I Was a Jewish Sex Worker | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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I Was a Jewish Sex Worker

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The "I" in this autobiographical documentary is Phillip B. Roth, a New York-based filmmaker whose quasi-experimental shorts from Boys/Life on have amusingly and explicitly chronicled his explicit sexual dalliances and fantasies. Here, in a longer format (75 minutes), Roth probes deeper into his background for an explanation of his homosexuality and fear of intimacy. Surprisingly--yet with total candor--he trots out the overly familiar stereotype of a young gay man coddled by his family's charismatic, domineering women and alienated from a distant father. Rebuffed by his parents after coming out, he moves into a Jewish enclave in New York's Lower East Side where his immigrant grandparents live. Roth tries to find spirituality through sex and Judaism, an attempt parodied in a hilarious imaginary scene showing him and a man he picks up prancing the hora. With his jerky camera he interviews his relatives (including his feisty, homily-dispensing grandma) and intimates (Annie Sprinkle is one)--an interrogation tactic he's learned rather well from his ex-lover and mentor, the German auteur Rosa von Praunheim. In a halfhearted effort at psychoanalysis, he contrasts these interviews with clips from old home movies showing the toddler Roth basking in happiness with his suburban nuclear family. Far more revealing of his petulant narcissism and need for control, however, is his well-paid temp job as an erotic masseur--which, like the role of director, allows him to be in charge. Roth revels in the hand jobs he performs yet also empathizes with the emotional loneliness of his clients. The overall tone of irreverence and self-aggrandizement comes to a halt toward the end, when Roth cross-examines his reticent, straight-arrow father. It's the film's most touching and painful moment and comes closest to the excruciating honesty of Cassavetes that Roth so clearly strives for. Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, Halsted Street Cafe, 3641 N. Halsted, Saturday, November 16, 6:00, 773-384-0048 or 773-384-5533.

--Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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