Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rachel Maines, Dell Williams, Reno, Joanne Webb, BeAnn Sisemore, Pat Davis, Betty Dodson, Kathryn Young
Written by: Emiko Omori, Wendy Blair Slick
Directed by: Emiko Omori, Wendy Blair Slick
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 72
Date: 07/28/2007

Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Giddy Vibrations

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This skimpy documentary, co-directed by Emiko Omori and Wendy Blair Slick, begins a limited run this week at San Francisco's Roxie Cinema. It provides some interesting information as to the origin of the vibrator and its social context; it was once advertised in magazines before it became an object of "perversion." The second half of the film focuses on a ridiculous Texas lawsuit in which a respectable woman, Joanne Webb, was arrested for selling vibrators. According to Texas law, it's not only illegal to sell vibrators, but also it's illegal to own more than five (the law was very recently overturned). But aside from those fascinating tidbits, the directors struggle to fill up even a 72-minute running time. They skew their traditional talking head interviews with kooky, diagonal frames, and fill the empty spaces in-between with silly images of lightning, aquatic creatures, old footage and re-creation footage. They even interview the comic performance artist Reno (seen in her own concert movie, Reno: Rebel Without a Pause) who jokes about her vibrator use. In fact, though Passion & Power purports to blow the cover off of female sexuality, the entire movie comes off as a giggle, as if it were uncomfortable in its own skin. For example, it celebrates women's pioneer Dell Williams for opening a sex toy shop in New York, but it avoids discussing that she is forced to hide the shop behind a heavy wooden door, deep within the confines of a respectable-looking building.

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