POWER PLAY: ON GUSTAVO VINAGRE’S HYBRID ART-PORNO NOVA DUBAI
The inextricable link between architecture and finance is made graphically manifest in one of real estate’s most pernicious features: gentrification. This creeping global phenomenon has been the subject of numerous scholarly texts, think pieces, and news segments alike, but it’s hard to recall a single instance where it has been addressed by gay pornography. That is until Gustavo Vinagre’s Nova Dubai (2014). An unusual hybrid, part documentary, part art film, part porno, Nova Dubai is set in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of São José dos Campos — a city of nearly 700,000 inhabitants northeast of São Paulo, Brazil — which developers are trying to transform into a “new Dubai” by displacing the locals and building anonymous high-rise luxury apartments.
Vinagre’s 55-minute feature is part of a series of titles brought to an international audience through Naked Sword Film Works (NSFW), the production wing of Naked Sword, which claims to be the largest online repository of gay porn. With the proliferation of easily and freely accessible amateur, pirated, and professional videos on the web, pay-for-view pornography has taken a serious hit. Instead of resigning themselves to defeat, the makers behind Naked Sword saw an opportunity to do sex on camera differently, by supporting queer filmmakers. NSFW aims to produce thoughtful, unique gay porn, giving platforms to independent queer filmmakers. Imagine a gay-sex-cinema equivalent of the Netflix Original Series, with varying degrees of smuttiness. As a business decision, it’s intended to get viewers to stay on the site longer and to be more willing to subscribe for the unique content. As an artistic decision, it certainly raises questions about what exactly constitutes “porn.” Following in the tradition of iconic queer filmmakers like Bruce Labruce, whose combination of sex, documentary, parafiction, and narrative produced a series of socially engaged art films (Hustler White, 1996, or The Raspberry Reich, 2004, to name but two), Nova Dubai transports the queercore tradition to the 21st century in what film critic Ben Walters has dubbed “mumblehardcore” — porn that thinks about cinema and also about social concerns.
Peppered with explicit, unsimulated, raunchy sex, Nova Dubai follows the now 31-year-old Vinagre and his close friend Bruno D’Ugo on a meditative romp cruising Growlr, chatting with their aunts, and fucking their way through apartments, playgrounds, bedrooms, and construction sites. Interspersed are scenes with more friends (Hugo Guimarães and Fernando Maia) who offer shirtless musings on horror films and suicide. There is an easily forgotten self-consciousness to the fact that Vinagre both directs and stars in the film. However, at the end of the movie, a nostalgic Super 8-style montage displays the very act and meanings of taking up a camera, offering a glimpse of the last moments in spaces made sacred through history, family, friendship, and sex that are about to be obliterated by the wrecking ball.
The camera lingers contemplatively on the unfolding architectural landscape, which in the context of a porn site begs questions about eroticized looking (the visual pun of buildings being “erected” is likely lost on no one). When Vinagre and D’Ugo eventually manage to penetrate the half-finished high rises, we glimpse the expansive view out onto Nova Dubai’s ever-advancing development. In one scene, an uncompleted lobby becomes a venue for sadistic sex — with a realtor, no less. This encounter offers a potent metaphor for the strange links between sex and luxury-real-estate development. Sex proffers a possibility of resistance, a deferral of impotence — for as Vinagre and his group of friends find out, hate-fucking the estate agent won’t stop the gentrification process. The violent sex and the violence of the architectural interventions also point to the violence and voyeurism of filming, particularly of filming sex. As Vinagre himself asked in a promotional clip for his successful fundraising campaign (via Catarse, Brazil’s answer to Kickstarter), “What’s more pornographic? Explicit sex or luxury condominiums?”
Vinagre also raises the question of what is public and what is private. By having sex in public and on camera, the very notion of public is being challenged and reclaimed. This subscribes to the long-standing queer rebellion of using one’s body and sexuality as a means to trouble heterosexist realities. Nova Dubai as a film is also “public” in its distribution. However, the movie’s failure to hold neatly to generic lines (too arty for most porn sites, too pornographic for the indie festival circuit) is itself a simultaneous recognition and refusal of identity. This disidentification makes the film categorically queer and invites all forms of sexual and cerebral engagement, whether at the movie theater or in the privacy of one’s own home. Ultimately Nova Dubai’s utopian power is its hedonistic and imaginative belief in something else even in the face of failure and (self-)destruction. As the late scholar José Esteban Muñoz put it in his 1999 Disidentifications: “Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds.”
Text by Drew Zeiba.
Naked Sword Film Work’s titles as well as the rest of the Naked Sword collection can be viewed here. As the studio’s name suggests, it’s NSFW.