Sunday, July 25, 2021

Dan Aeberhard | Anything Once


by Douglas Messerli

Dan Aeberhard (screenwriter and director) Anything Once / 1998

Dan Aeberhard’s 23 minute film, Anything Once bears a superficial resemblance to Lane Janger’s Just One Time--the short version of of the latter was released the same year, 1998. Yet, while Janger’s work hints at the desire for the two central figures to give someone of same sex a try, this one involves one character, Joey (Michael Arenz) exploring a heterosexual experience while he challenges his friend Mike (William Gregory Lee) to try having sex with another male.

     If Joey is a bit confused how to go about it and is seeking a girl who has so many special qualities that he would never be able to meet someone who might live up to his expectations, he quickly learns that, at least as the girl he accidentally encounters, Carmen (Traci Burgard) is concerned, it doesn’t really matter if they have anything in common, an attitude more in line with Joey’s friend Mike, who says what a girl thinks or likes doesn’t matter, its sex you’re after.

     Apparently the simple, if a bit unusual fact that Joey sees her dress as looking like something that Audrey Hepburn might wear and that they both love the film Breakfast at Tiffany's is enough for her; like Mike who just wants pussy, she just wants cock.

        Accordingly, when she follows up their meeting with a visit, she takes over, almost fucking him; all Joey has to do is lay back, take a good look at the picture hanging on his wall of him and his friend, who in the photo looks a lot like James Dean, and let the sex happen. He’s met his part of the challenge, and discovers it wasn’t so bad—although he doesn’t mention the photograph.

     To help Mike live up to his part of the deal, he takes him to a local Los Angeles gay bar; but by the time he lists the numerous do’s and don’ts: if asked if you’re a top or bottom, say neither unless you know what that means; watch out for those guys who try unzip their pants in public; always say yes to “rim jobs,” but if you’re going to do it to him make sure he’s really, really clean; I guess you can just stick to oral if you want to, but otherwise just be safe; always wear a condom—it’s clear that a bit too much for a neophyte to assimilate.

     But what do I do now? pleads Mike. Suddenly a waiter dressed in leather straps arrives with some drinks suggesting “Why don’t you have one on me?” Mike agrees, and the go-go like boy picks up a shot glass and pours liquor over his nipple. “But you gotta lick it off , baby.”

     Overwhelmed, Mike understandably flees the place, with Joey close behind. Joey suggests they just try something else, something mellow. And we suddenly perceive that this film is probably heading in a new director closer to the genre I described in my essay on several films from the films of 2011-2013, “How to Lose Your Best Friend.”

     And sure enough, before Joey’s even parked the car at their shared apartment, they’re complimenting each other on how good they look. There’s a long pause, and Mike asks, “What you lookin’ at?” to which Joey answers, “You.” Leaning into his friend’s face he slowly kisses him before he backs away. “Too weird?” he asks. There is another long pause before Mike answer’s “uh-uh!”

     In the very next frame we see them in bed the next morning. Mike slowly rises, and Joey serves breakfast. “So I did it okay.”

      Joey asks, “Well, did you like it?”

     “It was interesting.”

     “So, I guess we’re even then, man.”

     A pause. “Yeh.”

     “I mean, you know, unless....”

     “Unless what?” Pause. “Unless I want to do it again?”

     Mike blows air through his lips as if dismissing even the possibility.

     They stare at each other intensely before Joey cracks a smile, Mike finally speaking, “Maybe we will.”

      Evidently these friends will remain friends while taking advantage of the new kind of relationship that has suddenly developed between them. At least Joey no longer just has to stare at the picture but has the real thing close at hand, and, if nothing else, an actual memory. And clearly we have moved past Janger’s Just One Time.

      If this film is highly improbable simply because it presents such sexual shifts as being easy—as if changing one’s sexual orientation was simply a matter of changing one’s taste like becoming interested in Indian food or suddenly developing a craving for anchovy pizza—it represents, nonetheless, an interesting possibility that Mike, if not both of them, may prove Freud right, that all people are basically “bisexual...and their libido is distributed between objects of both sexes, either in a manifest or a latent form.” I used to believe that.

Los Angeles, July 25, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (July 2021).

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