Without Hedwig's "wig in a box" and miniskirt, John Cameron Mitchell is a soft-spoken, gentle man who takes out a pocketknife to help a fumbling blogger get the microphone stand set up. "If you do independent films," he says, "you have to be able to do a little bit of everything." Mitchell's second film is a departure from the theatricality of the first, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, based on his wildly successful off-Broadway musical. "Shortbus" is a more naturalistic, almost documentary-style exploration of the intersecting lives of several New Yorkers who are struggling with love and intimacy issues. Oh, and the actors have real sex onscreen.
On a warm, sunny fall afternoon, Mitchell answered questions from three journalists, as we sat outside the Georgetown Ritz hotel in Washington DC. He told us that he invited those interested in auditioning for the movie to submit videos of themselves describing a very emotional sexual experience. Then everyone who tried out gathered and they all watched all of the videos together. "They were all vulnerable at the same time. They felt less afraid. They were all in it together. Then we had to figure out who was attracted to who."
At the center of the movie, both in concept and in plot, is a gathering place called "Shortbus," named for the smaller bus taken by the kids who are different. This place is a sort of salon, "more organic than a bar, church, or AA meeting because it touches all parts of you -- life, sex, art, eating, drinking, politics, really a civilized way of getting together, and more utopian than any place I have ever been to."
Mitchell told us that America is still influenced by the "Puritans and missionaries who rampaged across the landscape with the sword and the gun, making sex and violence as American as apple pie." But America has always had its "others," its idea of itself as "a land of outcasts." The Statue of Liberty is the first image in the film, and Mitchell considers it "very patriotic in that way," with New York the ultimate example of different kinds of people living together. "The liberty, the multi-culturalism, the ingenuity of New York -- the movie is a valentine to New York as the best of America."