Billing itself as docu-fiction, this 1986 film, freshly restored after years of being difficult to see, is apparently almost entirely constructed. Juliet Bashore and her collaborators constructed the narrative and storyboarded the film, but the relationships they depict were real, the cast play themselves, the content wasn’t staged, and the dialogue was improvised.

The film focuses on pornstar Sharon Mitchell and her girlfriend Tigr, as they work both on a documentary about themselves and a pornographic film based on Carmen. We see them on set, and off, with the chief observation about Mitchell, from herself and as a sticking point in her relationship with Tigr, being that she doesn’t differentiate between the two. Everything, she contends, is performance, she’s always playing a character, even in bed with her girlfriend. Bashore’s camera moves naturally through the behind the scenes sequences, giving a fly on the wall quality to her footage. What’s fascinating in retrospect is that knowing the film was storyboarded (obvious in a few more stylised scenes, such as a late one with Mitchell and Tigr showering, the latter sometimes clearly posing for the camera rather than a disengaged Mitchell) is the question of how authentic any of it is. Does Mitchell’s ‘always on’ status extend to the rest of the film?

Sharon Mitchell is a fascinating figure onscreen and off. The drug addiction the film depicts was, like everything else, real, indeed the scene of her shooting up at the end of the film is not faked. Even if she’s out of it though, she remains a compelling presence, dominating every frame with her don’t give a fuck attitude. She’s prone to pretentiousness when trying to draw her ideas about acting into both porn and wider life, but she always commands attention, After porn, Mitchell got clean, became a doctor and founded the adult industry’s first mass testing service, which served practically every working performer in the US for 15 years. There’s at least one more documentary to be made about this incredibly interesting woman.

What marks Kamikaze Hearts out from other films about the adult industry is twofold. First there is the structure. It’s clearly linear but also scattered, like each scene is a thought that doesn’t quite connect to the last. It feels a little addled, but in a way that works for what it’s depicting, but it’s never confused or confusing. Secondly, for all the addiction and other issues, Bashore isn’t judgemental of the industry or those working in it.  The exception, perhaps, is the Carmen film’s male director, always trying to push performers further, be it an uncomfortable new model or performers he asks to do a scene they’ve not agreed to—interestingly it’s the male talent, who is paid less than his female co-star, who outright refuses. For 1986, both film and cast are, on the whole, overwhelmingly sex-positive.

Kamikaze Hearts is something of a relic at this point. It’s a compelling look at a time in the porn industry which, like this film, is ultimately always something other than it presents itself as.

Kamikaze Hearts
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kamikaze-hearts-reviewA fascinating blend of documentary and fiction that preserves a very specific time and place in the adult industry, anchored by the charismatic figure of Sharon Mitchell.