Travis Mathews has blurred the lines between reality and fiction with pornography in features I Want Your Love and Interior, Leather Bar. Both of those films have received mixed reactions with the latter getting a lot of attention due to the involvement of James Franco. Following on from those two films, Mathews is back with In Their Room, a collection of three films that explore the lives and loves of gay men in San Francisco, Berlin and London.
In Their Room collects all three films in the series together for the first time and like Mathews’ previous work it continues to push boundaries when it comes to portraying and capturing sex on camera. For the most part In Their Room is one-on-one encounters between Mathews’ camera and a variety of everyday gay men. Over the course of each of the films, Mathews draws out his subjects’ thoughts and feelings on sexuality, dating, relationships and their sexual activity preferences.
Throughout the films the viewer is made to feel like a voyeur. Mathews’ camera lingers on the men as they take showers, as they groom before going out for a date or hook-up, and as they masturbate. In Their Room: Berlin goes as far as to watch two men have sex and pleasure one another. At that point we wondered if we were actually watching a documentary or if we had stumbled onto an amateur porno.
The other two films – San Francisco and London – don’t go as far as that but they do spend time lingering on a variety of naked men. Whilst some of the stories captured are interesting, In Their Room doesn’t offer anything particularly new or cohesive. We felt that the documentary didn’t fully capture the whole spectrum of gay men and dare we say at times it did stray into stereotypical territory that perpetuates the idea that most gay men are horny, always on hook-up apps and counting down to their next sexual encounter. Whilst we acknowledge there is a part of our community that will ring true to, it certainly isn’t representative of us all.
In Their Room is an odd proposition. We’re sure that it is meant to be representing the average gay man on the street and that Mathews’ hopes some of the moments and conversations he’s captured are profound or insightful. Personally we felt a little uncomfortable about the whole thing as if we were spying on these men rather than getting to know them. As with Mathews’ previous works we found that the sex distracts from the purpose and In Their Room left us feeling a bit cold.