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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 31, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 53
Strapped a strong, sexy, and affecting drama
Arts & Entertainment
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Strapped a strong, sexy, and affecting drama

by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

Strapped, now out on DVD, may appear to be the zillionth film about Adam (Ben Bonenfant) a male prostitute looking for money, if not love and the meaning of life. But don't quickly dismiss this fantastic and curiously affecting drama. San Francisco-based writer/director Joseph Graham sensitively presents issues of masculinity and Gay sexuality.

Sure, the expected stereotypes are all on display, from the man who lives in a fantasy world to the tweakers, the straight-but-Bi-curious dude, the old lonely guy, and the lost man who just wants to be loved. But Graham stages these consecutive encounters (they all take place in the same apartment building) as a series of compelling two-handers in which emotions are revealed more nakedly than the bodies during the discreetly filmed sex acts. Bonenfant oozes sex appeal and this stagy - but not in a bad way - film gives him a fine showcase for his talents.

Graham talked about his film, and the issues he wanted to explore with Strapped.

'Each character - because they were types - represented a different aspect of being Gay/being a man. What does it mean to be a Gay man? It could mean this, or this, or this. & The only thing that really matters is that there is a connection, no matter how fleeting.'

As Adam tries to exit the building and re-enter his real life, he becomes caught in an increasingly more complex labyrinth. This maze, Graham explained, 'is an extension of wandering around fulfilling desire.'

In every episode, the actors create a palpable erotic charge, which is what makes the film so engaging. Graham claimed this was precisely his intent. 'I was interested in making something erotic, but not exploitative,' he said. 'I'm more interested in what's happening emotionally, and whether the characters are connecting or disconnecting during sex.'

Strapped realizes this goal by having Adam become what each man wants him to be - or, as Graham stated, 'a projection of their desires.'

Yet the film also gives Adam a chance to form his own identity in the process of his encounters. The director says his intent was to make a film that 'takes place in the imagination. This doesn't have anything to do with reality; it's a metaphor for a kid to navigate who he is and how to navigate through love and life.'

One way Graham was able to ground the more fantasy-like elements in Strapped was by immersing Bonenfant in 'research.' The filmmaker describes taking his actor out on 'field trips' in the Castro. 'I propped him in certain spots and see who would talk to him and what Adam [the character] would say.' Graham recalled. The 'research' was invaluable, and lends credibility to the film; Adam is incredibly desirable in Strapped.

On the phone from Colorado, Bonenfant reflected on these 'experiments' in cruising. 'It was an interesting experience that gave me insight into the idea of my body being merchandise in a way. That's a crude way to put it, but I did some research on the body language and the code of how to identify yourself as a street hustler, and once I did that I noticed a distinct change in how people would talk to me.'

While Bonenfant is objectified in the film - his buff body is often on display - the shy actor didn't mind the attention. 'The nature of the role required that I be objectified,' he rationalizes. 'Part of why we had that field trip was an opportunity for me to actually be objectified and viewed as an object, so in the film, I was a character who wanted to be viewed as an object. I didn't feel exploited. I was aiming for that.'

Graham worked with Bonenfant on Adam's backstory - where he came from and what lead the character to become a hustler. Bonenfant describes Adam's experience as a form of 'educating himself,' and it is a suitable metaphor for the character who learns a little more about himself in each encounter.

The filmmaker also educated his lead with literature and DVDs to inform his performance. These texts ranged from John Rechy's City of Night and works by Foucault, to A Gentleman's Guide to Young Men Hustling, as well as videos of Shortbus, My Own Private Idaho, and Brokeback Mountain.

And while hustling is not something Bonenfant, who is straight, had experience with, playing Adam was appealing to the 21-year-old theatre student. He explained, 'A strong part of the initial attraction to the role for me was playing a character who was playing a role/another character. Adam's real identity is almost never shown. It was a challenge to acquiesce to the need of another character - such as the Russian man who needs someone to comfort/soothe him and seduce him.'

Bonenfant is extremely seductive in the film - and even over the phone. His performance succeeds because he creates a different, convincing persona for each of Adam's trysts. The actor observed, 'It's not trying to be sexy. There is a sexiness when you can tell someone wants to please you rather than they want to be sexy.'

In Strapped, it works - beautifully.

© 2010 Gary M. Kramer

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