Wednesday, March 1, 2017

'Chemsex' DVD: Brit. Doc on Gay Sex & Drugs (but No Rock and Roll)



breaking glass pictures, which has a large and varied catalog of gay-themed DVDs, recently releasing the 2015 British documentary "Chemsex" about the underground culture of simultaneous heavy drug use and hardcore gay sex in London is not surprising. The surprise is that the film, which almost was a pass based on an assumption that it was very tawdry, is an interesting and respectable study of a serious problem. In other words, please do not make the same mistake that your not-so-humble reviewer almost did.

The following YouTube clip of the "Chemsex" theatrical trailer emphasizes the lurid over the lucid elements of the film but overall presents an accurate sense of the tone of the documentary.


Filmmakers William Fairman and Max Gogarty do a great job amassing the relevant talking heads to discuss a delicate topic that is very intimate to many of these participants. These folks explain the connection between their addictions regarding crystal meth and other drugs and (often anonymous) gay sex. This boils down to the drug making them feel good and greatly enhancing the pleasure associated with the sex.

One of the participants is a Spanish man whose addictions cause a descent from a highly lucrative banking career to rock bottom (no pun intended). We additionally meet a young English guy seduced by the bright lights and the big city that London offers. Other blokes generally are sketchy types who get caught up in "the scene."

We additionally meet a compassionate public health worker who operates a clinic to help the men overcome their related addictions. He describes the clinic formation as resulting from there being a clinic for people with drug problems and another clinic to address public health issues related to risky gay sex but not one for a combination of those addictions.  He then discusses getting the British government to fill that gap.

The scope of the film additionally encompasses a man who owns and operates an establishment that he is welcome to call a gym but is a bathhouse. He discusses his good efforts to eliminate drug use at his business and the related hostility that he encounters from folks who assert that a profit motive makes his assertions of policing and related concern insincere. This man also tells a distressing story of a man dying from an overdose in the "gym" not slowing down the cruising of the partner of that person.

The two focuses of "Chemsex" combine in the form of documenting the treatment that the aforementioned clinic provides one of the aforementioned gay men. Seeing how that progresses during a roughly month-long period is a highlight of the film. That risky business, like most bad behavior, provides such pleasure that a backslide is almost inevitable.

Fairman and Gogarty strike an excellent balance regarding keeping things respectable and communicating the nature of their topic. Much of the film consists of the subjects telling their tales from the comfort of a chair in a studio. The footage of sex parties (which look like the most unappealing orgies ever) never rises to even an NC-17 level, and a shadowy scene of a man masturbating is about as graphic as the sex gets.

The depictions of drug use are at the same level as the scenes of sex. In other words, one can think of "Chemsex" as apt programming for PBS After Dark if that network ever starts that service.

The copious DVD special features include interviews with subjects, a photo exhibit of a subject who discusses his taking pictures of men who "slam" while they either slam or are slammed, and a feature on the aforementioned public health program.

Anyone with question or comments regarding "Chemsex" is encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.