Bangor Films,

Todd Verow

Todd Verow,
Dustin Schell,
Jason Bailey,
Noah Powell,
Shawn Durr,
Sophia Lamar,
Craig Chester

Unrated, 82 minutes

The Joy Of Sex
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, July 2009

Todd is the night manager at a Manhattan movie theater multiplex. He is a good looking man in his mid thirties. While cocooned in his office, he removes his clothes, cruises the internet, and masturbates behind locked doors. After work, he hooks up with an online trick and then, upon returning home, masturbates again in the shower and quietly slips into bed next to his partner - who is pretending to be asleep and has, no doubt, noted how late the hour is.

Anonymous (2004), a film written and directed by guerrilla filmmaker Todd Verow, is a harrowing tale about a sexually compulsive man enslaved by his penis. Todd (played by Verow) has never met a man that he didn't like and his actions will cause him to lose his boyfriend, his home and finally his job. His partner is an attractive, but more conservative, man named John (Dustin Schell). Todd answered John's ad for a roommate; they had sex, "skipped the whole dating and getting to know you thing" and moved in together. "John works during the day and I work at night," Todd tells the audience, "which has probably kept us from strangling each other over the last five years. Although that would be a welcome change now."

Todd spends much of his free time (not to mention long breaks at work) engaging in anonymous, sometimes rough, sex with any man who is available. He is especially fond of prowling public restrooms for fresh meat. One evening, John visits him at work and surprises Todd in the middle of one of his lavatory trysts. Furious, he beats his lover senseless, strips him naked, and leaves him lying on the men's room floor. When Todd tries to return home, he discovers that the locks have been changed and his lover is throwing his possessions off of the roof. Suddenly homeless, he spends the night with a former trick and then takes up residence in his office. Seemingly undaunted, his cruising continues unabated.

Anonymous is a no-holds barred film that never flinches from explicitly exploring its main thesis. Todd is shirtless or naked for much of the film's running length and the graphic sex is plentiful. Some might consider Anonymous to be naught but self indulgent porn but there is too much artistry employed to consider such a blanket condemnation.
Verow made his first splash during the mid-90s when he polarized gay audiences with the controversial Frisk, based on the equally controversial novel by Dennis Cooper. Verow has remained a very unconventional and experimental director whose personal films are made without any concessions towards the mainstream. Anonymous is gritty and frequently seems to display a distinct improvisational feel. Filming in digital video with non-existent budgets appears to be is his preferred method of working. Like a painter experimenting on canvas, he makes the films that he wants and the public can make up their minds whether or not they want to go along for the ride. If one word could be used to describe his films, that word would be "raw." One would guess that if he ever did receive the backing of a major studio, he would respond in the same way that Godard once did when he made Contempt and bit the hand that fed him by making a movie that attacked everything he hated about commercial cinema.
The audience doesn't learn much about Todd, aside from the obvious fact that the man lives to fuck. Sex is a game to this man, which might explain an otherwise inexplicable dream sequence in which he orchestrates an orgy of his tricks by commanding "red light" and "green light" as the participants freeze in their tracks and then continue their couplings. We are privy to his thoughts; internet relationships are perfect because "we are whoever the other person wants us to be" and meeting that person "always changes everything." There is a telling monologue, during an early flashback, in which he confesses being fucked for the first time (or raped) when he was 12 years old and that might account, in part, for his compulsive and often childish behavior. It may even hold the key that unlocks much of the sex in Verow's collected work because a similar story is told in his autobiographical film, Vacationland (2006).
Todd's downfall is painful; I was quite surprised by the violence when his boyfriend beats him in the men's room. His humiliation is complete when John writes "Fuck Here" with a magic marker on Todd's exposed ass. When Todd's next sex partner finds these words, he is told to "follow the instructions." Moments like this venture into the territory of black comedy. There is a very funny scene in which Craig Chester (Swoon, Frisk, Adam & Steve) plays an auditor who makes a surprise visit to Todd's office and is underwhelmed by his reckless accounting system (if the office door hadn't been locked, he would have also found Todd shirtless and working out with dumbbells). There is comedy and even romance. A flashback shows Todd actually being shy during his first meeting with John and the sex that follows is incredibly hot. Later, as Todd thinks back on what he has lost, he remembers an idyllic moment when they playfully smeared each other's faces with birthday cake.
One of the most striking things about Anonymous is the way its director artfully uses silence for dramatic effect. What better way to show the main character's isolation? There is almost no background music in this film. I've complained in the past about how bad or inappropriate music choices are often the bane of independent films and it was refreshing, for a change, to enjoy how effective the lack of sound can be when establishing mood. During one striking scene, Todd is bored and dances in his office. He strips completely naked, displaying his well muscled and hairy physique in an act of sheer exhibitionism. Like a child knowing he is doing something forbidden, he is obviously turned on - but the utter silliness of his behavior is underscored by the absence of any musical accompaniment.

I found the first half of Anonymous to be brilliant; its last third is a bit on the rambling side but so, it seems, is the life being depicted. Todd is defined by his sex life and so the film's hardcore approach to its subject is appropriate. One of the film's undeniable pleasures will be its emphasis on the carnal. Is this film for everyone? Probably not, because most mainstream audiences let themselves be bound by the constraints of traditional narrative films. Anonymous is not porn with a plot. Nor can it be called a vanity project, otherwise Verow would have made sure that he looked like a Calvin Klein model in every shot of the film. Anonymous is raw, uninhibited and - at least in my book - far more interesting than a mindless big budget blockbuster like the recent Transformers sequel. Love him or hate him, Verow is one of the most daring filmmakers working in queer cinema today.


More on Todd Verow:
Bulldog in the Whitehouse
Between Something & Nothing
The Boy With The Sun In His Eyes
Deleted Scenes
Leave Blank
The Endless Possibility Of Sky
Bad Boy Street

Berlin Film Festival Essay:
No More Mr. Nice Guy
a Manifesto by Todd Verow

Craig Chester also appears in:
Adam & Steve