Flower starts with a moan of ecstasy and ends with a queer, punk singalong. Sandwiched in-between, five friends from Helix Studios spend 15 minutes redefining the line between intimacy, friendship, and sex under the directorial lens of Matt Lambert. It's a dreamy sexual lullaby of a film (available to stream in its full, NSFW glory here) that strengthens his reputation as one of the today's most visionary gay directors, yet Lambert's latest film has become his most risque project yet.
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"It was definitely something I never thought I'd make a year ago, that's for damn sure," he told OUT about the film, which he almost released under a fake name to protect his commercial career. "I realized that if [the film] is about celebrating sex positivity and dismantling the shame that surrounds gay sex, why the fuck would I negate that by shaming myself by being afraid to stand for the work?" To know that he nearly adopted a pseudonym to release Flower is a shocking admission for an artist who's spent his career highlighting the joys of gay love and sexuality through film.
Only a year ago, Lambert partnered with his husband Jannis Birsner to create Vitium, an erotic, sexually-charged punk zine as ode to the queercore zine culture of the '80s. In the vein of that project, Flower could almost be seen as the spiritual successor--thanks largely to the brilliant inclusion of music from '90s queer punk band Pansy Division. There's a subversive magic in watching an erect dick become a faux microphone as one of the boys sings about being a "blowjob queen."
For Lambert, the inclusion and participation of Pansy Division's music allowed for a fresh look at a genre he grew up listening to. "Punk can often represent this sort of toxic masculinity that I really don't believe in," he said of the genre. "I think in it's inception, it was a really wonderful, political thing and it definitely morphed into something that was very aggressive and very violent and could oftentimes be homophobic."
It's an honest criticism from the director that allowed him the clarity to bring punk to porn through film and, in the process, tackle some of the same deep-rooted problems facing that industry. "People, especially now more than ever, learn about their sexuality through porn," he said. "If all you have is the trash that's out there, then you're just going to start fucking like a porn star and you're going to learn how to demean people and dehumanize people and have impersonal, non-intimate sexual experiences."
What better way to break down the negative, aggressive constructs of the porn industry than with a handful of porn stars? In Flower, Lambert enlisted the help of five employees from Helix Studios, and like an anal-loving Breakfast Club, Sean Ford, Blake Mitchell, Joey Mills, Corbin Colby, and Landon Vega came together--literally--to upend traditional porn and create art. The group, which was handpicked by Lambert features a broad range of backgrounds--Corbin is a mixed race drag queen; Landon is Hispanic; Blake is bisexual; and Sean is a political queer activist. Their diversity, while an integral part of the film, didn't come without frustrations.
"To be very blunt, there's definitely a big diversity issue in adult entertainment," Lambert said. "[Flower] was not nearly as diverse as I would have wanted it to be but, you know, [I was] obviously working with what was available to me. All of [the actors] kind of broke the mold for me of what I would have expected of someone who does X-rated content. It felt like the right time to kind of do something with these guys that was authentic, honest and not contrived."
The authenticity of their friendship is on full display as the group lounges in bed, use each other's dicks as musical instruments, and, occasionally, get around to lazily fucking. This dazed, humorous atmosphere wasn't lost on the boys. "[We] were really just encouraged to have fun and play around with things," Sean told OUT. "I think what really makes the film something interesting is how it captures those raw, unfiltered, organic moments from the performers."
This minimalist approach to filming is part of what makes Lambert's work so alluring--and what made Flower such a profound reconstruction of the gay porn industry's archaic tropes. Take cum, for example. You'd be hard pressed to find a gay porn video that doesn't end in a cumshot, yet that buildup and release only tells half the story. "In porn, you cum and it's over," Lambert said. "It doesn't actually show you how to be afterwards--how to deal with what sort of becomes awkwardness and shame." This frustration is echoed by Blake, who left the film ready to bring an important lesson to his industry: "Do what's real. Be relatable. Show real connections between people."
The connection Lambert's five boys shared is one of the most profoundly striking aspects of Flower. As exciting as it may be for some to watch five porn stars fuck each other in the hazy, golden-hued film, the true beauty comes from moments in-between. "The sex part of it was just a supplement to [creating] a beautiful portrait that plays with this ambiguous line of friendship and intimate partners," Lambert said. "The fucking is cool but, I don't know... I've seen fucking--we've all seen fucking. When you think of having been with someone, do you think of a dick sliding in and out of a hole or do you think of those moments before and after that defined who they were? It's much more about being playful and having a sense of humor and being comfortable towards our bodies and the jokes and absurd commentary that comes with those situations. Those moments are as incredible--and sort of more incredible and more memorable [than sex]."
As much as he wants viewers of the film to focus on this raw, honesty, Lambert's aware that "people are going to jerk off to this and that's awesome." For Lambert, though, every part of the film is an act of resistance against the heteronormative ideals of gay sex in and out of porn. By having five friends lounge around, suck, fuck, and sing together, he's breaking down the lines between friends and lovers. As he explained of porn's archaic notions that consume the gay community, "You may dress differently and fuck differently, [but] it's still filtering your vision of promiscuity and intimacy and monogamy and all these things through a heteronormative lens."
With the release of Flower, Lambert continues to chip away at the prepackaged, heteronormative principles he's spent his career fighting against and it's with this film that he achieves a new level of clarity. While some may spend the film touching themselves and climaxing to the finale scene of the boys lip-syncing to Pansy Division's song "Flower," Lambert hopes they'll finish the film with a newfound appreciation for the "beauty of being sexual."