As a character might coo in any one of the four chapters of Kyle Henry’s sexually-charged omnibus “Fourplay,” the phrase “Relax, I’ve done this before” seems eerily apt for the film’s fourth and final Kickstarter campaign.
In fact, what’s interesting about “Fourplay,” besides the fact that it’s the first film Henry’s directed since his acclaimed debut “Room” in 2005, is that it was uniquely suited for financing through Kickstarter. Set in four different locations – San Francisco, Tampa, Henry’s hometown of Austin, and Skokie, Illinois – “Fourplay” was always intended as a feature, but has been produced in separate sections with the first installment “Tampa” already making its premiere at Cannes and Sundance. (In fact, a streaming link to “Tampa” is one of the rewards for this final round of fundraising as well as a DVD of the complete feature.)
“For me, it was just about practically how I could continue to work and grow as an artist and filmmaker and have the result end up in something substantial both in content and form,” says Henry, who fit the five-day shoots for the shorts in between his other commitments as a teacher and editor of such films as the recent Heather Courtney doc “Where Soldiers Come From.”
Of course, the film is intended to be provocative in other ways, but not necessarily in the seductive style that audiences have been accustomed to. In Henry’s words, “Fourplay” “reflect[s] a complete spectrum of sexual expression” from the story of a cross-dressing sex worker hired by the wife of a bedridden man in “San Francisco,” to a twentysomething gay man who lets his imagination get away from him while looking for sex at a mall in “Tampa,” to a young hetereosexual couple in “Austin” whose urban adventure to find a place for lovemaking outside the home they share results in a questioning of their relationship, to “Skokie” where a middle-aged teacher hides her feelings about her co-worker’s wife until an offer to watch their dog while they’re away results in the unexpected.
“I really love short story compendiums, like those Eudora Welty or Willa Cather or Raymond Carver produced, where the works speak to each other across gaps and by the end you have a 360-degree world view of the author's perspective on existence, but is more felt and constructed by the reader,” said Henry of his inspiration to tell these stories together. “So often, the only perspective we are given on sex and sexuality is a dominant, heterosexual, monogamous story line, which as anyone with a life knows is not the whole enchilada, so the writers and I saw a real need to write stories that reflected the existence of our acquaintances.”
Those writers include Henry’s creative and domestic partner Carlos Treviño, who penned the “Austin,” “Tampa” and “S.F.” scripts, and Jessica Hedrick, who wrote “Skokie” after previously appearing as an actress in “Room.”
“We were just sick of how sex continues to be used for pure titillation and objectification in films and not as major part of the plots and lives of the characters,” Henry continued. “It's as if in most rated-R movies, the nudity or sex is purely there to show the stars naked for a brief moment to reward us for paying for a ticket. Our eyes scan their bodies like we do with advertising or pornography, but we don't enter into their minds and we are not reminded of instances from our own sexual experiences, which I hope for most people have been as funny, dramatic, joyful and also sorrowful as my own. It's a major point of connection we have to each other as human beings and it seems very odd that it is reserved so often for commercial exploitation and not for real, honest, adult storytelling.”
Henry cites the Glenda Jackson double bill of Ken Russell’s “Women in Love” and John Schlesinger’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as the type of films that depicted sex and its impact on relationships in a similarly complex fashion. However, that doesn’t mean that “Fourplay” doesn’t have a sense of humor. The anthology film not only travels across the U.S., but across genres as well from the ultimately heartbreaking San Francisco segment to “Tampa,” which the director describes as a “Chaplin-esque bathroom farce.” (Here are teasers for "Tampa," "San Francisco" and "Austin.")
Although Henry was afforded the unusual opportunity to take both of those segments out on the festival circuit already as shorts, they didn’t come cheap and even with Michael Stipe and “Our Song” director Jim McKay’s production company C-Hundred Film Corp behind it, “Fourplay” needs a few additional contributions to complete post-production odds and ends such as color correction and sound mixing and debut theatrically in full, presumably at one of the major festivals this spring.
“It's a great quilt of money and every dollar has helped, no matter what its source,” Henry says of Kickstarter, which is fitting since “Fourplay” itself is daring to fill in a cultural loophole in an uncommon way.