When the opening credits roll away from an innocuous slideshow of classic sketches that study the finer details of human anatomy and onto images of transsexual nuns with erect penises, Japanese orgies that include double penetration and Greek man-boy love anal humping scenes, consider the sequence a welcome greeting into the mind of Houston-born filmmaker Kyle Henry.
It's clear that with this introductory device with which the film Fourplay unfolds — one of shock-and-awe of sorts — Henry expunges preconceptions of the meaning of virtuous sexual behavior, today and in the long ago.
"These images of erotic art attempt to erase misconceptions about 'the good old days' of purity," Henry tells CultureMap in a phone interview. "We tend to fantasize that there was such an iconic past of so called proper sexual conduct, but there never was a period that didn't have what some may describe as deviant behavior. Human beings have always been human beings in this respect."
"What is romance with a capital R? Is it flowers, chocolates, a gallant gesture? Or is it a moment of connection that transcends perceptions of the physical world?"
Fourplay, screening for the first time in Houston on Friday at Aurora Picture Show as part of the QFest Film Festival, is an anthology of four short stories that aims to recognize the breadth of sexual diversity that exists across the country. Not in Los Angeles and New York, but in places like Skokie (a town of 64,000 near Chicago), Tampa, Austin and a bedroom suburb of San Francisco.
Tales of bestiality, role play fantasy, anonymous sexual encounters in a public restroom and a sex worker pleasing a quadriplegic, though explicit in content, reach beyond their erotic nature to delve into a psychological, emotional and humanistic realm that at times verges on Romanticism despite their non-conformist core.
With a tad of humor.
Henry, today in his 40s (because a gent never reveals his exact age), grew up in League City, which he describes as where travelers used to stop to get ice en route to Galveston. His approach to film was largely influenced by what he saw at the Rice University Media Center and at the River Oaks Theater. He attended Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin.
"Thematically, I like to go into places that other people avoid," he says about the subjects of his films. "Why aren't we having a conversation about this or that? Those are the topics I choose for my films."
Four short stories from the heartland
Skokie opens with an amicable, closeted, church-going, choir-singing lesbian, Gail, who agrees to dog sit for the minister and his wife, Marcy. Struggles to keep the mischievous white fluffy creature in line dissolve into a dream in which Gail shares a passionate kiss with Marcy, who's dressed in a sexy kitty costume. As the action climaxes in a typical tender beach scene, it's the dog that's rubbing Gail in all the right places.
In Austin, which Henry jokingly refers to as the token straight scenario, a committed couple who's wrestling with reigniting their passion for one another deals with the consequences of conception, on purpose and by accident.
Tampa, the most lighthearted in the collection of shorts, is a hilarious portrayal of an overweight man with a small penis who tries to find his place — and his orgasm — in a bathroom orgy in which bigger is better.
San Francisco is influenced by the real life story of a cross-dressing sex worker and a mother who arranged a session for her quadriplegic son. Here, a wife hires Aliya for her paralyzed husband, Tom. As Aliya experiments with Tom's sensitive areas, their interaction morphs into a touching account that illustrates unlikely measures taken to appease a loved one.
No doubt the emotive musical score that includes selections by Mahler, Wagner and Pie Jesu from Fauré's Requiem isn't meant to recede into background. Whether one is familiar with Mahler's Adagietto from his Symphony No. 5 or not, there's little chance of not layering spiritual nuance atop of what could otherwise be salacious episodes. Rather, Henry humanizes these desires as natural and as old as the history of mankind itself.
"What is romance with a capital R?" Henry says. "Is it flowers, chocolates, a gallant gesture? Or is it a moment of connection that transcends perceptions of the physical world?"
Fourplay then becomes a film not about satisfying urges and desire, but about honestly acknowledging the realities of human intimacy — whether we like it or not.
It is what it is — and Henry doesn't apologize or makes excuses for it.
Fourplay screens on Friday, 8 p.m., at Aurora Picture Show. Director Kyle Henry will be in attendance. Henry also edited Before You Know It, a film by PJ Raval that will screen in Galveston Artist Residency at 3 p.m. Sunday.