John Cameron Mitchell’s new film Shortbus raises a lot of difficult questions. For example, if A is fellating B, B is fellating C, and C is fellating A, is A fellating C? Is A fellating himself? Because that is, as I have learned, possible with serious dedication to yoga. Shortbus, Mitchell’s follow-up film to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, came to campus last weekend to share with us a lot of heart and a lot of hard-ons. But this was no mere screening, because the Pride Alliance and Alcohol Initiative joined forces to bring not just the scratched DVD but also two musicians from the film to perform at Terrace Club last Friday night. Watching the film was an intense experience. We crowded into the Terrace lower living room, couches pulled up around a makeshift screen. I was uncomfortable in the front row, afraid that people could see my reactions and aware that these two musicians were a few yards away. Shortbus is not great cinema, but it’s good. If you let yourself get into it—wait, not that far, creep—it’s really good. The film weaves together three stories of sexually frustrated New Yorkers whose lives intersect at Shortbus, “a salon for the sexually gifted and challenged.” Our cast of characters include a sex therapist who has never achieved orgasm, a long-term gay couple burdened by one guy’s severe depression, and a lonely dominatrix, isolated in her hatred of the world. The movie was funny and sad and jaw-droppingly explicit, covering nothing and simulating little. Threesomes in acrobatic positions, rooms full of everywhichwayscrewing, and a reminder from the Shortbus madam that reached out and slapped me from behind the fourth wall: “Voyeurism is participation.” As a movie, it did what I like my movies to do: entertain me, smartly. Some of the effects were hokey, which was fine, but the ending wrapped up too neatly for an opus on misery and loneliness. Because in the end, that was a lot of what we were watching: sad people looking for companionship and finding copulation, filling the holes in their lives with delusions and other people’s body parts. Normally, you’d be able to desensitize yourself to a sensory orgy like this. By bringing cast members to campus, however, the organizers of this event made a largely successful attempt to actually make Princeton students feel something. When the film finished, we were treated with moving performances by Scott Matthew, who performs behind many of the movie’s crucial scenes, and Jay Brennan, a secondary character in the film who plays a song in one of the scenes. Matthew’s set was eerie and subtle, replaying for us many of the songs we had just heard. Imagine a piece sung by a guarded and thickly bearded man serenading Terrace with the soundtrack to a pornographic tragedy. Eerie became surreal when Brennan took the floor. Unlike Matthew, Brennan was a character who we had just seen perform numerous explicit sex acts as a young addition to the abovementioned depressed gay duo. Under its smiling veneer, his performance was heartbreaking. The movie was created with and around its actors, using their own experiences as fodder for the script. Brennan is twenty-four; the movie was three years in the making. So we were left with the surreal experience of listening to a young man whom we had just watched in a quite explicit role, singing his sweet little heart out. His songs were crushingly depressive and surprisingly clever, unfolding with the prescision of prose poetry and the devastation of perfect comic timing. But the Brennan who emerged between songs was no tortured soul but a caricature of a diva-queen and an excited, wide-eyed kid with an endearing lisp. “I’ve never been to Princeton before,” he said, his smile revealing the gap between his front teeth. “It’s weird.” And it was weird. At the close of his set, Brennan asked us if he could sing a protest song, whether here at Princeton we did that hippy-liberal-angry thing. We don’t, but we let him sing it anyway. I was staggered. Brennan systematically worked through all of the social unniceties of our dear America, criticizing them each explicitly and incisively. Because of my view of the general political indifference I see on campus, my reaction to this song was stronger than anything I saw in the film. In his clear and perfectly-pitched voice, Brennan sang out against all the injustices that are glossed over as just, wandering so far left I thought he’d made it back to Berkeley. No one clapped or shouted encouragement, but when his ballad’s apostrophe to suffering ended with a call to “the boys who were told to act more like boys/And the girls who were told to play only with girl toys/The voiceless, forgotten, plagued by disease,” concluding, “God help us, please”—well, it hit me. Shortbus was sad but it was fun and frivolous, too, and on its own I could have left feeling perfectly fine. But with Jay Brennan sitting in front of me with his acoustic guitar, declaring that “I’m doing this my way instead of the music industry’s way,” I felt shrouded in futility. Brennan’s songs were simple, but they were pure and beautiful; as we watched I could feel people around me aching for him, the room thick with terrible yearning to enter others’ sadness. I looked at Brennan, wondering what he thought of us.