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Fantasy and Reality in Ben Hozie’s ‘PVT Chat’

by Sabrina Hornung | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | April 25th, 2021

Fantasy and Reality in Ben Hozie's 'PVT Chat'

By Greg Carlson

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

23 April 2021

Talented hyphenate Ben Hozie breaks through with “PVT Chat,” an audacious and exciting low-budget, NYC indie sure to generate equal measures of interest and controversy for its onscreen depictions of graphic masturbation. Hozie, the guitarist and vocalist of Bodega, serves as the movie’s director, writer, cinematographer, and editor. Sparking with “going-nowhere-fast” energy that parallels the urgency and big risks of “Uncut Gems,” Hozie’s film is something of a companion piece to the Josh and Benny Safdie showcase. Along with the familiar face of Buddy Duress, the presence of Julia Fox -- who made her feature film debut playing Howard Ratner’s inamorata Julia in “Uncut Gems” -- links the two movies.

The onscreen title “PVT Chat: A Romance About Freedom Fantasy Death Friendship” promises something more substantive than a strictly prurient piece of exploitation. And although it aims for a different vibe and tone than the Isa Mazzei-written, Daniel Goldhaber-directed “Cam,” the film joins a short but expanding list of titles examining the constantly-evolving world of computer-mediated sex work. Peter Vack’s Jack represents many young men telling tall tales and constructing identity in real time inside the virtual realm of the internet. Jack mainly switches between online poker and cam girls. He develops feelings for domme Scarlet (Fox), who expertly indulges Jack’s submissive yearnings.

Unlike so many mainstream cinematic depictions of BDSM and kink that treat the subjects as an easy joke, near-criminal aberrance/deviance, a source of embarrassment and shame, or a combination of all of the above, Hozie presents the lusty releases with matter-of-fact directness. Vack’s uninhibited performance is matched by Fox’s own fearlessness, and deep into the story Hozie surprises with a major shift in point-of-view that asks the viewer to reorient previously established attitudes about the transactional nature of Jack and Scarlet’s relationship. By opening the door to a consideration of Scarlet’s desires, Hozie both humanizes her and explores how online space is complicated by IRL actions.

In an excellent consideration of “PVT Chat” for “Paste,” Mary Beth McAndrews writes, “Self-pleasure has become prioritized over real life connections — illustrating intimacy’s shift from physical contact to an ethereal, individual experience built upon fantasies.” In one sense, this statement alludes to the way in which Hozie’s movie belongs to a tradition of self-reflexive cinema. In another, it makes a strong case for the film’s credulity-stretching coincidences and connections that have raised the eyebrows and ire of less charitable critics. Like the movie or lump it, Hozie nails the greener-grass metaphor with a clarity that reminded me of the last lines of James Joyce’s “Araby.”

The “unsimulated” (a loaded word, to be sure) capture of certain acts places “PVT Chat” in a fraternity of provocative movies that includes Michael Winterbottom’s “9 Songs” and several works by Catherine Breillat and Gaspar Noe. Hozie, however, expresses love and sympathy for art-makers of all kinds. He understands the grind required to pay the bills and the way the hustle spills from one kind of survival to another. The biographies of both Fox and Vack boast bona fides that sharpen the verisimilitude. Both performers can point to artistic projects that extend beyond screen performance. Add to that Fox’s once-upon-a-time experience working as a dominatrix and “PVT Chat” feels like an inside job. 

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