Last week, Chandler's Madstone Theaters celebrated its grand opening with three days of free screenings. This weekend, that spirit of generosity and, ahem, sharing continues. On Friday, the theater hosts the Valley première of Sex With Strangers, a documentary providing an up-close and painfully personal look into the lives of swingers. Produced and directed by visionary voyeurs Joe and Harry Gantz -- creators of HBO's Taxicab Confessions -- the film chronicles a year in the lives of three swinging couples (or, more accurately, two couples and a trio).
An all-access pass into the world of swinging, the feature-length film consists of interviews and graphic scenes from the subjects' private -- well, not terribly private -- lives. Viewers visit a swing party in Mississippi; sit in on a "rules session" at a swing club meeting in Portland, Oregon; and go cruising in James and Theresa's RV, as the couple invites folks aboard for Jagermeister and seduction.
In their directors' statement, the brothers Gantz address the curiosities that motivated the documentary, which, they stress, is in no way a morality play: "As filmmakers, we try to be completely non-judgmental, and as such do not approach swinging . . . to say that it is right or wrong." Rather, they found themselves "fascinated by how these people might be able to balance the sexual openness and excess of swinging with the things that most couples deal with, like jealousy and commitment, and perhaps family."
So instead of focusing only on the swinging lifestyle, the film also portrays the less glamorous aspects of its subjects' lives. "It was astonishing how authentic these three couples were when our crew was around," the directors add. "[They] were able to be themselves, and we could film them or not, like them or not."
It's these moments of everyday authenticity -- and their relatability in particular -- that may be most surprising to viewers. We see Shannon squirm as she tells her mother that she and her husband swing: "We just open-minded, that's all." We see James and Theresa engage in typical marital arguments (over his control issues) and bond over not-so-typical shared goals (to best their record for number of sexual partners in a single weekend). We see Calvin lose patience with girlfriend Sarah. When she balks at the prospect of yet another orgy, he snips, "We are simply here to have sex with some people that are friends of ours who we find attractive, and we wanna have a good time. That's it. And you've got to make a big ordeal out of it."
Justifying one's decisions to a parent. Riding out the ups and downs of marriage. A partner accusing a mate of oversensitivity. Perhaps swingers aren't so different from the rest of us after all.