceit of the film is that Mennett is filming a porno version of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, starring Mitchell, so the picture is a record of the production. What the film captures is many of the cast and crew talking about their roles in the adult industry and the way they act when they’re working versus being themselves, and how intimacy is outside of those lines.
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Tigr says of Mitchell that “it’s a constant performance”, and you feel that throughout the film, which feels like a love letter to Mitchell, with the almost shy Mennett in the background. But “Mitch” is definitely positioned as the star, the extravagant personality who is constantly turned on and up for anything. She’s also a drug addict, as is Tigr, and there’s a moment where Mitchell goes AWOL after being given an advance, only to be found dancing in a strip club. The lines feel blurred here, with the sequence coming across as a contrivance for the film, with the angry producer and the free spirit performer, especially with the filming of Tigr fighting with people in the club. It’s well-conceived, though.
What’s interesting is how Mennett uses this as something soul-searching. There’s a moment where she says about Mitchell, “she fucks off-camera the same way she fucks on-camera, so you don’t even know what’s real”, while a hipster is shooting dice, and it sounds so written, but when she says it she sounds so sincere, so you don’t know if she’s acting or not. There’s another scene where Tigr berates Mitchell, and at the end says that she loves her anyway, and this rubber-stamps the cyclic nature of their relationship. It’s doomed.
It’s a frantic picture; it feels episodic and bitty, like it’s switching between rehearsed pieces and candid scenes. But it’s all leading up to the money shot that sums up Tigr and Mitchell’s love, which is them shooting up together. “This is the truth”, Mitchell says, and you truly believe her.
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Kamikaze Hearts has been brought to Blu-ray by the British Film Institute, with a fantastic transfer coming from a 2K scan of the original camera negative created by American label Kino Lorber and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A number of thoughtful bonus features are presented, including an audio commentary with Bashore, Mitchell, actors Jon Martin and Howie Gordon, and performance artist Shelly Mars, and a number of in-depth interviews with Bashore, Mitchell, Martin, and more. Also present is a short film by Bashore called ‘Crash’, which is a sketch of the idea of making Kamikaze Hearts as a fictionalised narrative film.
A genuine cult queer film with a building legacy, Kamikaze Hearts is a fascinating piece of cinema and sometimes brutally honest relationship picture. The usual questions about truth are there already in the film, which gives it a wonderful meta feel, and the BFI have given an exceptional presentation to the film.
Kamikaze Hearts is out on Blu-ray on 27th March from BFI.