Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life (2018), directed by Tomer Heymann [BFI Flare Festival]

I can’t seem to begin this review right – like a stammer, my opening is stuck by language I cannot mould to the meaning I want to make… I’m distracted by the person working in the café I’m writing in. I remember a tutorial at art school where the tutor said: You know sometimes if you’re at a bar and you notice someone and you’re attracted to them for some reason and all night you are aware of where they are in the bar. That’s what your art should be like for you.

Writing is this now… Always a tapping in my brain that is the desire to articulate my analysis in a way to engage another… an other that is any other.

Shall we begin with the beginning? Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life plunges into the club. Gay porn star Jonathan Agassi and another performer sit backstage chatting before they mount the stage and perform a live sex act. The documentary tracks Agassi’s seemingly enjoyable career beginnings in front of the camera, before discovering darker places. At the centre of the film is the relationship between Agassi and his mother that is an always beating heart, pumping unwavering love, support, care. The affection between them is poignant as both try to do right by each other if not always making the best decisions concerning themselves.

Agassi has his flamboyant and witty moments where excess meet the quotidian. In a particularly lovely scene, Agassi shows his mother the outfit he is to where that evening – an outrageous combination of white suspenders, black stripper heels and a gimp mask.  His mother, in this scene as well as many others, makes her support – as well as shock- evident.

Agassi transforms during the course of the film from possessing a positive, upbeat and sexual energy before a darker, destructive behaviour makes itself evident. Director Tomer Heymann and Agassi clearly form a trusting bond during filming, allowing the camera to witness hard drug use, sex shows, client calls and emotional confessions, all of which culminate in a scene near the end that shows Agassi’s body in the throes of drug-riddled spasm. In this scene, Agassi’s body seems caged by its own projection of sexuality, the fame and reputation of sexuality that goes from celebratory to restrictive, portal to barrier. He writhes in intoxicated confusion, unable to locate himself as or within the body that has made him “who he is” or “who others think he is” or “who he thinks others think he is”… Such a loop of representation and materiality of the corporeal could circulate infinitely. What is the body and what is the idea of the body? Can we ever reach through our perceptions of inscriptions that are placed on this physical site of who we are?

In the closing moments this film formally transcends its representational coding, turning from standard documentary style to post-cinematic episode. We conclude the film with Agassi at a club, having sex on stage, similar to a scene we open with though now heavily tainted by the conflicted subjectivity we understand Agassi as containing. The camera watches Agassi on stage surrounded by other performers whilst members of the audience touch themselves. Slowly, a pink filter saturates the image, obliterating the bodies and their sexual performances into abstraction. Pulsating movements are no longer playful or seductive, but made sinister and disturbing by the hot pink flood.

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