Frisk (1995): Todd Vertow’s Probe into Fetishism

An experimental narrative, Todd Verow’s Frisk aims to explore fetishism, as manifest by the extremities of racial and sexual power.

Frisk FilmPoster.jpeg

Raised in suburban southern California, Dennis and Julian have grown up in a milieu of sexual violence, seen on television and elsewhere.  As products (and victims) of pop culture, they have been conditioned to look at their desires and their identities through objectification.

Gay Directors: Almodovar, Davies, Haynes, Van Sant, Todd Haynes. By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press).

Both men are motivated by pornography, slasher movies, the evening news, “Tom n’ Jerry” cartoons.  Hence, it’s no surprise that, when their actual relationships get more complicated and ambiguous than the reductions they’re used to watching, they’re disappointed.

In the opening scene, Dennis views erotic photos and images that represent for him the link between reality and representation. These images reappear throughout the film, each time taking on different meanings. Their effect on Dennis, Julian and their friends, and the media’s infiltration of negative images as a form of entertainment, are the film’s focus.

The violence surrounding these characters is as overt as the violence of everyday life. Rapes happen in the shadows, children are murdered on TV, people with AIDS beg for handouts on the street. Confronting conventional notions of the real and the imagined, Frisk wants to challenge the viewers’ own subjectivity and pleasure by exploring the way our culture de-racializes and de-sexualizes identity by homogenizing and hegemonizing them under the supremacy of reductive sameness.

Though wishing to address such intriguing issues as sexual compulsion and the objectification of “types” in gay life, which in ideology at least set out to celebrate and honor diversity of style, “Frisk” comes across as half-baked, rambling and confused text.

In the end, instead of interrogating and illuminating the power of mass culture to cannibalize difference, Verow just describes these phenomena, and none too interestingly.


Directed by Todd Verow
Written by Dennis Cooper (novel), James Derek Dwyer, George LaVoo. Todd Verow
Produced by Jon Gerrans, Marcus Hu
Cinematography Greg Watkins
Edited by Todd Verow
Music by Coil, Lee Ranaldo
Distributed by Strand Releasing

Release date: 1995

Running time: 88 minutes