Interview by Costas Sarkas
Riding high on a wave of controversy and acclaim for his much talked-about recent collaboration with James Franco, Interior. Leather Bar, San Francisco based filmmaker Travis Mathews talks about the latest London – set instalment of his In their Room series of docs, screening at this year’s Fringe!. The film, like it’s earlier siblings filmed in San Francisco and Berlin, features a number of highly naturalistic and insightfully candid interviews with guys of all ages, shapes and sizes talking about sex, dating and intimacy in the Big Smoke. Here’s what Mathews had to say about hook-ups, hang-ups and (mostly) naked honesty.
Firstly, what were your overall impressions from the guys you interviewed in London and in what ways did you find that they differed from the guys you filmed in other cities?
I wasn’t in London long enough to tease out a more nuanced observation of differences. I think the stuff I could add is fairly cliché, e.g. guys seemed very polite (true); guys seemed much more coifed (true). I was actually spending a lot of time distancing myself from what felt familiar, even if it was something of a superficial familiarity: clothes, music, interests, ways of engaging with the world. A lot felt familiar. This was apparent from the beginning so I made sure to find a healthy mix of guys whom I already felt I knew and guys who were unlike others I’d focused on before.
For this episode they all have the link of “the hook up”. It’s all about what they do in the time between confirming a hook up and actually meeting said hook up, the psychological preparation and the real “nuts and bolts” preparation. That’s what these guys have in common, but other than that they could be anybody in and around London.
Some of the characters seemed slightly melancholic. Would you say the gay experience in London can be a more solitary one than in other cities?
No, I think it’s the typical experience of any western metropolis. I might think differently if I was moving to London not knowing a soul and just trying to make a go of it. I was told by people that it’s hard to meet people there, but I hear the same things mentioned about virtually any place. It’s like driving. Everyone likes to say that local drivers are the worst.
The melancholy is also a result of my own hand and Santiago Latorre’s music, which I would describe as melancholy, at least what I chose to include. Maybe it has something to do with hearing the private and interior thoughts from guys alone in their bedrooms. There’s an inherent longing wrapped around that I think.
How do you find the guys you are going to interview? Is it auditions? Are they friends of friends etc.?
It’s always a combination of anything that leads me to the best guys. I’m lucky that I have a reel of work now so you either get it or you don’t and that’s apparent pretty quickly. I don’t do auditions, but sometimes I’ll have coffee or a drink first. That’s as much for the guy to see if he trusts me as it is for me.
Many of the guys seem to agree on a lack of honesty in the dating game (and perhaps an overt politeness). Would you say this is more a British thing than an American one?
I think that as the world shrinks and everyone has all their devices and virtual friends to tend to… all of that makes us feel less accountable to one another. Things like Grindr perpetuate the real/not-real idea that there’s always another person, that the grass is always greener. There’s this perceived limitlessness to everything that accompanies most people’s resistance to sit still for half a second with anything or anyone. I know this is affecting all of us, but I think people engage pretty differently with it. GPS driven apps have certainly placed relationships to the side in favour of fast hookups for our fast lives. How that figures into pleasantries and candor varies I think.
If there are differences that can be drawn between the US and the UK regarding a lack of honesty I don’t know what they’d be and if they exist I bet the differences are shrinking.
I found the story of John fascinating. Would you agree that older gay men are underrepresented in filmmaking?
Completely, but it’s changing. I know several filmmakers who are in various stages of projects that involve the telling of gay elder stories. It’s really the first time that we’re doing this and it’s pretty exciting. It’s a bit in fashion to be astutely academic about your gay history and gay elders at the moment, something mainlined into early 90s nostalgia, but so be it. I’m all about it.
Some of the guys felt it was quite possible to have real intimacy with a stranger yet others appeared sceptical. Would you say it’s getting easier or harder to blend sex and intimacy in the age of grindr?
I’m guessing that it’s easier for the sheer fact that A) with grindr, you theoretically have much more opportunity to speed through guys that might match you in ways involving and not involving “intimacy” and B) when you use something so clearly devised for fucking you can let your more intimate side be pleasantly surprised without a lot of “intimacy driving” calculation.
In Their Room London will have its world premiere on Saturday 13th April at Rio Dalston for Fringe! Film Fest. Book your tickets here.