If you’ve ever wondered how an earthworm or a barnacle has sex, you’ve probably never thought to ask Isabella Rossellini. But she knows. And you can even watch her demonstrate it – in a series of short films Rossellini has developed and starred in for the Sundance Channel, entitled ‘Green Porno’. I admit, when I received a copy of the accompanying catalogue to ‘Green Porno’ recently – which looked like the kind of children’s book you might find in a museum shop and featured a photograph of Rossellini on the cover cuddling up to a giant shrimp made of construction paper – I dismissed her, and the project, as crazy. And she still, in fact, might be. But when I stumbled upon a few episodes of ‘Green Porno’ on television this weekend, I also discovered that these short films are an inspired kind of insanity.
Each of Rossellini’s campy, instructional films is not much more than a minute long, and each stars Rossellini as some kind of insect or sea creature, dressed in a makeshift costume made of paper or other disposable materials. In each one, Rossellini matter-of-factly describes, then demonstrates using extremely low-budget special effects, how – if she were, say, a dragonfly, or a mantis, or a starfish – she would copulate and reproduce with her animal mate. In the film beginning ‘If I were a snail…’, for instance, Rossellini explains: ‘I can withdraw my entire body into my shell, where I can hide my vagina and my penis,’ then gleefully whispers to the camera, ‘I have both!’ and retreats into her giant snail shell made of cardboard.
Don’t be too fooled (or excited) by the title of ‘Green Porno’: these films resemble middle-school biology film reels much more than they do porn (even the weirdest kind). But they could also be Rossellini’s version of feminist video art. Rossellini (who is the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini), as an aging film star and an enduring sex symbol, plays the roles of both male and female insects with gusto. She adopts the giant nose of an angler fish or sucks food like an earthworm without any traces of self-consciousness, and with a deadpan knowingness. In fact, she says she was inspired to do the films by her childhood interest in entomolgy. And strangely, her roles as female whale, spider, or praying mantis seem to express the power of female animal sexuality as an extremely apt analogy for female human sexuality. In a short film simply called ‘Why Vagina’, she explains, ‘Eggs are precious; sperm are cheap… If I were any female, I would want to protect my precious eggs… I would have a tunnel, and it would be a labyrinth. It’s intricate and it’s unique. It’s species specific, so that I am not screwed by a bear…. That’s why I want my vagina.’
You can watch all of the Green Porno shorts on the Sundance Channel website.
‘Spider’ and ‘Fly’ are my favorites.